Continuing the major arcana meanings with a look at the Hierophant to Strength. You can find Part 1: Fool to Emperor here as well as links to other major arcana meanings. As before, I am not including reversed meanings as I demonstrate a technique for reading any reversed card in the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With W.I.N.D.’
In this section, when we move from the Chariot to Strength, we move from the physical aspects of our life journey to the mental realm.
Major Arcana Meanings: The Hierophant
Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Eternal Gods Zodiac Attribution: Taurus Keywords: Teacher, Learning, Institution, Dogma
The Hierophant represents learning the lessons and morals necessary to live a worthy life. These lessons were originally safeguarded by the Church so the Hierophant can represent secret knowledge (different from the hidden inner knowledge of the High Priestess). In the more secular world we live in today, the Hierophant can signify any teacher or teaching.
This card also represents the Church so can indicate rigid dogma. I have found the Hierophant could also mean any large institution you need to deal with.
In my personal experience as a therapist, I have embodied the energy of the Hierophant as I often have to provide education, training and information as part of my role. Any teacher or educator uses this same energy. If you are learning a new skill or acquiring knowledge you are also feeling the energy of the Hierophant as the pupil receiving the knowledge.
Both the RWS and Tarot de Marseille (TdM) images of the card are very similar. The TdM version, Le Pape, is the Pope so represents the entire Church (he has the Cross on both hands) and is the source, and gatekeeper, of all the knowledge needed to live a moral and worthwhile life.
Major Arcana Meanings: The Lovers
Golden Dawn Title: Children of the Voice Divine Zodiac Attribution: Gemini Keywords: Choice, Lasting Consequences, Motivation, Love, Action
The iconic RWS image of The Lovers represents the Christian view of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve is making the choice between eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and giving some of the fruit to Adam or remaining in bliss in the Garden. This card is all about being motivated to make life altering decisions with major long term consequences.
We all make these choices. Any time you have made a decision with major implications (choosing a career, going to university, getting married, buying a house for example) you are employing the energy of the Lovers.
The TdM version of the card is very different. Le Amoureux (the Lover), along with Cupid overhead, is a more direct representation of love. Here, the Lover is choosing between his (possibly pregnant) partner, who represents a new path, and his mother which represents the past. Love and motivation are the key aspects here with each decision creating lasting consequences.
When the Lovers, or Lover, card appears it is a message that you must carefully decide where you go from here because each option will have a major, lasting impact on your life.
Major Arcana Meanings: The Chariot
Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Triumph of Light Zodiac Attribution: Cancer Keywords: Victory, Willpower, Determination, Focus
The Chariot is the last step of the physical aspect of life’s journey and represents accomplishment through willpower. When you are working towards something and there are many things you need to pull together and rein in to achieve success, that’s the energy of the Chariot. Unlike the Emperor, who represents conquering through a combination of physical effort and sheer energy, the Chariot represents the sustained willpower you need to achieve victory.
Organising a large event with many aspects requiring your attention? That’s the Chariot (combined with the Emperor). Trying to meet a work deadline but there are a variety of distractions? Call on the willpower and focus of the Chariot.
This focus and sustained effort is something we frequently have to accomplish in the physical world.
The RWS Chariot is a superb representation of this concept. The Charioteer is embedded in a solid block of stone with no physical control over the two sphinx except for his sceptre. And the two sphinx are opposites; the white (Yin) energy and black (Yang) energy. How does the Charioteer move his chariot? He can only use the strength of his sustained willpower and personal charisma to cajole both the stone to lift up and the Sphinx to use their supernatural powers to work together and pull the chariot.
The TdM Chariot is similar and only differs in that it lacks the occult symbolism of the RWS version.
If you practice Magick – the changing of reality in accordance with your Will – then you are using the energy of The Chariot as much or even more than that of The Magician.
From the Chariot we then move into the mental realm of life’s journey
Strength: The Beginning of the Mental Journey
Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Flaming Sword Zodiac Attribution: Leo Keywords: Self-Control, The ID, The Will
With Strength we enter the mental phase of life’s journey. This stage represents the challenges we face in the mind as we move towards our eventual destination. With Strength we have the suppression of our primal instincts and appetites to meet the needs of our higher self. ID suppressing ego.
