Choosing A Tarot Deck
So you’ve decided to learn to read the tarot – wonderful! Perhaps one of the most fun and exciting components to making that initial decision is starting the hunt for the deck that will be your companion on this journey.
Tarot is a deeply personal experience, and an art in which one remains a student for life.
As you will be working closely with these cards, one of the most important aspects to consider is your choice of the tarot deck itself. There are flavours to suit everyone’s taste, from decks that mimic the classical systems of the Marseilles or Rider-Waite-Smith, to completely alternative takes on tarot such as the Thoth. Given the vast array of tarot cards currently available, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming figuring out where to start!
While over time you are likely to add more than one deck to your collection, there’s nothing quite like your first deck of tarot cards… This is the deck that you will build your foundation upon; taking time to research your available options and proceeding with some thought will go a long way to helping you really connect to the tarot and learn it’s language. My best advice is to find a deck that you can stick with for awhile to build up a comfortable rapport before moving on to other decks. Here are some tips to help you find “the one”:
First and foremost, a tarot deck should speak to your soul…
Tarot speaks a language, and each deck will have it’s own dialect or vocabulary communicated via visual imagery. The key to learning this language is to find a tarot deck that speaks to your soul – while many decks come with a book detailing the creator’s vision, but to truly connect intuitively, it is best to find a deck that resonates with you on a personal level. Appearances matter! If the deck doesn’t draw you in and make you want to explore it’s artwork; if it isn’t aesthetically pretty, dark, intriguing, earthy, psychedelic, or witchy enough, then keep looking to find one that is. There’s nothing shallow in passing up a deck that doesn’t visually appeal to you, no matter how popular it may be with others.
TAROT TIP: Many tarot readers will choose a certain card in the deck that they feel particularly connected to and base thier assessment of other decks upon this one card. I’ve heard more than once that someone bought or took a pass on a certain deck because The Moon either drew them in, or left them cold.
A tarot deck should be accessible.
Once you’ve found a deck that speaks to your soul, it’s a good idea to assess your preferred learning method. Do you like having plenty of resources available to learn from, or do are you comfortable winging it on your own? Do you find discussion with others helpful, or does reading from a book suffice? Based on how you learn best, it is a good idea to check whether your deck comes with a book detailing its symbols and language, or has enough third-party information available to make learning enjoyable rather than frustrating.
TAROT TIP: While the more esoteric decks can be beautiful, if you are just starting out down this road, you may prefer to start with the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, or one of it’s many variants. The RWS tends to be a universal language in the tarot world, with many books, websites, and online groups dedicated to its study.
A tarot deck should be an extension of you…
Personally, I find the artwork, colours, and Christian imagery of the RWS unappealing enough that I don’t use it, so I can’t in good conscious recommend it as a deck. Fortunately, there are plenty of decks inspired by the RWS to choose from! Some of these variants align more closely to the RWS than others, but in general, they speak the same language. The benefit of this is that if you learn this particular system of tarot, you will have an infinite world of decks to choose from, from sci-fi cats to the Haitian ghetto; from housewives or zombies of the 1950’s to earthy Pagan realms.
TAROT TIP: Don’t hesitate to choose a deck that suits your personality! Aeclectic Tarot is a treasure trove of images and reviews sorted by type to assist you in finding the deck that is most uniquely YOU.
As much as we like to joke about how size matters in popular culture, tarot is a realm where size does indeed matter! Finding a deck that fits your hands so that you can shuffle, cut, and deal out the cards comfortably goes a long way towards making your work with the cards more enjoyable. While tarot decks are generally larger than regular playing cards, many decks are printed in various sizes, from small enough to fit in a pocketbook for the reader on-the-go, to larger formats for those with less delicately sized hands.
TAROT TIP: Many brick-and-mortar stores offer open sample decks so you can really get a feel for the cards, while online shops will often list the card dimensions. When in doubt, cut a stiff piece of paper to size and see how it feels in your hands.
Last but not least, let’s talk about cardstock…
I bring this topic up as it has literally become a make-or-break detail that holds court over whether or not I will invest in a deck. While cardstock isn’t as important for collector decks that are simply kept as inspirational artworks, working decks see a lot of wear and tear. Cards that bend easily, inks that smudge or chip, or laminates that peel are not only annoying, but can affect how you shuffle the cards, as well as diminish the deck’s longevity. Unfortunately, many commercially produced decks are printed on inferior cardstock. The good news is that the most beautiful decks these days are independently produced, and tend to be printed on quality cardstock. While indie decks may be a little higher priced, that old saying of getting what you pay for is applicable here… Since we work with our hands when using tarot cards, I feel that having a pleasantly tactile sensation is part of the whole shebang, and am willing to invest into decks which are printed on higher quality cardstock.
TAROT TIP: Besides honouring what is often stunning artwork, a deck which is printed on higher quality cardstock will last longer, and handle better than one of inferior cardstock. Members of online tarot groups are generally happy to give an honest review of the cardstock and printing quality of any deck you may be interested in before making a purchase.
Enjoy the process!
There are about a bazillion other qualities that could be examined as a method to finding the tarot deck that’s just right for you, but in my experience, the above five are the biggest pieces of the puzzle. Shopping for a tarot deck is a little like dating, really – figure out what draws you in, what’s make-or-break, and what feels right, and you’ll be halfway home to meeting the deck of your dreams!
Having a high-quality tarot deck that is accessible, resonates with your own innate inner wisdom, and is an extension of your personality makes reading the cards even more fun and enjoyable. With the vast selection of card designs out there today, there’s no reason to limit yourself to the old standbys if they don’t speak to you… Your first deck is special – it’s worth putting the time and energy into finding that one that is “just right” for you. So have some fun spending some time finding the deck that is your perfect match!