Click on the links to the right to see some Tarot deck reviews that I have written. Note
that I will be adding more reviews as I write them, so check back from time to time to see
Also, if you would like to see a few Tarot deck recommendations -- and short reviews of
those recommended decks, read on...
Table of Contents
* Introductory Remarks
* Aquarian Tarot, by David Palladini
* Hanson-Roberts Tarot, by Mary Hanson-Roberts
* Robin Wood Tarot, by Robin Wood
* Sacred Rose Tarot, by Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman
** Introductory Notes
Before I launch into these brief reviews, let me lay bare some of my prejudices about
Tarot decks. First of all, I have a decided preference for decks with illustrated pip cards,
so you won’t find any reviews here of decks with numbered cards adorned with mere
geometric patterns (like, for example, the Tarot de Marseilles). This is just my
preference, not a judgment of such decks.
Next, as a purely aesthetic bias, I don’t care much for photographic art on Tarot cards,
so although I respect and appreciate the Cosmic Tribe Tarot and the Quest Tarot, for
example, I don’t read with either of them, so I am not qualified to review them.
Finally, there are two main traditions among modern Tarot decks. There are decks in
the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tradition and there are those in the tradition of Crowley’s
Thoth deck. The decks I used when I first learned to read the cards were all RWS-style
decks, and I still feel much more comfortable with decks of that type. So you won’t see a
review of the Thoth deck here either. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t plan to post a
review of the RWS deck either, but that’s because it is so ubiquitous, and so much has
already been said about it elsewhere, that it needs neither introduction nor
recommendation. Suffice it to say that the RWS deck I use is the Universal Waite
because I find its subtle coloring to be more pleasing than that of the other RWS
And there you have it. These are, of course, just my preferences -- a mere matter of
taste -- presented here as a caveat before you read the following reviews of
recommended decks. So if you happen to love photographic decks that follow the
Crowley tradition and that have geometric patterns on the pip cards, you will want to
take these reviews with a dose of salts.
Note also that the decks reviewed here are not the only ones I recommend. I also love
Robert Place’s Alchemical Tarot deck and Lauren O’Leary’s World Spirit Tarot, but there
are detailed reviews of them elsewhere on this website.
** Aquarian Tarot
Artist: David Palladini
Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
The Aquarian Tarot was the first deck I bought, and as a result, I still have a fondness
for it. The illustrations are done in a striking art deco style, the backgrounds are stylized
and rather minimalistic, and the scenes on the cards generally are zoomed in to provide
a closer view of the person depicted than is the case in the Rider Waite Smith deck. This
style of using close ups focuses your attention on the person in the card, but if you like
to use the scenery in the card or the symbols in the background as an aid in your
reading process, you may find this deck to be a little harder to use than the RWS. In
compensation, however, I have found the simple, bleached out faces to be quite
evocative, serving as a blank canvas upon which my intuition can project its message.
Unfortunately, the cards that suffer the most from Palladini’s minimalism and stylization
are those in the Major Arcana. Nevertheless, I have not found this to be an
insurmountable problem, and I have done very effective readings using this beautiful
** The Hanson-Roberts Tarot
Artist: Mary Hanson-Roberts
Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
This deck follows the Rider Waite Smith tradition quite faithfully, but not slavishly. The
art is detailed, fluid, and rich in color and texture, and I find the scenes on the cards to
have more movement and energy than those on the RWS deck. Thus, for example,
while I find the Page of Wands to be one of the weakest links in the RWS deck, the H-R
Page of Rods (which depicts a child calling out excitedly) is one of my favorites.
I know that some people criticize this deck for being too “cutesy,” but I would not give it
such a criticism. Certainly, Hanson-Roberts has a way of making many of the children in
this deck look so cherubic that you just want to pinch their chubby little cheeks, but the
“cutesy” epithet seems to imply that the “difficult” cards in this deck are whitewashed,
which is not the case. For example, the Five of Cups feels sad and mournful, the Ten of
Swords seems bleakly ruinous, and the Tower looks pretty disastrous.
So if you want to use a deck that seems relatively non-threatening to people who may
not be comfortable with Tarot readings, this is a good choice. If, on the other hand, you
have a querent who won’t take a reading seriously unless you scare the you-know-what
out of them, there are other decks better suited for that.
