The Tarot Cards Shirley Jackson and Sylvia Plath Preferred

As I blabbered on about in this podcast/post, I prefer the Marseille Tarot to the more ubiquitous (at least in the English speaking world) esoteric Waite-Smith tarot deck.

Spawned from the Golden Dawn, the Waite-Smith tarot is swimming in lots of extra symbols and traditions that have been tacked on to the cards. The goal here is spiritual evolution or focusing on the “Fool’s journey” through life, as you may have heard before.

Although this is a beautiful idea, and the mix of symbols and traditions in the Waite-Smith is admittedly fascinating, I can’t help but feel that it tends towards a Western spiritual decadence that I have some issues with.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a secret society in turn of the century England made up of mostly middle-class white people seeking (magical) spiritual development and enlightenment. Sound familiar? What is it with middle-class white people (and yes, I am one of them) seeking enlightenment? Tarot, Buddhism, yoga, various New Age traditions, it’s all over the place now more than ever.

Mind you, I’m not saying that this means these systems have no value or that people these days aren’t doing deep and valuable work with them, including those who are not middle-class, white or Westerners.

However, the whiff of ultimately rather self-absorbed spiritual self-improvement is too strong in the legacy of the Waite-Smith tarot for me to ignore. Call it my sceptical bullshit bell if you will, with maybe a touch of judgey meanness, but it’s just really not for me.

What I love about the Marseille Tarot is its straightforward nature. The cards aren’t calling you to understand any other tradition or asking you to evolve, they simply get straight into the narrative. They’re also a lot easier to understand than people might think. You don’t need to memorize a string of abstract meanings, all you need is a good, clear question, a flexible, creative mind and clear vision. This takes practice of course, but it can be achieved.*

I was happy to discover today that two tarot-card-reading writers I admire also preferred the Marseille Tarot, namely Shirley Jackson and Sylvia Plath.

Here are the cards Shirley used (apparently she was quite the astute reader, the cards do look nicely worn):

And here are Silvia’s cards, which are currently for sale at Sotheby’s for 4,000 to 6,000 pounds. Admittedly a little on the pricey side for tarot cards, but it would be cool to do a reading with them for sure.

*One of my favorite Marseille Tarot teachers is Camelia Elias. Her book Read Like the Devil is really great, although perhaps more ideal for those unlearning the Waite-Smith tarot system rather than someone starting from scratch.

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