Tarot Deck Reviews & Recommendations

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Magickal-Musings Nefer Khepri Hemet

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I receive e-mails almost on a daily basis from people interested in buying their first Tarot deck, but they have no idea where to start.  It's no wonder considering there are well over 500 decks in print!  Searching for a new deck can be a mind-boggling experience, but it doesn't have to be that way.

As you search for your deck, keep two things in mind if you are a beginner:

1) You will need a deck that has fully illustrated "pips," otherwise known as the Minor Arcana; and,

2) You will want a deck that is aesthetically pleasing to your own personal artistic tastes.

It is very important that the pips are illustrated in a beginner's deck.  This is the Minor Arcana, the 56 cards upon which the modern playing deck is based upon.  It consists of 4 suits, most commonly called Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles.  Many use other names such as Rods for Wands, Knives for Swords, Chalices for Cups, and Coins or Disks for Pentacles.  Each suit is comprised of 14 cards numbered Ace through King, which includes four Court Cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King).  Many artists in designing their decks pay much more attention to the 22 Major Arcana cards (The Fool, Magician, etc ...) than they do the pips, consequently, the Majors are beautiful symbol-laden cards and the pips may not be much to look at.  In some cases they are merely an illustration of the card's title.  For example, the 3 of Cups will just be a picture of three cups.  The 9 of Wands will show a picture of simply 9 wands.  No other symbols are present to give the beginner a clue as to what the card means.  Use of such a deck by a beginner, in my opinion, leads them to become overly dependent upon the accompanying book.  They therefore absorb the author's interpretations of those cards, use only those, and fail to develop their own personal and unique translations.

As a result, I recommend decks that have fully illustrated pip cards.  For instance, the 3 of Cups is interpreted as happiness, a social gathering, sincere friendship, and basically having a good time.  It's a happy card.  On many decks this is illustrated by three women (sometimes nude) dancing together and each of them holds up a cup.  That is an example of a fully illustrated pip card.  From looking at the picture anyone can tell these women are happy,  so when this card shows up in your reading you immediately say to yourself, "Oh, this card has positive connotations," and you would be 100% correct without ever having to look at the guide book that comes with your cards.  

The Deck Reviews that appear below are for decks that I have used extensively myself and therefore, I can fully recommend them.  The first section is for beginners.  There is another section of reviews that follows that are meant for more advanced users.

Please check back from time to time as I will be adding more decks.

The purchase of a Tarot deck can be a bit daunting because if you purchase in a store that does not have sample decks you can easily glance through you won't know what the cards look like except for the very few that will be illustrated on the packaging.  That is why I recommend purchasing on-line.  There are two links at the bottom of this page where you can find a huge sample of Tarot Decks, Oracle Cards, and they are accompanied by illustrations that give you a very good idea of what the overall deck looks and feels like.   My personal recommendations are below.  All of my recommendations, unless otherwise noted, come with fully illustrated pip cards.

Have fun choosing your own deck!  My first deck, which I still own, was a Rider-Waite deck I found  in the trash can because Mom threw hers out.  She claimed that they didn't work, but they just worked fine for me. 

The decks I can recommend wholeheartedly, all of which are perfect for the beginner because:

1) they are beautiful,

2) they have full figural representations on all the cards, and

3) they come with pretty good self-contained instruction booklets  

 

For each deck below, if you wish to see some examples, please click on the title of the deck.

(images are forthcoming.  To see illustrations of the cards now, click on either link at the bottom and run a search on that card's title to find images)

  Decks For Beginners

1) The Robin Wood Tarot, published by Llewellyn for $19.95 - the accompanying info isn't that involved so you'll want a good book on Tarot interpretation as well, unless you get the new book and card set. The book can also be purchased separately later on, if you desire.   These are beautiful renditions in the Rider-Waite Tradition.  I would recommend that one as well, but the artwork isn't as nice.  You can find the Robin Wood Tarot deck online easily enough.  I've never seen it in stores, though.  I got mine through a catalogue.