In short, then, I would describe this deck as being effective, but mild. It tells the truth, but
it does so in a gentle, tactful way. Just be aware of its subtlety in case you plan to use it
to read for yourself, because most of us need to be smacked upside the head with the
insights in a self-reading.
** The Robin Wood Tarot
Artist: Robin Wood
Published by Llewellyn Publishing, Inc.
This deck has about the most beautiful artwork around. The cards have the air of being
illustrations for a fantasy story (not surprisingly, since Wood does such work too), but it
achieves this effect without the use of fantastical beings like dragons, unicorns, and
fairies. Instead, it attains this ambiance by the use of pastoral and mythic scenes,
imaginative costuming, and an ineffable, dreamlike quality to the art. Consequently, the
cards seem both magical and down-to-earth -- both at the same time -- which makes this
deck quite effective. And it is that effectiveness, along with its lovely art, that makes this
one of my favorite decks.
A more specific point about this deck concerns its symbolism. Wood eliminated as many
of the Judaic-Christian symbols from this deck as she could, substituting Pagan / Wiccan
symbols in their stead. For the most part, this is done subtly, so that you have to pay
attention to notice it, and despite these changes, the Robin Wood deck is similar
enough to the Rider Waite Smith deck that it should be easy for anyone already familiar
with the RWS to pick it up and use it. In any case, there is a wealth of symbolism in these
cards, which is explained in great detail in Wood’s book, The Robin Wood Tarot: The
My only criticism of this deck is a rather nit-picky “politically correct” one. All of the
characters in it are Caucasians who are handsome and beautiful, untouched by the
imperfections (such as weight problems, homeliness, or old age) that the rest of us live
with. On the other hand, these cards are so visually pleasing that the flaw of flawless
people is easy to overlook. It is up to you to decide if its ethnic homogeneity is a
problem, but this is an almost ubiquitous characteristic of Tarot decks (although this is
slowly changing). It is just that the realism of the art in the Robin Wood Tarot deck
shines a spotlight on this feature.
** The Sacred Rose Tarot
Artist: Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman
Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
I noted in my review of the Hanson-Roberts deck that if you want to use a deck for
querents who need a bit of a shock now and then in order to take a reading seriously,
there are other decks better suited to that purpose. The Sacred Rose Tarot (SRT) is
one of those decks. Seriously, no one would ever accuse this deck of being “cutesy.”
This is not to say it’s a dreary, scary, or gratuitously negative deck. It is certainly vivid,
beautiful, and energetic. However, the beauty of some of the cards is dark and
foreboding, more like Van Gogh’s disturbing “Starry Night” than da Vinci’s placid “Mona
Lisa.” Also, no punches are pulled on the “negative” cards in this deck. As a couple of
examples, the SRT’s Knight of Swords has a menacing scowl, and the predominant
colors on the card are somber grays, purples, and blues, and its Five of Swords is
especially chilling in its depiction of a man bleeding copiously where he has been run
through by several swords.
One of the more famous features of this deck is the way that the figures on the cards
have vacant eyes, devoid of pupils or irises. This gives many of the cards a rather eerie
feel, but once you get used to this feature (which Gargiulo-Sherman says makes the
faces represent “a mask of archetypal energy”), it ceases to be disturbing.
Although some of the cards may seem unsettling or sinister, others, like the Four of
Wands are exuberant, and the Sun card is positively giddy with joy, so there is a good
balance between the “positive” cards and the “negative” ones. What is consistent
among the images in this deck is the fact that they are all quite powerful.
Although many of the SRT cards follow the Rider Waite Smith tradition, many others
depart significantly from it, charting a new course of their own. As a result, this deck is
not an easy one to jump into. It requires some exploration up front to get the hang of it,
but it is well worth the effort since this is such a forceful and insightful deck. Fortunately,
the Little White Book that comes with it is one of the few that I have found to be
worthwhile. And if you still need more explanation, Gargiulo-Sherman’s book about her
deck is quite helpful.
For more about this deck, see also my interview with Johanna on my Tarot Blog.
I will post more mini-reviews here as time permits.
Check back from time to time!
The image at the top of this page (yes... WAY up there) is from my Tarot of the Masters
deck that I have designed and illustrated. This image, and all contents of this website (c)
James Ricklef unless otherwise noted.
James Ricklef -- Tarot Deck Reviews