Favourite Decks; Part VII

Deck only first edition (1985) on top of later kit edition (1992)

Deck only first edition (1985) on top of later kit edition (1992)

This rich and strange tarot – The Magickal Tarot by Anthony Clark –  belongs to that hallowed group of decks that so few others are fortune enough to enter. A very select and sacred club, now sadly forever closed; my treasured eighties decks. Those decks I bought when the fascination for tarot first gripped me circa 1983-1986. This was probably one of the last tarot decks of the eighties that I actually bought. I had ostensibly stopped buying decks by the time this was released by the Aquarian Press and only came across it because I happened to be working in a bookshop at the time. An eccentric little family affair, the owner of which was a distinguished elderly lady who tested racing cards in her free time and stocked a very well-informed selection of tarot decks. It was thanks to her (as a customer, even before I started working there) that I built up my meagre early eighties collection with my carefully counted pocket money. One day, during the time I worked there – it may have been around 1986 or 1987 – this deck arrived on the shelf.

The box intrigued me, but my passion for tarot had largely waned by then so I resisted the lure for a while. Yet still it intrigued me. I kept returning to it whilst working on the shop floor and – with my 10% staff discount – eventually decided to purchase it. What is extraordinary is that I didn’t own a Thoth deck during this first phase of my tarot collecting. Even though I had about ten decks, the Thoth Tarot was not one of them. I have no idea how I managed not to buy one. I’m not sure I can even remember seeing one for sale, though I’m sure I must have. Certainly if I had had a passing familiarity with the Thoth deck then this deck would have made more sense to me. As it was, the Magickal went completely over my head and, after the initial novelty had worn off, seemed to me little more than a showcase for some very impressive calligraphy. It was not really a favourite but I held onto it for sentimental reasons. Plus the fact that it always looked so mysterious. It slumbered for two decades, untouched in a box somewhere, forlorn and misunderstood until I came back to it after having worked hard at the Thoth, read the Book of Thoth, and ended up really rather liking the Thoth.

Enochian Backs

Enochian Backs

I am constantly bemused by the fact that Thoth-based decks never seem to overtake the Thoth itself in the way that the Rider Waite Smith Tarot is regularly overtaken by Rider Waite Smith-based decks. There are many, many tarotists who have found a Rider Waite Smith-based deck which they feel is better than the original Rider Waite Smith Tarot. I know very few readers who prefer one of the many Thoth-based decks out there to Crowley’s original Thoth. The only function they seem to serve is to make you scurry back to the original and discover how much better it is than its successors in more ways that one. That doesn’t seem to happen with the Rider Waite Smith as much.


It has taken me a long time to find a way into Clark’s Magickal Tarot and I cannot profess to completely understand it now. Much of the esoteric symbolism and hebrew squiggles are lost on me as only recently did I come across the kit version which comes with the companion book and been able to make a start on actually deciphering it. Before then I had been using the deck only version, my first copy, with what I know of the Thoth deck. Yet the fact that this deck looks like no other decks out there means that I was always going to find it endlessly intriguing (“Its artwork is somewhat unappealing” I read in another review. Not the case at all. Don’t listen.). It’s a “difficult” deck and I have always been partial to difficult decks. Plus – as I said – it being an eighties deck – I tend to read some of my nostalgia for that decade into its angular graphics and cheekbones. The blusher, the frilly ruff on Lust (or “Lust for Life” as it is called), the androgyny and excess. Yet it is, whichever way you look at it, a very beautiful and evocative deck, relatively easy to find but not always cheap. A deck that makes me wonder why nobody has reissued it as it seems to me to be one of the few Thoth-based decks that can actually look the Thoth in the eyes and be a contender. It shows painstaking attention to detail, has all the right references, though some may find the layout of the cards a bit repetitive, especially in those cards where there are no figures present, such as the “pip” cards (or as the author calls them, “spot” cards). These cards tend to all show a sort of central spinning circle with the symbol of the element, Elizabethan calligraphy pompously declaiming – as if through a megaphone –  the Golden Dawn-based titles “Lord of Perfected Work” or “Lord of Established Strength”, an encapsulation of the cards’ material energies, and this format tends to be the same throughout; calligraphy up top, hebrew down below, keywords below that and sometimes these very atmospheric little vignettes that show us a scene that the Thoth never did and which goes quite a long way to evoking meaning. Take the Ten of Wands, for example, “Lord of Oppression” which shows a burning lakeside ruin, starry night, light reflected in the water. A number of the courts also contain the Nug Soth alphabet from Lovecraft’s Necronomicon (see Princess of Wands; below, second left) so there really are lots of bits of everything in this deck to unearth as you gain familiarity.

