Barbara Moore — tarot expert, author, and consultant to publishers — continues her insightful series on hand selling tarot. This week, she discusses the all-popular Rider Waite Smith tradition and its significance in the tarot community.
Tips for Hand Selling Tarot: Know the Various Traditions
By Barbara Moore
Being familiar with the various traditions in tarot deck design will help you put the right deck in the hands of your customers. There are three main styles. The Marseilles style is the oldest but also the least popular, at least in the United States (it remains popular in Europe where the cards still used for game playing). This style has the familiar 22 Major Arcana cards and the four suits. However, the numbered cards, also known as the pips, are not illustrated. They simply have the requisite number of swords or cups, etc., on them. These are not popular because they don’t match our current method of reading, which includes psychological and intuitive responses to the art.
The Thoth tradition is based, of course, on Crowley’s Thoth Tarot. Again, this one is not as popular. Most of its fans use the Thoth Tarot, although US Games has recently published the Sun and Moon Tarot, which is a nice alternative.
The most popular tradition is the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tradition. Most of the decks published in the U.S. follow this tradition. You have to be careful, though, when reading descriptions of decks. Many publishers will say that a deck is in the RWS tradition if they have 22 Majors and 4 suits, which, as you have seen here, describes ANY tarot deck. When a customer asks for a RWS deck, they mean something quite specific. A true RWS style deck is one that can be read “out of the box” by anyone familiar with the RWS cards. This means the images evoke the RWS images in terms of theme and/or composition. If a customer asks for such a deck and you hand them, for example, Lo Scarabeo’s Elemental Tarot, they will be disappointed. A better option would be Tarot of Pagan Cats. Some decks that fall into the RWS category take more freedom with the images. This is fine as long as it is mostly recognizable. The Wheel of the Year Tarot (again, from Lo Scarabeo) fits this category.
It is best to steer newbies toward RWS decks. First, most beginner books are based on this tradition. Second, if they are working in classes, meet ups, or online forums, these decks will allow them to participate more easily. These are good considerations to point out to new customers when advising them about deck purchases.
Then there are tarot decks that are completely unique and break new ground. These are for more adventurous readers. These decks include the aforementioned Elemental Tarot as well as other popular decks, like the Tarot of the Sweet Twilight. There is nothing wrong with these decks . . . just know that they are not RWS decks.
Next week, Barbara discusses significant factors that advanced tarot enthusiasts want to know about a deck before buying it.
Barbara Moore is the author of the guides to Mystic Faerie Tarot, The Gilded Tarot, the Mystic Dreamer Tarot, and Shadowscapes Tarot. She also wrote Tarot for Beginners. Her new book Tarot Spreads will be available in April 2012 and her latest deck, The Steampunk Tarot, will be available in Spring 2012.
In addition to teaching tarot classes and providing personal readings, she works as a consultant for tarot publishers Llewellyn Worldwide and Lo Scarabeo. She also contributes to Llewellyn’s Tarot Pathways blog, keeps a personal tarot blog, and a blog documenting the creative process of The Steampunk Tarot.
Don’t forget to check out our new Tarot Catalog, featuring a complete list of Llewellyn and Lo Scarabeo decks. Also featured are divination tools, such as pendulums, runes, and more.