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Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Guide to Choosing Your Tarot Deck

Purchasing a Tarot Deck is a lot like purchasing a car. It is not something that you do without certain considerations. They are:

  • Your Level of Study
  • Type of Deck
  • Size & Shape
  • Purpose of Deck
  • Price

Your Level of Study

My first Tarot Deck was the Rider-Waite. As you may know the RW deck is arguably the most popular deck on the market, due to the fact that each card has a representative image in contradiction to older decks at that time. Because of this the RW deck has spawned many ‘clones’ such as the Herbal Tarot and it is often the first deck that students learn from continuing their study with other decks. 

The downside to learning from the RW deck is that it colored all the decks I would own/use thereafter. There are still many decks that don't have representative images on every card. For example, take a look at the two cards below representing the three of cups. 

The 'plain' versions don't really give you a lot of imagery to draw upon so instead of allowing the image on the card to be a springboard for your intuition, you have to focus your logical mind on remembering the given meaning of the card.

Type of Deck

Not all decks contain the same number of cards or are divided in the same manner as the Rider Waite. Therefore, I am not particularly fond of any deck that deviates from the RW mold. Here's an example from the Elemental Tarot.

There are also decks that are tailored to a specific demographic or based on a specific philosophy. For example, as a gay man I purchased and liked the Gay Tarot. However, I didn't care for the Witches Tarot which is based on the teachings of the Kabbalah. If you are a beginner there are decks in circulation with the meanings printed directly on the card! Sometimes you will find a deck that is labeled as a Tarot deck, but which is actually an oracle deck. 

Size and Shape

In addition, there are also aesthetic reasons to choose or reject a certain tarot deck. For me, if I don't like the artwork I will not buy the deck. The Miss Cleo Power Deck is an example of art that I dislike. In my opinion, the art work looks cheap and unoriginal.

I have rather small hands for a man and a wrist injury that is aggravated by handling larger decks. I prefer to buy smaller-sized decks and steer clear of the jumbo sized one. The more popular a deck is, the more likely that it will be offered in various sizes. The RW is available from very small to playing card size to standard and even jumbo!

When I lived in South Carolina, there was a store over the border into NC that had hundreds of tarot decks. What made this store so great is that every deck they sold they had a sample deck for you to look through hanging on a wall. Today, when I'm interested in a deck I try to see as many images as I can online. One of my favorite websites for reviewing decks is Aeclectic Tarot. They even have a forum where you can discuss Tarot related topics with others. If you have friends who are tarot readers/collectors ask to see their cards and get their opinions on decks that you are interested in.

Purpose of Deck

Not all those who purchase tarot cards use them, many people collect them for their artistic or monetary value. However, I think it is safe to say that the majority of people who purchase tarot cards intend to use them. Some people have more than one deck. They may have one or more decks for personal use and one (or more) for performing readings for others. Some decks may be used strictly for meditation and path-working.  I’ve known some people to purchase decks for the express purpose of casting spells. Sometimes such spells may require the individual to burn a card in the flame of a candle, or bury two or more cards together. When deciding to purchase a tarot deck, consider what you will be using it for.


Finally, a very important consideration is price. How much do you have to spend on a deck and are you willing to spend that amount?  I have about 30 decks in my collection and there are still decks that I want but are too expensive due to their rarity and availability. For many years I wanted the James Bond Deck with 007 backs on it but it was always too expensive. Then, last year someone graciously gave me the deck for my birthday. I'm still on the look out for an affordable Salvador Dali tarot deck. So shop around and get the best deal that you can.

Which brings me to an old belief that is still floating around. I don't know where it started, but there is a belief that Tarot Cards should never be bought for oneself, that they should be given to you.  That being said, I believe that part of being a magickal person is making things happen for yourself, don't wait for the universe to drop the cards into your lap. I feel that if you want a tarot card deck and you have the money, then buy it!

Sometimes a deck will be given to you that has been used by another person. In these cases, all of the criteria above still apply to gifted decks.  Sometimes a gifted deck will not resonate with you, however if you cleanse and bless the deck you may find that you actually like the deck.


Although there are many factors to consider when purchasing a tarot deck, ultimately I believe that you will know when you have found the right deck for you. The right deck should speak to your spirit on some level. The artwork will be pleasing to your eye and should not make you feel uneasy or uncomfortable. The deck will feel right in your hand and emanate a positive energy.

Carolina Dean

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