Starting With Tarot: A Guide For The Beginner

A Guide to starting with tarot
Tarroco Soprafino copyright Il Meneghello Edizioni, MIlano-Italy

I am starting with tarot, what do I do? This is a very common question. Based on my own early tarot experience, and what I have learned since, I am going to discuss what is really going to help you start using the tarot cards.

Most of the posts I have written assume you have already begun your tarot journey. However, on social media sites such as Quora, it is pretty obvious from the number of people asking the same question that how to actually start with tarot is a bit of a mystery.

Bear in mind that, as with everything else in this blog, you should only take what works for you and leave the rest.

OK, lets go!

Ignore the tarot myths

The absolute first thing you should do is ignore the tarot myths. I have already written a post on these, “9 Tarot Myths – False…Or True?“, which is here. This post covers some of the main myths which appear over and over again. They are all, for the most part, completely false. In 17 years of reading tarot (as of writing this post), not a single myth (with one exception) has demonstrated any semblance of truth.

But there is one myth in particular which really appears pervasive and persistent, people asking whether it’s true over and over again. I’m talking about the myth that tarot is evil.

Ignore the tarot myths.
This does not happen when you read tarot

I have also covered this myth separately in the post “Is Tarot Evil?” which is here. But I think it’s worth repeating the essentials about this myth again here. In fact, I don’t believe it’s possible to repeat the following enough.

Tarot is not evil. The Catholic Church believes that divine guidance should only come from God. So, in modern terms, the Church has spent many centuries trash talking the competition. You will hear devout Christians saying things like ‘God says tarot is EVIL and it’s the work of DEMONS

Oh, please. It’s the 21st century, not the medieval era.

Tarot cards are just paper and ink. The decks are printed in their tens of thousands by large publishing companies and used by millions of readers worldwide. Tarot is a huge commercial industry. Tarot today is not powered by demons but by capitalism.

Reading tarot is essentially a psychological process which involves a form of creative thinking known as conceptual blending. Conceptual blending combines the meaning and art of the card, the position in the tarot spread, and a spark of intuition to generate a message. This message is usually something that we could not have arrived at just by using rational thinking. Spirits don’t really get a look in.

I take a closer look at conceptual blending and tarot in the post ‘Conceptual Blending: How Tarot Really Works?‘ which you can read here.

I was raised Roman Catholic and in all my many, many years of reading tarot I have never experienced anything evil- EVER – connected to the cards. I have not encountered spirits, or demons. On the contrary, I have only experienced immense benefits from reading the cards.

So, unless you are a devout Christian, you can bury this myth where it belongs.

Choosing your deck When Starting With Tarot

After ditching the myths, the first thing you need to do when starting with tarot is get yourself a tarot deck. I have written a post on how to choose a deck, “Choosing And Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck“, which you can read here.

However, the key thing to know is you should really get yourself a copy of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot deck or a deck that closely follows the essential aspects of the RWS. Why? Most beginner tarot books use the RWS to teach. Also, the vast majority of decks published today follow the RWS in terms of meanings so it will be easy to move from one deck to another.

The Rider Waite Smith Tarot is the 800 pound Gorilla

The Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot, first published in 1909, is a fully illustrated deck with artwork on every card. This made it very accessible to the general public and this deck is the reason why tarot is so hugely popular now.

The RWS is available in many different editions today, the differences mainly being one of colour. Some popular editions are shown here:

Choose your first tarot deck carefully.
Clockwise from top left: Rider Waite Tarot; Smith Waite Centennial Tarot; Radiant Rider Waite; Universal Waite Tarot all copyright US Games Systems

So yes, i’m recommending the RWS. Some people will say you should get a deck that you really like, even if this is not the RWS. This is true to some extent but I firmly believe that you should get a deck you like that follows the RWS closely. Even if you don’t like the RWS, there are many decks that are very close in terms of imagery so find one that suits your taste.

Art is subjective so a deck that everyone on the internet is raving about may not appeal to you. Finding a deck you like means you will be able to forge a much stronger connection to it than with a deck you dislike. Choosing a deck closely based on the RWS will make learning tarot easier.

Avoid Art Decks & Minimalist Decks If Starting With Tarot

Many decks are supposedly based on the RWS but some are closer to RWS imagery than others. Two types of decks for tarot beginners to beware of are art decks and minimalist decks.

What’s an art deck?

Well, my definition of an art deck is one which claims to be based on RWS meanings but strays very far from RWS imagery in terms of it’s artistic depiction. These decks can certainly be beautiful but they are hard to learn with for beginners because they bear no resemblance to the RWS. Here’s an example:

Avoid art tarot decks when learning how to read the cards.
From left: Smith Waite Centennial Tarot and Hush Tarot both copyright US Games Systems

On the left we have the 3 of Cups from the Smith Waite Centennial deck. On the right is the 3 of Cups from the Hush Tarot. The Hush Tarot card has no resemblance to the RWS 3 of Cups at all! The Hush tarot is an excellent deck for an experienced reader and I do use it. However, if you are starting out with tarot and trying to learn RWS symbolism using an art deck such as the Hush Tarot, you will experience only frustration and a headache.

Learning tarot with an art deck is certainly possible from an intuitive point of view but you will will find it difficult to use other decks.

What’s a minimalist deck?

A minimalist deck is one that has either very little detail in the artwork or the artwork is sparse. Being able to use your intuition is very difficult if there is so little detail to latch on to.

