Why Your First Tarot Deck Matters

July 16, 2021

Why Your First Tarot Deck Matters - What Makes a Good Beginner's Tarot Deck? | Happy As Annie

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A lot of people say it doesn’t matter what tarot deck you get. As long as you like it and feel connected to it, you’re good. Is that true?

I’m here to burst your bubble a little bit and say NOT ALWAYS! If you’re serious about learning to read tarot – and want to learn tarot easily – then it definitely matters what tarot deck you get as a beginner.

Watch or read on below to find out why.

Let’s compare three tarot decks

In this post, I’ll compare three different tarot decks to show you exactly why your first tarot deck matters a lot when it comes to learning to read tarot cards. The three decks I compare are:

  1. The classic Rider Waite Smith deck
  2. The Modern Witch Tarot deck by Lisa Sterle
  3. Tattoo Tarot: Ink & Intuition

The first two decks – the Rider Waite Smith deck and the Modern Witch Tarot – are fantastic beginner’s decks. Tattoo Tarot? Not so much, even though it’s a gorgeous and popular deck. Let’s take a look at why that is.

Not all tarot decks are created with the beginner in mind.

Many people start with decks that are gorgeous, artsy, quirky, novelty, or abstract. These decks are beautiful and the person is drawn to that deck. They think all tarot decks are pretty much the same and they may even have heard the advice that you can start with any deck you want. I’ve even given this advice! I mean, it’s possible to learn to read tarot with any deck. That much is true.

However, as a tarot instructor for people who are serious about learning to read tarot cards for real – without looking up tarot card meanings and still getting to the heart of the tarot’s message – it pains me when people start with a “bad” learner’s deck adn then get frustrated and even give up on learning to read tarot!

That’s what I’m trying to prevent here.

Tarot decks can be captivating works of art. It is no wonder that mystical-minded artists choose tarot as a vehicle for their beautiful illustrations and interpretations of the archetypes and symbolism of the tarot. But not al tarot artists have the traditional tarot card meanings in mind. Not all tarot artists are serious tarot readers. This means that even though these decks are beautiful and certainly worthy of admiring and purchasing and collecting, they are not created with the goal of helping you learn and read tarot more easily. And that’s totally fine!

But when it comes to making your decision about which tarot deck to buy as a beginner tarot reader, you should keep that in mind.

Tarot Course for Beginners - Learn to Read Tarot Cards Online Course

The good news, by the way, is that once you learn the meanings of the tarot cards with a better beginner’s deck, you’ll remember the imagery of that deck and can then use any deck to give a reading. It’s like starting guitar lessons and wanting to learn Stairway to Heaven right away. You have to learn basic chords and strumming patterns first before you can reward yourself with playing your favorite rock song. Or else you’ll only know how to play Stairway to Heaven – not guitar in general.

A good beginner’s tarot deck will have helpful imagery

Below are the three tarot decks I mentioned above. From left to right, we have the classic Rider deck, the Modern Witch tarot deck, and the Tattoo Tarot deck.

Why Your First Tarot Deck Matters - What Makes a Good Beginner's Tarot Deck? | Happy As Annie. classic rider waite smith tarot, modern with tarot deck, tattoo tarot

Now when it comes to the Major Arcana card,s some people will get ricked. The cards in the Major Arcana are usually suepr symbolic and iconic. Which means that even in a deck like Tattoo Tarot, it looks fine: The necessary symbolism from the original Rider Waite deck seems to be there. So what’s the problem?

The Minor Arcana will usually let us know a good beginner’s or learner’s tarot deck form a not-so-great one.

The imagery of a tarot deck’s Minor Arcana will let you know if it’s a good beginner’s deck

To show you exactly what I mean, let’s ask a hypothetical tarot question and then pull the same card from each of these three decks to answer the question. The imagery in a good beginner’s tarot deck for tarot newbies will act as an answer key. If it’s not the classic Rider deck, it will stay close enough to the rich and symbolic imagery of the Rider deck to allow you to do a basic interpretation of the card without running to a guide book or website to look up the card’s meaning.

Hypothetical situation #1

Let’s say we ask the tarot: What is holding me back from success in my business? Your answer? The Eight of Swords.

Why Your First Tarot Deck Matters - What Makes a Good Beginner's Tarot Deck? | Happy As Annie

When I teach people to read tarot, I insist that they give themselves a chance to intuitively interpret the imagery of the card before they rush to look it up in the deck’s booklet or on a website. If you do that, you’re not giving your intuition a chance to work, which defeats the purpose of using tarot in my opinion.

What do we see in the Eight of Swords? I see a figure tied up and blindfolded. That tells me she’s incapacitated, stuck, unable to get out of some kind of predicament. I didn’t look that up. That’s just me using my eyes and brain to give myself a basic feel for the card. Now, there’s more to this card – what do swords mean exactly? What’s with the puddles of water and the position of her feet? We can go into that by looking the card up, and I encourage you to get into all of these details in my online course. But to do a basic reading, give yourself a chance to get the gist of the card first.

(Related: Tough Decision? How to Do a Tarot Reading for Yourself)

Let’s take a look at the Eight of Swords in the other two decks now to see if the imagery is as helpful as the original Rider Waite deck is.

