Choosing A Tarot Card Deck: Ultimate Guide

Thoth Tarot Deck

Picking the right Tarot deck is very important. Your deck will become your portal to the energies of the universe and a valuable tool in most of the decisions you make. So, it’s important that you really connect with your deck.

At first glance you need to like what the deck looks like, and be able to interpret the meaning of the cards easily from the images on them. For a beginner it might be difficult to tell what some decks are trying to portray with images and symbolism, so picking a deck that you can associate the image to the meaning is important. 

Each person is different and you will associate different things with different symbols and illustrations. That is why there are so many different decks available. While most of the decks are based on the Rider-Waite deck, you will see that each deck has a different feel to it. Some of them even incorporate ideologies and philosophies to cater to the needs of different types of people and the Spiritual elements that are important to that specific person. 

Which tarot deck is right for me?

That depends on what you like. To find out what tarot deck is right for you to need to be sure of who you are. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to make picking the right deck a little easier:

What types of pictures do you like?

Are you someone who likes realistic images, cartoon illustrations or whimsical fairies? Do you like bold colors or softer pastels? 

Choosing a deck with illustrations that you resonate with will help you connect to the deck more easily. 

What Spiritual path calls you?

Are you more connected to nature and animals or fairies and elves? Are you Pagan, and you like witchcraft and spells? Or do you have a more Catholic background? Or are you interested in Eastern Philosophy like Buddhism? 

There are decks that focus on each of these different Spiritualities (and many more). Finding a deck that compliments your Spirituality will help you to connect to it and get readings that mean a lot more to you.

Are you a beginner or experienced Tarot reader?

Your experience level will determine how much guidance you need with a new Tarot deck. Some Tarot decks have a very in depth guide book that explains each card in detail, while some only give short meanings, others don’t even have a guide book! 

If you haven’t practiced your Tarot reading skills with a deck that provides a lot of guidance you may find it difficult to interpret the cards in a deck that only gives minimal guidance.

What don’t you like?

This is a question not many people focus on when they’re looking for a deck. For some reason we seem to think that over time a deck will grow on us and we can ignore some key aspects that we dislike about a certain deck in favor of all the things we like about it, but out of personal experience I can tell you, don’t get a deck that you don’t like in any way, doesn’t matter how inconsequential your distaste may seem at first.

The Deck I should have left behind…

When I first got interested in the art of reading cards I didn’t know much. I went to my local Esoteric store and stood looking at the decks. From the very first time a specific deck caught my eye. The picture on the box spoke to me. The name of the deck sounded so intriguing… 

Because it was a small local store and I was young and naive I didn’t bother to ask if I could open the packaging, I didn’t do an online search either. Big Mistake.

After months of deliberation I finally bought the deck. 

My hopes were shattered.

It wasn’t a Tarot deck and all the meanings of the cards were basically the same…

I ended up using the deck because I spent so much on it and I thought I had a connection with it… But, with every reading the resentment inside grew.

I started looking at the illustrations and seeing how basic and uninspired they were, which bothered me. The image on the front of the packaging ended up being the one I liked the most out of the whole deck and the other cards made me feel uneasy.

I ended up shoving the cards into the back of my cupboard and forgetting about them.

Let this be a lesson to you. 

When you’re looking for a Tarot deck:

1- Make SURE it’s a Tarot deck…

And not some other type of deck. There are wisdom cards, Angel cards, all kinds of cards… Which all have their purpose and are very helpful if that’s what you’re looking for, but if you don’t want them, getting them may be a big disappointment.

2- Do your research!

The image on the front of the packaging may be nice, but to really know if you like the deck you’ll have to look at most of the cards to get a real feel for them.

While you’re doing research on a deck you like also keep your Spiritual path in mind and if you can find out more information about the guidebook, or even find an online copy of it, take a look through it and see if you understand and like the way it’s written.

3- Take your time and be sure.

