Morgan-Greer TarotThe Moon from the Morgan-Greer Tarot Deck - Review by Lee A. Bursten

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This deck was published in 1979 by Morgan Press. The artwork is by William Greer.

The box and booklet state that it was illustrated "under the direction of Lloyd Morgan." This is somewhat odd, since the deck includes a card with the artist’s biography and a short statement by the artist on how the deck was created, which does not mention Mr. Morgan. The deck is now published by U.S. Games.

This is a popular deck, and it has been used to illustrate four currently available books: Tarot Celebrations by Geraldine Amaral and Nancy Brady Cunningham; Step-by-Step Tarot by Terry Donaldson; Spiritual Tarot, by Signe E. Echols, Robert Mueller, and Sandra A. Thomson; and The Book of Tarot by Susan Gerulskis-Estes, which U.S. Games sells packaged with the deck if you want to buy a book/deck set.

This deck is a "Waite-Smith clone," i.e. a deck that basically re-illustrates the classic Waite-Smith deck without significant conceptual changes or additions. The artist seems to have made an attempt to simplify the symbolism of the Majors so that they often resemble the Marseilles deck, while the Minors stay close to the Waite-Smith pictures. Another obvious influence on both Majors and Minors is an earlier deck by the same publisher, the Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini. Many of the cards follow the Aquarian in composition, if not in style. Like the Aquarian, most of the Minors feature close-ups rather than full-length figures.

This deck is quite unusual in that it has no borders; each scene goes to the physical edges of the card. This, combined with the dark, deep colors used in the deck, creates a specific feeling not found in other decks. It reminds me of the difference between watching a movie on a small screen and a large screen. On the small screen, you are always aware of the wall beyond the screen; on the large screen, after a while you forget that you are sitting in a theater, and you begin to enter into the world you are watching.

The art style reminds me of magazine illustrations from the ‘70s. The sometimes psychedelic colors and the hairstyles of the men are what dates it somewhat. In my opinion Cynthia Giles maligns the deck in her book The Tarot: History, Mystery and Lore. She categorizes the deck under "Pop," and states that it uses a style of illustration "that will remind you of Batman, Sleeping Beauty, and the Illustrated Classics series. These may be fun to read with if they suit your taste, but they probably don’t lend themselves to deeper uses." This is rather unfair, especially when you consider that the Waite-Smith deck itself is open to exactly the same criticisms, while Greer’s draftsmanship is far superior to Pamela Colman Smith’s.

The Fool is a good example of Greer’s modus operandi. It follows the Aquarian picture, except that the clothes are more like the Waite-Smith, and the viewpoint has pulled back so that the Fool’s legs are visible, along with a cliff in the background, as well as a leaping dog. This picture perfectly illustrates the interpretation of the Fool as the fairy-tale hero, setting off on his adventures.

The High Priestess takes its cue from the Marseilles deck. It’s a simpler picture than the Waite-Smith, but it borrows from that deck a crescent moon at her feet and a body of water almost hidden by the veil. As with many cards in this deck, the coloring, in this case different shades of blue, does much to add to the atmosphere.

The Chariot is also a simpler card. There are fewer symbols on the charioteer’s dress; just a crown of stars, a sun on the chest, a crescent moon at each shoulder, a modified yin-yang symbol on the belt buckle, and a staff topped by a crescent moon and an infinity sign. Otherwise the card echoes the Marseilles Chariot, with horses whose bodies seem to emerge out of the chariot, rather than the sphinxes of the Waite-Smith.

The Wheel of Fortune abandons the Waite-Smith symbolism entirely, and is even less esoteric than the Marseilles. In fact it is modeled after the 1JJ Swiss deck; a king and queen live it up atop a spinning wheel, while a human figure has lost his grip on the wheel and is being catapulted into the abyss below. In a wonderful touch, the figure’s foot has gotten caught in the queen’s voluminous gown, which she worrisomely tries to tug free.

The Hanged Man is my favorite of any deck, because of its Marseilles-like simplicity. There is no halo, no bag of coins, no snake, no faces in the trees -- just a hanged man.