Why Your First Tarot Deck Matters - What Makes a Good Beginner's Tarot Deck? | Happy As Annie. classic rider waite smith tarot, modern with tarot deck, tattoo tarot

The Eight of Swords in the Modern Witch deck contains that same basic imagery. We see a figure wrapped up and blindfolded, seemingly stuck and unable to get out of the situation in which she finds herself. The imagery acts as an answer key or a cheat sheet! It’s fabulous! And, in fact, that’s why I don’t understand why so many people ask for keywords and cheat sheets for the meaning of each card when they are first starting out. I know that we all learn in different ways – I’m a professor after all! I get that! – But the visual language of tarot gives us the basic answer we need.

That is, if we are starting out with a good beginner’s tarot deck.

After all, just take a look at the Eight of Swords from the tattoo tarot. I couldn’t even see all eight swords at once. I thought there were three in the back and four in the front, but that’s only seven. Then I realized the vertical one in the center is actually two swords – like, dude, I can’t even count the number of swords let alone go beyond that. Okay fine. Eight swords. In a really cool design with a nautical star in the middle.

What do I do with that?

I have no choice but look up that card!

There is nothing about that card that tells me there’s a feeling of being trapped, limited, stuck, not knowing how to get out.

(Numerology helps, the essence of the suit of swords helps, the fact that Tattoo Tarot is a Marseilles deck tells us how to approach it, sure. But still. As a beginner who has no idea what they are doing, I hope you get the point I’m trying to make about things to consider when you are deciding what first tarot deck to get.)

Hypothetical situation #2

Let’s do another example. What if we ask the tarot:  Where or how can I meet the love of my life? And you get the Page of Pentacles.

Why Your First Tarot Deck Matters - What Makes a Good Beginner's Tarot Deck? | Happy As Annie. classic rider waite smith tarot, modern with tarot deck, tattoo tarot

Now, again, when you are first starting out, you’re not doing yourself a favor by rushing to look up the meaning of a card right away. Looking thing sup and reading up on it is crucial to learning. I just don’t believe in doing that first – right away – in the middle of your tarot reading.

So, as I’ve said before, take some time to peer into the imagery of the card and get a feel for what’s going on.

When we look at the Page of Pentacles in the Rider Waite Smith deck – the original answer key deck – what do we see? Well, a page if a young, beginner-type person. An amateur, if you will. He’s smartly dressed and standing in a forest holding a golden coin in his hands. The coin is held up to his face, almost in a reverent, awed way. He’s looking into it curiously, as if for the first time. Okay, so he’s having a new experience. Checking something out for the first time! Maybe learning about something he’s never studied before. Maybe we should seek experiences like that in order to find the love of our life (because remember – that was our question).

BOOM. That’s a legitimate answer and interpretation, and we did it just by using our eyes and brains.

And guess what? With another great beginner’s deck like the Modern Witch Tarot, which clones – or stays close to – the imagery of the Rider Waite  Smith deck, you would probably come up with that same observation. In fact, I love this page in the Modern Witch deck, pictured in the center of the image above, because the backpack and eyeglasses refer even more to a curious student (stereotypes of a student, sure, but that’s how symbols work).

Does this same technique work with the Knave of Coins in the Tattoo Tarot deck? Nopity nope nope. Why not? You tell me. The card is beautiful. I love the emerald green and the illustration is beautiful. But I just see a young guy, which makes sense for a Knave or Page. But that’s it. What of him? What is he trying to tell me? How is he different from any of the other pages? We simply don’t get as much help with this imagery as we do with the imagery of the other decks.

Tarot Course for Beginners - Learn to Read Tarot Cards Online Course

Once you know the meanings, you can read with literally any deck!

The good news is that once you have learned the meanings of the cards, you can use any deck you want!

When you start with a good beginner’s deck, allow yourself to dive into the imagery and interpret the cards for yourselves before looking up the meanings to reinforce or add to your own interpretations, you will naturally remember, over time, what each of the cards means. No memorizing or rote learning necessary! And it’ll happen faster than you think because you’ll grow more confident and reassured in your ability to fudge or guess because you’ll realize that your “guesses” are not that far off from the recorded meanings. That’s because the imagery is the way it is for a reason.  It’s steering you to a specific interpretation. That’s how tarot imagery works.

Now that I have the meanings down pat because I started with the Rider Waite Smith deck, I can read with the Tattoo Tarot and other artsy or novelty decks just fine. Because I already have a handle on the meanings. If I were just starting out and tried to learn with some of those more abstract or modern decks, I know I would not have been as successful. I would have gotten confused and frustrated and maybe would have even stopped studying tarot!

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  • Reply Naomi July 23, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    This is a great read, you’ve really explained what makes a good beginner’s tarot deck. I’ve been looking at Kickstarter lately and there are so many beautiful, artistic decks on there, I was wondering how someone would choose a good deck.

    • Reply HappyAsAnnie July 24, 2021 at 8:36 am

      Kickstarter has sooo many good ones, Naomi! Hope this post helps you make a selection (or two or three…)

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