Exerting self control over our basic instincts and desires is a vital aspect of living in our modern society. Without this control we give into temptations that distract us from our purpose (procrastination is a good example of what happens here). Worse, failing to control our basic instincts and giving into ego could cause serious harm to ourselves and to others.
I’m sure you can mentally picture any number of situations where failing to exert self control over your ego has led you to distraction in order to satisfy basic appetites. That craving for chocolate? Wanting to do anything except get down to work? Distraction due to sexual energy?
The RWS image of Strength shows a rather loving suppression of our energetic, primitive, ego. After all, we try to suppress our ego to achieve higher purpose and prevent harm but our ego is part of us.
The TdM Strength is very similar and demonstrates the same concept.
Why is the RWS Strength numbered 8 (VIII) and the TdM version numbered 11 (XI)? This is because A.E. Waite wanted the RWS Strength to fit in with his esoteric model of how the major arcana should be arranged. So he moved the card from 11 to 8. At position 11, the TdM Strength is still in the mental aspect of the major arcana. In practice, the change in numbering has absolutely no effect on tarot readings.
In part 3 i’ll look at The Hermit through to The Hanged Man
Reading tarot card pairs can bring much more nuance and detail to a reading than just using a single card in a spread position. I am going to discuss why you should try reading card pairs and give some examples of the extra depth paired cards can bring.
Using card pairs in a tarot reading is something I feel used to be more common but has fallen out of favour. In the many, many tarot readings available on YouTube over several years I have not once seen anyone use card pairs. And that’s a real shame.
O.K, so why use Card Pairs in a Tarot reading?
For a start, you can gain much more detail in a small card spread if you use 2 cards per spread position than just 1. Imagine a 3 position spread, you are automatically going to get more information if you have 6 cards (2 per position) instead of one.
But if you want more information why not just do a 6 card spread?
Well, if you use 2 cards per spread position you can gain a similar amount of intuitive stimulation and depth as if you use the ‘Awake Dream’ method I describe here. You can use the direction people are facing; the direction of gazes and hand gestures etc to add extra dimension to your readings.
However, the advantage card pairs have over the Awake Dream method is that you can use larger spreads using tarot card pairs than with the Awake Dream approach. Using 2 cards per spread position is far more manageable than using 3.
Card pairs can suggest ideas and messages that single cards can’t. Two cards combined create a richer, more complex, picture than a single card. From this richer imagery we obtain more detail and we can actually get some very specific messages.
Examples of New Meanings from Card Pairs
Using card pairs was much more popular in the 1970s than it is now. The 1970s edition of the Grimaud Tarot de Marseille came with a booklet that described meanings derived by combining various Major Arcana. Here’s an example I briefly mentioned in the post, ‘Is Tarot Evil?’:
The booklet shown above tells us that Death followed by The World indicates a global disease epidemic. Just like we are experiencing right now as I write this post in 2021. Look at that picture! We have Death gazing at the smaller figure in The World card who is seemingly protected from the scythe by the wreath around her. And the figure in The World card looking at Death’s scythe, the bringer of destruction.
I don’t know about you but looking at this picture gives me the shivers. It’s as if the woman in The World is isolating herself from the devastation that Death brings. And that’s something a lot of us can relate to.
This card pairing essentially creates a new meaning: global death; and perhaps isolation from disease.
That was a bit grim.
Here are some more cheerful meanings gained from using card pairs.
There are several ways to look at card pairs. In the first example with the Grimaud tarot we looked at the direction of gaze (Death looking at the World, the figure in the World looking at the scythe.) In this card pair using the Druidcraft tarot we have another method. Here we can think of the two images as being a single image and then read the cards left to right. Although, to be honest, it is actually pretty clear what the message is.
Imagine this card pair in a spread position called Situation or Outcome; if your querent (or yourself!) is pregnant then this will signify the message is on track. If you or your querent are female and are not aware you are pregnant then it might be a good idea to check! Of course, this imagery doesn’t have to relate to actual pregnancy or birth. If the question was about some business venture or other enterprise, it could indicate that the business is still in the early stages but may be close to fruition.
