Major Tom’s “Tarot of Marseilles”
Author: Major Tom Schick
Artist: Major Tom Schick
Schiffer Books (Second Edition)
The deck under review is the second edition of Major Thomas Schick’s “Tarot of Marseilles”. The first edition was a Limited Edition of fifty decks published for the 2005 Melbourne International Tarot Conference. I personally thank both Major Tom (as he is known on Aeclectic Tarot) and Jean-Michel David (of the Association For Tarot Studies) for making the first edition of this deck possible. From that admittedly rough edition came the second edition, published by a relative newcomer to the Tarot world, Schiffer Books.
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get to this deck – I have no reason. I will say that I am happy to be working with it now, as I deeply admire Major Tom Schick, who is not only a well-known presence on Aeclectic Tarot, but a knowledgeable, courteous individual who goes out of his way to share his wisdom and encourage people.
This is a 78 card deck, created along the lines of the Marseilles decks of the past. In his introduction Major Tom does credit to Tarot history. He also notes that his impetus in creating this deck was to reintroduce the Marseilles style to the English speaking world. The changes that he has introduced are twofold: (1) he updated the clothing the figures wear to that which would be seen in the 21st century, to make is easier for people to bond with the deck, and (2) he used gradient backgrounds (through Paint Shop Pro 8, which was also used to provide the colors).
I found it very interesting that the only figure to wear a crown was the Empress, and that the ubiquitous baseball cap is seen in lieu of all of the other crowns. The cards were drawn in 4H pencil on A4 size paper, inked with a ball point pen, and then scanned into the computer. All attempts were made to retain the wood-block feel of older Marseilles decks.
In his companion book, Major Tom talks about the spectrum of thought for meaning for the cards of the Tarot, going from an “assigned set of meanings” to “intuiting meanings” from what attracts one’s attention during a reading. His attempt in his companion book is to give the reader a minimum meaning, so that the cards can be used.
Major Tom suggests something that not everyone will want to do – and that is to start out with a study partner. The second thing that he suggests is to start a journal, which I heartily concur with! There are charts listing associationf for both colours and numbers.
The cards are presented with small coloured scans (which really catch the eye!), and a short paragraph about the card. For example, for the Conjuror (Magician), we read the following: “Dressed in the top hat and colourful suit we associate with the circus, sideshow or fairground. He could be running the shell game or selling the latest gadget. “It slices, it dices, but wait until you see this!” He represents an act of will or making something happen.”
The Pips (numbered cards) are presented with a coloured scan, in like groups – i.e. all Aces together, all Two’s together. They are presented with keywords only. For example, from the book:
Batons: strife, conflict, blowing off steam, cooperation, working together
Cups: loss, regret, need to move on, gratitude
Swords: domination, hollow victory, defeat, a bully
Coins: poverty, beliefs about resources, missed opportunities, the need to ask for help”
The Court Cards are presented the same as the Major Arcana – with a full colour scan and a short paragraph about the card. From the book, we have the following: “Valet of Batons – This card traditionally has no title and shows a man dressed as a tree surgeon. It appears as if he has trimmed off a branch, which he now holds to offer to you. This Valet offers you the chance to learn something new.”
Note: On reversals, Major Tom states that he believes that the card itself contains all of its potential meanings, whether upright or reversed.
In his section on doing your first reading, Major Tom refers to the Tarot as an operating manual for a human being (very James Wanless here!). Reading the manual is all about learning to be yourself. Instructions are given on calculating your birth number, which Major Tom refers to as your soul card. He also addresses mediating with the cards.
I dearly loved the humor in his FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, which was divided into two parts: questions that have the same answer, and questions that have different answers!
The structure of this deck is traditional Marseilles style. The Major Arcana retain their same titles, with the following exceptions: Conjuror/Magician, The Papes/High Priestess, Pope/Hierophant, Lover/The Lovers, the trump without a name/Death, and The House of God/The Tower. Justice is VIII, Strength is XI.
The suits are Batons/Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins/Pentacles. The Court Cards are King, Queen, Cavalier/Knight, and Valet/Page.
The box that the cards and book come in is heavy duty cardboard, with a top that opens the long way. There is a lovely small ribbon that opens the box, and a second ribbon along the side to make sure that the top does not bend back too far. On the top of the box is a picture of the Conjuror, on the bottom of the box is a picture of the Pope.
The cards themselves are 2 ¾” by 4 ½”. The backs have a reddish/brown background, with two heraldic shields, one at t he upper left hand corner, and one in the lower right hand corner. In the middle is a form of floral design. The card faces have a ¼” white border across the top and two sides, with a ¾” white border along the bottom. The Major Arcana show the card number, in Roman numerals, alon with the card title in black text along the bottom. The Pips show the number, in Roman numerals, and the suit in black text along the bottom. The Court cards show the card title and suit in black text along the bottom. There are two extra cards – one for Colors, and one for Numbers, with esoteric associations.
In traditional Marseilles style, the artists name and the date the deck was published are written on the Two of Coins. (In this case, the years 1650 – 2007 are noted, to credit the beginning of the Marseilles lineage.) The suit backgrounds are color coded – Batons are green, Cups are lavender, Swords are orange/red, and Coins are yellow/green. Odd numbered swords are depicted as straight, with the remaining swords curved.
My favorite cards are the V of Batons, the X of Coins, Justice, The Conjuror, The Sun (I love those yods!), The Hermit (not to sure about those jeans – I think of this card in a more formal manner!), the King and Queen of Coins, and the II of Coins.
This is a wonderful deck for reading, meditation, and ritual work. It could be used with any age group, and people from any background. It will appeal to those looking for a Marseilles style deck, for an updated Marseilles style deck (two different things!), for collectors, and for those looking for a gentle deck to work with.
© September 2009