Palpitations. I always get them when there’s the prospect of visiting a tarot shop. I mean, I know there must be so few strictly tarot (only) shops, but I’m never sure what else to call them as I only really ever go there in the hope of finding cards. New Age Shops? Esoteric Shop? Magick Shop? I rather like that last name – and the one I visited yesterday was probably in this last category – but it always sounds slightly pretentious for those of us who don’t draw chalk circles on the floors of our attics and summon demons (or daemons). The fact is, I was spending a few days in an unfamiliar city and had discovered that there was what looked to be quite an interesting sounding shop selling tarot cards, so I organised myself well, noted down the address, the opening times (N.B they don’t close for lunch), copied out a sketchy map and started making those involuntary mental lists in my head of what I dream of finding there. I have written before on this blog about the death of New Age shops and as more and more of them close, I know all too well that I have to savour the experience as there may well be a day soon when the experience of going into one of these shops, browsing and carefully selecting treasures to take away, really will be a thing of the past. A part of me always gets tremendously excited at the prospect. There’s always that silly expectation (which I try so hard to quench but find I never can) that I might come across a sealed Greenwood, Victorian Romantic Gold or Dusserre Dodal sitting in the cabinet with years’-worth of incense fumes soaked into the tired cardstock. I have these decks but of course I wouldn’t turn my nose up at another copy and it would make for such a good story to tell if ever I was at a dinner party with only tarot geeks present (hardly likely to happen).
Anyway, I arrived at my destination and had a Sunday to kill so decided to locate the shop and drool at the window – and no, I shalln’t specify which shop it is; let us imagine it to be anyplace. It is an experience I have had in various shops in various cities; many times on my travels I have felt that pressure to catch a special shop open, discover my treasures, scoop up my spoils, before checking out and bidding farewell, perhaps never to return. I found the street, found the right number and they had a very nicely done shaman-themed window display with sepia North American Indian photos, drums, totem animal carvings, Spirit of the Wheel meditation cards, incense, feathers, dreamcatchers, assorted North American-themed tarot decks alongside herb spells in sachets (“how to dominate your husband”) and smudge sticks. Straining my neck, peering beyond the window reflection, I could make out a very impressive tarot cabinet, upright, like a sarcophogus in the darkness, not far from the door (I could identify the Zodiac Tarot among a few others). Now I just had to wait for them to open, and not get too excited as, let’s face it, when you have a collection with quite a lot of decks, the chances of finding a surprise are few and far between. The chances of finding a rare, non-amazon deck that you’ve spent years searching for are really quite slim. I resigned myself to taking home one of those mainstream decks that I’d always been meaning to buy but simply never got round to. Tarot Lenormand perhaps. All I had to do between now and then was sleep well and wake up refreshed. Of course, exploring a new city, there are no shortage of things to check out, meals to eat, nice cafés to explore, atmospheres to soak up, so it wasn’t too much of a chore to kill time until the shop opened the following day.
Next morning over breakfast, I started getting excited (compulsively making more mental lists) and went to the shop mid-morning. No last-minute hitches on my only free shopping day, no terrifying “closed for stocktaking” sign. Pure bliss to be in front of a full tarot cabinet with the sun streaming in, even if most of them were in fact decks I already have, though I find it thrilling to contemplate the variety and richness of tarot artwork, publications, history, and seeing them all in a different setting (i.e not my house), a few metres from a busy square, with traffic and commuters rushing past, real life burbling only metres away, and it makes it feel all the more objective somehow, seems to emphasise that sense of having stumbled into an Aladdin’s cave. One of the assistants was on the telephone when I went in, giving details of some herb spell (“yes we do stock them. We also have reversible ones; so all the bad that they wish onto you comes back at them and they can’t understand why everything in their life is suddenly going so badly… Yes, it comes with instructions. Make sure you burn it where it can’t cause damage to property. In a garage or somewhere like that, as these things, once lit, have been known to spread out of control…”) I made my choices relatively unobserved. I noticed that they had the out of print 1994 AG Muller deck Golden Dragon Tarot, one of those early oriental decks, reflecting a certain 90s trend (see The Feng Shui Tarot and U.S games Chinese Tarot) that you don’t see around much and which I didn’t have. I asked the other assistant to open up the glass cabinet and let me check prices. I also spotted a Symbolon deck which seems to be getting harder and harder to find these days and which I had been curious about. I separated these two decks and ran my eyes over the other shelves. Most of the decks were the easily available Lo Scarabeo, U.S Games and Llewellyn ones plus assorted divinatory tools like runes, packets of cowrie shells and fortune telling dice kits plus a couple of packs of E.S.P cards. I also picked up a copy of one of those decks I have been meaning to buy for a while and which I never see at the usual outlets; The Divination Tarot,a rather slapdash, oddly coloured, random coloured Conver deck published by Comas Naipes/Fournier and (naturally) with Spanish titles. Sometimes it comes in a deck set but this was deck only which for me is much more practical. So these were my spoils.
There is a peculiar satisfaction in not finding something exceptionally fabulous and exceptionally expensive, hence no temptation to overspend. I had a quick look round the rest of the (actually quite impressive) shop but had no head for glass counters full of gorgeous pendulums, pentacle charms and altar accessories, herbs for fumigation or those ubiquitous fairy figurines. At the counter I was asked whether I needed any bags, any spreadcloths (a nervous cough, knowing my own uncontrollable indulgences; I already have so many). She said “you’ve done well to buy these decks,” pointing at the Symbolon and the Golden Dragon “as we can’t get them any more.” Of course I knew that. They were there waiting just for me, had been for a while. I wonder how many more tarot shops there are spread around the globes with decks langushing just for me? So to lunch, satisfied at recapturing once more that thrill of being in front of a full tarot cabinet all for sale; a thrill I remember from years ago, when nobody (to my knowledge, no card reader, not even Mother Shipton, Cagliostro or Nostradamus) could have predicted the internet and how it would transform our acquisition of things, when shops like these were my only source for decks. I miss them, then when the pangs have passed, hypocritically order online, and each time I come across one I wonder whether this one really is going to be the last.