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The co-wranglers for our Fall Blog Hop are Jenn Waltner of Phoenix & Lotus and Louise Underhill of Priestess Tarot. They proposed that we seek to restore the balance of light and dark. The first thing I did was to title a blank post so I could share the permalink to the Blog Hop group. As I was typing, I suddenly decided to change “light” to “bright.” I still had no idea what I was going to write about, but that one word led me in a surprising direction. As I explored balancing bright with dark, I discovered an evocative tarot technique in which to contrast cards from bright tarot decks against cards from dark tarot decks. Read on to learn that technique. And to help you get started, I offer up a selection of a dozen each bright tarot decks and dark tarot decks (and one combined deck) so you can easily find the right tools to work with this method.

Balancing Bright with Dark

As I started considering bright tarot decks, I thought of those cards that are so saturated with vibrant color as to be almost overwhelming. In contrast, I recently obtained the New Era Elements Tarot, which has grayscale art, and with its muted palette was a dark deck I thought would provide a flattering complement to the bright decks. I decided to develop a spread or technique that used both the colorful cards and the black and white cards. Initially, I wanted to use the dark cards to establish a ground or frame in which to read the bright cards. But ultimately I ended up brainstorming a series of questions that pit light against dark, then dark against bright, to spur a crisis of contrasts that resolves into scintillating clarity when applied to the questions of your life.

I interpreted the bright tarot decks (colorful) as expansive, but scattered. The dark tarot decks (black and white or monochrome) were limiting and therefore concentrating. Bright is complexity, dark is simplicity. Bright is dreams and illusions, dark is foundations and facts. Bright is explosive force, dark channels and directs that power.

The Balancing Bright with Dark Tarot Reading Technique

Colorful cards from the Whimsical Tarot contrasted against the black and white Hermetic Tarot.

I envision a simple technique in which you use two decks, one bright tarot deck (a variety of colors) and one dark tarot deck (black and white or a single color). In addition to balancing colorful decks against black and white decks, you can try contrasting decks with intricate or detailed artwork against simple, suggestive, or abstract imagery. As I developed the questions, I realized that my current distinction of “bright” versus “dark” is exactly how I teach “upright” versus “reversed” meanings in cards, so if you only have one deck at hand, use the upright position as the “bright” interpretation and the reversal as the “dark.”

  1. Select two contrasting decks, one “bright” and the other “dark”; or use one of the other methods of contrast listed above
  2. Choose a general question or topic to read on
  3. Choose one pair of questions that you think will best offer guidance on your topic from each of the following three sections: 1) Bright followed by dark, 2) Dark followed by bright, and 3) Balancing bright with dark. Feel free to develop your own pairs of questions, following the suggestions for how to construct each type.
  4. When you have selected your three pairs of questions, pull cards as appropriate from your bright and dark decks (see the line with an asterisk (*) in each section). The two cards (one from each deck) can be pulled randomly, or the first card (for the first question of the pair) can be selected analytically and the second by random draw.
  5. The result is six cards–three pairs (of one bright and one dark card), times the three categories. Using the pairs of questions as positions in the spread do an initial interpretation of the cards, and then find deeper meaning by exploring patterns and themes in the resulting layout of six cards.

1. Bright Followed by Dark

Bright followed by dark questions balance expansiveness (bright) against focus (dark). In this case, the expansiveness (bright) gets the negative meaning–unpredictability, illusion, scattered, up in the air. The contrasting dark card provides the helpful grounding agent — focus, reality, on track, down to earth. If you’d like to brainstorm additional questions, consider the first question to be out of control, while the second question ropes it in.

*For these pairs of questions, pull a card from the bright tarot deck to answer the first question, and a card from the dark tarot deck to answer the second question.

  • What is my unpredictability? How can I achieve a single focus?
  • What are my choices? How can I find clarity?
  • What are my illusions? How can I find what’s real?
  • Where am I swayed by others? How can I find myself?
  • What roles am I playing? How can I express me better?
  • What are my false starts? Which is worth salvaging?
  • What are my influences? How do I step onto my path?
  • Where am I scattered? How can I get back on track?
  • What are the alternative facts? What do I know to be true?
  • What’s up in the air? How can I bring it down to earth?

