The Ship of Fools Tarot Deck Interview

When I returned to the serious study and regular use of tarot after an extended period of intermittent dabbling, I found that a number of practices had become entrenched in the culture that didn’t exist previously. One of these was what is known as the “new deck interview.” This is the engagingly animistic habit of opening a dialogue with a newly-acquired deck by performing a reading that poses revealing questions to the deck about itself. The idea is to determine how fluid and articulate the deck will be to read with, given that not all decks speak equally to all people (for a variety of reasons that are most often related to visual or symbolic dissonance). Although new decks are the usual target, the interview can be performed with any deck that has been found difficult to “crack.”

Not content with the random queries I saw in forum examples of such interviews, I created a spread that yields a more coherent “personality profile” (originally posted here: I’m going to publish my own example readings showing the detailed working of this spread; the first will be the Brian Williams Ship of Fools Tarot, followed shortly by the Spanish-language Rohrig Tarot for which I just received the English companion book.

The Ship of Fools Tarot is a seventy-eight card black-and-white (or more properly, black-and-beige) deck in which each card shows a capped-and-belled court jester (“fool”) engaged in various activities that have an RWS slant. The imagery displays a pleasantly antique ambience, and the cards have the slipperiest finish I think I’ve ever seen. It gives a new meaning to the term “jumpers” – they fall out of the shuffle in such large wads that I’ve been calling them “clumpers.”

I did the “First Impressions” pull from the top of each elemental sub-pack after splitting the deck into four. From this I obtained the 7 of Swords in the Wands position, the Queen of Wands in the Cups position, the 3 of Coins in the Swords position and the 3 of Swords in the Coins position. From this I gleaned that the deck may be somewhat evasive and only indifferently lively in its presentation; the monochrome may have something to do with this. It could exhibit the high-strung but affable sensitivity of the Queen of Wands, the plainspoken directness of the 3 of Coins and the remorseless gaze of the 3 of Swords. All in all, it comes across as a mature and nicely-inflected example of the deck-creator’s art. (I should note that I own two of Williams’ other decks, the quirky PoMo Tarot and the classical Renaissance Tarot.)

The 8-card “Nitty-Gritty” pull, which is intended to reveal the communication style of the deck (both manner and tone) when it’s being “just folks” and not putting on airs, produced the Ace of Wands/7 of Cups in the Wands positions, the 9 of Cups/World in the Cups positions, the Ace of Swords/6 of Wands in the Swords positions and the 8 of Coins/4 of Wands in the Coins positions. Now this is more like it. The two Aces show abundant potential regarding the deck’s spirit and eloquence, while the 9 of Cups in the area of fluidity and sensitivity has an expansive “let the good times roll” vibe to it. On the other hand, the 8 of Coins in the reliability sector has a hands-on, get-it-done, workhorse feel. There is more substance to work with here. Of the eight peripheral cards (those that weren’t intentionally “adjusted” during the pull), six were minors, suggesting that the deck will have no delusions of grandeur and will meet me half-way in successfully telling a story.

The 7 of Cups shows a tendency to chase after phantoms, perhaps lending a more imaginative flair to the intense, purposeful  Ace of Wands. The World, with its Saturn connection, tames the jolly 9 of Cups with a needed hint of sobriety while also opening up a panoramic vista for exploration; the 6 of Wands encourages the idealistic ambitions of the Ace of Swords with the promise of a lofty pedestal from which to orate; and the 4 of Wands advises the 8 of Coins that “all work and no play” makes for a rather dull jester. It will be my challenge to find the “fun” in this deck. I think, with this mix of qualities, more than half the fun will be in trying.

Ship of Fools tarot.JPG

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