Angel Tarot - Review by Lee A. Bursten
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The vast majority of Tarot readers today use the Waite-Smith deck, and the vast majority of Tarot books on the bookstore shelves are written for use with it. Sometimes we may tend to forget that for hundreds of years the Marseilles style of deck was the predominant one, used both for game-playing as well as fortune-telling. It was a Marseilles style deck which Antoine Court de Gebelin saw in 1781 when he "rediscovered" the Tarot as a book of wisdom, thus creating in one stroke the concept of interpreting the cards from an esoteric viewpoint, which eventually led to the creation of the Waite-Smith deck in 1910.
One of the main reasons for the fall in favor of the Marseilles deck is that, unlike the Waite-Smith and its modern derivatives, the "pip" cards (2 through 10 of each suit) are not illustrated with scenes, but rather abstract designs featuring the requisite number of suit symbols (i.e. ten wands for the 10 of Wands). This makes learning meanings for these cards somewhat more difficult, as there are no scenes to jog the memory. Many readers also like being able to intuitively interpret the scenes in a reading, besides using the memorized meanings of the cards.
Although this is the majority viewpoint of current-day Tarot authors, it is by no means the only one. Tarot authors Sallie Nichols (Jung and Tarot), Gareth Knight (The Magickal World of Tarot), and Micheline Stuart (The Tarot Path to Self Development) all prefer the Marseilles deck. Sandor Konraad (Classic Tarot Spreads) prefers non-illustrated-pip decks such as the Marseilles and the Oswald Wirth. These authors are not convinced that having a picture on each pip card is necessarily better; in fact, some feel that having a picture is actually limiting, as it might prevent one from freely applying the concept of the card to a situation which might be unlike the one pictured on the card. Gareth Knight feels that readers ought to make up their own, personal picture for each card, which could be called to mind when seeing the abstract pip design.
These authors also prefer the symbology of the Marseilles deck to the modern decks. Sallie Nichols points out that the Marseilles is not the product of a single personality (for example A.E. Waite) who wants to use the deck to illustrate his or her own particular views, but is rather a collection of more universal symbols which cannot be tied to a particular ideology. For example, when Waite substituted Wands for Batons or Rods, and Pentacles for Coins, he was imposing on the deck his own particular ideas about magickal practice.
The problem for us in this day and age is that the Marseilles deck, at least as it is currently available, is quite ugly. The faces are grotesque, and the coloring is downright atrocious, featuring flat areas of bright red, blue, green, yellow and an unappealing flesh color. There are many figures with blue or white hair (nothing wrong with white hair, but its a little odd on a Page). Apparently this convention for Marseilles decks started with Grimauds version, sold from 1930 to the present. I dont know why this coloring has been used for so long. The reproductions of 18th and 19th century decks that can be seen in U.S. Games current catalogue do not have this coloring. Unfortunately the version currently sold by U.S. Games is no improvement. I bought it hoping for less grotesque faces and better coloring than the Grimaud, but I actually prefer the Grimaud. The drawing on the U.S. Games is cruder, the faces even more grotesque, and the coloring similar. (Since writing this I have come to revise my views somewhat. The U.S. Games deck, although the drawings are indeed cruder, does show more personality than the Grimaud, and although it uses the same palette, the colors are put to somewhat better use. I also like the slightly squiggly font used for the U.S. Games card titles.)
An ideal solution would be the Marseilles deck published by Fournier. This is a beautifully colored deck. Unfortunately it is not available in the U.S., so those who dont already have it are out of luck. (Since writing this I have learned that the deck is still be available in Europe.)
I feel the best of the Marseilles decks in print today (other than the reproduction decks) is the Angel Tarot. Angel is a playing card company in Japan, and they apparently had an (anonymous) artist make new drawings based on the old pictures. The faces are more humanized, with large, expressive eyes. All the faces are left pure white, which seems a little odd but is far preferable to that unpleasant flesh color used in the Grimaud/U.S. Games decks. The main colors used in the deck are brown, greenish-brown, beige, red, yellow, and a sedate blue and a sedate green. The predominant colors are brown and red, giving the deck a warm, comfortable feeling. Other than the colors and the faces, the drawings stick closely to the Marseilles designs, only occasionally breaking out with something original. For example, the Sun, with its large eyes, has a folk-art quality, and is really quite nice.
The only other major difference between this deck and the Grimaud is in the pip cards. The original Marseilles designs are so abstract, especially in the Wands and Swords, that they appear almost to have been designed by computer. The Angel artist has created entirely new designs, and they have more of a human, individualistic quality. There is also a touch of whimsy: each pip and court card contains in its design the corresponding playing card suit symbol, i.e. each Sword card contains a spade, each Cup card a heart, etc. The pip cards are also quite pretty, with small highlights of bright reds, blues, greens, and pinks.
Unfortunately the deck uses the Waite convention for the names of the trumps and suits. I dont mind the substitution of the Hierophant and the High Priestess for the Pope and Popess, but I object strenuously to the use of Pentacles rather than Coins. A.E. Waite took it upon himself to change Coins to Pentacles to make the deck more relevant to the Golden Dawn theories and practices, and I see no reason to perpetrate this change. To me, Coins is a perfectly suitable symbol for the material world. Many people dont even know what pentacles are, which simply adds further layers of obfuscation to the Tarot, which is the last thing it needs.
I would recommend this deck as the one to buy if one wants a Marseilles-style deck. I would also recommend taking a look at the reproductions of old decks that are illustrated in U.S. Games catalogue, for example the Ancient Tarots of Bologna or the Ancient Tarots of Liguria-Piedmont.
See more images from Angel Tarot
If you are interested in purchasing this deck, click here.
- Angel Tarot
- U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
- Stamford, CT 06902
- ISBN 0-913866-98-9
Images Copyright 1980 US Games Systems