Avoid minimalist tarot decks
From left: Smith Waite Centennial Tarot copyright US Games Systems; Wild Unknown Tarot copyright Kim Krans

Here is the RWS 7 of Pentacles. On the right is the same card from the hugely popular Wild Unknown Tarot. The RWS version has lots of details that you could latch on to and spark your intuition. The Wild Unknown version has the same underlying meaning but the artwork doesn’t give you much to work on. Minimalist tarot decks are best kept for when you are more experienced as card meanings in these decks play a more prominent role in readings than intuition.

Starting with Tarot: Use the Cards everyday

Now that you have (hopefully) found a deck you like that follows the RWS, the next thing to do is form a connection with the cards.

How do you form a connection with a tarot deck?

When you are starting with tarot use the cards regularly, preferably daily. Use them as often as you can because you need to form an intuitive connection with the cards. For this you do not need to know the meanings of the cards. It won’t hurt to learn the meanings as you go along but getting an intuitive feel for the deck is more important at this stage.

What Is Intuition?

 Read using tarot using your intuition

Intuition is a combination of our experience and knowledge. When you get an intuitive feeling about something, your subconscious is accessing this storehouse to give you that gut feeling that says ‘pay attention to this.’ Therefore, it is always a good idea to take heed of those instinctive feelings. Intuition kept our primitive ancestors safe from danger and we can use this instinct now. Think of it as our psychic ability.

How To Use Intuition When Reading The Cards

When you are looking at the card, try to keep your attention somewhere between the card and the question you have in mind while also bearing in mind the particular position in the tarot spread (if you are using one.) This usually takes a few moments but don’t be afraid to take some time – reading tarot isn’t a race.

As you contemplate the card and the question pay attention to any details on the card that seem to leap out at you or catch your attention. This is your intuition speaking. As you notice these details you will start to have ideas about what the card is telling you. Make up a story about what the card is telling you.

When you are using your intuition, a card can provide a message that has nothing to do with its actual meaning. And that’s totally OK!

Just go with the flow.

Learning to use your intuition with tarot is quicker than learning all the card meanings but it still takes time and practice. For another method of reading tarot intuitively see the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which is here.

So, what’s a good way to regularly practice using the tarot cards intuitively?

Using The Cards: The 1 Card Daily Draw

The easiest way to use the cards daily is to do a 1 card draw each day, either in the morning or the evening. This is how it works.

Each day, at the time that suits you, shuffle the deck and draw 1 card. If you draw the card in the morning spend some moments looking at it. Then keep the card in mind as your day progresses. See if any situation that occurs during the day seems similar to something represented in the card.

If you draw your card in the evening, again spend some moments looking at the card and see if anything in the picture reminds you of something that happened during the day.

By doing these daily exercises you not only become familiar with the cards but you begin to intuitively associate certain situations and energies with particular cards.

Even though I have been reading tarot for many years I still do a 1 card daily draw for myself in the morning. Tarot reading is a skill and I use every opportunity to practice, practice, practice. On the day I began writing this post I drew the following card:

Practice doing a daily 1 card draw
Sacred Rose Tarot copyright US Games Systems

The King of Cups was an interesting draw, Kings are in full control of their element – in this case moods and feelings – and use their expertise in an outward manner. In this case, the King of Cups symbolised my goal of influencing the feelings of the people reading this post! The symbolism that caught my eye here was the tight clenching of the cup (control) and the hand holding out the undine (a water elemental) representing a controlled outward expression of his abilities.

The Daily 3 Card Spread

A quicker way of intuitively connecting with the cards is by doing a daily 3 card reading. This way you learn about more cards daily. You can always do this and also do a 1 card draw.

For my daily 3 card spread I use Situation, Challenge, Advice as the spread positions to get a sense of the day ahead. This is really useful if I already know about the plans for the day ahead, say at work.

If I know there are particular problems that need to be resolved that day I might instead use Root of Problem, Advice, What I resolve to do.

Speaking of tarot spreads…

Learn Some Tarot Spreads

When you are starting with tarot, as well as connecting with the cards, it is really important to learn some tarot spreads that cover a few common topics. It is the tarot deck plus the spread that really give tarot it’s ability to answer questions.

A tarot spread is essentially just the question broken down into the specific elements of that question you want answers to – these are the spread positions. I gave some examples above of some simple 3 card spreads but there are countless other spreads.

Some people will say you don’t need a spread. Even if you don’t use a spread, you usually have something in mind when you put down the cards like ‘What do I need to know about today?’ But, a tarot spread really helps you to find specific answers to your question. I strongly recommend using a spread.

There are tarot spreads for any topic you can think of with any number of cards from 1 to 78 (the full deck!)

When you are starting with tarot it’s probably easier to learn a few small spreads with, say, no more than 5 cards. This just makes doing the reading easier without the mental overload of using a large spread.

Here’s an example of a 5 card problem solving spread that I sometimes use:

Starting with tarot. Learn some spreads
Morgan Greer Tarot Italian Edition copyright US Games Systems

The positions are:

  • Top left The Challenge or Obstacle
  • Bottom left Complications
  • Bottom right What is hidden
  • Top Right Idea, person or thing that can help
  • Centre Action to take

What About The Celtic Cross Spread?

Learning tarot spreads. The Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross Spread. Rider Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

The Celtic Cross spread appears everywhere, in practically every beginner tarot book. It made it’s first public appearance around the time the original RWS tarot was first published and has become ingrained in tarot consciousness.

