Tarot cards are designed to be evocative. They evoke feelings, thoughts, and memories through their rich symbolism. They conjure up stories, literary allusions, metaphors, clichés, myths, fairy and folk tales. The ambiguous, context-less images stir the imagination and encourages projection.
Below are a few of my favourite evocative cards from various decks. Look at the wealth of symbols—colours, geometric forms, objects, animals. Some cards challenge you to find the story behind the card. Some evoke emotion; others portray emotion—but it is not always clear which emotion.
If you want to know more about these decks, visit Aeclectic.net for reviews and sample images of hundreds of different decks. They have also classified decks by theme (fantasy, Rider-Waite clones, cats, vampires, flowers, medieval & renaissance, modern, and so on) and characteristics (such as computer generated, unusually shaped cards, and decks that have suit-element associations differing from convention set by the Rider-Waite decks and its clones). Tarot.com has images from popular decks that you can browse.
Magic Realist Press’ Bohemian Gothic Tarot is excellent when it comes to provocative images. What do you think happened in the first card? Is the woman mourning the dead dove, or did she kill it? Is she mourning a lost love (like one of the doves)? Who is the woman in the second card? Is she celebrating, gleeful, waiting for a lover? And card 3: Jekyll or Hyde?
Robert Place’s Alchemical Tarot contains a wealth of symbols, with an alchemical slant. The images are interesting variations on the traditional Rider-Waite clones.
Mark McElroy’s Bright Idea Deck is sadly out of print, but might still be available in some shops. It is a lovely contemporary deck, filled with symbols. The deck was created to be used in a business context, leading to appealing variations on the Rider-Waite themes. There is also a great deal of humour—look at the VII Advancement (the Chariot) and the dilemma the poor man is facing in Green 2 Decision (Two of Pentacles). And Trump XX (Judgement) …. (The major arcana are in purple. Yellow corresponds to Swords, blue to Cups, green to Pentacles, and red to Wands.)
The Victorian Romantic Tarot from Magic Realist Press is another brilliantly evocative deck. Look at their take on The Tower. And the Devil!
You might get the impression that I’m a fan of Magic Realist Press decks …. Here are some cards from the Fantastic Menagerie Tarot.
And the magical Fairytale Tarot (also Magic Realist Press).
Rachel Pollack’s Shining Tribe Tarot is colourful and unconventional, with a primitive feel. The bright colours are integral to the symbolic value of the deck. The accompanying book has a fascinating emphasis on the myths that inform the deck.
The Romani Buckland Tarot by Raymond Buckland is based on the British Rom (Gypsy) culture.
The Tarot of Metamorphosis is both unconventional and surreal, with people and objects morphing into something else.
Ciro Marchetti’s Tarot of Dreams has the astrological symbol, Hebrew letter and position on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life in the corners of the major arcana cards. These are all associations that were added since the late 1700s, when, as far as we know, the cards were first used for divination. The minor arcana astrological symbols form part of the border of each card.
The Quantum Tarot uses science and physics symbols to illustrate the cards.
The Haindl Tarot is a gorgeous and unconventional deck, again one that makes use of symbols and colours to convey meaning.
The Rider-Waite deck, designed by Arthur Edward Waite and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith, is based on symbology defined by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.