Cheap Shots Redux: Any Excuse Will Do

As I contemplate the flood of new tarot decks on the market (some of which are even offered as “New Tarot,”  apparently to signify a cultural shift), I’m struck by the impression that many of them are just an excuse to circulate portable artwork of a personal nature with little regard for the metaphysical and epistemological value of that art for its intended purpose; in my opinion, said value is nil from both an illuminative and divinatory perspective. Why would any serious mystic or diviner want to work with a deck that strays so far afield from the customary symbolism, unless they intend to use it as an oracle deck or for more ritualistic or shamanistic pursuits? It essentially means either learning a whole new system of interpretation or simply ignoring the images and applying the usual meanings associated with the titles (although even some of the latter are willfully  opaque). About as far as I will go in that direction is the Chrysalis Tarot which, while not exactly “in the groove,” is redeemed by many thought-provoking virtues; most of the current decks I’ve been exposed to aren’t, they seem to be solely “art for art’s sake.” Complete emancipation from the past doesn’t serve my purpose. I’m not a psychic and I’m a highly visual person (and graphic artist) so I appreciate the prompts that the images provide. They jump-start my intuition (aka imagination/inspiration/ingenuity). For me, a pretty picture of a deer falls flat for divination.

There is a whole subculture of tarot consumers out there who only care about how “beautiful” a deck is regardless of how ineffective it may be for practical divination. These are typically people who are so new to the discipline that they have yet to master the mystical principles underlying the generally-accepted meanings, but they sure do have money to spend and they know what they like! But in many cases the artistic merit itself is dubious (and I say this as an artist, not just as a skeptical critic), as if any conceivable image can stand in for what it purports to represent as long as it bears a recognizable title (but not necessarily a passing resemblance to its spiritual forebears). Some innovations are inspired but nonetheless misguided, while others are both poorly conceived and poorly executed. Where I’m from, if it doesn’t waddle like a duck and quack like a duck, it ain’t a duck. Chalk it up to the creative license bestowed by self-publishing outlets.

The dilution that these esoterically feeble decks will most likely introduce into the mainstream as their owners insist on practicing with them is unimaginable. These users have little or no clue what the cards are “supposed” to mean in common usage, so they fill the void with their own fanciful notions, often based on free-association from the pictures, that eventually become systematized through persistent misapplication; this is usually exacerbated  by the iconoclastic guidebooks that are aimed at pushing the creator’s private vision. Tarot publishing could benefit from a “standards board” that ensures minimum historical “structure-and-content” expectations are met before the term “tarot” can appear on the packaging; call it “truth in advertising.” Right now what we have is an entrepreneurial fee-for-all as everyone grabs for a piece of the pie, and  classical rigor is shoved aside as unfashionable in favor of “anything goes” modernism. For the dedicated long-term student of tarot, it’s the synergistic equivalent of McDonald’s and Six Flags: it’s fast and it’s fun but it has no lasting nutritional value or philosophical depth. “Caveat emptor” is more relevant now than ever before.

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