Deck Review: Hall-Knapp Revised New Art Cards

Not long ago, I happened to be perusing the aisles at the bookstore located on the grounds of the Philosophical Research Society, the institute for esoteric, psychic and religious studies established by Manly Palmer Hall in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles in the 1930s. It’s a sleepy and moribund place these days—the Society no longer offers public lectures or meditation classes, and the bookstore’s shelves are largely empty, save for the works of Hall and his associates—but one thing caught my attention: The New Revised Tarot Art Cards, designed by Hall and his collaborator and confidant, J. Augustus Knapp, the artist who most famously illustrated Hall’s seminal work, The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Designed originally in 1929, the deck went out of print in 1985 but was revived within the past year, and you can obtain it via the PRS or the usual online sources. I’ve been working with the cards for over a month, and they’ve yielded some insightful and powerful readings.

thThe cards in their design occupy a sort-of “middle ground” between the “all-pictorial” Waite and the “semi-pictorial” Marseille-type decks. The representations of the Major Arcana hew to fairly traditional standards, though “Justice” and “Strength” have been swapped to Trumps 8 and 11, respectively. (These were their traditional positions until being reversed by Waite in 1909, and most subsequent tarot scholars have followed Waite’s attributions.) Hall also reverts to the old-school assignation of Hebrew letters, assigning “Shin” to The Fool, “Aleph” to The Magician, and so on, which again is at variance with most contemporary Tarot practice. The major cards also bear a sigil—a “coat of arms” of sorts; as an example, “Temperance” sports a ying-yang symbol; the other cards bear similar complimentary symbols.

th-3The Minor cards, however, mirror the cards of the Marseille-style decks by merely representing the quantity of cups, swords, et al. on the face of each card. They differ, however, by rearranging the elements into intriguing geometric patterns that can provide additional interpretive guidance, and each of the Minor cards, as with the Major cards, bears a sigil with a symbolic representation inside of it.

The Court Cards, however, differ quite a bit from any other deck that I am aware of (I’m not a collector, so bear with me) by altering the titles of Princes and Princesses. In the Hall th-2deck, they are called “Warriors” and “Servants” or “Slaves,” and are more or less depicted as such (the Slave of Pentacles is shackled and locked in a dungeon!), again with each card accompanied by a magic sigil.

The cards come with a booklet, authored by Hall, that provides Waite-style interpretations to each of the cards. Not surprisingly, his view of the cards is more theosophical than occult in orientation, which is an asset if you approach Tarot more as a psychoanalytical teaching tool (as I do) than as a divinatory medium, which may explain why I’ve been getting such satisfying results from these cards—even without reversals, which I have always typically employed.

One thing that needs to be said here is, this is not an inexpensive deck (retail $35). However, the card stock is outstanding—thick, but not so heavy as to resist easy shuffling, and at the same time resistant to dog-earing. (I love you, U.S. Games Systems, but every deck of yours that I’ve ever owned has started fraying at the edges within a matter of weeks.) Bearing in mind that this is a self-published deck, and considering its pedigree, those of us who are admirers of Hall’s work will find this deck well worth the money, and well worth the time spent studying them.

Dante DiMatteo

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