This card pair could simply be called pregnancy and/or birth, If you see this card pair or something very similar (perhaps Queen of Wands or Pentacles and Sun for instance), know that this is suggesting the possible beginnings of a new actual life or enterprise.
Here’s another example of a card pair indicating an important event:
As if it wasn’t obvious (it might not be), this is the ‘marriage’ card pair. The 4 of Wands in the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot is often thought as the wedding card. A combined Hierophant and 4 of Wands seals the deal. Imagine if you were using card pairs and reading for a querent when this card pair turns up in a position suggesting an outcome. Even more interesting, what if this card pair was in a position called ‘Advice’?
Importance of intuition and the Right deck
The examples above provide a good demonstration of just how card pairs can deliver a detailed and specific message. Of course there’s no way I can list every possible tarot card pair combination because that’s around 6006 different combinations!
So, if you want to use card pairs there are two things you will need to have:
A good sense of intuition and
The right tarot deck(s)
What Kind of Tarot Decks?
Back in the 70s (and maybe the early 80s) there were relatively few tarot decks available compared to now. Using card pairs in a reading works great when using the RWS tarot which was certainly the most popular deck available back in the day amongst a small pool of options.
These days I would still recommend the RWS tarot because of the clarity of the images. Decks that follow the RWS very closely, such as the Druidcraft tarot, are also great options. What you need to avoid are the decks that stray from the RWS blue print: decks that re-interpret the RWS meanings; decks that have abstract art; ‘pip’ based decks; the Thoth tarot. In essence, what you need are RWS ‘clones’ which are decks that follow the RWS imagery very closely.
I’m the first to admit this may limit the appeal of using card pairs; there are many, many fine tarot decks around which don’t follow the RWS. However, if you use the RWS or a deck that is very close to it in terms of imagery depiction then give card pairs a go.
My readings reached a new level of insight when I started using card pairs. See if it can do the same for you.
And now the interactive bit!
If you go to the top of the post, look at the spread using the Influence of the Angels Tarot. Use any 3 card spread you like (or use Situation, Challenge, Advice) and see what messages you get from the card pairs!
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.
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:
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:
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.
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?
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:
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:
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?
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.
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 W.I.N.D.‘ here. If you want to know about elemental dignities – an alternative to tarot reversals – see the post ‘Using Tarot Elemental Correspondences In Your Readings‘ here.
And above all, enjoy yourself as you explore the tarot.
You can gain so much more from your readings by using the tarot elemental correspondences than by just using intuition alone. The 4 tarot suits plus some of the major arcana are associated with the 4 elements of Earth, Water, Wind and Fire. In this post I discuss which suits are associated with which element; what this elemental correspondence means for each suits’ area of influence; and which of the major arcana are associated with the elements. Finally, I discuss and demonstrate how to use these tarot elemental correspondences in a reading.
I have described how to easily do an intuitive reading using the Awake Dream method in the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which you can find here. Even if you never go on to learn the meanings of the cards you can add greater depth to your tarot readings by learning how the elemental energies affect each other.
This post is intended as a next step to using the Awake Dream approach with greater depth by using the tarot elemental correspondences.
What Are the Tarot Suit Elemental Correspondences?
Elemental correspondence just means that each tarot suit corresponds with one elemental energy which gives that suit its particular characteristics. This really only applies to tarot decks based either on the Rider Waite Smith or Thoth tarot systems.
You can read more on the various tarot systems in the post ‘Choosing and Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which can be found here.
So, what are the correspondences?
Wands and Fire (Or Air)
The element of fire commonly corresponds with the suit of Wands. Fire is energetic and provides heat to move you forwards. Wands therefore represents enterprise; drive; ambition; inspiration; spirit; and career. In fact wands covers anything that could be associated with the spark that drives us forward in life to achieve goals.
I put Air in brackets above because in some decks Wands are associated with Air. Likewise, the suit normally associated with Air, Swords, is then associated with fire. These decks are less common but there are a few currently in publication.
If you have a deck where Wands = Air then know that the qualities of the suit remain the same. Simply think of Wands as needing Air to grow rather than creating fire. Associating Wands with Air does mean that in those decks the imagery will be different from the more common Wands = Fire. This can put some people off.
