FIRST, A CLARIFICATION
I have a very strict definition of what constitutes ‘Tarot.’ A ‘Tarot’ deck is a deck with a Major Arcana, consisting of 22 cards, and a Minor Arcana, consisting of 56 cards, divided up into four suits of 14 cards each suit. A true Tarot deck has The Fool as the first card, because the word ‘Tarot’ derives from the word ‘fool’ or ‘foolishness.’ I have seen other fortune-telling-card-users apply the word ‘Tarot’ to other oracle or fortune-telling decks they own, but to me, unless it follows the above-stated structure it is not Tarot. It is a fortune-telling deck, it is a divination deck, it is an oracle deck, but it is not Tarot.
THE NATURE OF THIS DECK
But whoever the mysterious Morgan Robbins is, his arcana-less deck is called ‘Morgan’s Tarot’, so I must respect that. Its design and philosophy comes from a very different mind-set from the traditional Tarot, and stands in sharp contrast to it. The thinking behind Morgan’s Tarot is a lot less structured and hide-bound than the traditional Tarot, and a lot more witty and ‘Zen Koan-y’. There are no suits, and indeed, no specific order to the cards. The booklet which comes from the deck doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the meanings behind each card, so the reader is forced to rely on their own intuition and reactions to the cards. Like other Morgan’s Tarot users, I numbered the cards in the order in which their descriptions appear in the booklet, just for easy reference, but that order seems completely arbitrary.
I swear, this deck seems designed to baffle the user. If ever there was a ‘Tarot’ or ‘Oracle’ deck for the anarchist, Morgan’s Tarot is it. But perhaps bafflement is the point. Zen koans are statements which, on their face, make no apparent logical sense. The intention of the koan is to crack-open the seeker’s habitual thinking, so that new ways of thinking can seep in through the crack. Morgan’s Tarot seems to invoke some of that spirit.
I feel an odd fondness for this deck, though I’ve always been a square myself. It’s kind of close to me in age, and reflects some of the thinking of the time in which I grew up. I like its ‘Sit, kneel, or stand, whatever you like, this class is very-unstructured’ attitude about your life’s journey.This deck is a Hippy of an oracle deck, and the Hippies turned out to be right about a lot of things, so you could do worse in life than to take its advice, which will ultimately turn the focus back on you.
This history comes from personal memory, because I’m having trouble finding official sources which go into any detail about the history of this deck. But as I recall the story, it goes like this: Morgan Robbins was a mid-twentieth century California man, who was into spiritual enlightenment and Eastern philosophy. He held a series of jobs, and at one of these jobs (I think it was at a restaurant), his co-workers noticed he sometimes appeared to consult a set of cards in his possession, which he showed to no one. Curious about the mysterious cards, they eventually asked Robbins about these cards they saw him using, which were an end-product of all the learning Robbins had gained on his spiritual journey, sort of reminders to himself.
They soon started using his deck themselves, and interest spread from there in a word-of-mouth, hand-to-hand fashion (Remember, the Internet didn’t exist back then). At some point in the story, before U.S. Games Systems entered the picture, Morgan Robbins came in contact with the illustrator, Darshan Chorpash, and got him to illustrate the cards. But clearly sometime in the late 1960s, Robbins’ deck came to the attention of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., a big publisher of Tarot and other divination decks. U.S. Games Systems eventually told Robbins there needed to be a little booklet of meanings to go along with his cards. If my memory serves me correctly, Robbins thought this was overkill, because he thought the cards’ meanings were self-explanatory, but he complied with the request. Morgan’s Tarot was first published in 1970 and has been in-print ever since.
WHAT IT’S BEST AT
Morgan’s Tarot is best used for personal questions. Or for the personal questions of the person across the table from you. It’s not as good for reading about ‘tribal’ matters such as the fortunes of a nation or a political party or a social movement. Morgan’s Tarot is concerned with your growth, not the growth of the national debt or the GDP.
MORGAN’S TAROT, CARD-BY-CARD
So this attached PDF is going to take you on a nice, long stroll through Morgan’s Tarot. I’ve had time to think about these cards, and a little bit of experience with them, so I’m happy to share my insight. I haven’t yet found anything further on his cards’ meanings beyond the little booklet which came with the deck, and no other books have been written on it, so I’m plunging in with my description. Click on the PDF below for details. Which are many.
