My first introduction to cartomancy was oracle cards. Intrigued, I wanted to know more about how that particular oracle system was set up. This led me to the Tarot, since it seemed to me that many oracle card systems are based on the principles of the Tarot.
Learning the Tarot meant using a Rider-Waite deck, whose art work I detested. However, as I used this deck more, the Tarot symbols became easier to understand. But using the traditional decks eventually became static and boring to me.
For me, non-traditional decks seemed to be more challenging and fun. By working with these decks, I could go down to the bones of the Tarot. Non-traditional decks forced me to learn the basics of the Tarot beyond rote memorization. In each deck that I used, a basic idea of the Tarot was explored and expanded upon. Also, the non-traditional decks expanded the focus beyond Western ceremonial magic(k) that seems to permeate Neo-Paganism. By working with them, the Tarot became more accessible to me.
For example, “Animal Wise Tarot” (Ted Andrews, 1999) has as the Minor Suits: the Ancients (reptiles) for Wands, Shapeshifters (insects) Cups, Winged Ones (birds) Swords, and Four-legged Ones (mammals) as Pentacles. This deck has kept the elemental associations of each suit but deepens their meanings. The Wands become rooted in stability like the reptiles which require warmth for life. (The Fire of Wands ire becomes a hearth fire.) Cups as the Shapeshifters move the emphasis from emotions to metamorphosis. The quality of the Air element in the Winged Ones now includes beauty. Finally, the Four-legged Ones takes Pentacles beyond finances to the fertility of the Earth.
Then “Australian Animal Tarot” (Ann Williams-Fitzgerald, 2000) takes the Tarot a step further. The Minor Suits are Earth for Wands, Water for Cups, Fire for Swords, and Air for Pentacles. This goes beyond the traditional meanings for these Suits. (However the Fire and Water Suits do have similar meanings to the Swords and Cups of traditional Tarot decks.) For example, Nine of Earth (Nine of Wands) has the Green Tree Python, a reptile, representing life force and transmutation. The deeper meaning of the traditional Nine of Wands implies transforming dreams into reality. Like the Mother Python protecting her young (unusual for snakes), so we protect our transformed dreams.
In each case, the author uses the Tarot symbolism that makes sense to them. Using their interpretations, I can delve deeper beyond “Coins” for Pentacles into fertility as the focus of the Four-legged Ones of “Animal Wise Tarot” directs. Non-traditional decks offer a window into the Tarot that traditional ones often overlook.