If you are looking to buy a new tarot deck, make sure you know which suit is associated with which element so you don’t confuse yourself when reading.
Cups and Water
The suit of Cups corresponds with water. Water flows slowly or quickly and can be calm and still or stormy and tempestuous. Therefore, Cups is associated with moods and feelings as well as with intuition and psychic ability. Cups represents both the positive moods – such as love and happiness – but also the negative ones as well such as loss and laziness.
Coins/Pentacles and Earth
The Earth element usually corresponds with the suit of Coins/Pentacles. Earth is stability and enables growth and productivity. This means that Coins/Pentacles is associated with abundance; consistency; reliability; wealth; production; work; the material world; money; health. In negative terms this also means that Coins/Pentacles also represents worry; lack of resources; failure in the material realm; focus on the material to the detriment of the spiritual.
Swords and Air (Or Fire)
Swords is normally associated with Air although, as I mentioned earlier, it sometimes corresponds with Fire depending on the deck creator’s design. Air is rationality, ideas, thinking and can be calm but also turbulent and clouded. Air represents the intellect, rational thought, ideas, communication. It also represents peace, sorrow, conflict, aggression, defeat, anxiety and catastrophic thinking. The suit of Swords has a reputation as the painful suit.
Elemental Correspondences in the Major Arcana
Only 3 of the 22 Major Arcana, or Trumps, are associated with the elements. These are:
The Fool Associated with Air.
The Hanged Man Associated with Water
Judgement/The Aeon (Thoth Tarot) Associated with Fire
What about Earth? Well, you, the reader, represents the earth element so the element does not appear in the Trumps.
If you are wondering why the elements have been distributed like this here is a brief explanation.
The Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a late 19th century magical order, open to both men and women, whose aim was to help man become more. Notable members included W.B Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Tarot formed an important element of the occult practices within the order. Amongst other esoteric knowledge attributed to the major arcana, the 12 signs of the zodiac; the 7 planets of horary astrology; and the 3 elements mentioned above were associated with the cards. There are only 22 Trumps which means one element, Earth, was left out.
The creator of the RWS Tarot, A.E. Waite, and Aleister Crowley, intellectual mind behind the Thoth Tarot, were both members of the Golden Dawn. These two tarot decks are responsible for the mass popular appeal of tarot to this day and so many of the decks available today incorporate the elemental, zodiac and planetary associations of the Golden Dawn.
Yep, tarot today is hugely popular because of 19th century occultists. It is worth briefly pointing out that A.E. Waite was a practicing Christian so any idea that the most popular tarot deck in the world is a work of evil and attracts demons is complete nonsense.
Using Elemental Correspondences in Tarot Readings
We can use the elemental correspondences for more than just giving the suits their characteristics.
Crowley’s Thoth tarot was not designed to be used with tarot reversals. Instead, the Thoth uses the idea of elemental dignities to determine the strength or weakness of certain cards. However, you don’t need to use the Thoth to make use of elemental dignities. If you don’t like using tarot reversals, elemental dignities could be a good alternative to add depth to your reading.
What Are Elemental Dignities?
The basic idea is that when two cards are close together, their elements may either oppose, strengthen or simply support the other card. Cards of the same suit will strengthen each other, cards of the opposing suits weaken each other and cards, neither of opposing suits nor of the same suit, will support the meaning of the other.
This is more easily explained like this:
So, for example, if the 6 of Wands and the Page of Wands were close to each other, the meanings of both cards would be strengthened. If the 6 of Cups and the Page of Wands were together, the meanings of both would be weakened. If the 6 of Pentacles or 6 of Swords were close to the Page of Wands then each card would simply support the other.
All you have to do is remember the opposing elements: Fire and Water are opposites; Air and Earth are opposites.
Cards of the same suit strengthen each other, cards neither of the same or opposing suits support each other
Examples of Elemental Dignities in Readings
To demonstrate how to add depth to an intuitive reading I am going to use tarot elemental dignities in an intuitive reading using the Awake Dream method. Elemental dignities work best in spreads or readings where the cards are close together, such as the 3 card approach used in the Awake Dream way of reading.
