How To Choose Your First Tarot Deck

by Bonnie Cehovet

The 78 cards of the Tarot are magickal tools that we can all put to use in our lives, no matter what cultural, social or religious background we come from. The symbols of the Tarot are universal, representing archetypal qualities that we all experience in our lives.

The 22 cards of the Major Arcana talk about the Fool's Journey (or, as some people refer to it, the Hero's Journey). This is the journey of individuation that we all take through life as we evolve physically and spiritually. The 40 pips of the Minor Arcana (the numbered cards) show us what is happening in our daily lives, the obstacles/challenges that we are facing, and the energies that are there to support and heal us. The 16 Court Cards can represent several different things: actual people in our lives, a part of our inner self, or a situation that we are facing.

Before you purchase your first deck, before you purchase your first book, take the time to think about what part the Tarot will take in your life, what its place will be on your personal path of self discovery. These are but a few examples of what the Tarot can do/be for you:

  • A tool for personal exploration.
  • A tool for personal growth, and achievement of self-knowledge.
  • A focus for meditation.
  • A tool for use in rituals.
  • A tool for seeing the choices available to you.
  • A tool for problem solving.
  • A tool for clarifying goals.
  • A tool for seeing into the past.
  • A tool for understanding the present.
  • A tool for creating the future.
  • A tool for accessing our unconscious.
  • A tool for helping us come into our own power.
  • A tool for accessing the knowledge of our ancestors.
  • A tool for understanding and working with the Elemental energies (Fire, Water, Air and Earth).
  • A tool for enriching our lives.
  • A tool for helping create and give power to personal affirmations.
  • A tool for practicing the ancient sacred art of story telling.
  • An oracular tool, used for fortune telling in its most basic form, and for dialoging and personal insight in its highest form.
  • A tool for helping you to access and develop your psychic powers/abilities.
  • A tool for helping understand dreams.
  • A tool for help in "creating" dreams.
  • A tool for working with journaling.
  • A tool for developing characters, plots and story lines for writers.
  • A tool for developing a personal profile through the use of birth cards, personal day and year cards, and more.
  • A tool for whatever you want it to be!

The process of purchasing your first Tarot deck can be confusing. It can be very confusing, if you give credence to the old wives tale that your first Tarot deck must be "given" to you, rather than purchased by you. There is nothing wrong with purchasing your first deck yourself. Think of it as a gift to yourself, a tool that will open up your life.

There are two decks available today that are considered to be "primary" decks: the Rider-Waite Tarot (sometimes called the Waite-Smith Tarot), and the Thoth Tarot. Each of these decks comes from a slightly different esoteric background. The Rider-Waite Tarot is the deck of choice for most Tarot classes/seminars, and is the deck most referenced on Internet Tarot sites and in Internet chat rooms. To make the initial study of Tarot a little easier, I highly recommend purchasing the Rider-Waite Tarot deck as your first deck.

Personally, I found the Rider-Waite Tarot easy to understand but difficult to work with. I simply was not drawn to the imagery, and was not really connecting with the cards. After listening in on the chatter in a couple of Internet e-groups, I decided that my second deck would be the Morgan-Greer Tarot, which is considered a Rider-Waite "clone". It follows the imagery and symbolism in the Rider-Waite deck, but adjusts it to make it a bit more palatable.

I immediately merged with this deck, and have been using it as a primary reading deck ever since (including over ten years of professional reading). Other decks considered to be Rider-Waite clones are the Robin Wood Tarot, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, the Aquarian Tarot, the Golden Tarot, the Illuminated Tarot, the Sharman-Caselli Tarot, and the Universal Tarot.

No Tarot deck will hold value for you if you do not personally connect with it. For this reason, I prefer to see the cards in person. I am lucky enough to have more than one metaphysical store, within driving distance, that not only carries a large choice of Tarot decks, but has open decks that can be handled. This is important for me, because I have small hands. Cards beyond a certain size are difficult to handle. This would also be important if you were considering a non-traditional deck form, such as circular decks. Large book stores may have a limited choice, and they generally do not have open decks. They also have a tendency to keep single decks (decks that do not have an accompanying book) behind the counter, so that you have to ask for them specifically.

Some considerations when purchasing a deck are theme, symbolism, type of artwork, illustration of the pips (the numbered cards), and price. (The Marseilles style decks do not show illustrations beyond the suit symbols for the Pips.) You also want to take into consideration what the deck is to be used for. If the deck is for class study, you may want the Rider-Waite, a Rider-Waite clone, or the Thoth deck. If the deck is for meditative purposes, you will want the symbolism to reflect that. If your studies are Kabbalistic or Hermetic in nature, you will want decks that reflect this. If you are looking for a gender specific deck, there are several decks out there that reflect gay and lesbian themes. There are also theme decks for almost any theme imaginable.

The artwork is another big consideration. Are you more comfortable with contemporary style, traditional style, Renaissance style? Are borders acceptable, or do you want the illustration to go to the edge of the card? Are you looking for fantasy style artwork, primitive artwork, or perhaps line drawings that are colored in? Do you prefer "cartoon" type artwork? Are you comfortable with keywords on the cards? Do you prefer hand drawn work, photo-collage, or a mixture of both? Do you appreciate esoteric symbolism on a card, or would you rather not have it there? Are you looking for bold, vibrant coloring, something more subdued, perhaps even something in the pastel range?

Keep these questions in mind as you are looking for a new Tarot deck. Finances permitting, you may decide to have more than one deck, and use them for specific purposes. I also advise getting a kit (deck and companion book) if one is available for the deck that you want to work with. In this manner, you will understand the intent of the author/illustrator, and will perhaps get to know your cards in a little different manner than if you took a random deck and tried to apply traditional Tarot thought to it.

I recommend purchasing at least one good Tarot book along with your first deck. I highly recommend Tarot For Yourself, by Mary K. Greer; Learning the Tarot, by Joan Bunning.

This is only the beginning of your journey. Fun, wisdom and magic await!

© Bonnie Cehovet

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer.

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