Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections


 November 01, 2003

Software Review: Orphalese 4.5.2
Mark McElroy, NTCAA*

Mark McElroy received his first Tarot deck in 1973, but began serious study of Tarot in 1997.

 While interested in the divinatory and meditative aspects of Tarot, Mark primarily uses the deck as a tool for brainstorming, enhancing creativity, and planning action. As Mark explains in his forthcoming book, Putting the Tarot to Work, "My approach to Tarot favors the practical over the mystical."

Mark works regularly with Carol Herzer's Illuminated Tarot, the Thoth deck, Robert Place's Alchemical Tarot, the Osho Zen, Paula Gibby's Blue Rose, and Julia Turk's under-appreciated Navigator's Tarot of the Mystic Sea.

Mark's personal weblog receives more than 1500 visitors per week. He can be reached through his professional web site, or by email.

*What do the letters NTCAA mean after Mark's name? No Tarot Certification At All.

  Orhpalese 4.5.2
Shareware / Free Unlimited Trial
$9.99 registration requested


  • Windows XP, 2000, NT or Windows 98/ME with Microsoft .NET software (free 21 MB download)
  • Internet Explorer 5.1 or higher

9 out of 10 - This is a near-perfect program that every serious Tarot enthusiast should own.

PROS: The Orphalese Tarot is a powerful and flexible tool. The free, unlimited trial is generous, and the Shareware purchase price, at $9.99, is an amazing bargain. I know of no other program on the market that matches its flexibility and power.

CONS: A few users of older computers may have to download the .NET software before using the program. Also, a few of the latest online features threaten to "bloat" an otherwise elegant program.

Review At-a-Glance
Simply put: Orphalese Tarot is the most powerful and straightforward Tarot application on the market. The cards can be shuffled and dealt into canned spreads or dragged from the deck to any on-screen location. Switching between decks is quick and easy. Because the user can specify any images (and any number of images) as "cards," the program works with decks of any size or shape.

The program offers no canned meanings of any kind. Spreads, personal reading notes, and even notes on specific cards can be saved (notes can also be exported to your favorite word processor).

While the free trial is generous, users should support the responsive, enthusiastic creator of this program by registering the software for the incredibly reasonable sum of $9.99. The bottom line: if you work with Tarot, get this program ... now!

Detailed Review

The Ultimate Tarot Deck
Here at last is a virtual deck that behaves exactly like a physical deck of cards.  Run the program, and a deck of cards appears on your computer screen, superimposed on the desktop or against a colored background of your choosing.

 At this point, you can:

  • Shuffle the deck with a click of the mouse. You may also perform a "seeded shuffle," which bases the shuffle on a number, word, or phrase you supply. Behind the scenes, the computer converts the word or phrase into a number, then uses this number as the starting point (or seed) for randomizing the order of the deck. Using the same word twice won't give you the same card order, because the seed contributes to, but doesn't completely control, the randomization of the cards. 
  • Put the cards in sequential order (Warning: this feature will make you lazy – you’ll never want to put a real deck in order again once you become accustomed to performing the task with two clicks of your mouse!) 
  • Deal cards face-up or face down. Cards dealt face down may be turned over with a single click of the mouse. 
  • Deal the cards into any spread you like, or use any one of several canned spreads, including the Celtic Cross, the simple three-card spread, and a complex Yin-Yang spread. If you use your own spreads, saving them for future use (or to share with others) is quick and easy. Soon, the program will also feature the ability to share spreads with users of other Tarot programs.
  • Fan the deck to search quickly and easily for exactly the card you want ... or to choose an unseen card at random.
  • Return all cards to the deck with a single click. 
  • Resize or magnify cards. You can enlarge the cards for better viewing or reduce their size as a way of getting more cards on screen at once. Better yet, you can zoom in on any card to explore the tiniest artistic details. (The clarity of the zoom varies, depending on the quality of the images you use as cards.)
  • Switch to any deck in your collection with just two mouse clicks. This makes the Orphalese Tarot especially valuable for those of us doing comparative readings. I now regularly deal the cards from the Universal Waite, then quickly and easily review how the same spread will look in the Thoth deck or the Navigator’s Tarot.
  • Set options controlling the behavior of the program ... or a specific deck. Want to specify a card back, a default font for the program's note-taking features, or even a default deck to be called up whenever you start the program? No problem ... any of these tasks can be done with two or three clicks of the mouse.
  • Launch an on-line reading session. The program offers a portal to an Internet-based chat room, where users can type messages to each other, offer interactive readings, or -- as of Oct 2003 -- share guided tours to any number of Internet sites of interest.

Don't Try This with a Printed Deck!