The question I am asking is: What do I need to know about protecting my health during the current coronavirus pandemic?
Intuitively, reading left to right, suggests that moving from close contact with others to social distancing will allow me to continue to work and be productive in safety.
Adding in tarot elemental dignities can allow more nuance to this reading. Here we have Cups and Wands next to each other. These are opposing suits thus weakening each other. This could be interpreted as the need to work closely together (6 of Cups) makes working in isolation challenging (3 of Wands). Similarly, the need to work in isolation (3 of Wands) means it will be difficult to provide the service needed to other people (6 of Cups).
However, Wands and Pentacles neither strengthen nor weaken each other; the cards support each other. So, even though working alone will make the work more challenging (3 of Wands), it will still support my productivity and keep me safe (King of Pentacles). Also, being safe and productive (King of Pentacles) means I can continue to be successful (figure on 3 of Wands well dressed and standing proud). Therefore, I may need to find a way to alter my work practice to enable remote working.
Here, the High Priestess is notably larger than the figures in the other two cards suggesting this card is of the most importance. The High Priestess it telling me to listen to my gut instinct in this case.
Pentacles and Wands are next to each other and are supportive suits. The 8 of Pentacles is letting me know that working and being productive in isolation (note the town is in the far distance) will support me in remaining safe (figure standing proud in 3 of Wands). Likewise, the 3 of Wands is saying to me that remaining remote from other people (figure is standing high on a cliff) will allow me to continue my work (figure hard at work in 8 of Pentacles). Thus, the messages of the 8 of Pentacles and of the 3 of Wands support each other.
Note that the figures seem to get progressively larger moving from left to right. This is telling me that working alone is the wisest thing I can do.
See how intuition works? It’s amazing!
This is an interesting reading. Here we have 2 Wands cards next to each other which strengthen each other. We also have the 3 of Wands and 2 of Cups next to each other; opposing suits so both these cards weaken each other.
Noting that the figures in the 2 of Cups are larger than the others I take that as meaning being able to work face to face is really important However, this weakens my ability to be able to work remotely (3 of Wands). On the other hand working remotely will make it very difficult to fully dedicate myself to my work as this requires face to face working (weakened 2 of Cups).
Intuitively, in the context of the question, the 5 of Wands appears to show a group of figures struggling to keep away from each other and expending energy to do it. This reinforces the need to work remotely (3 of Wands). However, being successful in my work (3 of Wands splendidly dressed standing proud) means I may need to work with others face to face. This reinforces the need to make sure precautions are taken to maintain social distancing at work (5 of Wands). Overall, the message of the reading is that I need to work face to face with people but with appropriate safety precautions in place.
I hope in these example readings I have shown you how you can add depth to your intuitive readings by using elemental dignities. I have barely used the actual card meanings in these readings yet the readings, using tarot elemental dignities, have more nuance and provide a richer message than with intuition alone.
If you want to use larger spreads, I provide an example of how to use the Awake Dream method with larger card spreads in the post ‘Tarot for Self-Reflection and Action‘ which is here.
Try elemental dignities out and see if they work for you – you may be surprised how much of an impact using the tarot elemental correspondences have on your readings.
By reading tarot you can gain the agency needed to follow the path in life you want or need through self-reflection. This self-reflection in turn suggests the course of action most likely to help you. In this post, I will demonstrate how to use the tarot as a practical tool for self-reflection and initiating action when you need guidance.
As with all things I write in this blog take what works for you and leave the rest.
Although many people use tarot as a spiritual tool, it also serves as a very practical tool for self-reflection that really resonates. This means you can reflect deeply on all the aspects of a situation; the insight you gain points the way to what you need to do next.
For much more information on reading tarot for yourself effectively, see the posts ‘Reading Tarot For Yourself – 7 Things to Avoid‘ – which you can read here – and ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which is here.
Two Parts to Self-Reflection Using Tarot
The first part to using tarot as a form of regular everyday guidance is reading for yourself and spending the time to reflect on the message the cards are giving you. This seems pretty self-explanatory. However, the second part is to think about how you are going to move forwards by taking action.
