Reading tarot cards is often considered a stable of magical practitioners. Lots of people read tarot cards though (and many magical practitioners do not) so there’s about eleventy-billion ways to learn how to read tarot and even more reasons to read tarot.
First, let’s get that troubling superstition about buying your own deck out of the way. It might work as a superstition for you, but it’s fairly new in the realm of superstitions and likely doesn’t apply now. You can buy your own deck. The deck will read perfectly well and will not carry negative energy because you bought it.
More importantly, the criteria for your tarot deck is one that needs to be considered carefully. Each person will want different things out of a deck. Ask yourself these questions to help narrow the field.
Do I like the art?
This is, by far, one of the most important criteria. It’s really hard to connect to a deck which has an art style you don’t like. I have all sorts of decks in all sorts of art styles and I can read with many of them but there’s a few I don’t use as often because I’m not super fond of the art style. I keep them often due to sentimental reasons or because they work well for a particular thing but otherwise, I could live without them.
Look at the art. Glance through google images for more pictures and check reviews. There’s some decks that have a fantastic cover or a handful of cards I love but I couldn’t stand the rest of the deck. Sometimes it’s the colors or something else. It’s a personal choice and don’t discredit that when it comes to a selection. You’re doing the reading so your aesthetic should matter.
Do important cards resonate with me?
Many readers have particular cards that resonate with them. They might always look at the High Priestess or the Fool to determine if they like the deck. I usually check the Tower, Magician, and Hermit myself because those are the cards I like the most. If those cards don’t work for you, how does that diminish the deck’s quality or importance? I know there’s a deck that has a nice if kind of weird Tower card that I’m unsure about. Something’s not right with it for me so I end up not using that deck quite as often as I might otherwise.
Don’t forget to check the court cards too. The whole Arcana is important, not just the Major. Check the leaders of the Minor Arcana too. I know what happens with the Kings and Queens can make or break how I feel about a deck.
Is the content up to par for me?
This is both a personal decision and an aesthetics decision. I have a deck that covers all sorts of places in the world at all sorts of eras. But it largely settles in the medieval and Renaissance eras. But Chariot and World, with a handful of other cards, are thoroughly modern images with cars, computers, and so on. Every time I see one of these cards, it throws me because there’s so few of them compared to the rest. It made me change how I use the deck because of this.
You’ll want to consider the tone and content. Are a few cards really graphic? Do they show a lot of nudity? Are their children everywhere? What doesn’t work for you?
As said, some of this comes down to artistic choice with the creator. Some decks just aren’t designed well or use the creator’s own understanding of the cards rather than the traditional meanings people generally expect.
What do I want to do with the deck?
Are you focusing on love readings? Personal questions? Spiritual questions? Do you want a deck you can connect with or one that just the job done without a lot of fuss? I find that decks have an energy to them almost (or exactly) like a spirit. My Heart of the Faerie Oracle is so sassy and always wants attention whereas my Claude Bludel’s Classic Tarot is Grumpy the Grandpa Grumpasaurus. I’ve used my Heart of the Faerie Oracle for most everything but it doesn’t like financial questions. My Classic Tarot likes business questions but not business questions that relate to the heart or passions. It’s strictly business.
Reviews will help you determine a general deck usage typically but also check out the creator’s own words. The Heart of the Faerie Oracle was designed for relationships of all kinds and that purpose is abundantly obvious.
Will this deck be hard to learn?
Some decks are not beginner friendly. They might have small or intricate images or only have subtle hints at what they’re suppose to be rather than spelling it out on the card. My Deviant Moon Tarot, for example, doesn’t display the words “Cups” or “Swords” so you either have to pay attention or know the deck. I have numerous decks that just give numbers for the Major Arcana, which may not even work since some decks swap out the numerical placement of the Fool, World, and a handful of other cards.