Unlike a printed deck, the Orphalese Tarot can be quickly and easily customized to suit your preferences. You can:

  • Change card backs. The program comes with a selection of 32 x 32 pixel tiles to choose from, but you can easily add (or, if you have a photo-editing program) design your own. Hundreds of web sites offer free "background tiles" for web sites; all of these can be selected as card backs. Just copy them to the "Backs" subdirectory of the Orphalese Tarot program and click to select it. Alternatively, you can associate a scan of an actual card back with any virtual deck.
  • Change card sizes quickly and easily by pressing the plus or minus keys on your keyboard.
  • Change card edges from square to rounded.
  • Change the percentage of reversals to a value that suits you (I use five percent).

Alter any of the above settings, and the entire deck (including cards dealt and those still in the pack) changes to reflect your choices. In addition, the Orphalese Tarot is smart enough to associate certain changes with individual decks. For example: once you associate a specific back or corner style with a particular deck, the program will always use the settings you selected when you call for that that deck.

A Truly Universal Tarot

In an effort to avoid any copyright infringement entanglements, the program offers the crudely colored, public domain Coleman-Smith Tarot as its default deck. But don't worry -- a number of other decks have been made available at the site, including Andreas Schröter's elegant and pleasing Aquatic Tarot (one of the most beautiful renderings of the familiar RWS images available anywhere).

Want more decks? Perhaps the most fascinating feature of the program is its ability to use any set images you specify as a Tarot deck! As a result, creating a virtual version of any deck you own is as simple as scanning in each card and saving the images as .gifs, .jpgs, or .bmp files.

The only constraints are:

  • the files must be named as numbers. For a 78-card Tarot deck, the program creator suggests associating 00 with the Fool, 01-21 with the Major Arcana, 22-35 with the Ace through King of Wands, 36-49 with the Ace through King of Cups, 50-63 with the Ace through King of Swords, and 64-77 with the Ace through King of Coins. Adopting this numbering scheme as a standard isn't necessary (you can associate any card with any number you like), but aids in consistency when trading decks with others. 
  • the files must be loaded into a subdirectory within the program's "Packs" directory. Placing all your scans of the McElroy Tarot into a subdirectory named "McElroy Tarot" results in the McElroy Tarot becoming available from the program's main menu. Switching to the McElroy deck, then, becomes as simple as pointing and clicking.

Once the numbered files are saved and in their directory, you can use the images exactly as you would a deck of cards. Tell the program how many cards are in the deck, and from then on, you're good to go.

The importance of this feature cannot be overemphasized, as it makes the Orphalese Tarot into a powerful tool for:

  • Collectors. Scan your collection into the computer, and you'll be able to use any of your decks with point-and-click ease.* (No more rummaging through the Tarot cupboard to find the deck you want – and you can use even your most fragile decks on a regular basis without fear of damaging them!) You could also create your own "Personal Patchwork" tarot, including in your seventy-eight card deck the images you love best from several different decks.

* Please note: sharing scans of copyrighted decks with others may be a violation of copyright law; scans should be for your own personal use only.

  • Deck Designers. Artists having difficulty finding a publisher for their decks could circulate virtual copies to build buzz. Designers of out-of-print decks (Arnell Ando, for example) could circulate virtual copies of their decks for use with this program. Designers of any deck could release virtual copies of their decks to help generate buzz and increase sales of decks now on the market. Richard Jeffries, the programmer of the Orphalese Tarot, welcomes the submission of decks designed to be used with the program, and makes download space available on his website.
  • Publishers. US Games and Llewellyn, take note: making virtual versions of your deck images available for use with this program would be an excellent way of promoting them. Once attached to a virtual version of a deck (which could be downloaded for free or at a reduced price), collectors and readers would be very likely to purchase the cards themselves. This might also be an excellent venue for a "sampler deck"-- seventy eight cards from seventy-eight different decks.
  • Hobbyists. Want to create your own deck? Do so ... and using it with or distributing it for the Orphalese Tarot engine becomes a quick and easy process. Remember: the program doesn't care what images you use. As a result, a user could choose *any* images (personal photos, copyright-free web images, even scans of soup labels, for that matter) and use these as an electronic oracle! (It does help if the images are roughly the same size and shape; the program will make the deck be the size of the first image "drawn," then force other images to conform to those dimensions.) 
  • Removing borders and keywords from cards. Hate those borders on the Sacred Circle? Scan in the cards, use photo-editing software to remove the borders, and enjoy the electronic version of your customized deck in minutes. Love the Lo Scarabeo Tarot of the Master, but find the multi-lingual keywords on the left border distracting? Scan the cards in and crop out the offensive material.