Action is crucial because nothing will change if you do not act. You have free will to change what is likely to happen if you do nothing, the future is not set in stone.
Let’s take an example situation which can be stressful and lead to feelings of loss of agency and see how a tarot reading can help us think about how to respond to it.
An Example Tarot Reading
I have chosen a realistic example situation which is very current. During the Coronavirus Pandemic, many people are losing, or have lost, their jobs and even their entire careers. This is certainly true here in the UK. It is a difficult time to find new work as job opportunities are greatly reduced.
Being out of work has many disadvantages. As well as loss of income there are some serious health implications, particularly for mental health. Continual job application rejections can leave a person feeling demoralised and helpless.
So, I did the following reading with this issue in mind. The question I asked is ‘What can the cards tell me about how to deal with being out of work and not finding work?’
The above reading uses the ‘Awake Dream’ method I described in the post ‘How to do an Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which you can read here.
In short, this is a 3 card spread, the positions being Situation; What I Need To Know; Advice working from the bottom up.
Instead of using just 1 card in each position, I used 3 to create a picture – or painting – which tells a story. I then describe what each picture is saying. With this reading I did not use intuition alone, I also used card meanings to add depth to the reading.
The bottom row is Situation. Here the Knight of Cups is leaving the Ace of Pentacles behind – this Ace symbolises new opportunities for work and earning money – in search of this opportunity. Being in the desert with his empty cup he is seeking work and a sense of well being that comes from being able to work and earn. However, his path has been blocked by the Page of Swords who looks like he is actively ready to chop the Knight’s head off.
The Page in the Situation position represents potential employers rejecting you. The Page of Swords represents a new path in terms of ideas and mental clarity. It seems to suggest that you, as the Knight of Cups, need to think again about how you are approaching this – to think rather than to act on your need/strong feeling to find work.
It is worth bearing in mind that the tarot court cards can either literally represent people or, figuratively speaking, behaviours and attitudes to adopt. Here, the Knight of Cups represents the actual querent and the Page of Swords represents both the employer(s) and the attitude the querent needs to adopt moving forward.
What I Need To Know
In the middle row, the King of Cups is the largest figure and appears very isolated. The figures in both the 8 of Cups and the 7 of Swords are moving away from him. The King appears to represent the querent and their need to remain calm amidst the chaos surrounding him.
The retreating figure in the 8 of Cups can represent the feeling of isolation and abandonment that can come from continual application rejections. Note, the King appears to be looking directly at the Moon in the 8 of Cups. This can represent the feeling of anxiety that comes from an uncertain path ahead.
The figure in the 7 of Swords is also sneaking away from the King. He is slightly larger than the figure in the 8 of Cups so may be more important. The 7 of Swords figure could represent the diminishing of potential courses of action or the lack of ideas of how to proceed.
In essence, what you need to know is that you need to remain calm and watch your mental health in the face of receding options and feelings of isolation.
So, we have an understanding of the situation facing the querent and what they need to understand about their situation. What course of action does the cards suggest?
We have the 9 of Swords which shows the effects of extreme stress and anxiety keeping the figure in the bed awake at night. However, notice that the figure is facing away from the Hierophant and the Ace of Cups. These cards represent what the querent should be considering; ignoring them will result in the anxiety and fear shown.
The Hierophant suggests the need to seek help and guidance as to how to proceed and the Ace of Cups, with the water flowing out of the cup and filling up the lake, suggests the need to find a source of emotional well being.
If the querent was religious the obvious message here is to seek guidance through your faith and the church. More practically, perhaps the church could actually help you in some manner directly or point you in the direction of someone or somewhere that can provide you practical help. Seeking guidance through your faith can bring a feeling of well being; the Ace of Cups clearly symbolising the Holy Grail.
What if the querent is not religious? The Hierophant still clearly suggests a need for guidance and information on how to proceed.
The Hierophant card traditionally represents religious institution but it could represent an organisation that could help you or provide you with information on how to proceed. Here in the UK, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau can provide guidance and information. However, if your mental health is suffering, perhaps the Hierophant could suggest speaking to your doctor or seeking help from mental health services.