Please excuse the unevenness of the cards depicted in the PDF. Morgan’s Tarot come as plain, black-line illustrations on white semi-gloss card-stock. After a while, I started itching to color them, and I’m in the process of coloring them, but I haven’t gotten through all of them yet. I color them as the spirit moves me. So you’ll see some of these cards in the PDF are colored, and some aren’t. You can, of course, choose to leave the cards in their original, black-and-white format. For me, coloring them somehow seems to make them come more alive, and oddly helps me learn their meaning better.
SO WHAT CARD LAY-OUTS CAN YOU USE THEM IN?
The one spread the booklet mentioned was the Celtic Cross-and-Wand lay-out, but I think you could also use Morgan’s Tarot with the three-card, past-present-future lay-out, one of the Five-Card layouts, the Six-Card Hungarian method, or the Mah Jongg layout as well. This is also a good deck for asking a question, and just pulling one card at random from the deck. For real fun, try the ‘Versus’ lay-out I devised some time back, if you are asking about two parties who seem to be at logger-heads. I think Morgan’s Tarot would also lend itself well as a clarifier deck, for when you’re using the traditional Tarot or another oracle deck and you want more detail on one card. This deck will give you more detail from clear out in left-field, but that may be what you need in order to solve the problem.
I don’t recommend using these cards in the Grand Tableau spread, because they didn’t start out in life numbered, like the LeNormand and the Kipper cards did. Numbers are just an arbitrary meaning which we, the users of Morgan’s Tarot, assign to the cards for conveniences’ sake, in order to quickly find the interpretations in the accompanying booklet. But if you’re willing to experiment with the Grand Tableau spread and this deck, sure, go ahead. Let me know if it works.
Morgan’s Tarot has a very different feel from most other decks, but give it a try. You may find its unique personality makes it one of your ‘go-to’ decks.
Robbins, Morgan. Morgan’s Tarot. Illustrated by Darshan Chorpash. U.S. Games Systems, Inc. 88 cards. Copyright 1970, 1983, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-88079-028-4.
This deck is of course available through Amazon.com, but I believe it is also obtainable through U.S. Games Systems Inc.’s own website.
- Think of a question to ask. Decide on a lay-out to use to answer the question, three-card, five-card, Six-card Hungarian, Celtic Cross-and-Wand, your choice. The thing is, you’re going to ask this same question of both Morgan’s Tarot, and your choice of one of the other symbol-system divination methods I’ve discussed in earlier entries. It can be the traditional Tarot deck, or the Kipper, the LeNormand, or the Sibilla. Even the Eighteenth Century deck, if you’re feeling that adventurous. Note which cards landed where in each spread. Do a comparison and contrast of both decks. Was there a fundamental agreement in their answers? Did one deck seem to focus on one aspect of your situation and the other deck, another?
- Divination decks are a product of the time, culture and society in which they were born. Do a comparison and contrast of Morgan’s Tarot and another deck we’ve covered. What do the nature of these two decks tell you about the cultures and times they came from? What did these two societies seem to consider important? Were there any similarities? If Morgan’s Tarot and the other deck were actual people, how would you describe their personalities?
This is the most fantastic post and resource. I will be linking it to my Tarot Midwife site as a part of work I am doing.
Why thank you! I’m glad you like it!
What a great review! This deck is definitely like no other! I acquired the Morgan’s tarot with the idea of coloring the cards as I reflex upon them but I’m hesitant with the semi-glossy surface. What medium have you been using? And which one do you prefer/seems more durable on this deck? Thank you.
I used a large set of colored, Fine-Point Sharpies(tm) to color my Morgan’s Tarot deck. It gives the cards a nice, bold, vivid color, or if needed, a gentler color, depending on the perceived personality of the card you’re coloring. I think colored pencils are largely a FAIL with this deck. Crayons, of course, are just a no. Here’s the key thing about using the Sharpies–after coloring them, you MUST set them aside for three to four days for the ink to dry. Some place where they can lie there undisturbed and untouched. You can then spray them with a coat of clear acrylic spray if you want, just to give the marker-ink another layer of protection, but they seem fine without the acrylic sealer if you wait long-enough for the ink to dry. Of course, this means you won’t be able to use the cards for several days, but the end result makes the delay worth it. You will have a vivid, living deck, full of personality and life. Have fun with this!