Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tarot Traditions: Thoth vs RWS

There have developed through the years some disparities between the traditions in tarot card interpretations. Most readers are familiar with Rider-Waite-Smith card interpretations, as the majority of today's decks follow this system. However, some decks do include some alterations that follow Alistair Crowley's "Thoth" interpretations.

Alistair Crowley was a famed occultist in the early 20th century; he collaborated with an artist to modify the tarot to return to some of the interpretations prior to the modifications initiated by the very popular RWS.

Both RWS and the Thoth systems are similar and have their roots in the Golden Dawn tradition, but there are some significant differences as well.

Some representative cards from Alistair Crowley's Thoth deck
 In searching to find an explanation of the differences between RWS and Thoth, I chanced upon this essay in an online Tarot forum.

The author's name is Yvonne Rathbone

Differences in the Major Arcana


The biggest difference, and I believe the most fundamental difference, is in the Fool Card. The Fool is a representation of the path walker. He is the being who walks the path laid out in the other cards. How a deck represents the Fool gives an indication of how the deck represents the individual.

In the Waite-Smith deck, the Sun of Kether is shown above and behind the Fool. In Thoth, the Sun is shown at the Fools genitals. This difference in the location of the divine source indicates the Waite Smith deck as being based on a Christian theology whereby God exists above and outside of the journeyer. Thoth expresses a Pagan view of God being the creative force that exists inherently within us all.

The 8/11 Split:The next big difference is in the numbering of the Major Arcana, specifically the cards called Strength and Justice. Which card comes after the Wheel shows how the deck represents Karma. In Thoth, Justice is the eighth card, Strength is eleven. In WS this is reversed. This difference can be seen as one of how the Universe and Karma (as shown in the Wheel) interact with the individual.

When Justice follows the Wheel, it shows a view of Karma that is retributive or restitutive. In this model, Karma is paid for through Justice, whether it's punishment or the legitimate taking on of responsibility. In the second model, Karma is followed by Strength and shows a different result of the effect of Karma. In this model, Karma is the vehicle for the integration of the physical, animal nature with the "higher" levels of being.

Differences in the Courts
Waite-Smith and Thoth have different court card configurations and how a new deck structures their courts can tell you something about influence. Waite-Smith has the order King/Queen/Knight/Page. Thoth has the order Knight/Queen/Prince/Princess. I'm more persuaded by the presence of Thoth style Knight/Prince male configuration replacing Waite's King/Knight than I am the presence of Princesses.

In "Pictorial Key To The Tarot," Waite states that the courts serve as a bridge between the Lesser and Greater Arcana, but that the lack of distinction between them and the Majors is shown by their "conventional character". (pg. 165) He doesn't think they have enough symbols to qualify as anything but for mere divination and fortune telling. He indicates that the arrangement of King/Queen/Knight/Page is derived from standard playing cards. This could be a blind.

Crowley, in contrast, states very clearly in "The Book Of Thoth" the important role the courts play in his deck. They are the embodiment of the Tetragrammaton (the most holy name of God.) He uses Knights instead of Kings to denote the active quality of the first letter of the Tetragrammaton. Queens are the fixing nature of the second. Princes are more literally the sons of Queens than Knights are. Finally, the Princesses represent the "re-absortion of the Energy" and "the silence into which all things return."

Many decks use princesses instead of pages and do not in the least reflect the complex symbolism Crowley reserved for the courts. Often they do it simply to infuse the deck with more female characters and give a balance of male and female energy. Trust me. Crowley didn't give a damn about doing this. The presence of the princess is not indicative of Thoth influence by itself, but there are other imagistic indicators that we can look for.

In Thoth, the King/Knights are active and they are all shown on horseback. The knights in Waite-Smith are shown on horseback as well, but in that system they are third down on the totem pole. So when the top ranking male court card is the one on horseback, I see Thoth.