I don’t believe it’s actually a good spread to learn when you are starting out. For a start this is a whopping 10 card spread – that’s a lot of cards to process. Also, the Celtic Cross is a general purpose spread. Trying to use it to answer every question you have is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. It’s just painful.

It’s much easier to use a spread that answers your specific question. A good tarot spread book I recommend is ‘Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower Your Readings‘ by Barbara Moore. There are many tarot spread books but I believe this is one of the best. Keep it handy when you are starting your tarot journey.

Even better than choosing a spread to fit your question is to custom create a spread to exactly answer your question. Some people feel uncomfortable at doing that but it’s easy and a good skill to learn as you are starting with tarot. I explain how to create your own tarot spread – and how to read a spread – in the post ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which is here.

Start a Tarot journal

I wrote about the importance of tarot journals in the post ‘Reading Tarot For Yourself – 7 Things To Avoid‘, which is here, but I want to quickly mention it again.

When you are starting out with tarot it’s a really good idea to keep a note of the intuitive impressions you are getting from each card. You then have a record of what you have already learned. And, as I wrote in the post above, keeping a journal to note down your tarot readings will help you remember those readings so you can reflect on them later. This also makes for a great learning tool as you can look back on what each card in a reading meant for you.

Get a beginner tarot book

In this blog i’ve often said that learning to read tarot intuitively is important and something that can get you reading tarot quite quickly without needing the card meanings.

But the card meanings are the backbone of tarot – it’s intuition plus card meanings that give tarot it’s power. So, after you have been reading using intuition for a little while, absolutely go and start learning the meanings. The card meanings add garnish to the intuitive reading and can actually spark your intuition in themselves.

When you are starting with tarot, try reading the cards intuitively first. Only after you have done this and gained some meaning from the cards should you reach for the tarot book.

You might be tempted to try learning all the card meanings first. Well, that’s how I started out when I was learning tarot. It was pretty difficult; using the card meanings alone without developing your tarot intuition results in some pretty unsatisfactory mechanical readings. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone new.

There are many good beginner tarot books available on Amazon. There are so many that I can’t really recommend a single one as being the absolute best. As a rough guide go for a book that has at least a 4 star average rating and at least 100 reviews (many have over a 1000 reviews). You won’t go far wrong with that.

Ignore The YouTube Videos That Promise Quick Results

When you are starting out with tarot it is tempting to go on YouTube and see if you can quickly learn the tarot. There are videos that promise you can learn all the cards in 2 hours. Or that you can read like a professional tarot reader in 1 hour.

It’s nonsense. As I mentioned, just learning the card meanings is going to lead to some terrible readings if you don’t learn to use your intuition as well. Reading tarot is a skill and, like all skills, to get good at it takes practice and time.

You will likely forget half the cards meanings after 2 hours of rote learning.

If you want to learn tarot, then take the time to learn to read tarot. Your effort will be rewarded, shortcuts don’t work and will just end in disappointment.

What’s Next?

Everything I discussed above should get you going at the start of your tarot journey. It does take time to become familiar with the cards but it’s worth it.

Once you start to feel confident with reading the cards for yourself, the next step would be to practice reading for other people. There is a lot of content in this blog to help you with reading the cards, both for yourself and other people, so have a wander around.

One of the things you may be wandering is whether you need to use reversed tarot cards in your readings. I mention this here and not in the main advice because you do not need to know tarot reversals to get started with the cards. Some people use reversed cards, others don’t. If you choose not to use reversals nothing bad will happen; the 78 upright cards provide all the information you will need.

If you want to learn an easy way to read reversed cards see the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With If you want to know about elemental dignities – an alternative to tarot reversals – see the post ‘Using Tarot Elemental Correspondences In Your Readingshere.

And above all, enjoy yourself as you explore the tarot.

Choosing and Buying a Beginner Tarot Deck

Choosing and Buying a Tarot Deck

Tarot is a rewarding art which can have a real impact on your life and your deck is the tool that you use. An artist chooses the tools that work best for them; you should do the same when you choose your deck. This post will discuss what I believe are the best beginner tarot decks; what a tarot deck is and how it differs from oracle decks; how to buy your deck whether new or used; and the different tarot systems to be aware of.

I am writing this post mainly for beginners to tarot but it should be useful for anyone.

The post is based on many years of personal experience of buying and using different tarot decks and systems. As such this is all my personal opinion and you may not agree with some or all of it. And that’s O.K! As always, take what works for you and discard the rest.

Before we even get into the post, I want to address one tarot myth. You can buy your first beginner tarot deck; you do not have to wait for someone to gift a deck to you. I discuss this myth, along with other tarot myths, in ‘9 Tarot Myths – False…or True?‘ which you can read here.

What is the best tarot deck?

For beginners to tarot, this is a question that frequently comes up. Makes sense. You would want to use the best beginner tarot deck you can, wouldn’t you? The answer is: the best tarot deck – for beginners or even experienced readers – is the one you enjoy using the most.

Is this a cop out answer? Maybe a little bit. The truth is, to actually get the most from your deck, you have to really enjoy the artwork which helps you form the essential connection to your deck. And that is subjective, differing for everyone.

What I hope to do in this post is help you make sure that the deck you’re buying is going to click for you before you buy it. And that will take a little work.

What is a tarot deck?

All tarot decks have certain aspects in common which separates them from other decks used in cartomancy (the art of divination using cards).