Many decks expect you to know stuff. For example, the Sherlock Holmes Tarot is wonderfully but if you’re not overly familiar with a great deal of the Sherlock Holmes writing, you’ll have a challenging time with it. The Ghosts and Spirits Tarot takes from stories all over the world relying on you to either know the stories from the images or memorize the stories associated with the cards. Fairy Lights seems to have a hidden story or knowledge expectation, perhaps just merely being familiar with fairy tales as a whole helps or maybe there’s a specific real life fairy court life being referenced. This tends to only happen in themed decks but it’s something to be aware of.
Others might take the creator’s personal knowledge of the subject, skewing traditional meanings which makes it difficult to remember if you’re just learning stuff.
Originality versus RWS traditional meanings also may come into play here as well so keep that in mind.
Is it a RWS clone? Based off of RWS? Original? Does that matter?
Many of the decks you’re probably going to run into are Rider-Waite-Smith based decks (RWS) referring to the acknowledged creators of the tarot deck popularized today. This deck is also known as the Rider-Waite deck but Smith was the artist and her contributions shouldn’t be forgotten either so there’s been considerable movement to include her in the name/titles.
The RWS decks are the standard when it comes to tarot cards. Some decks are flat-out clones where even the position of the characters are exactly the same. A good example is the Tarot of the Magical Forest. It’s certainly pretty to look at and different with the animal characters but if you compare it to a RWS deck, you’ll see it’s a clone.
Many decks just take the RWS traditional meanings and put their own spin on it. You get some great themed decks out of this as well as some fantastic classics too. But, you’re at the mercy of the creators’ understanding of the cards and how they learned the cards. The Devil is a good example here: some people will immediately draw it as a classic devil and debauchery kind of scene and others go for a wholly different approach.
Original decks may have some inspiration from RWS or they might take inspiration from older tarot cards (tarot was a playing card game before it was a divination tool) or they could invent some new stuff. This is far rarer and often swings into the realm of oracle cards rather than tarot cards.
Oracle cards are different in that the meanings are entirely dependent on the creators. These decks are typically extremely original with their content and often are themed. The Mermaids and Dolphins Oracle comes to mind as does the Sacred Creators Oracle. Since there’s no standard in meanings, you’ll either have to use the book or intuition to read the cards.
There’s also Lenormand cards which are a whole different system of card reading. They have even stricter meanings than tarot cards, have a few hundred years less history, and have designated spreads. They’ve seen an upswing in popularity of late and many people use them now as oracle cards in addition to Lenormand cards.
I have all these styles of decks and I use them all fairly often. I’m an intuitive reader so it doesn’t matter to me which system I use in the end. I just pick the best tool for the specific question at hand. If you’re not an intuitive reader, a Lenormand or RWS deck might be a better choice. If you have trouble with memory, are an intuitive reader, or you dislike classic occultism, an oracle deck might be a better choice for you.
I honestly suggest one of each if you’re going to do a lot of divination reading. Don’t break the bank but a RWS, Lenormand, and oracle will each have different approaches to the same problem and can reveal different aspects of the same question. Or pick your favorite. It’s up to you.
Do I like the size and feel of the cards?
Not all tarot decks are created equally when it comes to materials. Card thickness, sheen, card material, shape, and the mere size can all change. For example, all of the Blue Angel Publishing decks I own are huge – I have trouble shuffling them at time with my tiny hands. My Enchanted Lenormand? Fits in a pair of women’s jeans pockets (a claim that has either confused you or highly impressed you, I’d wager) and is about the height of a tube of lip balm.
Each reader will have a preference. For example, I like small to medium sized cards, slight to matte sheen, and a bit thicker than a playing card but not so thick you can’t easily shuffle them. I have a friend who loves large cards and another that adore shiny ones. It definitely comes down to personal preference but it’s something to be aware of. Look for these details in reviews.
My favorites! The Queen of Swords, Page of Swords, the Hermit, and the Tower from the Dreaming Way Tarot
Do I want a companion book? What does it come with?
