Why I Love Dark Decks

By Allan Ritchie


The air outside is cooler and the nights are getting longer and slowly the witchy time of year is moving in upon us. For many of us in the Tarot community, this is the best time of the year. We long for the change of seasons. We look forward to the turn inward from both the physical outside world and in a personal sense. The season of Autumn is a calling to return inside. While the Tarot is great year-round there is something special about October that gives us that extra thrill.

Tarot and the art of reading the cards is a fringe activity. It exists on the boundary of logic and mystery. The polite society scoffs at us for the absurd thought that there is a knowledge that can be found in the laying out of cards. They are those who scorn us or fear for us at the thought that we may be risking our souls by dabbling in forces of the darkness and the occult. Tarot has the power to enchant the mind, embrace the imagination, and to stir the souls of many people.

I love my growing collection and while I make an effort to trim it down from time to time I have accepted that it will continue to grow. One area that has grown more than any other in the years I have been collecting decks are those that are considered “dark decks”.

My very first dark deck was the Bohemian Gothic Tarot. After adding a few Baba Studio decks to my collection such as the Victorian Romantic Tarot, the Fairytale Tarot, I fell in love with the work of Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov. The Bohemian Gothic Tarot just didn't seem to be my style. I grew up in Tarot on the Hanson-Roberts Tarot. The Bohemian Gothic was too dark, too sinister, too many human bones. Yet when the price was right on a first edition my collector's soul leaped at the chance to get it. When it came in I was shocked at how well it read. It was spooky. Sure. Some of the images were a little disturbing but the deck worked. Over time I added one or two more to my collection until I realized that I had a substantial set of dark decks.

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For a guy who isn't that big into scary movies, I have taken to dark decks in a big way. I hate jump scares and so I tend to shy away from horror movies. There is a thrill that I get when I pull out one of my dark decks in the middle of the night and contemplate the forces at work that we can't see with my physical eyes. As a firm believer in ghosts and a reality that is just beyond our physical senses when I lay out a dark deck, it is a chance to reflect on that reality. Can we communicate with the departed through a tarot spread? What spirits do we potentially contact when we seek them? I believe that working with Tarot can in some ways brings us closer to that veil. Dark decks can enhance a sense of mystery and daring in these types of endeavors.

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Dark decks with their confronting artwork can strip away some of the pretenses in a reading. Getting to the heart of a matter is essential in a good reading. Artwork that can provoke a strong reaction can help that. Using a dark deck can in some people just what is needed to get them out of the comfort zones and get down to the work of the reading. 

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Dark decks are not essential for shadow work but maybe just what is needed. Shadow work is the investigation of those things about ourselves that we are suppressing or hiding from ourselves. Using a bright shiny hug deck can be effective and enlightening. When I use a dark deck for shadow work it is more challenging. Working with a deck consisting of dark or gothic imagery during tarot meditation, I understand again that each card has a light and dark side. Evocative imagery can take me on a mental journey into parts of myself that are dark and hidden.

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Finally, I find that first and foremost dark decks don't work any differently than any other tarot deck. Tarot decks are infused by the meanings we give them. Sure the imagery may color the interpretation a bit but they are still readings are not bad with a dark deck just like they are not necessarily good with a colorful deck. Readings flow from the questions asked and how the card layout. While not right for every client or every reading, dark decks can be fun and set a different mood for a reading. For many, the classic Rider Waite Smith deck is spooky enough but for some of us, seeing a bit of the dark can spice up a reading and make it memorable.

All images are from Bohemian Gothic Tarot.

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