The queens in Thoth are seated with different totems; Wands:leopard, Cups:stork, Swords:severed head (ew) and Disks:goat. In contrast, Waite-Smith usually shows images on the queen's thrones; Wands:lions, Cups:cupid & fish, Swords:butterfly, Pentacles:goat. Only the goat is the same. Waite-Smith also adds two other animals to the queens, one of which is commonly copied. That is the black cat in the Queen of wands. The rabbit in the Queen of Pentacles goes largely unnoticed.

More Thoth cards

Differences in the Minors
The main difference between Waite inspired minors and Thoth inspired minors lays in one of the largest difference between the two decks. Waite put pictures on his minors. Thoth uses stylized pips (arrangements of the suit symbols as in playing cards.) Because of this, I look for Waite influence in the minors differently than I do Thoth influence.

It's pretty easy to spot the most apparent influence of Waite in the choice of imagery for the pips. A boat ride on the Six of Cups, a patient gardener on the Seven of Pentacles, a person with swords in his back on the Ten of swords. The use of these images such as these indicates a Waite basis.

The influence of Thoth in the minors is harder to see. It's not enough that a deck just use pips. This could refer back to the Tarot de Marseilles. Instead, in the Thoth minors we must look for specific instances where the given meanings differ radically from Waite.

And one of the surprises I found as I was researching the differences between these decks is that there aren't that many radical differences between the meanings of the minors. The most extreme I found are:

     Card              Thoth               
=           Waite-Smith
4 of Cups       Luxury, Change        =   Stability Weariness, disgust, aversion
8 of Cups    Indolence, stagnation  =   Leaving something behind
2 of Swords      Peace, balance      =      Indecision, denial
6 of Swords              Science        =     Moving away from difficulty
7 of Disks         Failure, blight       =        Patience


Here's a link to a site that provides comparison between Rider-Waite and other, older traditions.

I hope you find this information useful as you study differences between deck structures and individual card interpretations.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review of "Stella's Tarot"

This deck is one of the very nicest available!! Conceived by Stella Karoruko, with artwork by Takako Hoei. The art is breathtaking; colors bright and vibrant but not gaudy, the interpretations depicted are refreshing and bold.

The card backs are in muted blue and bisque tones, and the cards are fully reversible. The deck is a nice medium-size, not too large and not too small. The cards are easy to shuffle, and sturdy enough to hold up to frequent use. They were printed in Belgium in 2008 for the AG Muller company based in Switzerland. This company also produced another of my favorite decks, the “Vision Quest” Tarot, to be reviewed in an upcoming entry.

One of my complaints with most tarot decks in general is the excessive space taken up by a border, which reduces down the size of the art work considerably. The Stella’s deck is no exception. Cards measure 2-3/4” x 4-5/16” overall, but the central art image size is just 2-1/8” x 3-1/4”. Large enough to allow the reader to readily absorb the overall image at a glance, but so small that it is difficult to readily discern the details. This is a particular concern for those of my age who have joined the presbyopic crowd…and let’s face it, we will all get there soon enough if we are lucky enough.

I’ve seen that some Youtube reviewers routinely cut the borders off their cards, but why can’t the manufacturers just eliminate borders and opt for a larger card image?  It gets tiresome to have to get out the magnifying glass to view card details in so many decks. <SIGH>

But let’s get back to this deck’s outstanding artwork. Even the minor arcana cards get special treatment, with unique, detailed touches added by the artist to each one. As a Californian, I love the inclusion of oranges in the Princess of Swords card and the orange tree in the Three of Cups!  

For some odd reason the human figures in this deck are depicted with heads exceedingly small in proportion to their bodies. This is especially noticeable in the Fool, Justice, Temperance and Magician cards, which sort of spoils the otherwise nice artwork.

A card that is one of my favorites in general, the Star, is not appealing to me in this deck. The stars are golden rather than white or silver, and the central star appears to have a moon or sun face inside which detracts from the theme of Star in my humble opinion. The woman has an odd golden bouffant headdress on. Most "Star" cards depict a lady pouring liquid out from two vessels; one renewing the earth or the physical, conscious realm, and the other pours into a body of water, which represents renewal of the spirit or the subconscious. But the Stella "Star" goddess is receiving a bolt of energy from the heavens, and seemingly transferring that energy to the ocean. It's loosely similar to the traditional interpretation, and nothing too terrible, just not my favorite “Star” card. Other major arcana cards from Stella’s Tarot are particularly lovely, including the Tower, the Hierophant, Judgement, the Hermit, the High Priestess and the Lovers.