Court Selection

Court Selection

I have found when reading with this deck that it has a knack of tossing up tiny, pertinent details which tie in with the many keywords found through the deck (I who always disliked keywords but with this deck see them as a sort of welcome crutch when reading as the deck is so complex in other aspects). I have had some uncanny readings with the Magickal Tarot – a combination of textual pointers (of which there are many) and details in the vignettes, moods or brooding skies. I find that I like this deck more and more as the years pass. A lesson; never get rid of decks; you may require twenty years to learn to love a deck or grow into it but it will be well worth the wait. The companion book by Tony Willis (published later as part of the kit, the first edition was deck only), while a little dry, dense and serious in the actual card descriptions, is an excellent companion guide to the deck and explains all the symbolism necessary. It really comes into its own in the introduction, setting up background contextualisation and has an excellent section on “Magick” and making the deck your own. Magick for the author is cited as  “the art of causing willed changes in consciousness”, a definition I like (taken from Dion Fortune) as it seems to bring the concept within reach of us all. The Quabalah and Tarot Symbolism” chapter is one of the best, most accessible introductions of its kind that I have read.


Once you’re into the individual cards, each description contains a black and white image with subheadings; “Mystical Titles” of the card e.g The Emperor is Son of the Morning, Chief among the Mighty Ones. There then follows the “Quabalistic Description”, e.g “sphere of the Zodiac acting through Aries on The Sun initiating new growth” Next, the Angelic Ruler which, in the case of The Emperor, is Malchidael. There are then three different types of card meanings; Moral Level, Mental Level and Material Level and then the same again, but this time Ill-dignified. This is for the Majors only, small/Minor/”spot”  and Court cards have only dignified and ill-dignified meanings. The concepts of Moral, Mental and Material meanings are defined respectively as “stored wisdom”, “states of mind” and “the everyday” and they correspond to spirit, soul and body or “higher intelligence,” Psyche, Soma.  Overall, this companion book contains all you need and I cannot imagine using the deck without it. I really would describe it as essential for those who want to use this as a reading deck. I like how he comes down on the side of “fortune tellers” and doesn’t see this as a lowly or lesser use of the cards. For a deck such as this which is so replete with symbolism and highbrow mysticism it is refreshing to see this point of view and this in fact influenced me to see the deck as a very open, welcoming deck, capable of responding to whatever we bring to it. At first glance it seems icey and intimidating but it has taken me years to discover its surprising warmth as a reading deck. Sad though that nobody ever really mentions it.


About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
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18 Responses to Favourite Decks; Part VII

  1. Chiriku says:

    I have mentioned this deck before on Aeclectic Tarot, but not in stand-alone threads; for about the past year now (when I started using it in earnest), I have named it as both as one of my “decks I would grab in a fire [provided I am ‘allowed’ as many as I can easily carry]” and as one of my Top 10 decks. However, with respect to the latter, I I do offer this caveat: that it is not “Top” in the sense of “a deck I am emotionally close to and that I want at hand at all times” but to serve a specific purpose—to assist in ceremony, visualization, and the like. I suppose technically it would be a form of ceremonial magick only minus the righteous schooling in the ins and outs of the Golden Dawn framework.

    Despite the obvious (even explicit) Crowley influences here, I don’t think of it as a Thoth-based deck but as a Golden Dawn based deck in the wider sense.

    And funnily enough, if you add up all the times in my life that I’ve used the Thoth, they would far outweigh the number of times I have used the Magickal. Yet this is the one that made it into my Top 10, this is the one I’d save in a fire, and this is the one I am generally much fonder of than the Thoth (which is a deck I have always got along well with but don’t revere). You may take my preference for the Magickal with the expected grain of salt given that I am NOT a passionate Thelemite and as far from an exclusive Thoth user as a tarotist could ever get. (If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s exclusive.)

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, how these abstract concepts of “favorites” and the like unfold in our world. This deck is a “favorite”–yet paradoxically, that is part of the reason I don’t use it that frequently when compared to my other decks. Part of its allure is the feeling of ceremony I impart to it by using it only for special occasions (and sometimes, keeping it in order and consciously pulling the cards). I suppose this paradox arises from the fact that, for me–unlike for many people— familiarity or frequency of contact is not an accurate gauge of intimacy or admiration. There is a level of distance between me and all the decks I deeply admire and, I suppose, love. It doesn’t feel like what love is supposed to be–it’s not warm and chatty enough by mainstream standards–but that is my version of deck-love, I think.