A tarot deck will have:
78 Cards. No more, no less.
22 Trumps or Major Arcana (Arcana just means secrets)
56 Minor Arcana made up of 4 suites.
The 4 suites of the Minor Arcana consist of variations of the following: Cups; Wands/Rods/Batons; Swords; Coins/Pentacles.
Each suite consists of 10 Minor Arcana going from Ace to 10 and 4 Court cards: Page/Princess; Knight; Queen; King

Difference between Tarot and Oracle decks

Oracle decks are another popular type of divination deck. The difference between a tarot deck and an oracle deck is that oracle decks do not have any structure. Also, each oracle deck can have different numbers of cards and the card meanings differ depending on what the deck creator decided. Each oracle deck is therefore different from every other oracle deck.

To make things confusing, there are decks that have ‘Tarot’ in the title but they are in fact oracle decks. Examples include the Akashic Tarot which has 62 cards and the Psychic Tarot for the Heart Oracle deck – a 65 card deck.

I have nothing against oracle decks, I use one or two myself to supplement my tarot readings. But if you want to learn and read tarot, make sure you are getting a tarot deck.

Buying a New tarot deck

Tarot is hugely popular and you can buy tarot decks online really easily. If you are fortunate enough to have a large bookshop near you, they may carry tarot decks. Metaphysical shops will almost certainly carry tarot decks.

Actually buying the deck is the easy part these days. Making sure you are buying the right deck is the important bit, especially a beginner tarot deck.

When you are thinking about a particular deck, try to see as many pictures of the cards as possible if you can’t physically look at the deck. There will likely be a YouTube review and walk through of the deck. You can Google for pictures of the cards and social media like Pinterest will probably have a good few pins from the deck.

Read and listen to the reviews as well. One thing i’ve learnt over the years it that the physical aspect of the cards is really important. Are the cards large or small? Is the card stock thick or flimsy? There’s no point getting really excited about a deck only to discover that it falls apart after a few weeks! Amazon reviews can be quite useful, especially the more critical reviews.

Another thing i’ve noticed is that when someone writes an article or does a YouTube video called ‘Best Beginner Tarot Decks’ they often include expensive and hard to obtain independently created decks. If you are interested in an expensive deck and can afford it then go for it! The problem when you are beginning tarot is that you may not know what you like. It takes some experience to know what kinds of deck work for you. That really expensive deck may turn out to be a waste of money.

If you are a beginner, I would recommend sticking to relatively cheap mass market decks – the sort of decks you find on Amazon – and see what styles and flavours suit you before splashing the cash.

Counterfeit Tarot Decks

Something else to watch out for are counterfeit decks. Unfortunately, Amazon; eBay and Etsy have listings for knock off decks. These decks may be incredibly cheap but they are also poorly produced and steal income from the publishers and deck creators. Avoid them at all costs.

One way to spot a fake deck apart from the low price is to compare the image of the box with an image from a genuine review – the fakes usually have little to no writing on the boxes and have odd publisher names. Avoid fakes where possible; the decks are horrible!

buying or trading for a used tarot deck

Choosing and Buying a Tarot Deck. Buying or trading for used tarot decks.
An assortment of used vintage and out of print tarot decks

Buying or trading for a secondhand deck can be an affordable way to get a tarot deck. If you are interested in old, out of print decks, this is going to be the only way to obtain them. Sites such as eBay and Etsy usually have a lot of used decks for sale. Some Facebook groups also trade decks.

Things to look out for when buying a used tarot deck

When it comes to buying used decks it’s very much a case of buyer beware! There are some things to watch out for.

Firstly, are all the cards actually present? Make sure you read the description of the deck, especially if you are buying on eBay. Some people do sell incomplete decks; they may be useful for art projects but incomplete decks are not helpful if you are reading tarot. If you buy an incomplete deck and this was not mentioned, you will be entitled to your money back.

Secondly, what is the condition of the deck? Pay attention to the pictures and the description of the deck. Most good sellers will point out any damage and provide pictures. Are the cards dirty? Are they creased or torn? Sometimes a really worn out deck means it is really cheap and some people enjoy using tired decks.

Also, particularly important if you have allergies, check if the deck smells or has been in a smokey environment or a home with pets. Again, most good sellers on eBay will mention this. Some really old decks tend to have a musty ‘old paper’ smell. I quite like that but perhaps you don’t.

Beware Expensive Used Tarot Deck Prices

Another problem is price gouging, especially for out of print decks. Many decks, particularly on eBay and Etsy, are priced far higher than they are actually worth. It seems that as soon as a deck goes out of print, people think they become much more valuable. Not true. Value depends on demand and, with a few exceptions, most tarot decks are not that valuable except in the minds of the sellers.

To check what an out of print deck should be selling for, go to eBay and type in the name of the deck you are interested in. Then, in the filter, select ‘Sold’ and ‘Completed’ items. This will give you the prices that the particular item actually sold for in the past. In my experience, the actual price that people are willing to pay for a deck is far below what some sellers are asking for. It pays to be patient and wait.

Trading for a used tarot deck

If you already have some tarot decks you may want to trade for a deck you want. Facebook has some groups where you can trade decks and some tarot websites allow you to trade as well.

The important thing is to be able to trust the person you are trading with. If you are on an online site you may be able to gauge a trader’s reputation. Don’t be afraid to ask about the condition of the deck if it’s not mentioned. Maybe even ask for pictures.