2. Dark Followed by Bright

Dark followed by bright questions balance limitations (dark) against opportunities (bright). In these pairs, the limitation (dark) gets the negative meaning, such as hesitation, fear, imprisonment, while the opportunities offered by the bright cards might include excitement, hope, and freedom. Add your own pairs of questions by creating the first question to address something that is restricted or bound, while the second question releases it and opens up possibilities.

*For these pairs of questions, pull a card from the dark deck to answer the first question, and a card from the bright deck to answer the second question.

  • What is my hesitation? How do I transform it into excitement?
  • What is my limitation? How can I break it open?
  • What is my fear? What hope lurks within?
  • What plan gets the red light? What plan gets the green light?
  • How am I selfish? How can I be more self-sacrificing?
  • What is being threatened? How can I lead it to safety?
  • Who is my enemy? Who is my ally?
  • Why am I drinking alone? Where’s the party?
  • Where am I imprisoned? How can I gain my freedom?
  • Why am I sullen? What creativity is my mood repressing?

3. Balancing Bright with Dark

Balancing bright with dark contrasts the structure and focus of the dark against the variety and optimism of the bright. In these pairs, neither question is meant to be negative and in fact, both opposites express positive connotations. Inspiration is based on framework, action arises from rest, potential launches from foundation. When designing additional pairs of questions for the balancing bright with dark category, consider how your wide open vision could be supported by the useful application of limits.

*For these pairs of questions, pull a card from the bright deck for the first question, followed by a card from the dark deck for the second question.

  • What is my inspiration? Based on what framework?
  • What is my diversity? Deriving from what unity?
  • What is my height? What is my depth?
  • What is my action? Arising from what rest?
  • What is my potential? What foundation launches it?
  • What is visible? What is hidden?
  • What is my circumference? What is my center?
  • What is my vision? What are my tasks?
  • When is my companionship? When is my solitude?
  • What tasks do I cooperate on? What tasks do I perform solo?
  • What would my support group recommend? What does my internal guidance suggest?

Suggested Bright Tarot Decks

The first deck I think of when I think of “bright tarot decks” is the Tarot Illuminati, with its sparkling jewel tones and riotous compositions. To compile the following recommendations, I looked for decks that feature vivid paintbox colors, saturated primaries, or bright pastels. I leaned towards decks that limited their palette to these pure hues, and steered away as best I could from decks that were complete in themselves by balancing darker or shaded images against an overall vibrant look. The styles range from children’s decks (Inner Child, Whimsical) to strict RWS (Gilded, Illuminati), to esoteric (Tabula Mundi), to playful and pretty (Sakki Sakki and Zillich), and even includes the brightest of the always primary-colored Tarot de Marseille lineage decks. The links are to the deck website or publisher, and I listed only decks currently available.

  1. Camoin-Jodorowsky Tarot de Marseille
  2. Daughters of the Moon Tarot Deck – Color
  3. Dream Raven Tarot
  4. Gilded Tarot
  5. Inner Child Tarot
  6. Pearls of Wisdom Tarot
  7. Sakki Sakki Tarot
  8. Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus
  9. Tarot Illuminati 
  10. Tarot of a Moon Garden
  11. Whimsical Tarot
  12. Zillich Tarot

Suggested Dark Tarot Decks

By “dark tarot decks” I am primarily referring to black and white decks, although I have extended that to include a monotone color palette. A couple of the decks (XIII Tarot and Gorgon’s Tarot) are black and white with splashes of red. The Bleu Cat is, not surprisingly, mostly blue. The Book of Azathoth and the Golden Thread are black and gold, while the Lost Code is black, white, and red on a tea-stained colored parchment. Note that occasionally the phrase “dark decks” can describe decks that feature scary, shadowy, or gothic imagery and which have a more menacing, challenging, or introspective tone. That is not the meaning used here; rather these decks while limiting color run the gamut of styles, from fun and playful (Bleu Cat) to strict RWS (Bianco Nero and Golden Thread) to esoteric (Hermetic) to modern (New Era Elements). As above, I’m only listing decks that are currently available, and link to the deck website or the publisher.

