The Bookworm Is In The Cards: Tarot


The Bookworm Is In The Cards

Hello! Welcome to the Bookworm newsletter, where we… well I talk books, magic, and media. This edition is all about Tarot!

I would love any and all feedback so feel free to reply to this email or contact me at my preferred internet lurking places down at the bottom. If you know about some resources I’ve missed, please feel free to send them along.

Baby’s First Tarot
Thoth vs. Rider-Waite-Smith


Of all the questions I would get when helping people at the Tarot counter during my occult store days, “Which deck should I start with?” was probably one of the easiest to answer. Unless they were attracted to a particular deck, there were always two decks I would go for: The Rider-Waite-Smith and the Thoth.
Why? Because most divinatory cards considered to be part of the Tarot lineage are based on these two decks, especially the Waite-Smith.


Though not the first cards used for divination nor even the first Tarot deck, the Waite-Smith, created by writer A.E. Waite and artist Pamela Colman Smith, was the first to “standardize its imagery,” according to Jessa Crispin in the Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide To The Inspired Life. The deck, published in 1910 by William Rider & Sons, was the first since the 16th century where “all of the cards, including the Minor Arcana, were fully illustrated with human figures and other symbolic imagery. This is the full separation mark of the tarot from a deck of playing cards to a deck of divination cards.” (Crispin 9)

This makes it a great starting point for getting used to the symbols and imagery used in most decks. Since it is out of copyright, the Waite-Smith (called the Rider-Waite for a long time, effectively erasing Colman Smith, perhaps because she was both a woman and a person of color), is available from many companies and fairly easy to obtain. There is also a Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative deck that has a slight redesign and celebrates the artist more but carries the same imagery.

However, the art is not for everyone. I did not connect with the deck at all. But I really connected with the Thoth deck.


The Thoth deck, created by Aleister Crowley and originally painted by Lady Frieda Harris, was completed in 1943. However, it remained secretive and unpublished until 1969, after both creators’ death, when it was put out by Crowley’s order Ordo Templi Orientis. Though the deck follows the same basic structure as the Waite-Smith (Waite and Crowley were both kabbalists and both members of the Order of the Golden Dawn), it uses princess instead of page, changes some of the major arcana (ie. in the image above where Art has replaced Temperance, which given that Crowley wasn’t much for Temperance, isn’t a huge surprise), and has a totally different artistic style.

The deck is not as widely disseminated as the Waite-Smith, but it still has its descendant decks, including my partner’s favorite, the Haindl. It is also great for symbolism and frankly, I adore the art. It’s dreamy, art deco, and filled with almost fractal imagery.

Choosing a deck, whether it be your first or your twenty-first, is a very personal process. It’s all about whether the art speaks to you, whether it feels good in your hands, and whether you can make sense of the imagery in a meaningful way (and believe me, this changes from deck to deck). For example, I adored the art in the Dali deck (cards from which are pictured above between the Thot and Waite-Smith counterparts), but it was too big for my hands (and I don’t have small hands) and I had trouble making sense of the interpretations in the booklet it came with. I spent months with the Dali before I gave up and moved on to the Thoth, which is the deck I currently work with.

Exploring Further

On Topic

(Some Additional Resources)

The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide To An Inspired Life by Jessa Crispin- This is my favorite book for Waite-Smith interpretations. It’s great for creatives of every kind and uses historical anecdotes of famous creative people to illustrate the meanings of the cards. My one quibble is she doesn’t talk much about reversed cards. 
The Ultimate Guide To The Thoth Tarot by Johannes Fiebeig and Evelin Burger- A great book for the Thoth deck. It breaks down all the symbols in each card clearly and with full-color illustrations.
Talking Tarot and Dreams with Robert M. Place on Rune Soup– This episode has a lot of good discussion about Tarot history, dreams, symbols, tips, and decks. Place is a Tarot historian and deck creator.
The Galaxy Tarot App– This is a very useful deck simulator that allows you to pull from cards from the Waite-Smith, either for one card draws or multiple card spreads. It also gives you the interpretations from Waite’s book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. Available for free from the Google Play Store.


Off Topic

(Things I’m Enjoying Right Now)

The Print Run Podcast This publishing podcast is co-hosted by two agents from the Red Sofa Literary Agency and is chockful of useful information, industry news, and funny banter.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon– Imagine share-cropping on a spaceship that’s been traveling for generations and you get the gist of this book. Though a heavy concept, Solomon weaves a very readable and human tale of love, racism, gender fluidity, and space travel.

Cotton Crossing by Lilith Saintcrow– I love Saintcrow and am seriously addicted to her new zombie series Roadtrip Z, of which Cotton Crossing is the first. It’s not the most original take on zombies so far (I just finished book two) but it has great characters, slow burn love, and looks at the personal toll taken by such an epidemic.

Bastille- “This is What You Came For/Trouble/Bang Bang“- Bastille does really creative song mash-ups, combining lyrics into soulful covers that tell a story. This is my most recent favorite of his. Other  wonderful covers are his “We Can’t Stop,” and my all-time favorite “No Angels.”

“We Need to Stop Talking About Disability as a Burden” by Alaina Leary– This article is a really informative treatise on how the media treats people with disabilities and why the language they use is harmful to the very people they talk about. Contains some awesome references for anyone looking to learn more and write more sensitively.

Looking for me? I’m lurking around FacebookTwitter, and my website.
Exciting news! My Twitter stories The Blind Leading The Blind and Singing To Success are currently running on the Everyst app. You can read everything posted so far in the app and catch updates in real time on Thursday (for BLtB) and Friday (StS).

For all of you doing Camp Nano this month: I wrote an article for the NaNoWriMo blog!

Additionally, you can read my articles on music and culture in TUBE. Magazine.

Please feel free to share this newsletter with anyone you think might like it. If you have been forwarded this email and wish to subscribe, you can do so here.

To see this newsletter in full HTML glory click here. The next newsletter will be going out May 5th, so if you want to learn all about Qabbalah (Cabala, Kabbala) be sure to subscribe.


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