The corresponding elements are all incorporated into the court cards; the figures in the suit of Cups all rest in a body of water, those of the Wands all display the element of fire, the Sword court cards depict flight and emphasize the notion of “air”, and the Disk court figures are all pictured firmly planted on the ground, each one balancing a coin from his or her finger or hand.

The deck is definitely NOT a regurgitation of Rider-Waite-Smith. Structure is based in the Thoth tradition, which has some major differences from RWS decks. “Strength” is trump 11 instead of eight, and has been renamed “Miracle” (although the card description in the ‘Little White Book’ does portray strength as the meaning of the card). Trump 8 is “Justice.

If you normally read with RWS decks, you will need to adjust your interpretation a bit with the court card in this deck. The court cards are Princess, Prince, Queen and Knight. Note: there is NO “King”; in his place is “Knight”. Additionally, “Knights” are pictured atop horses, as one might expect of the Prince/Knight card in the RWS tradition. In one suit in the Stella deck, the suit of Cups, the Knight does sit on a throne, and the Prince is riding a swan.

“Princes” generally signify action or motion, and are described thus in the ‘LWB’, but in this deck the Princes (except the Prince of Cups) are depicted standing, immobile. It might be easier for those who learned RWS to interchange the Prince cards with the Knight cards and regard the Princes with the features of the Kings. BUT because of the suit of cups showing the more traditional depictions for prince/knight, you wouldn’t need to interchange them in that suit. Confused? For those well-versed in Thoth deck structure and imagery, this should not present any problem.

The exquisite artwork in this deck, extending into the minor arcana, make the Thoth quirks of the court cards less problematic. The only cards in this deck that I really found puzzling were the seven and eight of disks. Seven of disks is described as ‘Ingenuity, hard work, progress, wealth, successful dealings’ yet the card depicts a woman with a light-socket hairdo ensnared in a spider web. Not real clear on why this imagery.

Eight of disks is described as ‘Fast apprenticeship, craftsmanship, candour, frankness, modesty, effort’. This card depicts a man watering and nurturing a garden which is more often traditionally associated with seven of disks rather than eight, so an attitude adjustment might be necessary here as well.  

The LWB is excellent, with succinct descriptive phrases for the majors, followed by keywords that help to add to the interpretation of the card. Examples from the LWB:

‘”The Magician” Represents Willpower. Skill, diplomacy, self-confidence, flexibility, domination, strategy.’

‘”The Hermit” Represents the Guiding Spirit. Counsel, solicitude, prudence, caution, resignation, withdrawal, misguided, failure to face facts, possessor of secrets.'
Overall, I give this deck a hearty thumbs-up, and regard it as a “must have” for all serious  tarot enthusiasts.

To purchase:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review of "Tarot Nova"

"Tarot Nova", produced in 1996,  is marketed as a gift-shop or common amusement-type item. 

The deck comes nestled in a set with a pocket-sized palmistry book. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the folksy artistry of this deck. The cards are small in size, about 3-1/2" or so.

Tarot Nova's Empress, the earth mother. Passion, creativity, nurturing a new project, perhaps some risk-taking implied, and of course this could indicate a wedding or new addition to the family.

The butterfly symbolizes rebirth and the key symbolizes knowledge. New perceptions, renewed purpose, making amends, "seeing the light", clear thinking at last!

The gift set included a paper LWB and a little book on palmistry. Searching online, I found a small book by Dennis Fairchild sold separately from the deck, that explains the Tarot Nova with deck basics. The best thing about this book is that it is so small that you can easily carry it in your purse, and it's hard-covered so even with heavy use it won't soon be in tatters. Each card is also pictured in the book next to the card description, so you don't need to have the deck with you to study the meanings of the individual cards.