  1. XIII Tarot
  2. Bianco Nero Tarot
  3. Bleu Cat Tarot
  4. The Book of Azathoth Tarot
  5. Daughters of the Moon Tarot Deck – B/W
  6. Golden Thread Tarot 
  7. Gorgon’s Tarot
  8. Heart & Hands Tarot Deck
  9. Hermetic Tarot
  10. Lost Code of Tarot Kit
  11. New Era Elements Tarot
  12. ShadowFox Tarot

Unique Offering: A Tarot Deck with Color Recto and B/W Verso

Tarot of the Secret Forest, idea and graphics by Lucia Mattioli and Pietro Alligo, artwork by Lucia Mattioli, and published by Lo Scarabeo, is unusual in that it has a color image on the fronts of the cards and a black and white version of the image on the backs of the cards. The black and white image is not just a grayscale printing of the front image, however. It appears to be the pen and ink sketch for the front image, resulting in subtle variations between the recto and verso images. The fronts, while in full-color, follow a dim and shadowy palette, so there is less contrast between the two sides than I desire. The style is a dark fairy tale aesthetic, with plants, animals, and fairies interacting, connecting, and morphing one into the other in the titular secret forest.

I find the idea behind this deck to be utterly intriguing. However, the idea of this deck captures my imagination more than the execution of it. Although I like the fantasy artwork, I find the interpretations to take me too far afield to be useful. For instance, I pondered a long time over the 6 of Wands, which shows what appears to be a bridegroom and bride riding away on a salamander. I appreciate the esoteric correspondence of salamander, the elemental associated with fire and the suit of Wands. And steady contemplation helped me recognize that as a 6, the card was referencing Trump VI, the Lovers. I think this is a clever and perfectly valid method for arriving at images and meanings. But referring to the other sixes, I didn’t find that this methodology for interpretation was consistent. The 6 of Cups shows a dog waiting at an open gate, the 6 of Swords has a stream flowing off into the horizon, and the 6 of Pentacles shows five shooting stars in a moonlit sky over tall trees (the verso image shows the 6th comet behind the tallest tree). I want the artist to use a coherent system to derive meaning for the cards. Unfortunately, I am failing to find it, although I admit I have not pursued a deep study of the deck. Overall, while I appreciate the deck intellectually and respond to the artwork viscerally, this particular forest seems to be gated and I’m stuck on the wrong side.

  1. Tarot of the Secret Forest

Onward

I hope this sparks oodles of ideas for you. I’d love to hear your favorite bright tarot deck and dark tarot deck suggestions in the comments. See how our other bloggers interpreted our theme of balancing light and dark by using the navigation links below.

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Balancing Bright with Dark: Colorful Tarot Cards vs. B/W Decks

Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

11 thoughts on “Balancing Bright with Dark: Colorful Tarot Cards vs. B/W Decks

  • Pingback: 2018 Mabon Tarot Blog Hop Master List | Phoenix & Lotus

  • September 21, 2018 at 2:28 pm
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    Interesting take – I shall have to have a rummage through my collection and pull out some contrasting decks to try this out.

    Reply
    • September 23, 2018 at 5:32 am
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      Choosing the decks is the most fun! I wasted more hours looking through decks trying to find the perfect color deck and B/W deck, which I never quite arrived at.

      Reply
  • September 21, 2018 at 9:37 pm
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    I love the idea of pairing vivid or bright decks with more monochromatic or dark ones… i also enjoy the way you’ve structured the questions and pairings… definitely looking forward to playing with some of these!

    Reply
    • September 23, 2018 at 5:34 am
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      Thanks! Let me know how the technique works for you!

      Reply
  • September 22, 2018 at 4:30 pm
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    What fun! The questions are insightful. 😀 I am definitely going to try my hand at this. I have the Shadow&Light Tarot (OOP now) which I think will be a great b/w deck for this.

    Reply
    • September 23, 2018 at 5:37 am
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      Oh, yeah, that will be perfect. I brainstormed almost all of the questions by pulling cards from contrasting decks. 😉

      Reply
  • September 22, 2018 at 10:30 pm
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    I LOVE your lists of questions! Would also love to see you do a sample reading of a spread, but the one you pictured really illustrates the visual impact. What a great idea!

    Reply
    • September 23, 2018 at 5:38 am
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      That’s a great idea! I could do sample reading and link to it. Thanks!

      Reply
  • September 23, 2018 at 10:37 am
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    I got a pre-loved version of the Hermetic a while back and its lovely to see it being used as a contrast to one with colour. I might try this out using both the Hermetic and Dreamers another Pre-loved to see how they contrast. That is assuming that time is kind to me.

    Reply
  • October 17, 2018 at 3:54 am
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    Hey Joy
    Its a wonderful blog full on interesting stuff.
    THanks for this wonderful blog

    Reply

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