I may have taken my time with my first deck of cards, but in all honesty, the reason I finally took the plunge was because I started doubting whether I wanted that deck in the first place. 

4- If in doubt look some more.

If you do find a deck you like, but there is something not quite right about it, do take the time to look some more. There are numerous decks out there and settling for the first one that’s appealing to you is like buying a chocolate you kind of like because you saw it first, but your favorite one is on the next shelf. 

5- Use the web.

The internet is a wonderful place to find the right Tarot deck for you. When you’ve found a deck you kind of like do another search using similar words that describe the deck you already like. You can also look for reviews and videos that explain and show the deck in more detail. 

Just going to the creator’s page will give you insight into the person that made the deck,  but remember, this is a page made to sell, so it’s a bit biased.

For a real idea of the deck you need the opinion of people that have used the deck (and guide book).

How many cards in a Tarot deck?

It’s important to know how many cards there are in a standard Tarot deck to know that the deck you’re buying is actually a Tarot deck.

There are 78 cards in a full Tarot deck, but some decks only use the 22 Major Arcana cards. Other decks add an extra card or two to the Major Arcana, which increases the number of cards in the deck. 

The rest of the deck is known as the Minor Arcana, and consists of four suits, like a normal deck of playing cards, except that each suit has 14 instead of 13 cards, for a total of 56 Minor Arcana cards. Some decks omit certain Minor Arcana cards for various reasons, but in most cases each of the suits has an Ace, number cards from 2-10 (marked in Roman Numerals) and 4 court cards (Page, Knight, Queen and King).

The names of the suits can vary, but the most common is based on the Rider-Waite deck, Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles.

Some decks add an extra “Arcana”, like the Pagans Otherworld Tarot Deck that not only added an extra Major Arcana card, but also added five extra Luna cards for a total of 84 cards.

As you can see the number of cards in a Tarot deck can vary, but anything less that 78 is not a full deck and I would advise you to do more research about why some cards were left out and also whether it is a true Tarot deck…

Types of Tarot cards

As I mentioned before, not all cards that you can use for divination are Tarot cards. The art of reading cards is called cartomancy and Tarot is only one form of this art. Here are some types of cartomancy cards that are also popular:

Oracle Cards

These can be anything, and I mean anything. They can have any theme, any number of cards and any number of spreads and meanings. It all depends on who created them. Lots of Tarot readers use these in conjunction with their tarot cards to get a more in depth reading, but very few who have tried Tarot progress to Oracle readings, because the meanings of the cards are quite similar and the message is usually based on the ideologies of the author.

Angel Cards

Angel cards are a way for people who are scared that Tarot dabbles in the dark arts to still use cards for cartomancy. They are a great alternative to Tarot cards if you’re religious, or you don’t want any gloomy readings, but they can be a bit too sweet for people who like a bit more spice with their readings. That being said, they offer great guidance to living a good life.

Lenormand Cards

Named after Mary Anne Lenormand, who reportedly read cards for Napoleon during the late 18th and early 19th century, these card are making a comeback. They are simple enough on their own, but each card HAS to be read in conjunction with another to get the real meaning of the reading. A traditional Lenormand deck has 36 cards, comprising of four suits, numbered 5-10, jack, queen and king, but more modern decks usually have more cards.

Playing Cards

Yes, normal playing cards can be used for cartomancy. The meaning of playing cards is loosely based on the Minor Arcana from traditional Tarot decks such as the Rider-Waite deck, with each of the suits corresponding to those found in the Minor Arcana.

Then you also get…

…Tarot decks that have become an art unto themselves!

Once in a blue moon a Tarot deck gets such a big following that they create a whole new subdivision of Tarot. While they are still considered “Tarot” decks, they are seen as special and those that use them tend to talk about them as if they belong to their own subdivision of Tarot. Most of these decks are based on:

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

When you think of Tarot cards the imagery from this deck is probably what springs to mind first. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck was the first “modern” Tarot deck. It was first published in 1909. The illustrations, drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, were simple, yet rich in symbolism used by the 19th century magician and occultist Eliphas Levi. The deck was also the first to steer away from the Christian model used before, which was based on Christian religious leaders.