Personally, i’m not keen on trading for decks. If something goes wrong with the trade you could lose out with no recourse to compensation. For a beginner, trading may not be an option but if you acquire a few decks it can be a great way to obtain an otherwise hard to find deck.

The Tarot Systems

So, you have your eye on a particular deck and you’re new or early in your tarot journey. You can go ahead and buy or trade for that beginner tarot deck and continue practising and learning tarot, right? Well, you can but you’ll find learning tarot easy or challenging depending on what tarot system your deck follows.

A tarot system is how the deck is set up: where the card’s meanings and artwork are derived from; whether all the cards have illustrated pictures or not. There are a few systems for tarot; some are easier for beginners to learn with, others are probably best left for when you are more experienced with tarot.

Let’s have a look at some of the main tarot systems that I have personally worked with.

The Rider Waite Smith (RWS) System

The Rider Waite Smith tarot deck (also known as the Rider deck; Rider Waite deck; the Waite Smith; the Smith Waite; the Tarot of A.E. Waite; and the Pamela Coleman Smith tarot) was first published in 1909 and is the first deck that really brought tarot to widespread public attention. The deck is easy to learn and easy to use intuitively as all the cards have illustrated artwork. This is not true with all tarot decks.

Choosing a tarot deck. The Rider Waite Smith System
RWS Tarot copyright US Games

Both the deck creator A.E. Waite and the artist, Pamela Coleman Smith, were members of an offshoot of the secret magickal society The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Waite and Smith packed the deck full of esoteric knowledge from the Qabalah; astrology; numerology; Christian faith and 18th century cartomancy meanings. While understanding this esoteric knowledge can help in reading the cards, you really don’t need it.

There are many editions of this deck currently available including the Rider Tarot deck (pictured above); the Centennial Smith Waite; the Albano Waite; the Universal Waite; The Radiant Rider Waite; and the Tarot of A.E. Waite. Most of the differences are down to the colouration of the cards and the linework. Find one that appeals to you the most.

Most tarot decks are based on the ‘Rider Waite Smith System’ which means the artwork may be different but the cards closely follow the RWS artwork. When you are interested in a deck see if it follows the RWS system.

Many beginner tarot books use the RWS as the basis for the card meanings so you can easily start with tarot using an RWS based deck.

In my personal tarot journey I did start with RWS based decks but not the RWS itself. At the time I didn’t like the original RWS artwork but I found a couple of decks based on it I did enjoy. Now, I regularly use the RWS itself as it has grown on me over time. When you are starting with tarot I recommend having two beginner tarot decks. One is the RWS based deck you actually like and one is a RWS deck for study.

The Thoth Tarot Deck

The Thoth tarot is the creation of infamous 20th Century occultist Aleister Crowley and painted with consumate skill by Lady Frieda Harris. This deck is arguably the next most popular tarot in the world after the RWS. Unlike the RWS, not all the cards are fully illustrated and the deck is not really suitable for intuitive reading.

Thoth Tarot system
Thoth Tarot copyright O.T.O. and copyright AGM Urania

Like A.E. Waite, Crowley was also a member of the Golden Dawn and then went on to found another secret society, the Argenteum Astrum; later joined the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O) – another occult society – and founded his own religion Thelema.

Crowley put all of his esoteric knowledge into the Thoth tarot making it an absolute esoteric powerhouse of a deck. This puts many people off using the Thoth but it shouldn’t. Some study will help you get the most out of the deck but I do know tarot readers who use the Thoth with very little or no study of the deck. The artwork in the deck is stunning.

Crowley’s reputation also puts people off using the deck but you shouldn’t let this stop you. It is not that difficult to separate the deck from it’s creator and use it on it’s own terms.

Books on the Thoth Tarot

Two books I strongly recommend to help learn the deck are ‘Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot‘ by Lon Milo DuQuette. This is a relatively easy book to follow and a good introduction to the deck. The other book is Crowley’s own guide to the Thoth ‘The Book of Thoth.’ The card meanings are worthwhile but, to be honest, I still find most of the rest of the book to be almost indecipherable. Still, it is the actual guide to the Thoth tarot so I definitely recommend it.

The Thoth tarot comes in 3 sizes: large, medium and pocket size. The large deck is great for study but I tend to use the medium deck in actual readings.

Unlike the RWS, there are relatively few decks based on the Thoth system. Some such as ‘The Millenium Thoth‘ and ‘The Liber T of the Stars Eternal‘ closely follow the Thoth’s style of what are called ‘semi-illustrated’ stylized pips (pip cards are where only the suit symbols are shown). Other decks such as ‘The Urban Tarot‘ and the ‘Sun and Moon tarot‘ are fully illustrated like the RWS but the artwork follows the Thoth meanings. These fully illustrated Thoth based decks might be an easy introduction to the Thoth.

I find the Thoth tarot is the deck to turn to if I want direct no BS answers. The Thoth is not for people who like sugar coated answers; the deck is very honest and will, metaphorically speaking, slap you in the face and shout ‘LOOK, THIS IS THE BRUTAL HONEST TRUTH!’

I came to the Thoth tarot after I was comfortable with the RWS. The Thoth is a more challenging deck to get to know but I find it is very powerful. I have met some tarot readers who use the Thoth as a beginner tarot deck but I recommend it for when you have some tarot experience under your belt. However, you don’t need to study it for years to use it effectively.

