Choosing Your First Tarot Deck
Here are some points to consider if you are choosing your first deck:
- Choose a deck that makes you feel comfortable and secure, but also inspired. Since you will be spending a lot of time with your cards, you don’t want to pick a deck that strikes you as odd, unpleasant or boring. Later, you may seek out unusual decks for the challenges and insights they offer, but it’s better to start with one that attracts you. If a certain deck calls out to you, go with that one!
- There is no official tarot deck. Decks come in many different forms, but the “standard” deck has 78 cards with 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana cards divided into 4 suits. Most decks are built on this model. You should probably stick with a standard deck to start so that you are familiar with the most common format.
- Many decks are oriented around a theme. This is especially true of modern decks. Typically, the images, the names of the suits and the court card figures reflect this theme. If you choose a deck with a theme, be sure it is one that suits you and that has lasting appeal.
- The Rider-Waite is probably the most common deck in the United States, and many tarot decks are based on it as well. Cards in these decks often have the same subject matter as the Rider-Waite, but are drawn with a different style and artwork. The Universal Waite is essentially a copy of the Rider-Waite, but with softer colors and less contrast. The Albano-Waite has bright, unusual coloration. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of some cards from the two decks.
- In some tarot decks, the pip cards, or numbered suit cards, all have unique picture scenes. In other decks, these cards simply show the suit symbol repeated the appropriate number of times (similar to regular playing cards). Some people like these symbolic decks, but for learning and memorization, it is often easier to have the pictures.
- Some newer tarot decks have been created in the spirit of light-hearted fun. Two examples are the Halloween Tarot and the Silicon Valley Tarot. These decks are amusing, but not the best choices for deeper, more thoughtful tarot work.
Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
The Rider-Waite Tarot deck is probably the most popular tarot deck in use today in the United States. It was first published in 1910 by Rider & Company, a London publisher. Arthur Edward Waite designed the deck in collaboration with Pamela Colman Smith, an American artist. Waite was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult society of the time. Waite considered symbolism of prime importance, so the cards of the Rider-Waite deck were created to communicate esoteric principles through symbols. Waite describes his interpretations in his book The Key to the Tarot, sometimes published with pictures as The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.
Waite made several changes from the tarot deck traditions of the time when he designed his deck. He switched the Strength and Justice cards so that Strength became card 8 and Justice card 11. He and Smith also created full pictorial scenes for the minor arcana numbered suit cards. Before this time, these cards usually showed only the suit symbols as in the Tarot of Marseilles.
The Rider-Waite tarot deck is the model for many modern tarot decks and also has several variants. It is available in 4 sizes (miniature, pocket, regular and giant) and four language styles (spanish, french, german, and five-language). The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck will be the one used in these lessons.