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The Most Common Tarot Card Decks

For centuries, many of us have looked to tarot cards to look into the past, the future, or even to assess our lives in the present. As a result, there have been many tarot decks created over the years. Some have been custom-made for self-use, never leaving possession of their creator. Then, there are decks that have withstood the test of time and have become staples. Out of all of the tarot card decks, these three are the most common.

Tarot of Marseilles

Nobody’s quite sure where the Tarot of Marseilles was first created, despite the name suggesting that it was in France. This pack of 78 cards really became popular in France during the 1600s, hence the name. Many speculate that the deck was created in Milan, Italy, and is credited with being the original tarot deck of occult use.

There are four suits with the Tarot of Marseilles: Swords, Cups, Coins, and Clubs. The trump cards are given French names in this deck, including Le Diable (The Devil), Le Soleil (The Sun), and Le Monde (The World). These stylistic cards were originally woodcuts but were eventually stenciled and drawn by hand. 

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There have been many variations of the Tarot of Marseilles deck, and are still being made today due to its influence. Author Armando Amaya has said that the deck caused him to stop “lying and started being true to my loved ones…no more laziness, inactivity or boredom, no drugs and alcohol.”

The Tarot of Marseilles does have a strong occult following, but more modern uses have frequently been about self-help and straight-up entertainment. Writer Beth Daley said that “The cards have never been a misguided attempt to predict the future,” but rather a “creative means of re-interpreting and coming to terms with an uncertain present.”

Rider-Waite Tarot

The Rider-Waite Tarot can be found just about anywhere, with more than 100 million deck copies currently in existence. The deck gets its name from the publishing company, Rider, as well as A.E. Waite. Waite was a poet that never judged those that practiced the occult, but rather became entranced with the practice himself and became a mystic.

With that, Waite enlisted the help of Pamela Colman Smith, a British artist, to illustrate the Rider-Waite deck. Smith was very successful in her own right despite not having her name included in the deck’s title. She would illustrate dozens of books and was a successful writer. It took Smith just six months to illustrate the famous deck, which was heavily inspired by magician Eliphas Levi. 

Perhaps the most famous card is XV – The Devil of the Major Arcana, which has been used in pop culture frequently. The Minor Arcana features the suits Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. The Rider-Waite Tarot is now public domain, allowing people to create their own without punishment in most cases.

Thoth Tarot Deck

The final deck was the brainchild of perhaps the most famous occultist of the 20th century, Aleister Crowley. Crowley formed his own religion, Thelema, with this deck sort of serving as the religion’s version of the Bible. The Thoth deck was painted by Lady Frieda Harris, who was introduced to Crowley after she had an established career in art. 

The original concept for the deck was going to be much tamer. However, it was Harris that convinced Crowley to really tap into the occult side of things. Crowley loved the end result and praised Harris repeatedly for her work and the two became very close after collaborating until Crowley’s death in 1947.

The zodiac is a big component of the Thoth deck and does make some changes from the traditional card names. For instance, the page was switched to the princess, while the knight took over the place of the king and the prince took the traditional’s knight spot. The only one that remained constant was the queen.

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