Those Holy Grail Decks


Greenwood. Ironwing. Magna Veritas. Granny Jones. The names have developed that ring of luxury brands – they are the decks (one could add more; Pam A, Dusserre Dodal, Thomson Leng, Bohemian Gothic Silver) which are the stuff of tarot fan dreams. The decks which will transform you as a reader. They are the decks which will unlock your intuition like never before, take you to reading heights that a simple mass market deck simply won’t reach.

Not true of course. I find myself reflecting on this subject as one who has, over the years, ended up owning (or accumulating, depends on your point of view) quite a few decks including probably all of the rare ones which, for variable periods of time, eluded me. A recent blog post of mine which contained the deck illustrated above elicited a great many messages – oh my god what is that deck? – and it is of course the elusive Magna Veritas Tarot deck. A deck I searched for – missed the boat at the time (disappointed with the cardstock of the first decks, the Boltcutter Dark and Light decks – see below – so let the Magna Veritas slip by) and only ended up finding a copy relatively recently. Do I read with it? Has it changed my life? Not really, although as a thing of beauty it was worth it.

Very few of us dare to admit we were carried along by the hype because we are of course above all of that. We desire it for altogether different reasons. By chance the deck we yearn for happens to be rare. It’s nothing short of a terrible, unfortunate coincidence. An affliction if you will. To be doomed to only ever be able to read well with the Greenwood or Ironwing which we have only seen on screen. Sometimes, as in the case of the Nasuntara, a second edition is published to great elation and the magic withers. I admit, I have bought decks because of infectious murmurings which have proved impossible to resist. Fortunately, for the most part, I have bought decks as and when they came out and so have been spared the frustration of coming to tarot after all the best decks have been published (I wonder if it feels like that to a newcomer?) I have seen how the least likely decks become desirable. And that you can’t make something desirable, though many try. I want to avoid using the word collectible – it makes them sound like something that languishes on a shelf as a trophy which, in many sad cases, they are. My 1st edition Nusantra is. It is a Rider Waite Smith with South East Asian curvaceousness. Something perhaps pounced on for its exoticism. Yet some of these desirable decks blow you away with their originality. The Greenwood and the Ironwing deserve to be mythical. They are quite unlike anything else. But that doesn’t mean you or I can read with them. However, the money required up front to try them and see is probably more than most people’s monthly tarot budget. But still they hover and tantalise, while some try to fabricate desirability, limited editions, special editions. Only a good reading deck makes it – but don’t they say you can read with anything?


One reader who posted on my blog asking the name of the Magna Veritas deck, subsequently deleted their post as soon as I replied with the name. So my answer hung there like a random comma, making no sense until I deleted it too. Were they embarrassed by their yearnings? Or did they want nobody else to know the name and beat them to it? I tend not to make my yearnings public, just because it’s good to affirm that what we have is enough. Being seen gasping for more is never a good look, though we are all guilty I suppose. I know life isn’t going to change with a new deck. We have to remind ourselves again and again that what we most want is what we have. For those who read best with the perennially available standards – the Rider Waite Smith and the Thoth or, best of all, a deck of playing cards – are very blessed. For the rest of us, there is always the belief that we might lose our favourite deck and not be able to get a replacement, or that the deck we read best with is already three figures on ebay so we will have to give readings that are slightly below the standard of what we could really be giving if that desired decks were ours. The universe will have failed us. It’s all nonsense of course. The decks may be beautiful, but it isn’t a beautiful deck that gives a beautiful reading. Something worth remembering. And repeating instead of Namaste.



About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
This entry was posted in Random Reflections, Tarot Cards and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Those Holy Grail Decks

  1. says:

    Such lovely decks! As a fellow tarot enthusiast, I love all your writings. This is so very well said.

  2. JJ says:

    Yes, my Ironwing is very precious to me. Once in a lifetime, as is the artwork and artist.

    I find it works for me in single card draws–quite accurate and precise and a much different view of things. I also use it combined with the Tarot of the Absurd and Diary of a Broken Soul tarots–all black and white artist-drawn decks. I call them my “Tri-Sacred” decks and pick one card and find it in the other two decks and then ramble through meaning and symbolism. A really nice way of working with three decks that were not the most popular but are special in my view.

  3. tarottiferet says:

    A wonderful post to read, Le Fanu.

    Much of what I read here, I can identify with – maybe not so much now, but in my tarot-past, when I believed that there was a deck out there which would enhance my reading experience beyond belief (and would cost me an arm and leg to get hold of). I have a cupboard of stunning decks but this week I realised that the Unicorn Tarot is one which reads for me more clearly than most of them. Yes, that flat and pastelly deck which I almost cringe about bring out onto the table when someone else is with me. I think it is one of those situations where I think the deck has chosen me, rather than the other way around. I needn’t be precious with it or worry that another deck will be more aesthetically beautiful (since most are) and I think that is why it has opened up. I can just get down with it and read and the real beauty is in what it’s clear messages bring to conversations between myself and the person I am reading with.

    Steve (formally Prince Le Normand)

    • Le Fanu says:

      Thank you for that. It’s the weird logic of us choosing decks and decks choosing us. I know exactly what you mean. It’s a sign of being increasingly at ease with yourself that you know what reads well for you and don’t get embarrassed about it. People want good readings from you. I doubt any if them care if the deck is outwardly pretty or not.

      • tarottiferet says:

        Absolutely! To be honest, a lot of people don’t seem to either realise that there are many choices of deck or think that what ever I plop on the table looks mysterious or attractive anyway.

        I think that ‘being at ease with yourself’ is a good way of putting it. I think that when I was searching for the ‘right’ deck, I always felt incomplete as a reader. Now that I feel more comfortable as a reader, I am less fussed by whether the deck looks the part or not.

        Some lovely new decks on your blog though. I will never tire of looking at great tarot-art, whatever it is I end up reading with 🙂

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