From Thoth to Dali: Artwork in Tarot Card Design


This past weekend, my fiancé and got back from a brief but wonderful vacation to France and Spain which included a two-day stay in Barcelona. Being that he is a huge fan of the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, we naturally took a half day to visit the Salvador Dali Museum (highly recommended, by the way). While browsing through the gift shop, I stumbled across a tarot card deck that was designed by the artist himself many decades ago, called the Dali Universal Tarot deck.

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Our vacation budget was a bit limited to go shelling out for a collectible set of tarot cards, particularly when neither of us is very interested in divination or mysticism. But it did catch my attention, I suppose because I had always assumed that tarot cards were tarot cards. Well, as it turns out, there are many hundreds if not thousands of different decks, based on the same principles but with each design having its own unique symbolism.

So in today’s post, I thought we’d take a brief tour through the history of tarot card design, looking at a few iconic decks: Book of Thoth, Dali Universal, and Burning Serpent.

Classic tarot design: Book of Thoth

This is the type of image that comes to my mind when I think of tarot cards, and indeed, this deck is considered one of the classic, historic decks. Thoth is the Egyptian goddess of writing and wisdom, so the idea of this deck is that the message conveyed through the cards is channeled through ancient Egyptian mysticism.


Mid-20th century: Salvador Dali’s tarot design

Here we have the deck that was the inspiration for this post. These cards were hand-designed and individually signed by Dali himself in the 1970s for his wife, Gala, who was fascinated by the esoteric and the occult. Tarot card readers consider this to be a somewhat advanced deck because of the multiple layers of symbolism that can be found in the artwork. Look closely, and you can even see the artist in a self-portrait.


Although this is an advanced deck, Salvador Dali fans can still enjoy it in a more accessible version online. Just like in a physical tarot reading, Dali Tarot will have you focus on your question or issue and select three cards. The free online reading gives a simple explanation of each of your cards (in English, even for the cards which only have Spanish writing on them), which is very useful for people who aren’t very experienced in tarot; you can buy the actual deck with accompanying book on Amazon, too.

Here’s a larger sample of some of the amazing artwork in the Dali tarot card deck. If you want to see the images in more detail and get an explanation for them, the free online reading from Dali Tarot is a really fun way to go about it.


New Age tarot card design: Burning Serpent

The burning serpent tarot deck has been rated as one of the top 50 essential decks and is classified as an “experimental deck”. The artworks seems rather straightforward to my untrained eye, so that classification is a bit of a mystery to me. But it all does seem to have a very New Age feel, doesn’t it?