What deck is best for beginners?
That’s a question I hear a lot.
Some people will say that you have to choose a deck you feel “connected” with. They might tell you to go to the New Age Shop or the Amazon website and chose the deck that “calls” to you.
I think that’s not very helpful advice.
Yes, it is true that, once you become a reader, some decks will sing in your hands and others will feel a little flat. It’s also true that you may not know which will be which until you have spent some time working with a deck to get a real feel for it.
It’s perfectly ok to buy a deck because you think it’s pretty, or because you feel “drawn to it.” But if your goal is to really learn how to read tarot, and work with tarot, and understand tarot, you might want to look beyond the pretty pictures and learn about the features that separate one tarot deck from other. Otherwise it’s a lot like buying a new stove because you liked the color, and not worrying about whether it is gas or electric, or has the number of burners you need, or will actually fit in your kitchen.
Tarot decks are collectible, and, except at the most rare levels, tarot decks are affordable. You can have as many lovely decks as you like.
When you are just starting out learning tarot, though, I suggest that you ignore the conventional wisdom that says “Just buy the one you feel drawn to,” and instead, actually learn enough about tarot to make an educated decision and purchase a deck with which you can learn.
Many people divide tarot decks into “beginner decks” and “not-for-beginner decks.” Typically “not-for-beginner-decks” stray from standard symbols, images and interpretations. Some tarot decks really are “their own thing.” Some examples of decks I would put in this category include “Animals Divine Tarot,” “Tarot of Transformation,” Doreen Virtue’s “Angel Tarot,” “Voyager Tarot,” and, to some extent, “Motherpeace Tarot.”
I think if you really want to start with a non-standard deck like this, you can. To do this, you need to study the book that is written for the deck, and learn the deck as its own system.
You may find value in a standard beginner tarot class even if your deck is very different from the other students’ as long as the instructor is willing to work with you and as long as you are willing to do the extra work to learn your deck’s special system.
The downside of this method is that you will miss some basic understanding of tarot archetypes and traditions, and won’t easily be able to transition to another deck without learning that system.
There are arguably three standard tarot traditions. Most tarot decks are either a clone one of these, or are inspired by one, or a combination of these.
The three traditions are Waite, Crowley and Marseilles. Each has their own value. Some tarotists will say that one traditions is more “true,” or more powerful than another. To me, each tradition is valid.
Here is where, if you feel drawn to one tradition over the others, you might let yourself be intuitively guided. Just make sure that you also intellectually understand the challenges and advantages of each possible system.
There are many who would argue that the Waite images are the clearest, easiest to learn, and easiest to understand. Another advantage of the Waite system is there are so many decks to choose from, including different editions of the Waite deck itself (Universal, Radiant, Smith Commemorative, etc.) as well as the Waite “clones,” including Hanson Roberts, Robin Wood, Morgan Greer and many others. Within the confines of the Waite tradition, the new reader does have the opportunity to choose the deck that feels most appealing.
The Crowley Harris Thoth deck is lovely. Many people find its images more evocative and powerful than Waite’s, and many people resonate with the Crowley keywords.
Some decks, such as “Sun and Moon Tarot,” honor aspects of both Crowley and Waite traditions.
A Marseilles style tarot will not have illustrated pip cards. People who prefer Marseilles decks enjoy the intuitive freedom that comes when we work with patterns, symbols and numbers rather than pictures of people doing things.
Some Marseilles-type decks have some small illustrations on the pips, along with the suit icons figured prominently in the proper number. Examples of this would be “Dali Universal Tarot” and “Royal Thai Tarot.”
Another type of deck to consider, especially if you prefer the Waite tradition, is a beginner deck with full interpretations printed on the cards themselves. Example of this are “Quick and Easy Tarot” and “Tell Me Tarot.”
I am not always a fan of this type of deck, for two reasons.
I think the printed interpretations can limit our understanding of the cards, and our ability to reach past standard interpretations to reading-specific interpretations.
I also worry that having the meanings written on the cards might discourage the memorization process.
That being said, I have seen struggling students suddenly develop a strong understanding of the cards from using these sorts of decks.
If you think you would benefit from such a deck, go for it. Just make sure you get a grown-up deck before you start reading in public, and don’t get lazy about developing your own relationship with each card!
Once you understand a little bit about the types of tarot decks available to you, it will be easy to choose the right learning deck for you!
Video of Christiana Answers a Question about Choosing a Beginner Tarot Deck