The book includes a few sample layouts and contains interpretations for cards in both the upright and reversed positions. The book is about 3" square, and it comes with a teeny tiny deck of cards about 1" in size, not very practical cards as you can't shuffle them or handle them at all, but it's worth buying this set in order to get the nice hardcover book.

Tarot Nova book with teeny tiny deck.
So once you have found the regular-sized deck and then the book which is sold separately (whew!), you can begin to work with the cards and enjoy them. These are simple images that are nonetheless suffused with symbolism, including astrological symbols on the majors.

Without a lot of distracting frills and busy borders, the cards are perfect for meditation work. This deck is sometimes described as a child's deck, but I find child-like wistful simplicity delightful to work with no matter how old I get!

The world - completion. 6 of Cups - Nostalgia, conviviality. Knight of Cups - a gift or a vacation. A charming man.
 Thankfully, the cards don't have distracting borders, but the corners are color-coded by suit. Purple for major arcana, blue for cups/water, yellow for swords/air, red for wands/fire and green for pentacles/earth. This perfectly satisfies my requirement for color correspondences that make logical sense. The simple yet elegant images rest on a black background.
Sorrow, separation
Too much emphasis on work, overburden, time to try something new. You may be in for a career change.

Knight of Pentacles - determined action toward your goals. Six of Pentacles - plenty, generosity

You'll get very clear messages with this deck!! I absolutely love it. It's definitely worth including in your collection.

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.Tarot Nova
Illustrations: Julie Paschkis
"Designed by" Paul Kepple
Publisher:  Running Press, 1996
Mini edition: ISBN: 0-7624-0418-3
Fortune Telling Set: ISBN: 1-56138-756-8
Dreams, emotions rule, illusion, deception

Friday, September 21, 2012

Welcome to "StarlightTarot"

I am a fan and an amateur reader of the tarot. I've started this blog to document my impressions of cards, decks, spreads and interpretations. Since I am on a learning journey please do bear with me as my insight is not well-developed at this point. I welcome comments from interested fellow tarot enthusiasts. Blessings to all who enter here.

Review of the "Sacred Circle" Tarot

Review of the "Sacred Circle" Tarot

The Sacred Circle Tarot, produced in 1998 by Anna Franklin and Paul Mason, has great appeal as a general theme. Pagans should find the earthy images welcoming and familiar. The cards are physically large in size, but the imagery is small due to large distracting borders on each card. There's also a smaller black border encircling the edge of each card, further reducing the all-important central image down to about 2-1/2 X 3-1/2. Any detail is difficult to note and, particularly in the wands suit with lapping yellow flames, the bright borders detract from the overall card appeal.

There are keywords listed on each card by way of interpretation. Some of these do not ring true for me, such as interpreting 10 of wands as "Force" rather than burden or oppression, 9 of wands as "recovery" rather than resolve or persistence, and five of wands as "grounding" rather than conflict. The five of discs is tagged as "restriction" rather than material hardship and isolation from institutions. The ten of discs is tagged as "tradition" rather than the usual interpretation of wealth and abundance. I guess they are loosely related although as others have noted, these interpretations are not easy for beginners to work with.

Some of the court cards are also tagged with odd labels. All Kings are tagged with the element of their suit. This does not address the fact that they are the "fire" of their particular element. Aces would better be tagged with the elements. 

The page of discs which should be 'earth of earth' is tagged as “health'. Again, while it could be accurate, this is a restrictive interpretation. Instead we find the King of Discs tagged as 'earth' when he is actually 'fire of earth'.

Knight of discs is 'husbandry', a concept few can visualize as it is vague and can refer to the cultivation of family life or crops and livestock. In any case, we see no other people or animals on this card, leading us to a restrictive interpretation of crop husbandry. His sword pointed toward the earth reinforces this. Yet as a knight, he should be the 'air' of his element. It's difficult to visualize air of earth as husbandry. This would have been better suited for the King of Discs as he is the fire of earth.