Tarot de Marseille (TdM)

The TdM is a historical tarot that predates the RWS and Thoth decks by centuries. Originally, tarot decks were used for playing card games and the TdM was initially intended for this purpose. These days, the TdM is commonly used for divination in France where it first appeared but has been gaining wider popularity in other western countries over recent years.

Tarot de Marseille
CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games

The TdM is a non-esoteric tarot and, traditionally, only the Major Arcana are used for reading. The TdM is considered a ‘pip’ deck – which i’ll explain further down – but it is very much it’s own ‘system.’ There are many TdM decks available – they are all similar but differ in certain aspects. Some are modern decks, others are historical reproductions.

As a beginner tarot deck, learning how to use the TdM can be challenging since the minor arcana, 2 through 10, are not illustrated and just show symbols of the suite, or pips. Why would you use the TdM then? If you learn a system for reading the pips, such as numerology plus the suite element, your intuition can really take off.

Introduction Books for the Tarot de Marseille

I do read the TdM both using the whole 78 card deck and just using the 22 Major Arcana. I find just using the Major Arcana is a very different way of reading tarot from the RWS and Thoth which gives more short, sharp answers. Two books I strongly for learning the TdM are ‘The Marseille Tarot Revealed: The Complete Guide to Symbolism, Meanings, and Methods‘ by Yoav Ben-Dov and ‘Marseille Tarot‘ by Camelia Elias.

Although some tarot beginners do favour the TdM, I honestly feel the TdM is not the best type of beginner tarot deck because there are no pictures to help with reading the cards. I came to the TdM after I had become familiar with both the RWS and the Thoth systems; having that tarot experience helped when it came to the TdM.

Now, I use the TdM and pip decks quite often as I find my intuition is not limited by the pictures on the cards. I highly recommend trying the TdM only when you’ve gained some tarot experience. But if it floats your boat then dive in!

Speaking of pip decks…

Pip Tarot Decks

I’ve just talked about the TdM being a pip deck – where the 2 through 10 of each suite only show the suite symbols – so why am I writing about pip decks? The TdM is a very particular style of pip deck with a particular way of traditionally reading the Major Arcana. There are plenty of other historical and modern tarot decks that only have pips but you can’t really read these decks the same way as the TdM.

The TdM is a pip deck but not all pip decks are the TdM.

A Pip deck
Inversion Tarot copyright US Games

The Inversion Tarot deck above is an example of a modern pip deck. This deck is a hybrid combining aspects of both the RWS and the TdM but you can see the minor arcana only have the suite symbols – no fully illustrated pictures. Other modern pip decks include the Tattoo Tarot; the Tarot del Toro; and the Tarot of the Witches by Fergus Hall. Historical pip decks currently available include the Ancient Italian Tarot; the Tarocco Sopraffino; and the 1JJ Swiss tarot.

A lot of the techniques for reading the TdM don’t work on other types of pip decks. The TdM was originally created using woodcut engravings. This created a 2 D picture where figures face directly left, right or straight ahead. This influenced the TdM reading style. Many other pip decks can’t be read like this.

Books for Pip Tarot Decks

There are several books and sources I recommend for learning how to read pip decks. The main one is ‘Untold Tarot‘ by Caitlin Matthews. In this book, Caitlin discusses historical decks – including the TdM – but the techniques work well with other pip decks.

Another tarot author who discusses techniques for reading pip and TdM decks is Vincent Pitisci. I highly recommend his books, ‘Genius of the Tarot‘ and ‘Essential Tarot.’ He has also has a very informative YouTube channel which you can find here.

These days, I tend to use pip and TdM decks about 50% of the time for my readings because, as I mentioned above, these decks vastly expand the scope of my intuition. Would I recommend a pip deck as a beginner tarot deck? No. Pip decks are even harder for the tarot newbie to learn than the TdM but once you are experienced with one of the other tarot systems you should definitely give pip decks a go.

Once you are able to read tarot using a pip deck you can actually use the techniques to read any tarot deck. So, pip decks are hard to learn but open up every other tarot deck for you. After all, nothing worth doing is ever easy. You never know, perhaps a pip deck is your best beginner tarot deck?

Unique Tarot Decks

There are some tarot decks which have their own unique system rather than following the RWS or Thoth systems – both influenced by the Golden Dawn. Examples of these decks include the Dreams of Gaia Tarot; The Wildwood Tarot and the Mary-El tarot.

These are very popular tarot decks but if you learn tarot using one of these decks you will find it very difficult to use any other tarot deck. The unique meanings and art of these decks will make it difficult to use a deck from another system and, very likely, you will have to start from scratch with another system.

I don’t believe these unique decks are a good choice for a beginner tarot deck but, as i’ve said all along, if you like one of these decks then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

One issue with tarot decks is that they tend to go out of print and become hard to find. If your favourite RWS based deck becomes out of print and you need to replace it, you could just try another RWS based deck (or go on eBay. But beware price gouging!). But if your favourite unique system deck goes out of print and you need to replace it, you’re kind of stuck. So, there’s that.

I hope this post helps you to think about what beginner tarot deck may work best for you and how to go about buying it. I learnt some lessons about buying decks and the different tarot systems over the years so hopefully you won’t have to.

Happy tarot reading!

