Main image courtesy of Beliefnet.
Tarot has been around for centuries, emerging in the 1400s as a gambling game. Although many of us today associate Tarot with divination and seeing the future-- the way it’s portrayed in movies-- it actually wasn’t until the late 18th century that the cards started being used as a spiritual tool. The art of Tarot has developed a lot since then, but until recently, it has always been a bit of a niche interest surrounded by misconceptions.
In recent years, though, Tarot reading has exploded in popularity, largely breaking through the occult misconceptions that have conventionally surrounded it. Although many still consider Tarot a form of divination, most people have come to view their readings as a way to gain insight into current situations in their lives-- a method of self-reflection and growth, not just divine interference. In a modern world fraught with uncertainty and questions about the future as well as the present, it only makes sense that Tarot has risen to the heights it has-- everyone can use some self-reflection at one point or another.
In response to Tarot reading’s rise in popularity, more and more creatives and intuitives have illustrated and published new decks to meet the demands of readers with varying personalities, interests, and needs. But it can be difficult to track down this great variety of decks, especially when you’re just starting out with Tarot.
So-- where can you buy your first Tarot cards, and how should you go about it?
The first thing to know about buying Tarot cards is that they are different from oracle cards. Oracle card decks can appear similar to Tarot decks, and are often used in a relatively similar way. However, unlike Tarot decks, oracle card decks have much less structure, and their contents vary widely depending on the artist. Consequently, they can be more difficult to get used to and learn to read well.
Tarot decks, by contrast, always have basically the same contents and meanings for each card. Although different decks are of course unique, their differences are largely confined to the artist’s stylistic choices for each card. Consequently, Tarot offers more structured readings than oracle cards.
A Tarot deck should always include 78 cards. 22 of these cards make up the Major Arcana, which represent archetypes and representations of major events in the reader’s life. These include characters like the Fool, the Lovers, or the Devil, or significant concepts like Justice, Temperance, and Judgment.
The other 56 cards are called the Minor Arcana, and they are divided into four suits similar to regular playing cards-- wands, swords, pentacles, and cups, each of which focuses on a different facet of life. These 56 cards usually refer to more ordinary life events, calling attention to parts of your daily life that may require reflection. If you’re planning on buying a Tarot deck, make sure that it includes all of these cards-- otherwise, you’ll be missing significant archetypes in your readings and may have trouble with interpretation.
Perhaps the easiest way to buy a Tarot deck is through a regular bookstore. Vendors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble sell several Tarot decks, so if you don’t want to go searching too far or don’t know how to start, these are good places to look.
However, these major stores tend to be limited in the variety of decks that they sell. They will usually offer the major Tarot decks-- those that have been picked up by traditional publishers and mass-produced. These include decks such as Morgan-Reer, The Modern Witch, and Rider-Waite-Smith, all of which are pretty widely acknowledged as great and versatile decks. If you’re just starting out with Tarot and aren’t familiar with the cards yet, many experts suggest sticking with one of these popular decks to start with-- this way, you’ll likely have an easier time of getting familiar with the basic imagery and meanings used in Tarot.
If the art on these major decks doesn’t suit you, though-- or if you just want to branch out and make sure that your Tarot readings are more reflective of your personality, specifically-- there are plenty of other options. Indie artists are always designing and printing Tarot decks with unique styles and symbolism-- the trick is finding where these decks are sold.
Sites like Etsy and Kickstarter offer a plethora of unique Tarot decks designed by Indie artists, and can be a great way for you to get familiar with the Tarot community while supporting the artists and intuitives that lift it up. Kickstarter in particular is interesting here-- the site allows buyers to pledge funds to unique, limited-time Tarot decks created by independent artists. Once a project is funded, it is produced and sent out-- so even though you won’t get overnight shipping as an option with Kickstarter, you will get the opportunity to find unique cards that may never be printed again.
There are also several online vendors that specialize in Tarot, if you’re looking for more detailed information about the art of Tarot reading as well as the decks you’re looking at. Little Red Tarot, Tarot Arts, and 13 Moons are among these sites-- they all sell a variety of card decks as well as other divination tools and resources to help you get familiar with Tarot.
If you’re a little hesitant to buy a deck online, or just prefer to shop in person, that’s fine, too. In addition to the major decks available at bookstores, you can search up local spiritual or magic stores, which almost always carry Tarot decks. Not all places have one of these shops close by, but it can be rewarding to go in person to support them if you’re able to.
Having an idea of where to start shopping for your Tarot deck is only part of the challenge-- next, you’ll have to figure out how to pick the right deck for you.
At any vendor or marketplace you choose to use, you’ll want to pay special attention to the imagery and art styles on the Tarot decks you choose from. Different artists can have vastly different takes on the same cards, selecting different color palettes and styles and representing the same concept in unique ways that highlight what they value most.
These artistic differences often influence each deck as a whole and the types of readings that Tarot readers get from them. This is what many Tarot readers call the “personality” of a deck-- the imagery, color, and composition on each card can call attention to things or ideas that the same card in a different deck would not. For this reason, experienced readers like to own multiple decks in different styles-- they will often naturally shift between decks based on art style as different situations seem to call for different kinds of readings.
With all this in mind, the general advice when purchasing a Tarot deck is to go with the deck that speaks to you the most. As with the art of Tarot reading itself, you can interpret that however you think best. Some people recommend buying any deck that compels you in the moment-- that way, you don’t miss any opportunities, and you find out which ones work best for you in different situations when you gravitate toward them naturally for your readings. For others, it’s useful to take time deliberating before purchasing a deck. If you aren’t sure at first, but one deck or another seems to stick in your mind after leaving the store-- then that’s likely the one that will prove most useful to you at the moment.
If you still aren’t sure-- if you want outside advice about a particular deck-- then you might be able to locate a deck review online. A deck review often involves other Tarot readers breaking down the style, strengths, and perceived “personality” of a specific deck, as well as how well it seems to work for them-- and while someone else’s experience with a set of cards is unlikely to be identical to your own, it can still be useful to take that experience into account. Some websites, like Aeclectic Tarot, are dedicated to providing reviews of different decks, so you can do your research if you feel compelled to.
In the end, how you go about selecting your Tarot decks is entirely up to you-- your needs and aesthetic sensibilities are unique, so the way you interact with different art styles and imagery will also be unique. As long as you aim to find the deck that fits you in particular and take the time to grow accustomed to it, with its symbolism and personality, you’ll be likely to glean plenty of useful insight from your readings.