How I choose the right tarot deck
Like most tarot readers, I love to buy new decks. Each one is unique and beautiful, like a new friend you've just met. I could get lost for an hour or more just going through the cards, finding common threads... and that's without even laying out more than one deck to see how they compare! When I consider whether to buy a deck, there are several things I look for.
- First is diversity. The world doesn't look just like me, a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman, and a tarot deck shouldn't look just like me either. I like to see racial and ethnic diversity as well as sexual diversity and some attempt to escape the strict gender binary characteristic to the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) tarot. Being married to a transgender woman, I love that she can see herself in a Lovers card that shows two women. I also love when The Lovers reflects different kinds of love, especially when it represents non-romantic or non-sexual relationships. This imagery challenges me--challenges us!--to expand our thinking by showing perspectives that may be different from our own. So yes, diversity is important to me in a tarot deck.
- I primarily read cards from the RWS tradition, though I do have some other Oracle decks as well. When I was doing more poetry writing and musical composition, I loved working within an established framework, like the form of a sonnet or the sonata-allegro form for a symphony, while also pushing the limits of the form. There are ways in which a strict framework sets your creativity free, more than working without one. So I gravitate toward decks that follow the RWS tradition.
- Most of all, the imagery on the cards has to appeal to some part of me... and this doesn't have to be a part that I like to show out in public. I've never been someone who is attracted to black as a color, but I have one deck that is starkly black and white. The appeal of its imagery for me is in this contrast and clarity, and this deck can give me some pretty straightforward results.
I also compare the deck to others I have and others I've considered. How is it similar? How is it different? Which features seem especially strong, and which ones weak? How does it make me feel when I look at photos of the cards? Is there a particular type of reading or question that this deck might answer effectively?
One of the most important things I've done in growing as a tarot reader is to draw a Card of the Day every--well, most--day. I blog them on tumblr, where I use the same process: I review the imagery on the card, describing all the elements; I comment on traditional interpretations of the card, usually referencing the creator's guide book to hear their perspective as well; and then I relate the card to everyday life. This habit has really helped me to learn the patterns of tarot decks, as well as the individual cards.
Before I use any deck in a reading with a client, I use it for my daily card for a month. I've already identified one deck that just isn't a good fit for me through daily draws; I knew when I started looking for excuses to avoid my daily draw that this deck would not be a keeper. And it is perfectly okay to find that a tarot deck isn't a good fit. Every deck is different, and just like any other form of art, some will appeal to you more than others. Recently a friend remarked to me about a series of novels she was reading, that any way you could possibly describe them, these books would sound like something she would be completely uninterested in... and yet she loved them. The same can be true of friends and art and tarot decks: the unexpected can sometimes really sing for us.
In my tarot practice, I use different decks for different types of readings. The beautiful Tarot of the Divine, by Yoshi Yoshitani, uses a folktale or legend to represent each card. I use this tarot deck for my Talents and Gifts reading, where I help people identify their unique skills and talents and the careers that could be particularly good ways to use those gifts. The legends and folktales are a great resource for further reflection on the reading, which is helpful when considering your career options. I also use Tarot of the Divine for the depression and anxiety readings I offer. Identifying with the struggles of the people in these legends and folktales can be powerful for someone who is struggling for their mental health. The header image shows the Seven of Cups from Tarot of the Divine, which is represented by Aladdin.
Further, because these stories are gathered from every continent (except Antarctica), the people on the cards display the beautiful diversity of people around the world. Racial and ethnic diversity in tarot decks is so important. In fact, I delayed opening my tarot business until I had a deck that wasn't exclusively white people. The whole world isn't white, so a modern tarot deck shouldn't be completely white either.
For readings related to patron deities, I use White Numen: A Sacred Animal Tarot, by AlbaBG. This deck is based on traditional tarot imagery, with some departures. AlbaBG does not adhere slavishly to the gender of some of the cards. A Page or a Knight does not have to be male, nor does the High Priestess or a Queen have to be female. She also adds numen, representations of divine energy, taking the form of animals. These numen interact with the people on the cards, sometimes as guides, sometimes as mischief-makers. It is the numen who make these cards so well-suited to deity readings. The divine energy of the cards reaches out to the divine energy of the deities and makes a connection that sends great insights. In the header image, the Four of Swords comes from White Numen.
I have some readings that are about stressful situations, like my "Big Day Stress Monster" reading and the habit identification and habit-breaking readings I'm developing. For these, I use an adorable tarot deck called Monstarot, bu Joanna Nelson. These bright cards are also based on traditional Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, replacing the people with cute monsters. This has the effect of shrinking the big scary stuff in our life so that we feel more able to deal with it... and often that stuff is so stressful to us because we have inflated its importance. The point of using this deck is not to ridicule or ignore the effects of these things on us, but to help us make it more approachable. You can probably already tell that The High Priestess in the header image is the card from Monstarot.
I included a card from The Shadow Mirror Tarot, by Amber Morgan, in the header image. I bought this deck specifically to use in my own personal shadow work, and I don't generally use this deck when I do readings for others. Twice I've had a strong intuition that it was The One And Only Right Deck for the reading. The stark contrast of the black and white imagery is stunning and beautiful, and it can also feel really harsh. The Shadow Mirror card up above is The Fool.
My favorite deck to read from is The Light Seer's Tarot by Chris-Anne. I find it intuitive to read and interpret, and I have relationships with some of the cards. Light Seer's is my default deck for tarot readings, if the reading doesn't feel like it "belongs" to a different deck. At least three different people have bought this deck after I used it in a reading for them, which is pretty cool.
I am also working The Star Spinner Tarot by Trungles into readings. It has an intuitive feel similar to The Light Seer's Tarot, uses global folktales as a basis for many of the cards, and has a cute, sweet feel to it that is very engaging. I continue to develop new tarot reading products to help my clients, and I expect I will use Star Spinner for many of those.
As a professional tarot reader, I'm particular about the decks that I buy and that I use when reading cards for myself and others. They need to be well executed, have appealing imagery, display diversity in many ways, and answer some type of question particularly well. And once I've purchased the new tarot deck, it has to make it through a month of daily card pulls before I judge whether it is truly a fit for my work or not. Only after all of this do I begin to work the deck into readings for clients and friends.