The “Pope” card became the “Hierophant”, the “Papess” became the “High Priestess” and the “House of God” became the “Tower”. It was a huge leap in the art of Tarot reading for Divination. The deck has since become the basis of most modern Tarot decks. The 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards from the Rider-Waite deck are used in many new decks today, but some of them have renamed or added a few cards.

It has become the symbol for Tarot and is widely used. It is a great deck for beginners because there is so much information available on the meanings of the cards. The deck is also widely available, but if you want one make sure to pick the right size and color according to your personal preferences. There have been numerous editions, each one altering a certain aspect of the original deck.

Llewellyn Tarot Deck

Llewellyn Tarot Deck

The Llewellyn Tarot deck is strongly based on Celtic mythology. The creator, Anne-Marie Ferguson, wanted to create a deck that captured the mystery of Wales and honoured Llewellyn George, founder of the Llewellyn Publishing House that commissioned the Tarot Deck. The result, a deck that follows the Story of Welsh mythology, the Mabinogion, throughout the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana is much simpler and based entirely on the Rider-Waite deck.

The Llewellyn deck comes with a comprehensive guide book that explains each card in detail and how it relates to Celtic mythology. It is a great deck for beginners and holds elements of mystic realism, an old Celtic notion that living within the reach of the supernatural is the natural way to live.

This deck has become very popular and serves as a way to unite the mystical with the real. The imagery is very romantic and captures the essence of the Welsh culture and countryside. It is much softer than the Rider-Waite deck, adding a more mysterious and ethereal feel to Tarot readings.

Thoth Tarot Deck

Thoth Tarot Deck

The Thoth Tarot Deck was first published in 1969. By that time both the artist, Lady Frieda Harris, and the creator, Aleister Crowley, had passed away. They worked on the deck between 1938 and 1943, Harris painting under the instruction of Crowley. Crowley based the deck not only on the traditional Rider-Waite deck, but also incorporated philosophies and symbolism from various occult systems.

While it is based on the Rider-Waite deck, various cards in the Major Arcana have been renamed, as well as the court cards of each suit. The suit of pentacles is also called the suit of discs in this deck.

This is not a deck for the faint of heart. The infamous mister Crowley, who also authored the Book of Thoth (the guide to using this deck) held nothing back and the deck has been described as rich, intense and complex. While it is not a deck for beginners, some experienced Tarot readers swear by it. Saying that they have clearer and more precise readings with this deck than any other in their collection.

You can have a look at the most popular Tarot decks available in this post.

Vintage Tarot Cards

Tarot cards originated in the 15th century and there are still three partial decks remaining from this time period.

Cary-Yale Visconti-Sforza Tarot

Cary-Yale Visconti-Sforza Tarot

This is arguably the oldest Tarot deck in the world today, dating back to between 1442 and 1447. It is hypothesized that the original deck had 86 cards and was commissioned by Filipo Maria Visconti, but of these only 67 cards remain at the Yale University Library.

The original deck presumably contained 6 ranks of face cards for each suit, adding the “Damsel” and “Lady on Horse” to the common Page, Knight, Queen and King’s of the Tarot decks we’re used to. The Major Arcana also included the three theological virtues. Another unique aspect of this deck is that all the Major Arcana or Trump cards have a gilt background, while the Minor Arcana numbered cards, or Pip cards, have a silver one. It is a beautiful deck that was meticulously painted by hand, full of details and symbols of the time, a detail which helped to date the origin of the deck.

While the original deck remains safely locked away, replicas of the deck are still available for purchase today.

