There are hundreds upon hundreds of tarot decks available for purchase. So how do you choose the right deck? Not an easy question to answer for everyone has different tastes and different decks appeal to different people. However, it is important to choose a deck that you can easily relate to and enjoy working with, for you will be spending a lot of time with your deck.
There are some things to think about when choosing a deck.
- Most tarot books use the Rider-Waite-Smith deck or a RWS clone such as the Universal Waite or the Radiant Rider-Waite for illustration. Thus, it might help to have at least one RWS deck or clone. I recommend the RWS deck for all beginners. Rider is the name of the company (William Rider & Son) that originally published the deck, Waite refers to author of the deck (Arthur Edward Waite) and Smith refers to the deck’s artist (Pamela Colman-Smith). Originally published in 1909, this deck has come to be considered the standard deck of our time and many of our modern decks are clones of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Many people also refer to this deck as the Waite-Smith or the Waite-Colman-Smith deck.
- The pip cards of your deck should be illustrated. The Minor Arcana cards of some decks, especially the pre-RWS decks, are not illustrated. That is to say, they do not contain pictures on the cards but rather just the item of their suit (the 10 of Wands card might simply display 10 wands and nothing else) . As you will be learning how to read tarot symbolism, you will want to ensure that all of the cards of your deck include pictures.
- Your deck should not contain offensive art. There are many “erotic” decks available and while certainly interesting decks to add to your collection, they should not be your only reading decks. The best way to practice reading the cards is to read for others. Naturally, we never wish to offend those with more delicate sensibilities when reading their cards.
- Determine how your deck will be used. There are many decks that are suited for specific purposes. For example, some decks are intended more for introspection and meditative purposes.
- Theme. Many decks contain a specific theme – such as the Lord of the Rings Tarot, The Rock and Roll Tarot, Vampire Tarot, The Fairytale Tarot or the Baseball Tarot. You may wish to do some research to see if there is a particular theme out there that speaks to you. Again, keep in mind anyone you may be reading for – they may not like or be able to relate to the theme of your deck.
- Companion Book. Many tarot decks come packaged as part of a “kit”; that is to say, the deck comes packaged with a companion book, often authored by the deck’s creator. I personally always buy the kit when available as the companion book can contain much insight on the author’s vision for the deck. Decks packaged alone typically include a small booklet, listing some meanings for the cards and perhaps even a spread or two. This little booklet is often referred to as the “Little White Book” or LWB.
- Meanings on cards. Some cards contain keywords for each card, printed on the front of the card. As a single card can contain a plethora of meanings depending on its position in the spread or the question asked, I find keywords on cards both limiting and distracting. This is a matter of personal preference. Some people find this practice helpful.
- Suits. Some decks change the name of the standard suits. For instance in the Halloween Tarot, the standard Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles becomes Imps, Ghosts, Bats and Pumpkins, respectively. Many people prefer to stick with the traditional suit names while other welcome the variety. Again, a personal preference.
- Swords/Wands reversal. In some decks, the element/suit designation is reversed. This is to say, the typical wands-fire and swords-air designation becomes wands-air and swords-fire. An example of this is in the Shapeshifter Tarot. This does require a different way of interpreting the cards and may not be to everyone’s liking. Again, you yourself shall have to determine the importance of suit/element designation.
- Reversible back. The back of some decks is not reversible; that is to say, you can tell just by looking at the back of the deck whether the cards is upside down. If you read with card reversals, you may wish to ensure that the deck backs are reversible.
These are just some points to get you started. If you wish to browse through the different decks, the Aeclectic Web site contains an exhaustive list of decks, many with images and deck reviews. Before you purchase a deck, you may wish to spend some time there browsing through the different decks.
Below is a list of some popular decks that you might want to consider. These are just only a few to get you started.
Some Decks for Beginners
Albino-Waite Tarot Deck: Variation of the RWS deck
Connelly: RWS clone with the “scary” images toned down. Good deck for children.
Cosmic Tarot – RWS clone, traditional imagery with modern figures
DruidCraft Tarot: Druid-Wiccan Theme
Enchanted Tarot: RWS Clone, Magical Theme.
Gaian Tarot – Earth/Goddess centered deck. Inspired by RWS structure.
Halloween: Themed deck, great for parties. Suits renamed.
Hanson-Roberts deck: Medieval, fairy-tale like artwork. RWS Clone.
Legacy of the Divine Tarot – RWS inspired. Fantasy themed. The Guilded Tarot by the same artist is also worth a look.
Mythic Tarot: Based on Greek mythology.
Radiant Rider-Waite-Smith: RWS variation. Bright colors.
Rider-Waite-Smith: Standard tarot deck
Robin-Wood: RWS Clone with a neopagan tone. One of my personal favorites!
Sharman-Caselli Tarot – RWS inspired. Beautiful artwork. Deck is difficult to find but there are still copies on eBay.
Tarot Illuminati – RWS inspired – stunning artwork
Tarot of Vampyres – Vampire theme, inspired by RWS structure.
Universal Tarot – RWS clone, redrawn in Italian style.
Wizard’s Tarot: Theme of Magic School. Similar to RWS imagery.
Advanced or Non-Traditional Decks
1JJ Swiss Tarot – classic deck portraying 19th figures. Out of print but there are still plenty floating around on eBay.
Golden Tarot – loosely based on RWS symbolism; comprised of collage imagery from paintings European masters paintings.
Marseilles – classical deck, non-illustrated pips.
Motherpeace – Round cards. Feminist themed.
Shapeshifter Tarot: Shamanic themed; Air/Wands, Fire/Swords designation.
Thoth – Golden Dawn inspired deck.
Voyager Tarot – Photo collage deck, New Age/self-empowerment theme.
Do you have a favorite deck? Let us know in the comments!