Major Arcana Meanings Part 2: Hierophant To Strength

Major Arcana Meanings Hierophant to Strength
The Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

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

Major Arcana Meanings The Hierophant
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

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

Major Arcana Meanings The Lovers
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

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

Major Arcana Meanings The Chariot
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

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

Strength card. The suppression of the Ego.
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

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.

Next Time…

In part 3 i’ll look at The Hermit through to The Hanged Man

Major Arcana Only Reading For Extra Impact

Three Major Arcana from the Tarot of Prague 3rd Edition
Tarot of Prague 3rd Edition copyright Alex Ukolov and Karen Mahony

Tarot major arcana only readings can be especially powerful. I will look at using only the major arcana cards in a tarot reading; why you would want to do this; how to prepare for a major arcana only reading; and cover some major arcana only spreads.

What are the Major Arcana?

It was the 19th century French occultist Paul Christian who named the 22 trump cards as the ‘Major Arcana’, the word ‘arcana’ meaning ‘secrets.’ Christian believed that the trump cards contained secret spiritual knowledge in their centuries old images.

Tarot historians believe the 22 trump cards were added to a playing card deck to create the earliest known tarot decks. These decks were used for playing a trick taking game and the trump cards would of course ‘trump’ any lower rank cards.

The Visconti Sforza Tarot - one of the earliest known tarot decks.
The Visconti Tarot created by Bonifacio Bembo around 1450 is one of the earliest tarot decks

Since the late 18th century when tarot decks were beginning to be used for divination, the trumps/major arcana have held greater significance than the other cards of the deck. The major arcana now are usually regarded as representing important life and karmic lessons. Each of these lessons must be learnt for progression towards fulfilment of one’s path in life.

Why use only the Major Arcana in a reading?

Due to the extra significance normally given to the major arcana in a reading using the full 78 card deck, using just the major arcana can really give a tarot reading increased impact.

The major arcana, used by itself as a 22 card deck, will give you a very direct, clear and quite unambiguous reading. There are some tarot readers who argue that, by not using the full deck, a reading will not be as deep or detailed. But there are no rules when it comes to tarot reading. If you want a no nonsense reading that won’t have you scratching your head, a majors only reading is the way to go.

If there is a really important, potentially life changing issue, where you want to gain clarity and insight, a majors only reading could be the way to go. Or maybe you just want a really clear answer without needing to spent too much time deciphering the card’s meanings. Again, the major arcana by themselves can help you.

The Minor Arcana By Themselves?

Alternatively, if you are dealing with everyday issues and you don’t want to confuse things with major karmic influences, you could just take out the major arcana and use the 56 minor arcana which deal more with ‘normal’ life issues and behaviour. This isn’t sacrilege and there will not be any decrease in the effectiveness of your reading. Remember, there are no rules in tarot reading.

Preparing for a majors only reading

To complete a majors only reading all you have to do is take out the 22 major arcana cards from whatever deck you are using. Then simply shuffle the majors and use them as a 22 card deck. Simple.

There are some majors only decks available but you don’t really need to use these. I just like to use a 78 card deck and take out the majors if I want a majors only reading. Then, if I want to use the full 78 card deck, I just put the majors back in. A majors only deck will not give you that flexibility.

Major Arcana Only Spreads

There are some tarot spreads that are meant to be used only with the major arcana. Of course you could use the major arcana in any tarot spread you want (so long as it has 22 or fewer positions!) The following are some spreads that I have found particularly useful which are only for use with the majors.

Four Winds Major Arcana Spread

This spread can be found in the book ‘Genius of the Tarot‘ by Vincent Pitisci. This is a good spread for really helping you think about an issue in a rounded manner.

Four Winds Major Arcana Spread using the Balbi Tarot
Four Winds spread with the Balbi Tarot copyright Heraclio Fournier

Spread Positions

  1. North: What are your thoughts and ideas on this issue?
  2. South: What are your feelings on the issue?
  3. East: What inspires you or drives you regarding this issue?
  4. West: What practical steps do you need to think about/do regarding the issue?

The centre card is known as the Quintessence card, the overall message of the reading. It’s found by adding all the numerical values of the other four cards and continue adding until you reach 22 or less. I tend to treat the Fool as 22. In the above example that means adding 3+11+19+1=34. 3+4=7.

