Choosing a first tarot deck, or a tarot deck to learn on, is a very special occasion. When you begin your tarot journey, you open yourself to a world of self-discovery, a connection with Spirit, a new opportunity to tap in to your creativity, and a wonderful community of fellow tarotists.
With so many decks available, the options are staggering. What makes sense as a good learning deck?
Many people will tell you to “choose the deck that resonates with you.” Ah, if only it were that simple.
Yes, of course you want a deck that feels right to you. But you also need a deck that has images and symbols that are easy to understand. Some decks are gorgeous, but just don’t qualify as easy decks for beginners.
There are also decks specifically for beginners that have the card interpretations written right on each card. For some students, this might make sense. Make sure, though, that once you learn the cards you take the training wheels off and get a grownup deck.
It is important to recognize that there are a few tarot traditions. Most decks will fit a specific category, whether Waite, Crowley or Marseilles. Some try to honor multiple traditions.
The decks that I recommend tend to follow the tradition set forth by A.E. Waite with his Rider Waite Smith deck. This deck remains the most popular deck in the world. That is not to say that other tarot traditions, such as the Crowley tradition or the Marseilles tradition are not valid – far from it.
There are also newer, modern tarot traditions, such as feminist tarot and that which I like to call “archetypal assignment tarot.” Early feminist tarot includes the Motherpeace Round Tarot and Daughters of the Moon Tarot. Some of the best “archetypal assignment” decks come from artists Lisa Hunt, designer of Fantastical Creatures Tarot and Animals Divine Tarot, and Kris Waldherr, designer of Goddess Tarot and Lover’s Path Tarot.
Once you have a handle on tarot, it is good to learn all the traditions and draw from each of them in your interpretations and understanding of the cards. I really believe, though, that the Waite images, and decks based on those images, are the very easiest to learn, remember and understand. That is not to say it is not possible to learn a different tradition, or even to use a non-traditional deck as your first deck. The problem is that if you learn first with a non-traditional deck, it may be difficult to make the transition to other decks later on.
The decks I have listed here are some that I have found to be good decks for beginners. Of course, there are many, many others. One way to explore new decks is to read the many deck reviews available online. This should give you a good idea of whether a deck will appeal to you, and whether it will be a good learning deck.
Of course, an easy choice would be any edition of the Waite deck itself, be it the Rider Waite Smith, the Albano Waite, the Golden Rider, the Universal Waite or any other.
A prettier, cuter deck that is a Waite “clone” is the Hanson Roberts Tarot.
Another popular and lovely Waite-based deck is the Morgan Greer Tarot.
If you don’t like the Christian symbolism of the Waite deck, and prefer modern Pagan symbolism, you might enjoy the Robin Wood Tarot.
If you prefer darker colors, and images based on mythology, the Spiral Tarot might be for you.
Celtic Dragon Tarot by Lisa Hunt has lovely images that are evocative and easy to understand. This is a good deck for someone who wants something a bit different, or someone who really loves dragons. Be aware, though, that in this deck the suit of Swords is associated with Fire and Wands with Air, which is different from the standard Waite associations.
One of my favorite decks is World Spirit Tarot. This deck has vibrant artwork, and features characters of all colors and sizes. It honors both Waite and Crowley traditions, and is feminist as well.
Shadowscapes Tarot features lovely pastel artwork, and is quite different from any other tarot deck. Many people do not recommend this deck for beginners. I think it is a good choice for someone who really wants to step away from the norm, but still wants a deck that is symbolic and readable.
Legacy of the Divine Tarot is artist Ciro Marchetti’s third tarot deck, and arguably his tarot masterpiece. Though a new deck, it is one of the best loved and most used for modern tarotists. It is neither a Waite nor Crowley clone, but it is easy to understand and interpret.
Other newer decks that seem beautiful, popular and quite useable are Sun and Moon Tarot and Crystal Visions Tarot. Both of these may be harder to learn than a traditional Waite deck, but if you love the artwork, the effort may be worthwhile.
Remember, too, that tarot is like potato chips. It is hard to have just one. Very few tarot lovers stick with only one deck.
Whatever deck you choose, know that your tarot journey will help you to be more authentically you, wherever your path may lead.