The choice of Tarot decks that are available today is sometimes overwhelming for people who are just beginning to enter this strange world of divination. With so many options available, what is the best deck to learn with? Is there only one deck that should be used, or can several be learned at the same time?
I get emailed these sorts of questions several times a month, and I’ve got to admit, they’re tough questions to answer.
I’m writing this post as a way of outlining my ideas on the subject which I hope those people new to Tarot will find useful.
Let me start by saying that I was lucky enough to never encounter this dilemma. To me, you buy a deck that you like, you stick with that deck and you learn that deck. However, I know from email conversations that I’ve had that this can end up becoming a major stumbling block for people just beginning so I wanted to share my musings on the subject.
Is there only one correct deck that people should learn with?
The short answer is no, but the longer answer involves some explanation so lets get stuck in.
The most popular Tarot deck is the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, created by A.E Waite. This guy was a member of the Golden Dawn and his deck, although not actually a Golden Dawn deck, is naturally infused with this system. The reason it isn’t fully a Golden Dawn deck is that Waite took the Golden Dawn vow of secrecy with the utmost seriousness, which basically means that he made sure not to reveal any obvious Golden Dawn concepts within the imagery of the deck.
However, you can separate the deck from the Golden Dawn, but not the Golden Dawn from the deck.
Why is this useful to know?
Because most decks are clones of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. This means that they follow the same basic structure as the Rider-Waite deck, but with some unusual and at times enlightening variations on the individual cards.
With that in mind, the odds are that you will end up buying some kind of Rider-Waite clone. This is totally fine and there is nothing wrong with that. As I mentioned earlier, the variations that the artists create are often fascinating and enlightening in their own way.
People say I should avoid learning with the Thoth Tarot deck
This deck was created by Aliester Crowley, who was also a member of the Golden Dawn. The big difference between the Rider-Waite Tarot deck and the Thoth Tarot deck is simply that Aliester Crowley did not take his vow of secrecy with any seriousness, and so his deck reveals what the Rider-Waite does not.
This is actually a gross simplification of the differences between the two decks. The Thoth Tarot is also infused with Thelema and various other systems that Crowley used to understand the universe. This naturally means that it goes beyond simply being a Golden Dawn deck, but for simplicity sake it’s important to know that the creators of these two decks both have origins in the Golden Dawn.
Some people feel that the Thoth is not a good beginner deck because of the complexity of the deck. I disagree with this. However, one big difference between the Rider-Waite and the Thoth is how the Minor Arcana are represented. The Rider-Waite uses complex imagery (like those found in the 22 Major Arcana) whereas the Thoth does not — as least, not in the same. Perhaps some people may find this more challenging, or less engaging on a visual level.
The other major distinction is in how the Major Arcana are numbered. This can also end up being a big sticking point for some people so it’s worth taking the time to think about these things before you decide.
Either way, if learning to divine with the Tarot is the name of the game when deciding which deck to buy, it seems to me that the Thoth is as good as any. After all, it doesn’t matter what deck you buy, you still have to learn to work with it so if you want to learn the Thoth straight away, then go for it.
These types of Tarot decks can deviate significantly from the Rider-Waite or Thoth deck. Is this bad for learning with? No, it’s not. If you like these types of decks, then use them.
I think the big sticking point in people’s minds is this idea of the Tarot having some sort of core concept behind it. Historically, this is not the case. The two most popular Tarot decks today, the Rider-Waite and the Thoth Tarot, were created by two men with a background in the occult. Previous to this, there were hundreds of variations of Tarot decks, each with its own theme — these decks didn’t necessarily have any core truths to them. They were themed decks, and their concepts were based on whatever theme they wanted to use.
What we think of as core concepts are simply the concepts presented in the two most popular Tarot decks, the Rider-Waite or Thoth Tarot. Does the popularity of these decks really mean that these decks are more truthful than others? Was it just a weird set of historical conditions that allowed the Rider-Waite and Thoth to attain such iconic status, or was it because these decks really are the closed thing we have to a core Tarot?
In a nutshell, my advice is simple. Find a deck you like, buy the deck, learn the deck, enjoy the deck.
If your Tarot deck has more than 78 Tarot cards but you want to apply Elemental Dignities, Card Counting or any other Tarot technique then simple adapt them to work with your Tarot deck of choice.
Can I learn with more than one deck at the same time?
In theory you could. However, I would advise against this. The danger is that you’ll end up spreading yourself too thin. It’s much better to stick with one deck that you like and to learn it thoroughly. In much the same way as picking a Tarot spread to learn, it’s important, at least in the early stages, to allow your mind to absorb the specifics of both deck and spread. Trying to learn more than one deck could end up being counter productive.
But there is a counter argument to this. It goes something along the lines of, “when I was learning Tarot, certain cards were harder to learn than others. By buying different decks and exploring each decks unique take on the cards my learning process was actually accelerated. I learned more this way!”
That’s a fair point. It makes sense and seems valid. I guess it all comes down to personal opinion at the end of the day. If there’s one point I have to make about what is the right Tarot deck to learn from, then it would be this — it doesn’t really matter. The only crime you can commit is buying a deck that you don’t personally like just because someone else said it was the best.
Being unsure about what Tarot deck to buy or learn with says more about the myths surrounding the learning process rather than anything else. Perhaps it also says something about the hold Occultism still has over the Tarot. Who knows? All I know is that it doesn’t really matter what deck you choose. Just make sure you have fun doing it.
The question asked in the title of this post was, “Which Tarot deck is the right deck to learn with?” What do you think? Do you think it matters what deck people use? Does Tarot have core concepts that beginners should learn before buying decks that promote variations on these core concepts? Let me know what you think.