Permission to use images graciously granted by respective publishers. Top card images are © Lo Scarabeo srl – Italy. All rights reserved; Lower card images by Orbifold Tarot created by Michael Bridge-Dickson Tarot Deck - 80 Cards - Self Published 2015. Links to respective decks provided in content of article.
From one of the very earliest existent tarot decks, the Visconti Tarots, to one of the most recent of the modern age, The Orbifold Tarot, tarot has been making use of symbols, colors, numbers, and elemental associations to get its point across. Whether it was to merely play a card game, divine the future, or to assist a questioner with helping her or him navigate their way through a challenging situation, tarot's essence remains remarkably intact
Although the earliest tarot decks sometimes varied in number from today's accepted 78, most of the key players remain intact and the oldest decks have more similarities than differences with modern decks.
From the three cards chosen at random in the image above, the basic ingredients have not changed and one might even see visual similarities between the respective cards of these two decks separated by about 550+- years. Even more similarities might be seen in comparing The Orbifold to any other random tarot deck.
Granted, without the names on the Orbifold, it might be difficult to impossible for a reader to initially recognize the figures of its modern design, but we have the benefit of title and number on each of the card fronts, as well as the colors identifying the energy and elements behind each card, so this is not a handicap. The latter benefit is something consistently missing from most other decks and in this way lends itself very well to a newbie tarot reader.
My tastes have always been old school tarot, and my interests in tarot have never been superficial. I've always been as much interested in learning where and how tarot came to be as I have been interested in honing my skill as a reader. In fact, my understanding of the cards could not have happened without an evolving addictive interest in learning what significance each card had during its formative years.
Which brings me to my next point, The Orbifold Tarot is an intelligent and well researched deck that cuts to the chase or a reading. It may not be everyone's aesthetic cup of tea, but there's no denying that is is a well thought out deck that nails its essence.
I've read many comments referring to The Orbifold as an advanced deck, and one not for the beginner, but I couldn't disagree more. Just look at the three random cards above, Judgement, The Chariot and The High Priestess. Just from first glance you know the name of each card, it's number, and the colors which consistently identify their respective elemental associations.
Being able to identify the elements without much effort is this deck's greatest learning feature.
I first learned tarot from a TdM style deck, so it was necessary for me to assign meaning to the numbers and their suits from the get-go. It made total sense to learn that way because the meanings make sense when you understand the motivation, the energies behind each card. When I finally purchased a RWS deck, I remember sometimes feeling a bit frustrated adjusting my meaning to a card when the images on the cards just didn't jibe with the meanings that I had assigned to them, especially to the pip cards. Neither the TdM or RWS deck readily informed a new reader of a major trump card's elemental associations unless the reader was well enough read and knew the astrological or alchemical associations that linked a major trump to its elemental influences. The pips naturally, were easier to assign because basic understanding of the cards four suits would let a reader identify the primary energies at play. But even then, picking up on predominant numeric and elemental influences only happened if the reader was astute, and wasn't too distracted by the art on deck they were using. There is no escaping these influences with The Orbifold.
I've read comments by other readers in forums that even after decades of reading tarot, they still visualize the images on the RWS when reading from a deck other than the RWS format. How much easier if they just knew what the card meant without trying to conjure up an RWS stock image? And this is what The Orbifold Tarot allows immediately, thus effectively letting a reader see the primary influences at play at first glance.
Looking at all three cards above, you immediately know that Judegement and The Chariot are driven by the same elemental principles of air and earth and that The High Priestess is driven by fire and water. We don't get that from the Visconti Tarots. (OK it would be a valued point to say the earlier deck wasn't necessarily read as a divinatory deck, but their allegorical and therefore elemental associations are present nonetheless.
If the above three cards were actually a three card reading, you would immediately see that all four suits were represented and to what degree, even though not a single pip card were present. Granted, a reader might argue that they assign the elements to the major trumps differently than The Orbifold, but if you're a newbie just learning, you're still probably going to identify with the system you learned from until you come up with your own system that seems more right to you. But your personal elemental assignments probably won't differ all that much and The Orbifold's associations are as good as any to learn from.
Despite The Orbifold elemental associations to its respective majors, the abstract images of the majors might be a bit more challenging to the new tarot learner, which is why I recommend learning The Orbifold alongside another deck, much in the same way I laid the two decks out in the photo. In fact, when I teach my next tarot class or individual student, I will probably pull out my Orbifold as a study guide for them, to help illustrate and drive home the whole elemental associations point.
As of this moment there is no book for The Orbifold, but I do not think that is an issue for a new learner. The pamphlet is as brilliantly precise as the deck, and it's numeric and elemental assignments are as good as any that I've come across. Once you grasp the associations between numeric and elemental meanings, you're pretty much on your way. This deck and the pamphlet makes quick sense of the process and probably could save years of trying to figure this stuff out, because it's all immediately visual and requires no memorization. In fact, without any predetermined images or distracting keywords, this deck allows a reader to learn on a very personal level. Which makes it more meaningful and easier to learn. I should mention that Michael Bridges-Dickson produced many youtube videos in support of his deck for learners that need extra support.
Perhaps in a few decades it will be read in forums that readers visualize The Orbifold colors in order to readily recall what elemental dignities a particular card is associated with.
More about The Orbifold Tarot may be found at the Orbifold Tarot Website. More about Lo Scarabeo products may be found at the Lo Scarabeo website.