Pierpont-Morgan Bergamo Visconti-Sforza Tarot

Pierpont-Morgan Bergamo Visconti-Sforza Tarot

This vintage deck was created in 1451 and of the 78 original cards only 74 remain. The remaining cards are shared between the Pierpont-Morgan Library, Accademia Carrara and the private collection of the Colleoni family in Bergamo.

Like the Carry-Yale deck the Major Arcana has a gilt background, along with the face cards in each suit. But, the numbered or Pip cards have a cream background with a flower or vine motif.

As with the Carry-Yale deck there are modern replicas of this deck, but since The Devil and The Tower cards have been missing from the original deck the modern interpretations of these two cards can vary considerably.

Brera-Brambilla Visconti-Sforza Tarot

Brera-Brambilla Visconti-Sforza Tarot

This is one of the oldest decks, dating back to 1463, but unfortunately most of the gilt Major Arcana and face cards have been lost. Currently the collection, which is kept at the Brera Gallery in Milan, only has one almost complete set of pip cards (with a silver background) left for the suit of denari, which is missing the four. In total only 48 cards from the original deck remain.

Modern reproductions of this deck are hard to come by and usually only feature the 48 remaining cards from the original collection.

Classic and Traditional Tarot Cards

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

I’ve already spent some time discussing this deck earlier in the article. It is however one of the favorite decks to use for modern interpretations and imaginings of the Tarot. Most new decks are based on the images and design of the Rider Waite deck, making it one of the most researched and well-known classical decks.

Thoth Tarot Deck

Thoth Tarot Deck

The Thoth deck has also been discussed earlier in the article. While it is not as popular as a base for modern decks, the occultist views of this deck are a starting point for many that want to create their own decks. The intricate details entwined in the illustrations and meanings of this deck are in inspiration to many who create their own decks.

Tarot of Marseilles

Tarot of Marseilles

The Latin Tarot or Tarot of Marseille was originally used to play card games rather than as a tool for divination. But over time it fell out of fashion. However, in the 19th century Papus, a French occultist brought these cards back into fashion.

Today the Latin Tarot is one of the favoured decks in Europe as the card meanings are much closer to the original meanings of the first Tarot cards. The deck is much more religious and less occult orientated and may be a good substitute for those who want to use the Tarot while remaining within the realms of Christian belief.

For more information about the history of this deck deck take a look here. If you want to take a look at the card meanings click here.

Where to Buy Tarot Cards

You can procure a set of Tarot cards from your local esoteric shop. They should have decks available on display and can possibly order most other decks for you. But when it comes to finding the Tarot deck that’s just right for you, the internet is your most informative source.

 

My advice would be to search for the deck online. Most decks are available at Amazon, a trusted online store that delivers world-wide. If it is not available at Amazon, it’s time to get creative. You can search for other online stores that stock the deck or look for the deck’s original website (which usually has a sales-page). While doing this make sure to check what the delivery is like for the site (usually found in the comments section below the product) and make sure that the site delivers to your location. Also be aware of shipping fees or any additional costs that may be included in the price displayed at the top of the page.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for online it’s time to visit your local esoteric or book store. While the deck you want may not be in stock, these institutions have stock delivered to them on a regular basis and will be able to contact publishers directly, making them a much more trusted means to getting the deck you’re looking for.

Cheap tarot decks

Look out for cheap versions of Tarot decks. This usually means the cards are low quality or second hand. While buying a second hand deck isn’t necessarily a bad thing, be careful to note the condition of the cards. As with cheaper cards they may succumb to wear and tear during use more easily than a new deck. Also keep in mind that you may always feel like you’re using someone else’s deck, especially if there’s an unexplained scratch or smudge on one of the cards.

In my expert opinion, unless you’re looking for an out of print or limited edition deck, it’s always better to buy new. Buying online will also take the cost down considerably from buying in a retail store. Buying a new, high quality Tarot deck will ensure that you get your money’s worth. Most decks can last a lifetime. Provided you treat them well, they will more than make up for the money you spent on them.