The process of selecting a deck (whether it’s your 1st or 100th) is a unique one and I can’t say with certainty, what will or won’t work for you. Heck, I don’t always know the best way to approach it for myself! I’ve purchased decks on a whim that left me gobsmacked by the beauty of the few cards I could see only to unwrap them and feel much less dazzled if not down right disconnected. I’ve also made spur of the moment purchases where the deck didn’t strike me as something that I would normally be drawn to, but when I get them home, I’m pleasantly surprised at just how well our energies work together. Perhaps this is where “gut selection” comes into play. So the preliminary moral of the story is, prepare to be surprised either way if you’re making a purchase on the fly!
Now, that isn’t to say it’s a total crap-shoot either. This is especially true if you are brand new to tarot and purchasing your first deck. I think in this case there is much more on the line and some practical advice is in order, which brings me to my first piece: Research!
Speaking holistically, research really is the key to the determining the best probable outcome. If you’re new then it’s even more pressing but for anyone looking for their next deck, research should really help narrow things down.
For the newbies though, I will also add this caveat: if you’re taking it to Google, you might find that broad searches such as “best tarot deck” will leave you more confused and this research thing should be kind of fun. The best thing for someone starting out is to be able to see a wide variety of images quickly and this is where Instgram could be your best friend. I would suggest the obvious hashtags like “tarot”, “tarotcards”, “tarotdeck” to begin. You will now have, at your fingertips, thousands of images which you can scroll through seemingly endlessly (total eye-candy!). While you do scroll, make a note of any decks that stand out to you; their names can often be found in descriptions or hashtags. Keep this list close at hand because you’ll use it afterwards to do the real-deal research. Once you have a decent size list, begin looking online for more images and possibly reviews. You definitely want to be able to see a large sample of images to ensure there is a good probability that artistically and symbolically, the deck will speak to you.
While you’re looking at these images, also ask yourself the following:
-What immediately pops out?
-Does this image tell me a story?
-Does this card inspire me?
-What is the mood/feel/emotion of the card?
-Can I determine a general ‘meaning’ for this card based on the imagery alone?
*And for one final test, pretend someone asks you this question: “What is the current state of my love life?” Could you answer that question with the card in question? This might be tricky for beginners but remember, it’s not about knowing the actual meaning of the card but whether you see any meaning in it at all.*
So if you’ve gotten this far and the cards are able to somewhat easily articulate meaning to you, then you’re onto something.
Practical Advice #2: Don’t stop at the majors! Make sure you get a good hard look at the minors too. Let’s face it, the minors the majority here (40/78 cards) and if you can’t get a read on those, you’re going to have a difficult time working with your selection. Especially if you’re just starting out, I found working with highly illustrated minors to be the most helpful. Now, you might be drawn to something a bit more sparse and that’s fine; you’re intuition may be triggered in a different way but make sure you know this beforehand.
Before we leave this topic take a look at the example below. In the Golden Universal tarot on the left, the 2 of Cups is shown with a man and a woman facing each other, each holding a cup. You would be hard pressed not to get a sense of partnership from this picture. The 4 of Swords from the Golden Tarot on the right (similar name, different deck) shows only, by contrast, 4 swords. In this case you’re relying on memory and/or a naturally developed intuitive ability.
Practical Advice #3: Beginners take note here! Do not get sucked in by the most beautiful deck that you come across in your searching. If you’re using Instagram then The Wild Unknown, I’m looking at you (beginner, you’ll know what I mean soon enough)! OK, now let me elaborate. What I mean to say is, there are many decks out there and they each have their merits. Gorgeous decks with fantastic artistic flair are wonderful. However if you are just starting out and really want to get a full sense of Tarot beyond the one deck that you buy including the history, the symbolism and the evolution thereof, I recommend starting out with something that is a clone, or follows closely, a Smith-Waite format. I hope this doesn’t come across as limiting, I am only providing the advice I wish I had followed from the very beginning. To illustrate this, most books on tarot will follow this format so you will have ease of resource on your side which is a major plus. Furthermore, I think if you perform the exercise above and ask the cards the series of questions I’ve outlined, you’ll easily be able to eliminate decks that may not be the best place to start. And to conclude, if you have no idea what I mean by Smith-Waite then all the more reason to start there. Tarot decks take many shapes and forms which is another topic altogether. But in short, some decks, while art style varies, use similar concepts to illustrate similar meanings. Other decks stray far from the path commonly followed and can be much more abstract. For the beginners purpose, I say stick with a classic if only to learn and then once you’ve got a good foundation, spread your wings and experiment with others.
So there you have it, some practical advice from someone who has made all sorts of spur of the moment purchases with varying degrees of success. And if for some reason you make a purchase you regret, spend some time with that deck to figure out what about it doesn’t work for you and use that to inform your next decision.
-Are the pictures too busy? Look for a cleaner design the next time.
-Maybe the vampire motif ended up being a bit too dark for your liking; go for something a bit more ethereal.
-Perhaps you aren’t connecting to the people in the images. Maybe look for a deck in a more realistic art style with highly expressive characters.
Trial and error is OK. When you find something that works for you you will know it and it will make your experiences with that deck that much more successful and enjoyable.
The other thing to keep in mind is almost no one that I know, who loves tarot, has just one deck. Tarot, even for purely artistic purposes, makes for a fabulous collection. I have decks I use and decks I don’t but even the ones that I don’t “read” with, I still love to have and display and look at them when the mood strikes. The other comforting thing is, even if you make the “wrong” choice upfront, it doesn’t mean that down the line, it won’t become the “right” choice. As you evolve and learn and grow in your studies, suddenly decks that seemed daunting now speak volumes. You really will be surprised at the direction things can go!