    • Le Fanu says:

      Interesting thoughts on what constitutes a favourite deck and – you’re right – it doesn’t have to be one we read with regularly but can be one that we get out in special moments and which has some element of sentimental value imbued with ceremony. I never knew you were a fan of this deck!

  2. Chiriku says:

    P.S. A big “yes” on the Eighties-ness. You know how some people claim they can’t see the 80s-ness in the Cosmic? I challenge those people to comment similarly on this one.

  3. Paul Nagy says:

    This blog about Clark’s Magickal Tarot is especially well written for a blog. You tell me exactly what I want to know about this little deck and show me just enough of it to see how it might supplement the Thoth deck upon which it’s based. You do just what a collector’s blog should do; you ignite my greed for obscure decks long out-of-print. I especially agree with your observation that RWS is so much copied that many of the derivatives have supplanted the original. Of course this is not yet so with the Thoth deck even though most printings of the deck have not done justice to the original paintings nor have they shown up some of the more subtle symbolic elements in those paintings.
    Who knows someday perhaps I will stumble across a copy of Clark’s Magikcal Tarot.

  4. Tony Willis and I were in the same magical group during the 80s. He is a fine magician. This tarot is great to work with

  5. It is always a delight to come across a deck I’ve never seen before and find it so carefully and lovingly written about!

  6. I love what you said about the Thoth tarot. For me I enjoy that you can go further into a reading by using astrology. Even though I must admit the reading i did to do so took lots of time and patience.

  7. Starr Sonam says:

    This was my first deck given to me in my teens and began me on the tarot romance, slowly I picked up a few other decks and would only use this for a serious reading this deck seemed to bring through my abilities and I always felt it dark and dry and honest. It’s unlike the other cards I own now and can make me feel uneasy and spooked I trust it impeccably. I think of it as “my” deck and if their was one card set I’d like my future grandchildren to inherit it’s this one. Thank you for your wonderful post, it was a blessing to stumble here.

  8. Jan says:

    I was very lucky to of attended a workshop by Tony in the 80’s. It emptied my bank at the time, but I did buy the deck and book of ‘spells’. That was before he’d bought out the ‘interpretations’ book. They were designed to be used magickally, that was what the workshop was about. Sadly I dont remember any of it. He kindly signed both the deck box and book. At the time their designs were quite radical, and they very quickly became my preferred deck. These decks are worth a small fortune now. A good investment in the end, not that I have any intention of selling them.

  9. Ben Franklin says:

    Since I don’t see anyone mention it, this deck has one amazing attribute I’ve never seen in any deck. Every card uses ‘flashing colors, especially on the borders, so that if you de-focus and switch right/left focus (as with the 3D stereo-optical pictures so popular during the same era as the deck’s release), the entire card will light up and create a 3 dimensional ‘gateway’ through the card. The symbols and all other imagery on the card are there to guide and protect an astral journey into the source of the card’s archetype.Try it, if you’re lucky enough to own one! This is functional high magick gear, not just nice art riding on previous imagery.

  10. Hi! It’s Anthony Clark, the originator of the deck. I’d just like to thank you all for your kind words regarding the work,… it is appreciated especially after so many years have gone by. Sadly Mr Murdoch, (a devout Catholic) consigned the work to oblivion when Harper Collins absorbed that wonderfull little publishing house Thorsons Press and dispensed with anything magical. Should anyone be interested in helping me get the work re-published my e mail is lyonedes@outlook.com.
    Thank you again.

    • Le Fanu says:

      Mr Clark, what an honour! Thank you for the visit. Nothing would make me happier than to see this deck – of all the decks that could be reprinted – back in print. As I have said above, this deck has become more beautiful for me with the passing years. A sign of good vintage! It also has a special place in my heart for being one of the decks that made up my core collection all those years ago in the mid-80s. I wish it were more easily available for others to enjoy. I hope it is some consolation at least to see the prices that it sells for on ebay &c – if only a sign that many are willing to pay good money for a deck this special. I shall post your message over at the forum . You never know who might see it and make things happen…

      • That’s very kind of you, thank you! I’m fairly optimistic as regards a re-print but I’m not sure everybody would support the idea for ‘business’ reasons whatever they may be. It irks me somewhat, to see the crazy prices editions are fetching. The deck was meant to be like a ‘volkswagen’, for everybody and just as important, affordable.
        Anyways, thank you for your kind words and assistance,
        Kindest Regards,
        Anthony Clark

      • Le Fanu says:

        I wish you the best of luck. I hope it gets a reprint. Please keep us posted here. I’d love to review the new edition!

      • Mr Clark says:

        Thanks for your e-mail, I’ll keep you informed as to progress, Anthony Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2014 09:41:32 +0000 To: lyonedes@outlook.com

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