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The Llewellyn Journal

Three Simple Principles to Help You Find the Tarot Deck of Your Dreams

This article was written by Mark McElroy
posted under Tarot

Remember the good old days when ice cream came in two flavors? When televisions received just three networks? When Henry Ford offered customers any color car they wanted … as long as they wanted black?

Back then, even buying a Tarot deck was simple. At our local bookstore, Tarot decks came in just one flavor: Rider-Waite. The deck came in just one size: big. And I could have any color box I wanted, as long as it was hot, bright yellow.

Today, we live in a world of options. Ice cream parlors offer a minimum of thirty-one flavors. My DirecTV receives more than two hundred channels in both standard and high definition. When shopping for cars, I can buy from dozens of manufacturers—from Acura to Volvo—in any of several hundred colors.

And yes, these days, even oracles come with options. As anyone even remotely interested in Tarot knows, the lonesome Rider-Waite now has ample company. Tiny bookstores in small towns frequently carry half a dozen decks. My local metaphysical shop stocks more than a dozen. Even here in the buckle of the Bible belt, I have on-demand access to more than fifty unique decks through Borders, Books-a-Million, and Barnes & Noble.

With this variety, though, comes confusion. As Tarot becomes increasingly mainstream, the question I hear most is no longer “Aren’t Tarot cards demonic?” Instead, the number one question—the favorite of bewildered first-time buyers and curious students alike—is, “What deck should I buy?”

While the number of decks has increased, the number of answers to this question has not. For years, I’ve heard Taroteers trot out the same reply: “Find a deck that speaks to you.” Frankly? Especially for people just getting to know Tarot, that’s easier said than done. As a strategy for narrowing down options, “Find a deck that speaks to you” fails the practicality test. Here’s why:

  1. You can’t take it literally. If a deck actually speaks to you—with a voice, I mean—you should probably be concerned. (Unless the deck is the Thoth, of course, in which case the voice you hear is probably just Uncle Al, playing a posthumous prank.)
  2. What speaks to you might not be good for you. Let’s face it—some people have an unfortunate affinity for saccharine. Some of these people may think the Tarot of the Teletubbies speaks to them … or coos to them, or yammers at them, or whatever the heck a Tarot of the Teletubbies might do. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Tarot of the Teletubbies will always be the best possible home base for their exploration of the Tarot.

  3. What if every deck speaks to you? Through an online community called Comparative Tarot, I’ve met several folks who seem to be determined to buy every single deck that’s out there (much to the delight of the folks here at Llewellyn, I assure you). If you have a lot of cash on hand (or if you married well), buying every deck in the universe is definitely an option, but not one that’s practical for most people.

  4. What if you can’t find a deck that speaks to you? Confronted with hundreds of options, many people just shut down: eventually, all the boxes just become a blur. When this is the case, even the friendliest of decks will seem as tight-lipped as a two-year old resisting a spoonful of boiled beets.

The good news: finding the deck that’s right for you needn’t involve pressing your ear to the box and listening for a still, small voice peeping, “Buy me!” As it turns out, once you sensitize yourself to three simple principles, the process of finding The Perfect Deck becomes amazingly straightforward.

With these secrets in hand, rank beginners can identify the deck that’s right for them. In fact, even experienced buyers and collectors can use these tips to evaluate whether that sweet little deck on eBay is worth a hundred and fifty bucks—before they click Buy It Now.

  1. Buying a Deck on Purpose
    Before you shop Llewellyn’s online store, before you rush off to read the deck previews at Tarot Passages, before you plunk down $65.00 for that mass-produced-but-somehow-suddenly-extremely-rare copy of the Caveat Emptor Tarot on eBay, spend just ten minutes thinking about your purpose for buying the deck.

    In other words: how will this deck be used?

    Often, people respond to this most important question with a blank stare. “I dunno,” one fellow said. “I just want one, I guess.”

    If your purpose is, indeed, just to have a deck—and not to use it—any deck will do. Your choice will be an easy one: buy the cheapest cards you can find. (On eBay, old decks by Miss Cleo and the Caring Psychic Family often go for pennies a pack.)

    Most people, though, aren’t quite this flexible, and, as a result, they really could benefit from thinking about what they plan to do with the deck. In classes, I encourage students to finish this statement: “Primarily, I want a deck that will help me _______.”

    Completing this phrase forces people to think of a Tarot deck strictly in terms of its utility. Will the deck be a learning tool? A meditative tool? A magickal tool? Will they read with the deck? If so, will they read for themselves? For others? For adults? For kids?

    Defining your purpose in advance of your purchase will greatly reduce the number of decks you’ll have to consider. To make things even easier, the examples below pair common purposes with readily available decks, creating a list you could easily copy for your own shopping purposes.

  2. I Don’t Know Art, But I Know What I Like
    With your purpose pinned down, the next step is to determine the artistic style that appeals to you the most. After all, how often will you really work with a deck you find tacky, ugly, tepid, or frightening?

    To find a deck with art that you connect with, consider these four factors:

  3. Our Feature Presentation
    Once you narrow your choices down to decks that suit your purpose and offer art that you find appealing or engaging, the last step in finding the perfect deck is to select one with features you’ll use and enjoy.

The Deck is Out There!
Focusing on your purpose for the deck, identifying artistic styles that appeal to you, and concentrating on the features you find useful will take the mystery and confusion out of deck purchases. Pair this practical approach with a quick glance at available reviews and previews, and you’ll greatly increase your odds of finding and buying a deck you’ll use for years to come.

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