Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Cross-Deck Comparison with Two of Cups

You may have noticed that most, if not all, of my Readings and Closer Looks are done with the Waite-Smith deck. Indeed, some tarot readers do stick to one tradition, and all my decks are based roughly on that same deck. However, tarot artists interpret Waite's and Colman Smith's work in so many weird, robust ways, that there is still plenty of variation to explore. When I began to move into other decks, I wanted to challenge myself without being too overwhelmed by new meanings or inscrutable artwork.  There are many decks that cleave very closely to the Waite-Smith, but other ostensible "clones" seem entirely disconnected at first glance.

This cross-deck comparison looks at the Waite-Smith and three other decks in the same tradition, each with different levels of abstraction from the original imagery. I hope it gives you some insight into how to be flexible with different decks while still relying on the system you've already learned. We're looking at the Two of Cups across the decks listed below: 

  • Universal Waite: Art by Pamela Colman Smith, coloring by Mary Hanson Roberts. Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. (Note: I refer to this deck as my Waite-Smith deck.)
  • Tarot Mucha: Art by Giulia F. Massaglia and Barbara Nosenzo. Published by Lo Scarabeo.
  • Shadowscapes Tarot: Art by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. Published by Llewellyn Publishers.
  • Wooden Tarot: Art by A.L. Schwartz. Published by Skullgarden.


Let's start out with our Universal Waite. Simple, clear, and accessible, this imagery conveys a sense of romantic love by evoking a sense of formal commitment.  Facing each other, exchanging cups (as one might exchange rings or vows), framed by some divine winged lion, the two characters play their parts with little ambiguity.

The Tarot Mucha interprets Waite-Smith imagery through an art deco lens.  Though not drawn by Alphonse Mucha himself, the art evokes his style.  Our winged, lion-headed caduceus still frames the picture, and a pair of actors still exchange cups.  This illustration, however, exchanges the stiff formality of the Waite-Smith for willowy lines and postures of repose. If the Waite-Smith shows a scene from a play, the Tarot Mucha is its real-life correlate.  Interpreting the meaning will not be much of a challenge.

I've written about the Shadowscapes Tarot before, and I'm happy to have another chance to show it off. This deck has us moving further away from the classic Waite-Smith imagery; notice that Pui-Mun Law has removed our weird winged lion dude, and our characters are not really exchanging cups in a ceremony (though you will see there are still two cups in the picture).

This artist conveys her meaning through a sense of movement and intuition. Instead of two humans exchanging an item, we have two nymphs/dryads/ents literally wrapping around each other, with a cute little heart ornament hanging above them, like a sprig of mistletoe encouraging a kiss. Glowing golden fish linger nearby, blurring the lines between earth, water, and sky.

While drastically reinterpreting the Waite-Smith deck, Pui-Mun Law calls on her own tools to convey the same meaning. Interpreting this deck won't be too hard, but will become much easier the more you work with it.

Finally, we have the Wooden Tarot, one of my current favorite decks.  By far the most surreal version we've seen, this two of cups forgoes human actors altogether.  Indeed, you'll note that it's not even the two of cups; the Wooden Tarot replaces cups with blooms.

This bloom may at first look like a single blossom, but it actually appears to be two flowers back to back, creating one large double bloom. This suggests to me the synthesis of two things becoming one. The suit of blooms in the Wooden Tarot very strongly convey a sense of tenderness to me, so I can extrapolate that meaning into the synthesis of two passions into friendship or love.

Here, we have a card that is technically based on Waite-Smith symbology; however, interpreting this card in isolation will work better if you are familiar with the deck as a whole.


What do you think, folks?  Of these two of cups, do you have a favorite? Does seeing the same cards across several decks give you any insight into the meaning?  Let us know in comments! 

No comments:

Post a Comment