the magician rws tarot

How to Choose Your First Tarot Deck

how to choose your first tarot deck - the magician from the RWS tarot

A reader of the blog wrote in today, asking about how to choose his first Tarot deck. He seemed a bit bemused that he couldn’t find an article about this topic on the blog. I’m equally bemused. Surely, somewhere along the line, I must have written such a post! I had not but I had written a post about the top 11 decks suitable for beginners.

Let’s keep it real, I have written around 3,000 blog posts across multiple blogs since I first started my metaphysical blogging journey back in 2006. If blogging is dead as some proclaim, then there is a hell of an afterlife because I’m still going strong.

Now to the topic at hand, how to choose your first Tarot deck. It’s a great question! My own first Tarot deck was a cardboard cutout that I stumbled across in a magazine. It was a Majors-only (22 cards) deck that I didn’t manage to hold onto for very long, sadly. You can read about my first-ever Tarot reading HERE. This reading spooked me so badly that I got rid of the deck not long after.

A Wee Bit of Myth Busting

Before going into what you need to bear in mind, I feel that I need to dispel a common myth about Tarot decks. You do NOT need to be given your first Tarot deck as a gift. I know many talented readers who went out and bought their first deck. It is far more important that you heed that inner nudge that is pulling you toward the Tarot. Trust that it is there for a reason and go buy your Tarot deck!

The Main Consideration When Choosing Your First Tarot Deck

Now that we’ve busted that pesky, stubborn old myth, let’s carry on! The main consideration when deciding which deck to choose, IMHO, should be whether or not you wish to truly study Tarot symbolism or if you think you will be using the deck more as an oracle, for intuitive readings. This is not to say that you have to stay on your chosen track for life but it does make the initial choice a bit easier.

The Traditionalist Approach

If you wish to truly learn Tarot symbolism, I would advice you to go with one of the decks that are commonly used for teaching occult symbolism. The most popular and commonly used deck in this category is without a doubt the Rider Waite Smith Tarot. You will find that most books about the Tarot are centred around the symbolism in this deck.

However, there are a few other decks you can choose if you wish to take this approach should you happen to not get along with the artwork in the RWS deck. You could go down the Continental route and choose to focus your studies on Marseille-style Tarot decks, for instance. The drawback with the Marseille Tarot is that the number cards do not contain descriptive scenes. This could make it difficult to read intuitively with them.

Alternatively, you could choose to work with the Thoth Tarot deck. This comes with a fair warning that many people who pick up this deck are strongly repelled by the energetic signature of the infamous Aleister Crowley that seems to still hover over it. In my own experience, this deck demands that you take your occult studies very seriously so dabblers beware.

Finally, I highly recommend the Tarot of the Holy Light if you wish to take a traditionalist approach. The correspondences in this deck follow the French occultist school, as opposed to the British Golden Dawn correspondences used for the RWS (and its thousands of clones). The independently published Tarot of the Holy Light comes with a couple of excellent companion books and the artwork is sublime.

The Intuitive Approach

However, choosing to truly study the symbolism and diving deep into astrological and kabbalistic correspondences doesn’t necessarily make you a better Tarot reader. Nor is it the approach that serves every reader the best. Some people seem to have a natural understanding of symbols and archetypes. And for some uniquely gifted individuals, the Tarot imagery seems to act as a direct portal to the Divine Matrix/One Mind/Quantum Field–no additional learning required.

My very first reading was an experience that seemed to link me to the One Mind but that was more of a one-off. The line of communication isn’t always that clear. There are usually varying degrees of clarity and I’m still unable to read for myself or someone else if I am attached to the outcome. That this One Mind Tarot experience happened to me at age 15 was in and of itself a sign that the Tarot wished to work with me. It happened for a reason.

On the converse, one of the worst Tarot readings I have ever had was with a well-known published occultist. I will not name this person since I have no desire to shame them.

So is the intuitive approach for you? If you have read this far, you probably already resonate more with one approach than with the other. Please understand that the intuitive approach means a learning process. But this will be a process where you pay more attention to your own inner workings and intuitive nudges than to materials composed by ‘the experts.’ Keeping a journal is a must.

Thousands of Options

If the intuitive approach appeals more to you, I highly recommend simply doing an online search on a site like until you find a deck with imagery that sings to you. You will have thousands of options to choose from. This could be confusing in itself. However, this is where categories come in handy.

Below you will find my top pick in various categories:

Additional Considerations When Choosing Your First Tarot Deck

A secondary consideration that may actually be a primary consideration to some of you reading this would be if your deck is aligned with the spiritual path you are already on. For instance, if you are on a Pagan path, you might find some of the imagery in the traditional RWS Tarot deck with its Christian symbology quite offputting.

The good news is that you can find a Tarot deck that is a good (if not perfect) match on pretty much any spiritual path these days. Simply do an online search with the keywords most commonly used on your path + Tarot and you should be able to find something.

On the other hand, you may also wish to challenge yourself with the Tarot and keep it separate from your daily spiritual routine. In this instance, it may be worth considering working with more than one deck. There are times that you will want guidance from a deck that feels more like a warm, comforting hug than the sharp stick up your backside your more challenging deck might deliver.

Reasons You May Wish To Acquire More Than One Tarot Deck

Other reasons for having more than one Tarot deck could be deciding to finally study the Tarot as more of a system after you have been on the intuitive path for a while. Or vice versa, branching out and getting more whimsical decks that speak to your subconscious mind more than your intellect.

Additionally, many Tarot readers find that some decks work better for romance readings while others do a better job for work or health readings.

It is also quite possible to keep acquiring decks simply out of a love of the artwork. Some deck collectors stick to a theme or a few themes for this purpose while others just get whatever deck that tickles their fancy. Please beware that collecting decks can be quite addictive!

Book Recommendations for Beginners

Some of you will no doubt want to read about the Tarot before you start slinging cards for yourself and others. Buying a book to go with your first Tarot deck is something I highly recommend. There are a plethora of books to choose from for each of the reader styles and deck categories. Here are a few recommendations:

RWSThe New Tarot Handbook by Rachel Pollack (I really can’t think of a better place to start your Tarot journey!)

Marseille TarotThe Marseille Tarot Revealed by Joav Ben-Dov and Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Thoth Tarot Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette

Intuitive ReadingsThe 2-Hour Tarot Tutor by Wilma Carroll

FREE Tarot Resources

Please feel free to check out my Tarot resources page with tips, tools, tarot spreads, and techniques for Tarot readers of all levels!

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