The definition of a tarot deck varies quite a bit from person to person. The bare bones definition is a deck of 78 cards: 22 majors and 56 minors (of four suits, ace – 10, and four courts per suit).

There have been, historically, deviations. An example is a Minchiate deck, which has 40 majors, plus the Fool. Modern deck designers have played with this structure as well, sometimes adding a few cards to the majors or adding a court to the minors, or even an entire fifth suit. Some would argue these are not tarot decks.

In addition, there are decks that follow what I call the bare bones structure but deviate wildly from the familiar Golden Dawn (Thoth and Rider Waite) images and meanings. For example, the recently released Book of Shadows, volume 1: As Above HERE. While it expresses the archetypal meanings commonly associated with the Golden Dawn (mostly), it does so in very different ways. In addition, the four suits leave the Golden Dawn completely. Does this make it not a tarot deck?

I think it is still a tarot deck. I think that as long as the structure (the suits and the numbers) are used in a way that makes sense, then it is a tarot deck. Following, for example, the element of fire as expressed by heavenly bodies is a viable and logical use. Different from the RWS? You bet.

Tarot has always been organic. If we stay wedded to the idea that the RWS (or Golden Dawn) is the only “real” tarot, we stagnate. There are so many decks that take a creative approach, exploring energy (both elemental and numeric) in unique ways. Decks that challenge us can be as welcome to our practice as ones that are familiar and feel a bit a like “coming home.”

What are your thoughts? When does a tarot deck cease to be a tarot deck?

Written by Barbara Moore
The tarot has been a part of Barbara Moore’s personal and professional lives for over a decade. In college, the tarot intrigued her with its marvelous blending of mythology, psychology, art, and history. Later, she served as the tarot specialist for Llewellyn Publications. Over the years, she has ...