7 is the Chariot so the overall message of the above reading would be to focus your willpower and pull all your strengths and assets together to succeed.

Path & Goal Major Arcana Spread

I found this spread in the book ‘Complete Book of Tarot Spreads‘ by Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig. It’s unusual in that you don’t randomly choose the cards from the deck. Instead, you choose the card that represents where you are now and the card that represents where you want to be. The third card, The Path, is then found by counting the steps to go from card 1 to card 2.

Follow the Path Major Arcana Spread using the Alchemical Tarot Renewed 5th Edition
Path & Goal spread with the Alchemical Tarot Renewed 5th Edition copyright Robert M. Place

Spread Positions (from left to right)

  1. Where you stand now
  2. Where you want to be
  3. Your Path

In the above example, we count from Strength, Card 11 of the major arcana in this deck, to The Sun, Card 19. That’s 8 steps. That gives us Justice, Card 8 in the Alchemical Tarot.

The Witches’ Pentagram

Witches Pentagram Major Arcana Spread
Witches’ Pentagram spread with the Tarot of A.E. Waite (Premium Edition) copyright AGM Urania

This major arcana only tarot spread goes by several different names but I first learnt it as the Witches’ Pentagram. It serves as a good general overview spread to look at different aspects of your situation. As an option you can find the Quintessence card in the same manner as in the Four Winds spread to give you the overall message of the reading.

Spread Positions (anti clockwise from top)

  1. Top: Spirit – what is your goal?
  2. Left: What do you think about the situation?
  3. Bottom Left: What practical steps do you need to take?
  4. Bottom Right: Where do you need to focus your energy?
  5. Right: How do you feel about the situation?

The Tarot de Marseille Cross

The Tarot de Marseille (TdM) is a centuries old historical tarot deck that predates the Rider Waite Smith tarot. It is a non-esoteric deck meaning that it does not include occult symbolism. The deck was originally intended for playing card games but is now more commonly used for divination. I talk about the TdM in the post ‘Choosing And Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which is here.

The TdM is most commonly used in France and, traditionally, only the major arcana are used in a reading. The following spread is the Cross which is a good 4 card overview spread that can help with problem solving.

Tarot de Marseille Cross Spread using the Playing Marseille Tarot
The Cross Spread using the Playing Marseille Tarot copyright US Games Systems

Spread Positions (Starting left to right then top to bottom)

  1. Left: What is in your favour?
  2. Right: What is not in your favour/what opposes you?
  3. Top: Overall synthesis/analysis of the situation described in cards 1 & 2.
  4. Bottom: Outcome/Advice (choose ‘advice’ if you want to think about practical steps to take)

The Open Reading

This last major arcana only spread actually isn’t really a spread at all. The Open Reading is a method of reading the TdM which uses 3 cards but the spread positions are not determined in advance. This reading style is similar to the ‘The Awake Dream’ method I discussed in the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which is here. The Open Reading is discussed in the book ‘The Marseille Tarot Revealed‘ by Yoav Ben-Dov.

In the Open Reading, you place the 3 cards down (reversals are not used) and then determine if there are any positions that seem likely such as Passive Thought, Situation, Action. There may not be any spread positions at all and, instead, you look at the direction of gazes, hand gestures, and the direction people are facing as in the Awake Dream method. Card meanings can be used in the reading.

Tarot de Marseille Open Reading using the Hadar Tarot de Marseille
An Open Reading using the Hadar TdM copyright Editions De Mortagne

If you want to use the TdM then I highly recommend the Open Reading technique; it takes a bit of getting used to but it is a powerful tarot major arcana only reading style.

Other Spreads

The spreads above are all ones i’ve used quite often but i’m certain there are many more. And remember, you don’t need to use a specific spread – just use any spread you like. The type of spread that would work best with just the major arcana would be ones that have general positions rather than narrowly defined positions. The next time you want to do a tarot reading, try using only the major arcana and see what impact this has on the message you receive from the cards.

Happy tarot reading!

How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading

Intuitive Tarot Reading

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?’

Intuitive Tarot Reading
Rider Tarot Deck copyright US Games Systems

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!

Intuitive tarot reading using a tarot spread
Rider Tarot Deck copyright US Games Systems

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.

Intuitive Tarot reading using the Tarot de Marseille
Hadar Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

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.

Happy Tarot Reading!

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!