Most tarot decks comes with a tuck box which is exactly like a playing card box and a little white book with maybe a sentence to explain each card (also known as the LWB). Some tuck boxes and LWB are awesome and others are completely useless. Deviant Moon’s tuck box caused me so many issues when I got it that I spent the next day crocheting a bag for the deck just so I didn’t have to use the tuck box. Why? It was too tight and made closing the box and fitting all the cards difficult, risking even damaging the cards just to close the box.
Some decks have heavier cardboard boxes which are intended to house the deck permanently. And some others go completely overkill with their boxes and completely waste space. (I’m looking at you Heart of the Faerie Oracle and Enchanted Lenormand.) Often these decks include a companion book of some kind which makes up for the box size, usually.
I’ve also gotten decks in bags before which, like the heavier boxes, are intended for permanent storage but might not wholly protect the cards if dropped.
Companion books are a thing now and they’re pretty awesome. I’m not really a super fan of selling a companion book separately from a deck unless the deck comes with a LWB too but that’s just my opinion. Companion books are more complete LWBs, going into details about each card, usually a page or so, and often include a spread or two and some sort of introduction or forward from the creator(s). Some books are better written than others and they might be hard or soft covered. It varies from deck to deck.
Is the deck worth the price it’s being sold at to me?
This is more aimed at collectors than anyone else. I keep a list of decks I want and I periodically go through and examine the items on there, deciding if I want them for the reasons above or if the cost is worth what the deck offers. A RWS copy isn’t going to mean as much to mean as an oracle for example as I prefer original decks for the most part.
I see a lot of readers buy decks that they later sell off because they didn’t meet their needs. Sometimes, they wholly regret the purchase. Decks can be bought for the $25 price or under but many decks hover in the $35-45 range which, combined with shipping, can be a bit pricey if you don’t budget it. Many are more than even that and out of print or limited edition decks can go for hundreds of dollars.
Remember to take a second to think before purchasing. Many sellers don’t allow returns in this field so be aware before you buy what your options are if you don’t like the deck.
Does it have a companion app?
Some decks have their own companion apps. The mobile apps are sold separately but if you really love a deck, you can get the companion app and use the deck digitally on the road. Companion apps often also help you learn the cards.
Another good thing about companion apps is they’re often cheaper than the decks themselves so you can view all the cards without paying full price for the deck. Plus their ultra portable which can be a huge bonus if you’re a big traveler or aren’t public with your practice.
What do others say about this deck?
Check reviews. Google up some reviews, ask around on social media, haunt the review section of retailer’s websites. Aecletic.com is a great place to start for this. Asking favorite bloggers is a good idea too. If you get a tarot reading from other readers, you can ask them how they feel about the decks used. There’s a good chance they’ll be happy to answer the question.
Those are good questions to ask if you’re looking for a deck. There’s a lot of choices out there so it can be tricky to find the right deck for you. Good luck and happy divining.
Decks featured (in order of appearance):
- Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls by Matthew Lowes & Josephe Vandel ©
- Heart of the Faerie Oracle by Brian Froud and Wendy Froud with Robert Gould © Harry N. Abrams
- Fairy Lights Tarot by Lucia Mattioli © Lo Scarabeo
- Classic Tarot by Claude Burdel © US Games Systems
- Deviant Moon Tarot Borderless Edition by Patrick Valenza © US Games Systems
- Scrying Ink Lenormand Oracle by Siolo Thompson © Bay & Willow
- Dreaming Way Tarot by Rome Choi and Kwon Shina © US Games Systems
- Tarot of the Magical Forest by Hsu Chi Chun, Leo Tang, Pietro Alligo, Giovanni Pelosini © Lo Scarabeo
- Linestrider Tarot: Kickstarter Edition by Siolo Thompson ©
- Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco © Blue Angel Publishing
- Sacred Rebels by Alana Fairchild and Autumn Skye Morrison © Blue Angel Publishing
- Sacred Creators Oracle by Chris-Anne © Chris-Anne.com