I didn't care for The Green Man as the fool, as the fool is usually the seeker on life's path, not the representation of the life force. A youth heading down the forest path would have been more appropriate. The High Priest is assigned Trump 1, which is traditionally reserved for 'The Magician'.  The actual druid magician with the elemental symbols in front of him is tagged as 'The Druid' and assigned trump 5, which is traditionally the Hierophant. No big deal as these two cards can be switched, just cross out and change the numbers but it is annoying to have a big change like that in your deck. Some sort of inclusion of the Green Man symbology on the Emperor card (which in this deck is called 'The Lord') would have been great. 'Justice' becomes 'The Web' and we see a woman with a dog and a knife in front of a spiderweb.

 'Temperance' become 'The Underworld'. 'Initiation' pictures a celtic maze symbol with a pot of incense burning in the middle. 'Judgement' becomes 'rebirth', somewhat easier for me to relate to than some of the other majors in this deck.

Overall a great idea but an updated revision may be in order...please?

Review of "Hazelmoon's Hawaiian Tarot"

"Hazelmoon's Hawaiian Tarot"
by Katalin Csikos

I was drawn to purchase this deck from the reviews on Aeclectic Tarot, as well as my affinity for Hawaii; her land, her myths and her people. The images are
simply gorgeous and even though the author is “kama’aina” rather than
“kanaka”, she captures the native spirit beautifully in this deck.

Each card has a very wide border with traditional Hawaiian petroglyphs
on the sides, the card number on top, the card name across the bottom.
Within this wide border is a narrow color-coded margin that is helpful.
Red for swords, Purple for stones, yellow for sticks and green for
major arcana. I find the super-wide margin and busy petroglyphs detract from the inner image of the card and reduce its size too much.  Petroglyphs would have better been reserved for the card back. Card back instead is a
rather ho-hum palm tree, and the image is not reversible so it’s not an
ideal deck for those who read reversed meanings.

The suits are Sticks (instead of Wands), Cups, Swords and Lava Stones (in place of pentacles or coins)

The little booklet that accompanies the deck is quite good for
simplified, clear explanations. I particularly like that the booklet
gives you a feel for how to interpret the court cards in a reading. “If
you get this card it means….” Very nice and direct and good for those
struggling with court cards as I often find myself!

The artwork of the deck is stunning. Most of the cards are exquisite,
joyful and sheer perfection, but I found some of the cards difficult to
decipher. Unless you are already very familiar with RWS system of
interpretation, you would be lost trying to use this deck. It’s
definitely NOT for beginners.

To further complicate the situation, if you search the accompanying
booklet for explanations, many of the descriptions do not explain the
particular images in the card in question. For instance, the seven of
sticks shows an image of a fence, with seven posts and a statuette atop
the front of the fence, poised looking out to sea. The booklet
description for the card includes competition, business negotiation,
war. This card does not match that description, unless there is a
meaning behind the illustration of which I am unaware. The author does
not explain her choice of imagery for this card. We are also left puzzling over interpretations for several other cards in this deck.

The major arcana cards are just lovely. The Fool is a child gazing toward Mauna Loa, ukulele in hand and doggie trailing him. I much prefer the image of a child for the Fool card to the use of adults and bizarre, garish clown images as you find in most other decks. The Magician spins his flaming torch to form a blurred circle. Just beautiful! The High Priestess sits within a stone circle in a shallow lagoon and raises her cup to the moon. Perfection! I didn’t like Queen Liliuokalani as the Empress. This particular queen had an unhappy and fruitless marriage, and was the end of Hawaiian monarchy so she doesn’t seem to embody the principles of the Empress card at all. And, in the card she is pictured with a frown on her face, in a formal setting wearing an evening gown. Quite far removed from nature. Queen Liliuokalani would have made a much better Queen of Swords than Empress. Instead, we have Pele, the fire/volcano goddess, pictured as the Queen of Swords. This doesn't resonate with me at all. I have to have the suits associated logically with the elements; for me, swords need to be associated with air, while the wands/sticks need to be affiliated with fire. Several of the sword cards show fire elements like lava and volcanoes; that rather spoils the deck for me. Princess Kaiulani would have made an excellent Princess of Swords, although in this deck, the court cards are presented as King, Queen, Warrior and Boy. I think prince and princess would fit in just fine and would balance out the genders in the court cards, but that's just me I guess!!