Fresh -- not Canned -- Readings
Programs like Visionary Networks' TAROT MAGIC CD-ROM, the automated Tarot readings at, and other Tarot-reading software also randomize card decks. Unfortunately, even when these packages go so far as to reflect slightly edited meanings based on card position, the readings are still "canned." The text provided never varies, and the prescribed meanings may or may not correspond to your needs.

The Orphalese Tarot does not serve up canned meanings. The program makes it easy to work with a virtual deck, period ... an approach I find refreshing. Beginners may be frustrated by the lack of an integrated dictionary of card meanings, but intuitive readers, those who prefer to refer to a specific book of meanings, or those who prefer to work out their own meanings for each card will feel right at home.

Other Features
Print and save detailed information. Spreads and work sessions can be printed. Notes, insights, and interpretations can be entered into the program's basic word processor, then saved or exported to the word processor of your choice. You’ll want to save your notes, though, in the Orphalese Tarot’s own format … because, when you call up past readings, the program automatically pulls the cards for you and arranges them into the spread that inspired the saved reading.

Yikes! The Boss! An especially thoughtful feature: if your boss walks up while you're doing Tarot readings instead of working on the spreadsheet he assigned you, one click will collapse the entire program, cards and all, into a tiny icon in your Windows computer's system tray. Another click restores your layout, notes and all. Try doing that with a physical deck!

Online Interaction. As mentioned earlier, the program offers users the ability to log onto an interactive chat system. In this online chat room, users may exchange text messages, share readings, and even send PayPal payments -- which sounds good, in theory.

In reality, however, the online features of the program may offer more "Wow Factor" than practical value. The interactive chat room is almost always empty. (The programmer now offers an online appointment book to facilitate meet-ups between users. On my last several visits, though, there were no pending appointments on the book.)

As of October 2003, the program allows users to share an integrated web browser, making it possible for people in the chat room to share web pages and participate in group tours to any site on the Internet. With the program's existing online features clearly under-utilized, one wonders about the value of adding yet another layer of Internet functionality to the Orphalese Tarot.

Of course, users who lack interest in these features may simply overlook them. That said, the overwhelming appeal of this program is its remarkable ability to emulate a Tarot deck while eliminating any of the constraints of working with printed cards. The Orphalese Tarot does this better than any other program on the market ... so why bloat the program by adding complicated online features that few, if any, of the users will enjoy?

Nice Price, Nicer Programmer
The Orphalese Tarot is Shareware -- the author has agreed to distribute it free of charge, and allows you to use the software for an unlimited free trial period. (During the trial, some features -- but very, very few of them -- will be "locked out" until you register.) If you don't like the Orphalese Tarot, you should erase it ... but if you do find the program useful, you should thank the author by registering the program (it's just $9.95, after all).

Richard Jefferies, the creator of the program, says, “I really want the development of this program to be driven by people in the Tarot community who will use it as a tool on a day to day basis.” After downloading and registering version 1.0 of the program, several of us took Mr. Jefferies at his word, sending him a list of changes we felt would dramatically improve the value and usability of the Orphalese Tarot. Three days later, I received via email version 2.0 of the program – implementing almost every suggestion I’d made. Try getting that kind of response from Microsoft!

Since that time, Mr. Jefferies has continued to improve and refine the program, which, as of this writing,  had reached version 4.5.2. As a responsive programmer who genuinely cares about his customers’ opinions, he very much deserves the optional $9.95 registration fee suggested for this software.

About .Net
Great news: the biggest obstacle to your enjoyment of the Orphalese Tarot has very likely been removed.

When the Orphalese Tarot was first released, it required users to install a new Microsoft technology called "Dot Net" (written as ".NET"). Without going into technical details, .NET is part of Microsoft's effort to promote the use of its own proprietary programming technology. Before users could work with the Orphalese Tarot, they had to download all 32 megabytes of the .NET software and install it. This was not a huge hurdle for those of us with fast DSL or cable-modem connections, but it proved to be a real pain for folks with a dial-up connection. Once downloaded, the installation seemed to challenge all but the most tech-savvy of users.

Thankfully, newer Windows-based machines and upgraded versions of Windows 2000, NT, and XP now incorporate the .NET software. On my three newest computers, the Orphalese program installed without a hitch, with no download of the .NET software required.

If you have an older computer, you may still have to download and install .NET on your computer. (If you use a Mac or a Windows 95-based machine, you're just slap out of luck.)

You can't beat the price of this amazing little program ... and no other Tarot software I've seen matches its flexibility, power, and ease of use. If you work with Tarot ... get this program now.


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Tarot Reflections is a publication of the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2003
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