9 Tarot Myths – False…or True?

Tarot Myths: False... or True?
Bohemian Gothic Tarot copyright Alex Ukolov and Karen Mahony

Here we are in the 21st century with tarot accepted in the mainstream and yet certain tarot myths surrounding the cards seem to persist. Or, at least, I keep hearing them come up again and again. These days, stories and ‘facts’ about tarot circulate in social media and spread; even now on tarot forums I see tarot newbies asking about these tarot myths. Hmm. I’ve picked up on some of the tarot myths that I keep hearing about and I want to talk about them from my own experience. After all, if the myths were true, then shouldn’t I have discovered this over the years?

On this blog I want to encourage people to pick up and use tarot; some of these myths might put the tarot curious off so i’m going to talk about them from my personal perspective.

Lets dive in!

1. You need to be gifted Your first Deck

This old chestnut is still around. I have absolutely no idea where this comes from, probably from the dim and distant past. Lets put this one to rest.

If I had waited to be gifted my first tarot deck all those years ago, I would never have got into tarot in the first place. I suppose I could have asked to have a deck as a Christmas or Birthday present but what if I received a deck I didn’t like? Nope, I bought my first deck. Hated the deck. Lesson learnt there, research your deck before you buy it.

Back in 2004/2005 when I was looking for suitable learning decks, Amazon was incredibly useful as was the tarot database which has many, many decks you can get a sampling of. The Aeclectic site is still there although the excellent forums shut down several years ago; You can access the site here. These days, pictures of cards from just about any deck you’re interested in are a short click away from Google; YouTube; Pinterest: Instagram – you name it.

So yeah, you can buy your own deck – being given your first deck is nice but buying your first deck won’t affect your ability to use the tarot. You can read more on buying your first beginner tarot deck in ‘Choosing and Buying a Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which you can find here.

2. You need to be Psychic to read Tarot

Do you really need to have psychic abilities to read the tarot? I’m quite certain there are people in the world with genuine psychic abilities. They might be very rare but i’m sure they exist. I’m not one of them. I would not, in any way, describe myself as psychic yet I am able to read the tarot with no problem. Before our current coronavirus pandemic, I often attended Tarot Meetups here in London and I haven’t yet met another tarot reader who would describe themselves as psychic. I doubt genuine psychics even need to use a tarot deck. Intuition is what’s important so if you’re not psychic then don’t worry, you don’t need to be.

To learn an easy technique to help you read tarot intuitively, see the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading’ which can be found here.

3. only Witches can read tarot

I’ve seen this mentioned a few times. I’m aware that many witches, whether they are Wiccan or follow some other path, read tarot as part of practicing the Craft. So, some witches are tarot readers but not all tarot tarot readers are witches. I have met some excellent tarot readers who are not witches. One works in the Civil Service, another works in the legal profession, another in television. One tarot reader I known works in the London Underground. Myself, I work mainly in the UK National Health Service and I am definitely not a witch of any kind. But I can read tarot. So there you go.

So, yep. You can read tarot without needing to be a witch.

4. Only women can read Tarot

Tarot Myths: Only women can read tarot
Ancestral Path Tarot copyright US Games Systems

Oh boy, i’ve seen this one come up pretty often. The rationale is that women are more intuitive than men and, therefore, men cannot read tarot. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I would say, browsing social media and the internet, that there appear to be more female tarot readers than male ones. However, apart from myself – male if it wasn’t obvious – I have encountered in person quite a few male tarot readers. A few of them have been some of the most skilled tarot readers I have ever encountered.

As for myself, when it comes to intuition, I will admit that when I started with tarot many years ago I found it difficult to use my intution with the cards. I had to fight against years of conditioning where I had been focused on rationality and believing that science has all the answers. The more I used tarot though and the more I was exposed to the realm of metaphysics – as well as a very frightning personal experience with the paranormal – I began to realise science does not have all the answers. This allowed me to open up and relax, allowing me to exercise my intuitive ‘muscles’. In fact, I believe that tarot has actually helped me to become more intuitive – the tail wagged the dog.

All of this is to say that men can read tarot just as well as women. Men might read tarot differently from women but, in my experience of having had readings from both male and female readers, both genders do just fine. This myth is a load of old cobblers and deserves to fade away.

5. to bond with your tarot deck – sleep with it under your pillow

I’ve heard this a lot as well. The idea is that you can attune the deck to your energies (or the other way around) by having it under your pillow when you sleep. Getting used to your tarot deck through osmosis basically.

There is only one thing guaranteed to happen if you try this. You will have a very uncomfortable night’s rest and probably wake up with a sore neck. Of course, you could try it with a very thick pillow – memory foam is probably better – but, still. You also run the risk of damaging your deck – not exactly what ‘imprinting’ your energies into the deck is supposed to mean!

If you really want to attune to your tarot deck, to get really familiar with it, then play with it regularly – every day even. Do one card readings, study the cards, whatever floats your boat.You will get used to your deck more easily this way and learn all its nuances. As with most things to do with tarot – and life – there are few shortcuts. Memory foam pillows are very comfy but keep your deck somewhere safe, not under the pillow.

6. It takes years of study to become good at tarot reading

What is true about being a tarot reader is that you will never stop learning something new. I have been reading the cards for many years and I am constantly learning new things that I add into my practice. However, constantly learning doesn’t mean you can’t read the tarot relatively quickly.

There are some key approaches to learning the tarot. One, you learn the meanings of the cards first – we are talking about the Rider Waite Smith system here – and then learn how these meanings apply to your reading with intuition guiding you. With this approach, it can take a long time to become familiar with reading the cards and personally I don’t recommend it. Why? Because this is the approach I took when I started learning to read and it wasn’t easy. I wouldn’t try this if I was a tarot newbie now.