Loved the Emperor, King Kamehameha in all his glory. Loved the Hierophant, which is a picture of the Little Blue Church in Kona. Very innovative and fits! The Chariot is fabulous as two dolphins charging forward while reined in by a woman riding atop their backs. My favorite card in the majors is “Justice” which is a smiling woman in a market with various tropical fruits and a scale on the table in front of her. The death card is simple and poignant with the lei floating out to sea. The tradition behind this is not mentioned in the booklet, but probably most people are already familiar? Still, the description should have been included.

"Tower” card is Oahu's Aloha Tower pictured at night; it is colored a bright pink; but in real life, the Aloha Tower is a camouflaged color so that the building seems to disappear at night except for the lights. The Tower in the card is intact, with a lightning strike behind, which doesn’t give the same somber impression of great change and a shaken foundation that this card normally represents.

I found the “Temperance” card odd because the woman pours the contents of her vessels from outstretched arms in polar opposite directions, BUT both are pouring into the same sea so it is workable if you are already familiar with RWS. “The Evil” replacing “The Devil” is rather different; there is no sense of earthly temptation there, but it does represent the deck theme of respect for the earth and its creatures so it’s workable for those familiar already with RWS.

I also loved the “Sun” card which is sun shining on a group of lovely
anthuriums. The Moon card speaks to me as it pictures a full moon over
the sacred “Place of Refuge” on the Big Island. I think I’d have
preferred this image to represent four of swords although the bland
image of a tree and four swords is what we get for that card.

Several of the minor arcana cards are little more than numbered pips, albeit pretty ones. Ten of Sticks is just an image of ten palm trees as seen looking up from the ground; no sense of overburden, heavy weight or oppression as described in booklet. The booklet also describes Ten of Sticks as a card of home, family and friends? Well, I suppose it could be, but again, you don’t get that sense by looking at this image of ten trees.

Ten of Swords is ten swords with the sun shining above them which does not well-represent despair, desolation, and an ending. Three of Cups is a picture of Waipio Valley, nothing celebratory or indicative of conviviality in that card. Seven of Cups is Poipu beach with seven palm trees. Nothing on this card transmits the need for discretion and caution in dealings with others. Two of cups is two cups surrounded by a lei, very nicely done! Several other cup cards look similar to each other except for the number of cups present. Nine of
cups shows nine cups lined up with three spilled, no sense of happiness
or wish fulfillment.

Eight of Sticks is described as “forward movement” but is a picture of a hut in a lagoon with eight palm trees next to it. No sense of movement at all. I did like the Five of Sticks, which was a road crossed with lava (I think, there is no explanation of the image in the booklet). Six of Sticks, less clear with a grassy expanse surrounded by six trees, no depiction of victory, success or pride.

A card which I strongly dislike in this deck is the King of Swords. It's an image of a white-haired male (not sure if he is supposed to be white or asian) against the background map of the Hawaiian islands. There is a big flag placed prominently on the card that is a combination of a Union Jack on a field of red/white and blue stripes. This deck overall is earth-based and the interjection of politics really spoils the effect. If you check  the booklet for an explanation, there is none; just some notation about King Kamehameha and how the card is supposed to represent power. This card is obviously NOT about Kamehameha, but seems instead to be a poke at foreign influence in Hawaii. Asians are well-assimilated into the culture as are westerners, so the addition of racial and political discord seems really inappropriate here.

Overall a nice concept with beautiful artwork, but I doubt I will be using it for readings. I'd love to see a Hawaiian deck done with some of the Hawaiian gods/goddesses represented in the major arcana and the suits placed in proper elemental symbology, as well as some of the historical royal figures presented in the court cards.

To view images of the majors, please visit the author's website: