DOES IT WORK? Yoav Ben Dov’s work

Today something new. Although I don’t do reviews of new decks here at Taroflexions, on occasion I do mention new productions, but only in the context of reading the cards.

I’m not interested in history when I do divination, hence, what I go for is the following question:

Does it work?

If a deck doesn’t work, I don’t use it. Not in my practice of reading cards.

As most readers here already know it, in my practice of reading cards – that is, when I don’t write about cards as I do here – I only use Tarot de Marseille. So I was interested in Yoav Ben-Dov’s reproduction of the 1760 famous deck by Nicholas Convers – the CBD-Tarot, which he graciously sent to me. Convers’ deck is considered the standard Marseille deck, though opinions are divided, with historians still out there deliberating what’s what.


With his reproduction Ben-Dov also published a book entitled Tarot: The Open Reading. This is a substantial work covering 259 pages and addressing many different topics ranging from history, different schools of thought and correspondences, standard symbolism in tarot, to ideas about closeness and exposure in cards, where attention to detail, such as color and direction of the gaze, is given.

For instance, the argument is that toward the end of each suit, the signs of social status disappear, with the characters depicted in the cards going back to a more natural state and enjoying their nudity (81).

There’s valuable information in Ben-Dov’s book, and the reader will enjoy the often whimsical take on the cards and how to interpret them.

This, however, also brings me to a point of criticism.

Most of Ben-Dov’s reading lens is symbolic, and although he follows the French school that emphasizes literalism over esotericism, and although he also follows particularly Alejandro Jodorowsky’s method of reading, it is clear that he cannot distance himself from making inferences about the cards, which are mainly based on some set formulations for reading the symbol.

I have to admit that while I find symbolic readings entertaining from a narrative point of view – they make good stories – from a logical point of view I find them tedious.

To give an example, which also constitutes what Ben-Dov calls an open reading:



The idea that the Sun in the Sun card can be read as the father of the two children and the husband of the Empress seems to me too advanced.

Symbolically, sure.

Usually it only takes two people to decide what a sign means, but often this meaning has very little to do with the thing itself, or what we’re dealing with in and of itself.

As others have emphasized, there’s never a one-to-one relation between a symbol and the concept behind the sign that represents the symbol (Ferdinand de Saussure). So the kind of structure that Ben-Dov is looking for to establish in his book is more closed than open.

If I understand the argument correctly, an open reading is a reading that accounts for something precisely other than the symbolic meaning. So I don’t quite get how we go from the literal meaning to the exegetical meaning in Ben-Dov’s take on it.

There’s some muddling of levels here as to the question of interpretation versus paying attention, and I think that Ben-Dov commits the same fallacy as the most in seeing the literal in the cards as already symbolic. Err, why on earth? Unless of course this kind of reading, as the example above indicates, is a matter of preference. In which case, I rest my guns.

IMG_8344Does it work?

When I ask ‘does it work?’, I’m always interested in looking at how the cards invite me to pay attention first, and only then go – perhaps, if I’m lucky enough to actually see that – ‘here is your father, he shines brightly.’

Consequently, while I can appreciate the quality of thinking and the type of information offered in Tarot: The Open Reading, I cannot say that it appeals to my need to identify what is happening in the cards.

I would read Ben-Dov’s example above for the Sun, the Empress and the Magician quite simply in the following manner:

Two used to be on the same page once, but not any more.

It may well be that the reason for this has to do with the Magician’s unwillingness to commit, but how do we know that? Because he has his legs spread apart?

This is a good observation, and it certainly elicits some meaning, but we need to remember that all meaning is context-based.

I always say, if you pay attention, what you see is what you see, not what you think you see.


Let’s now look at the cards.

I like the slim format and the colors are vivid – thank you, Yoav, for not going turquoise on the blue like Camoin did – how ghastly.

More concretely, what do I mean by ‘does it work?’

Perhaps I can answer this by emphasizing why I read with the Marseille Tarot for people to begin with. Because I find the cards snappy. They have lines that I get. There’s symmetry and rhyming between the elements, and there’s a limited choice of color.

There’s no fluff and there’s no ‘all you need is love’.

There’s simple people in the cards who embody diverse situations. And that’s all we need to know.

So, let’s see how snappy the CBD-Tarot is considering these aspects in mind, aspects that invite us to pay attention and look, rather than state opinions.

Although I never read without a question, this once I want to see how the cards flow, so I’ll just offer a few two-card situations, drawn at random. If we should, however, stick to a general topic, let’s just say that we’ll now read for ‘reading’. But keep this at the back of your heads, as it will not be our primary focus.

First draw, and looking at this now, I can only state that I love my job as a diviner. Yoav’s reconstruction scores here. Snappy as hell. And precise too.

Given the context of this post, and the fact that I didn’t exactly find a reason to say that I swoon over the book, it’s clear that the cards themselves want a balance. They want to say, ‘but wait, wait for us.’

Well, thank you dears. Aren’t you just lovely?

Let’s see more:

9 Swords, Two Cups:

And then they celebrated.


King of Swords, King of Wands:

You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.


4 Swords, 8 Coins:

Nothing changes until we exchange something.


2 Coins, 9 Wands:

First you tie it and then you fly it.


The Hermit, Ace of Coins:

Woops, I fell into a hole.


3 Wands, The Charioteer:

I’m a collector.


8 Wands, The World:

The curtain fell. Take a bow.


I could go on. But yes, I’m excited. The cards are great. They speak loads. And although Convers is not my favorite – I prefer Noblet and Dodal – I’m glad that I have this new contribution to the Marseille tarot as part of my collection. Thank you, Yoav, for begifting me with your work.


IMG_8343Note on the deck:

CBD-Tarot by Yoav Ben-Dov, 2010, accompanied by book, Tarot: The Open Reading, 2011, 2013 (reconstruction of Nicholas Convers Tarot de Marseille, 1760)

In Memoriam: Not long after this essay Yoav died unexpectedly. I wrote a short obituary that you might like to see here.


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4 thoughts on “DOES IT WORK? Yoav Ben Dov’s work

  1. Camelia Elias says:


    Bent Sorensen: Funny two-card snaps!
    2 hrs · Unlike · 1

    Camelia Elias: I have to say that I get a mighty kick out of this. It’s a marvellous world, and not to mention the state of your brain under the influence of the cards – by Jove, it’s high. And on top of it all, you can actually even help people with uncovering one of their little blind spots. We sure have plenty of those. Too bad reading cards is not as respectable as swindling on Wall Street.
    2 hrs · Like · 3

    Yoav Ben-dov: thank you Camelia!
    i see that you get very well with the cards but have some reservations about the book – well, different people may have different tastes, i can understand that. but just to clarify the point, i think i share your preference for the image over fixed symbolism. and so i like your snaps very much . but what we can see in the image is always changing, and in different situations we can read different stories. i tried to make it clear in the book, that any story i give as an example is just one among many options. so i have no problem accepting the story that you suggest for the same cards. in a different situation i could very well read them along your lines. it just happens to be not the story that i actually saw at that particular moment when i was reading the cards.

    so why did i see a father figure in the sun? yes, i took it from jodorowsky, but it goes deeper than just a fixed symbolism that i learned from my mentor. the metaphor of the sun as a father or ruler is deeply rooted in western culture. it is present in my head, and comes out easily in my mind when i look at the card. most probably it was also present in the minds of people who created and propagated the Marseille cards over the centuries, and who shaped the sun in a similar way to western alchemical isonography. still, living today, i also understand that in an actual situation, it may well be a woman who assumes this role in the family or in the querent’s life. so, again, interpreting the sun as a father figure is only one possibility..

    have a wonderful weekend!
    22 mins · Edited · Like · 1

    Aurora Díaz Fernández: For me, reading tarot is an “art”, and there are many ways of expressing our art.
    9 mins · Edited · Like · 1

    Camelia Elias: Thanks for this note, Yoav. And thank you again, for your gift. I really enjoyed both the book and the cards. But yes, I do have a very rigid method myself, insofar as I never go with the symbolic reading before I go with the indexical meaning of the cards, or the first, direct meaning. I enjoy Jodorowsky myself, though he’s too Freudian for my taste. Especially when he goes very adamantly about: ‘this is your father’, or ‘this is your mother’, and ‘you have a problem especially with your mother’. I get that, as I get psychoanalysis, but I don’t find it the most useful in a reading situation. Also, although I acknowledge the fact that alchemy has informed most of the iconography we encounter here in the Marseille tarot, and that it’s a good idea to know something about it, when looking at what situation the characters embody – if it’s the trumps that we look at – then the alchemical thesis can quickly change into something entirely different. So, indeed, as you also rightly point out, every time we lay down the cards, we also get a new story going. It’s just that for me that story is not always one that was told before and that can be explained through a psychoanalytical lens or an alchemical one. In that sense I don’t buy the archetype idea. I see a relationship between ourselves and certain types that we recognize, but I would never go so far as to say things like: ‘You ARE the High Priestess, or the Emperor, and they are your spiritual mother and father.’ We recognize these types because of culture not because of their inherent, and supposedly universal qualities as such.

    Luca Shivendra Om: we all share a common archetypal background. but we also have our personal unconscious dynamics. I think that a reader may choose to read the ‘archetypal’ or the ‘personal’ way depending on querents: those whose life is controlled by shared archetypal values, and those whose life is guided by more personal and less unconscious dynamics… I think that the reader should adapt himself to the specific ‘symbolic world’ of every querent: it’s a question of ‘feeling’ and intuition… the symbols the querent is able to ‘manage’ and ‘understand’ will speak through the reader: to me the reader is (should be) a clear mirror, maybe an ‘exegete’ … he is not a ‘guide’, that for sure.
    11 hrs · Edited · Like · 2

    Fortune Buchholtz: When it comes to gazes etc Robert Place used to teach the most awesome tele-class on this – I still have the handouts somewhere. . .I wonder if he still has those materials available?
    11 hrs · Like · 1

    Luca Shivendra Om: great review. even if i do not agree on this “thank you, Yoav, for not going turquoise on the blue like Camoin did” – Yoav Ben-dov’s Conver restoration is exceptionally clever and accurate and clearly based upon wide and deep knowledge -but aesthetically speaking that particular shade of blue does not meet my taste: in a way it is too ‘modern’ and spoils the ‘antique’ look and feel offered by the drawings and by general design… a yellowish blue could have worked more properly, in my opinion.
    4 mins · Like

    Camelia Elias: I agree, Luca, on your first comment. A good reader brings to the table all of his or her life experience, and then reads the cards. And this is exactly where I draw a very sharp distinction. To me it’s completely uninteresting that a reader has 30 years of experience with reading the cads – I come across this one very often in the cartomantic community. I like a reader who says, ‘I’ve lived 40 years and have learned this and that from life.’ I trust that reader more than the one that says, ‘I’m good at cards because I’ve been doing it for 30 years.’ I have noticed that for these latter readers the archetype is very important, and why, because they have very few original things to say, and what I mean by original is the courage to stand by your own convictions and the ways in which you have come to acquire them. It’s not for me to judge and generalize on other people’s practice, but I do have a problem with unsubstantiated claims. I come across them, I run.

    On your second comment. Hmm. Every time I look at the Camoin deck, I try to find a reason to like the turquoise, so you, see, I’m making an effort here. But I’m not very successful.

    Luca Shivendra Om: Camelia [ from reader to querent ] “what could you learn from life now? let’s discover it together (and probably I will learn something new too)” could be the right statement leading to a trustworthy reading
    5 mins · Unlike · 1

    Camelia Elias: That would be very helpful. While in the process it’s a good idea to get a sense of where the querent comes from with her question, the idea is not to dwell on that but learn from it. Usually in the French school, the first card in the French cross tells you that. Though, again, all the cards must be read in tandem and not as ‘positioned’. This is often what is easily forgotten in the Anglo-American tradition, and that’s why spreads get so mechanical and boring, in my opinion.

    1. Camelia Elias says:

      Ok, David. Here’s the difference between analogy and a symbol, according to the Oxford Dictionaries.

      Analogy: ‘A comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification: an analogy between the workings of nature and those of human societies.’

      Symbol: ‘A mark or character used as a conventional representation of an object, function, or process, e.g. the letter or letters standing for a chemical element or a character in musical notation. A shape or sign used to represent something such as an organization, e.g. a red cross or a Star of David.’

      Now, while the work of a symbol may draw on comparison, what makes a symbol a symbol is precisely the conventional aspect. It takes a society to decide what to think of the Star of David, hence the concrete example given here that most of us in the Western world would recognize. An analogy is not loaded with the cultural baggage that the symbol comes with, hence it is more efficient when you want to illustrate a point.

      What I was doing was to equate the Ace of Coins with the flying carpet. As far as I know this equation has not yet become conventional, and hence a dead metaphor devoid of its original meaning. My analogy does the job of creating a useful association, rather than a conventional one. Not all that is conventional is useful. If only. The trouble with symbolic meanings in reading the cards is that it weighs us down, when we perhaps should be of thinking of lifting things up, you know, like the veil or the wool off our eyes.

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