The Ace of Cups can still represent the need for emotional well being. If your mental health is suffering, it is important that you do something about it. This could mean focusing your attention on something that improves your self esteem, such as a hobby. Or remaining in contact with friends. Anything in fact that makes you feel a sense of self worth and makes you happy.
The overall advice is to seek help and look after your mental health to avoid unbearable stress and worry.
Gaining Control through tarot Self-Reflection
The above example reading demonstrates how, when faced with a situation, you can use the tarot for self-reflection on what is going on and figure out a course of action to help you gain some control over what is happening.
The example is based on a serious situation but this use of tarot can be applied to most situations you can think of.
Having done the reading, you then need to put the advice into action. I strongly recommend keeping a tarot journal so you can record your readings. Write an entry in the journal about your reflection and what you are going to do. Keep referring back to this entry to remind you to act.
Then act. In the above example, perhaps start a search online for local organisations or services that could help you in this situation. Here in the UK, your first port of call when it comes to mental health would be your GP (doctor) but there are charities you could also contact such as MIND, or the Samaritans if your mental health is in a serious state.
Tarot self-reflection can put you in the driving seat. You don’t have to be buffeted about by the currents of life. You can use tarot to help you steer the path you want or need.
So, the next time you are facing a situation and you feel the need for guidance, take your tarot deck, do some reflecting and take the wheel!
In this post I will show you an easy technique which will enable you to do a powerful intuitive tarot reading – the ‘Awake Dream’ method. Being able to read tarot intuitively is important for many types of tarot readings and will make it easier to start using tarot quickly and to help you work through everyday situations.
There is a common myth that in order to be able to read tarot you need to learn Qabalah (Jewish mysticism), astrology, numerology, elemental dignities, various card meanings etc. While knowledge of these things can certainly help you read the cards many people read tarot without ever doing any formal study. You can read more on this myth – and other tarot myths – in the post ‘9 Tarot Myths – False…Or True?‘ which you can read here.
You also don’t need to be psychic. But, intuitive tarot reading will strengthen those intuitive muscles generally. The more you use tarot intuitively, the better your intuition will become.
Which decks to use?
The technique I am going to describe was first presented by tarot author and deck creator Robert M. Place in his book ‘The Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism.’ Place used one of his own decks to illustrate the method but the technique works well with the ever popular Rider Waite Smith Tarot (RWS). Other classic tarot decks that can be used include the Morgan Greer Tarot and the Aquarian Tarot.
Place’s own decks, The Alchemical Tarot and the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, will also work very well if you can get hold of them.
The main features that determine if the deck will be right for this technique are:
The deck should have human figures and/or animals which face mainly straight ahead, to the left, and to the right. The art work should not be too ‘busy’ or cluttered which will make interpreting the pictures less effortful.
This means some decks, including the esoteric Thoth Tarot and pip decks, are completely unsuitable. However, the Tarot de Marseille Major Arcana work very well. For more information on choosing a tarot deck and the different tarot systems see the post ‘Choosing and Buying a Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which you can read here.
The Awake Dream Tarot Reading
This type of reading uses 3 cards and does not use reversed tarot cards. When you lay out the 3 cards, put them close together and view all 3 cards as forming one picture, or painting, which tells a story. Essentially, the picture will form the sort of image you may get in a dream, hence ‘Awake Dream.’
Forget any card meanings you may know for now. But, you do need to have a clear question in mind to get any benefit from the reading. For more on the importance of a clear question see the post ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which you can read here.
What is important to look for are where people are looking or gesturing. For instance, is one person turning their back on another person so it looks like they are ignoring the second person? Then that’s what they are doing. If someone is gesturing with their hands or gazing, look to see where the gesture or gaze is focused on. Are two people looking at each other? This could signify a meeting.
Here is an example to illustrate the Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading. The question I asked was ‘What do I need to know about work?’
The 3 cards have formed one ‘picture’ and there is definitely a story here. All you really have to do is describe what is happening in the context of the question. There are several ways I interpreted the reading:
‘I have to put being comfortable at home behind me and focus on finding work that pays well.’ ‘I need to search thoroughly online for roles that will pay me enough so that I have no financial worries at home.’ ‘When it comes to work, I want to have a good balance between providing for the family and having a great home life – finding a work life balance.’
