Different decks, different meanings?


HI everybody,

I have already posted this message in "tarot decks forum", but nobody answers!.
So, here I go again...
I have been studying and reading tarot for several years, although I started with the "Tarot of marseilles", I'm currently using the "Rider-deck".
I have read a lot of books about tarot interpretation (from english, spanish, australian and german authors ) and one of the most amazing things I've read is the theory of a german author, who says in his books that the Rider-deck should be interpretate in a different way than other tarot decks like Crowley, or Marseilles.
In fact, he means that every deck has his own, specific interpretation, based on the artwork of the cards and the symbols.

This is quite confusing!

In my opinion, tarot is about universal archetypes that you can find in every culture and every deck.

What do you think about it?

Do you read different decks in a different way?

Blessed be. Sol.


Ok, you may already know all this, but just in case you don't, here's the deal: The Marseilles is, of course, one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) Tarot deck in existence. *HOWEVER,* when the Golden Dawn guys decided to recreate the Tarot deck, they concluded that the Marseilles deck was inaccurate and incomplete. They felt that some of the older meanings (like old time goddess worship, the position of the High Priest) had been either lost or deliberately hidden for fear of Church censorship. They delved into the cards and their symbols and found a lot of connections to a wider and much older range of magical symbols (Egyptian, Greek, Qabala, Zodiac, etc.).

So. The Marseilles deck doesn't have as many symbols and meanings as the other two; it appears to be a bit more straightforward. Like a drop of water before you put it under a microscope. Think of it as a fairytale. You can keep it simple with a straightforward meaning, or you can begin to add stuff that brings out deeper themes and meanings, even if the basic story remains the same.

So we've got straightforward Marseilles and complex Golden Dawn. Add to this one other thing: There are two decks coming out of the Golden Dawn. One RW, one Crowley.

Here's the deal there. The Golden Dawn is a hush-hush, ultra secret mystical order and both of these guys have promised to keep certain rituals and things they've learned secret. Waite, therefore, in creating his deck *deliberately* leaves things out. He simplifies, if you will, so that the big secrets, that only initiates get to know, are left out. To give him credit, he figures most readers aren't going to be sophistocated enough to need to know about these things. Like the alchemical meanings in the Lovers card.

So, when Waite writes up his version of the fairytale, it has more elements, is more complex, has more meanings. But it's not too far from the original.

CROWLEY, on the other hand, has no such qualms, arrogant bastard that he is --and I say that with affection :) He spills EVERYTHING. Anything you need to know about the card and it's symbols, he tells you. It's full name, elements, planets, zodaic symbol, situation in the Qabala, hebrew letter, perfume (yes, each card has a "perfume"), drug (yes, each card has a "drug"), color, musical note, weapon, etc.

In other words, the fairytale is now book length, with complex characters, subplots, symbols, themes, metaphors and annotations at the end. Still the same fairytale? Yes. Still the same meaning? Yes and no. Red Riding Hood, no matter how complex you make it, still warns you not to talk to strangers. But make it complex enough, and that meaning no longer really matters, does it? If the story is suddenly about the power of sex (the wolf) over innocence (Red Riding Hood), then that becomes the primary meaning.

Put this all into a nutshell: I don't think that it's that the cards in these three decks have radically different meanings, but that each one has a different focus. By being more or less complex in their art and symbolism they've put a different emphasis on what is the important and primary meaning of the card. So the Marseilles warns you not to talk to strangers, the RW warns you that there are wolves out there that want to eat you, and Crowley wants you to consider how to absorb the wolf and his power rather than letting it absorb you!

Same story. Same archetypes. Not the same meaning. And yes, there's one last thing to add: artist, writer, their personalities and intent. Whoever tells the story gives it their own flavor. So is Red Riding Hood a tragedy or a comedy? Depends on the writer. Same with decks. Waite's deck is very conservative and somber. Crowley's is wild and modern. This puts a different spin on the meaning. Do you caution your child not to talk to strangers sternly, shortly ("Don't talk to strangers!") or sit them down and calmly explain, ("There are some not nice people out there....").

Um. Is any of this helpful in answering your question?



I enjoyed reading the posts. It makes good sense to me.



thirteen. you rock. thank you for making it so clear! I never quite understood the difference, but know I know. and knowing is half the battle. ;P

thank you.


I started by learning with the 1JJ Swiss tarot deck, I didn't like the book that is supposed to accompany it, way too negative, so now I use the Rider Waite interpretations and am finding this deck is working very well for me - but my favourite deck is the Original Rider Waite with the Diamond deck second. I didn't actually realise that decks varied that much in the interpretations, all the books I have are Rider Waite influenced lol :)


Thirteen: A wonderful & wise explanation! Something else to add to your book--HINT, HINT!!


Hi again!

It's really a pity that english is not my mother tongue, because I can't find the right words to thank you for all your wonderful explanation, "Thirteen" !!

Thanks from the botton of my heart,today you have been a ray of light for me!!

Love and light for all,



Quote:Sol (28 Oct, 2001 08:10):
Hi again!

It's really a pity that english is not my mother tongue, because I can't find the right words to thank you for all your wonderful explanation, "Thirteen" !!

Thanks from the botton of my heart,today you have been a ray of light for me!!

Those sound like very right words ;D You're most welcome. I'm honestly amazed that what I said made such good sense, and that everyone seems to find it on the right track. I try keep my facts accurate, but sometimes I get things wrong. I really expected to be corrected on some particular or other. Looks like I did good this time 8)


actually thirteen, that was very well done - you rock!
i'll add that in the twenty or so decks i have, each one has a slightly different take on each card - and some are totally different from any of the three that thirteen mentions. some decks even have different suit correspondances - that whole swords/air or fire, wands/fire or air thing. of course, some keep the same general card meanings despite the fact that they changed the suit correspondences - how weird is that! and some retain the traditional r/w meanings of the majors, but the minors are totally different.

personally, while i'll read the lwb, or the accompanying full sized book that comes with the deck, or is available for the deck, i still look at the picture, and use the meaning that comes to me. sometimes it's the same as the traditional meaning, and sometimes it's way different.

luv and light,


I have one little thing I'd like to add to Thirteen's excellent explanation, and that is that nothing stops you from looking at one deck, for example the Marseilles, and callling to mind an interpretation which you learned about from studying a different deck, for example the Crowley.

In other words, I would regard different decks and different books as opportunities to learn about Tarot in general and not just one specific deck. Then you can read with many different decks and have a range of interpretations floating around in your brain from which to choose. So, for exampe, if you are reading from the Marseilles, and an interpretation pops into your head that you learned from the Crowley, there's no law that says you can't use it. \;)

-- Lee