Death and the Devil are two problem cards for me. They are extremely negative. I have always felt the important element in Waite-derived Death cards was the banner with the rose pictured on it. To me this symbolizes the fact that death brings with it the concept or the idea of new life, which has not yet blossomed into reality. In this deck the skeleton is about to cut down a living white rose. The positive elements of the Waite picture are therefore gone, and the picture seems quite bleak as a result.

The Devil totally baffles me, as it is different in style than the rest of the deck. It is a rather abstract picture; a silhouette of a goat’s head, with malignant eyes. Atop the head is a large reversed pentagram, enclosing a fly. Atop the pentagram is a burning candle. This card conjures up the worst associations with black magic. I have tried to view this card as simply the "shadow" part of one’s psyche putting on a scary mask, as a child might. However, this card still scares me, and goes a long way toward single-handedly preventing me from using the deck.

The Moon, like the Hanged Man, is gorgeous in its simplicity. The mood of the Waite-Smith card is improved by featuring a large full moon with no human face.

Judgment departs somewhat from the standard picture. The Waite-Smith picture shows an angel blowing on a horn, while a man, woman and child rise up from coffins floating on the water. While some decks, like the Aquarian or the Hudes, drop the man, woman and child and simply show the angel, in this deck the angel disappears, and we have the man, woman and child rising up, while a flaming French horn emerges from a cloud above. The combination of the dark-blue-skinned family with a yellow sky and the red flames is less than eye-soothing, but maybe that was the artist’s intention.

The Minors contain some interesting touches, like the 4 of Cups, in which the figure being offered the fourth cup is covered with ivy, bringing to mind the saying that "a rolling stone gathers no moss." The 3 of Pentacles and 5 of Pentacles are set against stained-glass windows featuring red and yellow, which create a wonderful effect. In many cases, like the 7 of Pentacles, the Aquarian design is illustrated more completely, which makes it easier to grasp what is happening. Of all the Waite-Smith clones, this deck’s 6 of Swords is the most successful at maintaining the original picture’s sense of melancholy and loneliness. I find this picture even more interesting than Pamela Colman-Smith’s picture, because in this deck the woman’s child, instead of sitting beside her, has taken the place of the boatman and is guiding the boat, leading to the suggestion that one’s "inner child" may be relied upon to guide us out of difficult situations.

The Court cards again echo the Aquarian, adding in a few elements to make them more suggestive of their standard meanings, such as a background of waves for the King of Cups or a burning tower for the Knight of Swords. These Courts lie somewhere in between the Aquarian or the Marseilles, where there is very little in the picture suggestive of meaning, and the Waite-Smith or Robin Wood, where the meanings are very obvious from the pictures.

I feel this deck is an excellent choice for those who want to work with a good "basic" deck, one that uses Waite-Smith type Minors while being better drawn and with more interesting colors. I find working with this deck and the Aquarian to be a relief after struggling with the individualistic concepts of other deck designers who seek to impose their own ideas onto the Tarot (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I will, however, continue to struggle with those overly negative Death and Devil cards.

Of the books which use this deck for illustrations, The Book of Tarot by Susan Gerulskis-Estes, which comes packaged with the deck when you buy it as a deck/book set, is short at 94 pages and is only mediocre, and not one I would go out of my way to recommend. One would be better off buying the deck without the book, and instead using any book written for the Waite-Smith, or one of the following which specifically use the Morgan-Greer: Step-by-Step Tarot by Terry Donaldson, which is a good book, with a chatty, entertaining style; or Tarot Celebrations by Geraldine Amaral et al., which is also a good book, but it only discusses the Major Arcana.

Spiritual Tarot by Signe E. Echols et al. uses the Morgan-Greer along with the Waite-Smith and the Aquarian, comparing the imagery for each card. It approaches the Tarot from a personal-development viewpoint. It is somewhat amateurish and hesitant in style, but it is an excellent compendium of other authors’ views, all of which are attributed.

See more cards from the Morgan-Greer Tarot Deck

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.

Morgan-Greer Tarot
U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Stamford, CT 06902
ISBN 0-913866-91-1

Images Copyright 1979 US Games Systems Review Copyright 1999 Lee A Bursten

Page Copyright 1999 by Diane Wilkes