I didn’t draw on my knowledge of card meanings or suit elemental energies to do this reading – I just interpreted the cards with my question in mind. If you want, you can use the card meanings to help deepen the reading but do this after the intuitive part.
One example of using the meanings in this reading is:
‘To have a very satisfying home life I really need to be in full control of looking for good paying roles, so I need to put enjoying time at home behind me for now.’
3 cards are all you really need to gain insight into many situations. But, if you want a more detailed tarot reading, you can use this method in a tarot spread.
Using the Awake Dream with a spread
If you want to use this method of intuitive tarot reading with a (small) tarot spread, you can. Instead of using 1 card in each spread position, you use 3 cards in each position to create the picture.
Here is the same reading as above but I have made it a ‘3’ card spread with 3 cards in each spread position. This is essentially a 3 card ‘Situation, What do I need to know, Advice‘ spread with 3 cards in each position instead of 1. So now we have 9 cards!
The bottom row is the ‘Situation‘ position and is the same as my first Awake Dream reading. The second row is the ‘What do I need to know‘ position and the top row is ‘Advice.’
For ‘Situation’ I kept the interpretations I described above. For ‘What do I need to know‘ my intuitive reading told me that the soul destroying nature of looking for work plus dealing with the strictures and regulations in organisations is going to lead to disappointment.
My advice to myself for the top ‘Advice’ position? To find fulfilling and rewarding work, I need to network with other people and then really act vigorously on what results from that.
For another, more detailed, example of an Awake Dream intuitive reading, see the post ‘Tarot For Self-Reflection And Action‘ which you can find here.
More tips on the Awake Dream intuitive reading
With the ‘3 card as one picture’ method of the Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading, don’t simply start reading the cards from left to right. Instead look at the picture as a whole.
In the example I gave above, the top ‘Advice’ row looked as though the reading progressed from right to left with the gardener in the 3 of Wands looking to his left. Same for the middle row.
Sometimes, the direction someone is facing can indicate whether the past or the future is involved. If a figure is looking to the left that could indicate the past; if they are looking to the right that could mean looking forward to the future. Looking straight ahead may mean ‘right now.’ This may not apply for every reading.
If you have one person on one card smaller than a person on another card, the larger person may indicate greater importance. For instance, in the middle row of the reading above, the Emperor is much larger than the figure in the 5 of Cups. This told me that the structures and regulations in the organisations may be overbearing and too much to handle. At least in the context of this reading about work!
Sometimes the people may represent actual people, other times they may represent behaviours to adopt.
A good way of practising this style of reading is to do a daily ‘Awake Dream’ reading in the morning or evening instead of the normally recommended 1 card draw.
I do this myself and I usually ask the question ‘What do I need to know about today?’
Practice regularly, daily if possible. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Using the Tarot de Marseille (TdM)
Traditionally only the major arcana of the TdM are used in readings. The Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading style is also known as the Open Reading method when it comes to using the TdM. The Open Reading normally only uses 3 cards which is often more than you need.
Here is an example of a majors only TdM Awake Dream/Open Reading on the same ‘What do I need to know about work?’ question.
The same things apply: look which direction people are facing; look where the people are gazing or gesturing to; are the people looking straight ahead; etc.
Again, the 3 cards form one picture. Think of it as a painting with 3 panels which tells a story. Don’t read the cards individually and don’ t use meanings – treat the cards as if they do not have meanings. Just let the pictures on the cards describe themselves.
For this reading I interpreted the answer as:
‘Setting out to look for work I really need to weigh up and be critical about what is going to give me the best chance of improving my circumstances. Don’t necessarily take the first role that comes along.‘
That in a nutshell is how you can easily read the Tarot de Marseille!
Exercise your Intuition
It’s worth repeating what I wrote earlier, the more you practice this way of intuitively reading the tarot the easier it becomes and the more intuitive you will become.
You may already naturally be very intuitive but if you are not you can improve. Think of your intuition as a primitive, instinctive ‘muscle’ that needs regular exercise to make stronger. Our modern society has dulled our intuition to a great degree but we are all capable of developing this instinct further.
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/Prince
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.