Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why Do I Collect Decks?

So I wrote a post response to a question on AT, and I liked what came to mind enough to want to expand on the idea here so....

Collecting Decks

So I have some 30+ tarot decks at the current moment, which I do not think is a particularly notable number by the standards of Aeclectic membership but which is, by the standards of the wider world, quite enough to be called a 'collection' and to qualify me as someone who can reasonably say that I collect tarot decks.

And I suppose I do, though for various reasons I don't really think of myself as a Collector the way some people are: I keep all my decks in simple bags in a large sack (after fire last fall, I like the idea of being able to quickly grab and take them all in an emergency), and care about boxes not at all - the only reason I keep those these days is for possible trading purposes, as other people seem to like keeping their decks in proper boxes with proper LWBs. I don't care about keeping my decks in 'mint' condition, even some of the rarer, OOP ones - if I think it will look better trimmed, I trim away, and gilt them too. I do not keep decks I cannot or do not want to read with, no matter how pretty or rare - all of my decks must be reading decks, working decks, because what the hell do I have them for, if not to read with?

And yet, nonetheless, I have enough that one might reasonable ask: why so many decks? Couldn't you read just as well with one or two? Does anyone ever need over thirty tarot decks? And to be fair, no I do not need them. And yet I am an INTP, and there is some underlying logic with which I justify my purchases. It comes down, I guess, to that one great love of mine in life - the love of learning, of gaining knowledge, expanding what I know and how I can think about the things I know of.

See, we all call it 'tarot reading' but in many ways that seems to be mostly a metaphor, figurative language. Do we really think of it as the equivalent of reading a newspaper, a book? And yet, the more I think about it, the more I want to say...perhaps yes. What is written language, after all? From the earliest pictographs to modern, current alphabets in a way, if you think about it broadly, writing is about visually representing abstract concepts. We have these little symbols we call letters, and we string them together this way and that, and suddenly that MEANS something to us, because we have been trained to automatically interpret them as such. So when you come across DOG, you do not see random squiggles: your mind automatically brings up the image or the idea of a certain canine animal. And when you learn other languages, you apply the same concepts. PIES brings to mind the same animal for me, because my mind has been trained to make that associated. So does كلب because again, written language acquisition is about training the mind to correlate visual symbols with sounds with abstract ideas.

Reading tarot is, in a lot of ways, is just the same. You have 78 cards with distinct images, and each card has a range of meanings attached to it - the exact details depend on which system(s) you follow, whether you read intuitively or whether you are deep into studying historical esoteric symbolism or whatever, and so on. In any case though, its a recognizable system with widely applicable card meanings, and as you get more experienced with working with the cards, and more familiar with them, the process of eliciting messages from the cards becomes easier. When you first start off, you draw a card and look at the picture, and maybe you have some vague concept of what it could maybe mean, but you aren't quite sure, and so you check in the LWB or whatever book you have, and you read the keywords and then you kind of stumble along, in broad strokes, trying to make some kind of connection that makes sense to you. The image and the abstract ideas are still separate and you are trying to bridge that gulf.

Later on, it just comes. I draw the 6 of cups and I automatically think of nostalgia, of childhood, of looking backwards, of longing, of people you used to know and things you used to do. I draw the 10 of coins and I think of houses, of families, of the people you love and the people you are tied to, of responsibilities and duties and burdens. A draw an Ace of Wands and I think of opportunities, of growth, of creative energy ready to be channeled, of new projects, of starting thinks, taking the plunge, boldness. I do not have to sit there and struggle to remember - it simply comes when I look at the image in front of me. The images of the cards you see, have been married to a whole range of concepts in my mind. It really is quite analogous to reading, except that what you are reading is a deck of cards...

Which brings us back to the idea of why so many decks? If you have a deck with which you have grown familiar enough to have that kind of connection, isn't that enough?

But you see, to me it does make a difference that what you are reading is not words but images, ART. Art, which can be created in so many different styles and mediums, which is both so inherently personal and so universal...Having many decks means working with the same core concept represented in a plethora of different ways. It really does broaden the scope of your knowledge, the pool of meaning from which you draw when you read. You'll see a card you feel you know so well drawn in a different way and it will trigger something in your mind, another way that you could approach the idea. It adds nuance and shade. Working with the Thoth so much recently has been doing that a lot for me - it really isn't so far removed from the RWS meanings, and yet it comes at them from different angles and perspectives and it makes me really THINK. It widens how I see the cards. Like Aeon instead of Judgement opened up that card for me in a way I never really got just from the standard christianity-based images of the Angel blowing the trumpet and resurrection. Or the post the other night about the Wheel of Fortune and the idea that life is made up of many wheels - wheel of career, wheel of love, wheel of emotional health - that all move at their own pace. These are ideas that would have never occurred to me if I had just been working with the ONE deck, and which once they do I can internalize and apply to all my future working with tarot, regardless of which deck it is that I happen to be reading at the current time.

And yeah, in a way each deck is also it's own 'dialect' because each one has it's own artistic take, little details that you can pick and pull apart as you interpret. Sometimes the answers the cards give can be QUITE literal, and that staircase or the hat or whatever in the deck you are working with happens to be exactly applicable - it wouldn't be there in another deck, but its here, in this one, an answer just for you.

Besides that, decks draw on all kinds of influences - each other, early 20th century occultist groups, ancient mythology, various cultural practices, astrology, numerology, qabbalah, various animal groups, whatever, and they do so in various ways and proportions and so, having many decks can also be a nice way to become at least a little bit familiar with other ideas or systems or whatever which for me - well, more learning is always, always a plus.

And so that is my overly long explanation about both what I think tarot is and how I justify spending all kinds of money on tarot decks when, one might argue one or two would be more than enough :D


woley said...

Many times a new revelation about a card comes to me just from looking at it in a different deck. Definitely the art and interpretation.

I also like decks where I can learn about a subject or mythology or plants etc. Endlessly fascinating to explore such things via cards.

Melissa said...

huge big time collector here...trying to pare down to "reading" decks, but it's soooo hard!! too many beautiful decks out there

I too like decks that have some mythology to them. For instance thoth which is know is so within the norm. I do liek the fact you can combine astrology into your readings.

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