A much better way is option two: you don’t worry about what the cards are supposed to mean, instead you become familiar with your deck by studying the pictures on the cards and figuring out what they mean to you. Some tarot readers are purely intuitive, they never learned what the cards are supposed to mean. Instead they let the pictures guide them in the context of the question. This approach doesn’t have to take that long but, again, you will need to practice, practice, practice.

This approach will get you off the ground and reading the cards fairly quickly but I still encourage learning the card meanings and suit elemental energies later on. It is good to have the knowledge to hand to flavour the readings and, if you get stuck during a reading, you can fall back on the meanings to help you. However, don’t be put off picking up tarot reading because it looks like years of study lie ahead, it doesn’t have to be that way.

7. Tarot Cards are Evil

Devil Card from Bohemian Gothic tarot
Bohemian Gothic Tarot Copyright Alex Ukolov and Karen Mahony

I fully respect the religious and spiritual views of other people. However, I do have to take this myth down. Hard. The myth is that reading tarot cards will unleash demons – or something similar in tone. Any truth to this? Have I ever experienced this in my many, many years of tarot reading?

The Devil card above, from the fantastic Bohemian Gothic Tarot, probably shows one of the most evil depictions of the Tarot Devil i’ve ever seen – seductive evil, intoxicating, addictive. But, it’s just a card. Tarot decks, whether they are published by large publishers or by independent deck creators, all come off printing presses (mainly, it is possible to get them printed on demand) in their thousands in the case of many mass market decks. They are cardboard and ink and they are no more inherently evil or capable – in and of themselves – of summoning evil spirits as anything else made of cardboard and ink.

So, no, tarot cards are most definitely not evil. In all my years of reading tarot, whether for myself or for others, I have not once summoned evil entities. I’m sure I would have noticed.

A better question to ask is whether tarot cards can be dangerous. In my personal experience they can be but not because of unleashing evil spirits. Tarot, as with all things in which people believe strongly, can create problems. This is a worthy topic for another post so I will leave this for now.

8. you must not read tarot for yourself

Another tarot myth that still appears regularly. One version of this myth i’ve heard is that reading tarot for yourself will result in bad luck. Really? I think the many thousands of people who read tarot for themselves would beg to disagree and so do I. Have I experienced bad luck from reading tarot for myself for 16 years (as of writing this post). Well, i’ve certainly experienced bad luck over the years but then so does everyone else!

It’s inevitable that unfortunate circumstances will happen to people, that’s just the law of averages. On the other hand, reading tarot for oneself can bring many benefits – understanding where you stand in a situation, reflecting on circumstances, helping to creatively think about where and what to do next and the list goes on.

Is reading tarot for yourself difficult? Yes, it can be. The problem with reading tarot for yourself is that you can bring bias to your reading – you can see in the reading what you want to see. It is difficult to be objective about your own readings but it can be done.

This is worth expanding on in a post of it’s own but there are two things you can try to be objective. First, learn when not to read tarot. Yes, that’s right, you heard me! A definite no-no is reading tarot when you are experiencing intense emotion, for example when you are upset or angry at someone or a situation. If you want to read about this situation then wait until you calm down or practice meditation to calm yourself. Another simple technique is to imagine you are reading for someone else; it takes practice but this really works at helping you be objective.

So, let’s put a stake through this myth and burn it. You aren’t going to experience bad luck reading tarot for yourself – that will happen any way because of Life. However, reading tarot for yourself can certainly help you deal with this bad luck in a positive manner. You see, it’s all good!

You can learn more about the problems of reading tarot for yourself – and how to deal with them – in the post ‘Reading Tarot For Yourself – 7 Things to Avoid‘ which is here.

9. Avoid second hand tarot decks

The final tarot myth I want to cover here is this one. The myth goes like this: if you use a second hand tarot deck then you will not be able to get an accurate reading because the energy of the previous owner will create interference. This is mostly untrue in my personal experience.

I am not a collector of tarot decks but I do own quite a few old and vintage decks, mainly for their aesthetic qualities rather than their financial value. These old decks have wonderful papery card stock, more interesting colouration, or just simply resonate with me. Many tarot decks are out of print – if you happen to really like one then you don’t have any choice except to buy it second hand.

I use these old decks quite regularly and with one exception I have never encountered anything out of the ordinary with any of them. The one exception is an old deck that was last published in the 1970s. What makes this deck different is one simple, tiny thing. A previous owner and, for all I know, the only previous owner, marked the back of the 5 of Pentacles with a blue dot in felt tip. If you are familiar with the Rider Waite Smith 5 of Pentacles then you know this card depicts poverty, illness and just sheer material worry.

That tiny blue dot on the back of the card tells me how anxious this previous owner was about that card and I can feel this person’s energy in the deck. However, it is a warm energy, this owner obviously cared for this deck as a valuable divination tool – it is in pretty good condition for a decades old deck. This energy doesn’t interfere with my readings but I am aware of it.

In conclusion

So there you have it, tarot tall tales that have absolutely no truth in them at all – except for one. So don’t let them put you off picking up a tarot deck and beginning a wonderful journey down this metaphysical path. I don’t know why these myths continue to appear, they probably circulate by word of mouth. Ignore them, they are (mostly) a load of BS.