  2) The Nigel Jackson Tarot, published by Llewellyn for $24.95 (now called Medieval Enchantment,).    More expensive because it has a small paperback book and the whole thing comes in a nice boxed set that measures 4 X 6" and about 1 1/4" deep.  This is the deck I have long used for at-home clientele.  It has full figural representation on all the cards with the artwork done in watercolor pencil and it is really beautiful, with mostly soft pastel colors.  A perfect deck for a woman.  I was very surprised to discover the artist is a man!   Comes with a very decent LWB (to tarot enthusiasts that means Little White Book, which is a card-size guide book to the deck).  The LWB is quite extensive, well written, and the cards are well defined.  Jackson's artwork consists of watercolor with pen and ink outlining done in black, with also some small detailing done also in black.  The watercolors are muted, mostly pastel in shade, and are beautiful.  Faces can look a bit harsh so that can take some getting used to, but a beautiful deck all the same and easy for beginners to grasp.

  3) The Rider-Waite Tarot, published by US Games, Inc.  This is the deck that most people start out with because it was the first deck mass-published, back in 1910.  It's big plus is that it has full figural representations on all cards and many Tarot books use this deck to illustrate their book of tarot interpretations.  

4) Hansen-Roberts Tarot (comes in card and book set or you can buy the deck alone with a LWB included).  Very nice colored pencil renditions of soft imagery, very innocent looking, and the cards are smaller so they are easier to handle.  This is basically done in the Rider-Waite Tradition as well.  

  5) World Spirit Tarot, published by Llewellyn for $24.95.  Like the Nigel Jackson Tarot, this one is also a boxed set, measuring 4 X 6" and 1 1/2" high with a self-contained paperback book of card interpretations.  This deck was done by a woman and it is VERY unique in that she carved out linoleum blocks, then made prints with her Tarot blocks and hand tinted them.  I can't figure out what medium she used to tint them, maybe markers, but they are really beautiful with rich vibrant colors.  This deck has a very ethnic flavor to it.  It is tinted in bright colors too, so with the black linoleum print it is a very appealing deck.  It looks awesome against a black reading cloth.  Imagery is done very much in the Rider-Waite Tradition, so again, this is a good deck for beginners.

 

Those are my top 5 picks for beginners.   I suggest you treat yourself to one of these.  You may see something else that really grabs your eye.  If so, be sure that the Minor Arcana is fully illustrated.  Many artists wimp out after they've completed the 22 Major Arcana cards, which are usually the most beautiful and most symbolic-laden cards in any deck.  Then they skimp on the minors and simply paint 6 cups for the 6 of Cups card, 4 Swords for the 4 of Swords card, and so on.  There is no symbolism and it's very difficult for anyone new to tarot to learn the meanings of the Minor Arcana by using such a deck.  

 

Intermediate to Advanced Tarot Readers

 

6)  The Egyptian Tarot by Clive Barrett for $34.95.  This is a big boxed set with a trade-size paperback book of card interpretations.  Mr. Barrett is an expert on ancient Egyptian culture and if you'd like an Egyptian deck, this is the ONLY Egyptian-style deck worth anything.  It is really beautiful with the artwork done in acrylic paint on canvas.  There is full figural representation on all cards and in many cases you can tell what the card means just by looking at the imagery on the card to see what is going on.  I love this deck and this is the deck I use when a Spell calls for the use of Tarot cards.  

7) The Voyager Tarot by James Wanless, Ph.D.  $35.00.  Created with photographic collage in the days before computer graphics programs, this is a stunning deck.  Each card is loaded with highly symbolic imagery and all are gorgeous to look at.  I do not recommend this deck to beginners unless you have spent time studying the spiritual symbols used by ancient cultures around the world.  This deck definitely appeals to the archaeologist in me, that's for sure.  All cards are fully illustrated with both the images used and the colors conveying the essence of each card's meaning. This is the deck I use for my Past Life Tarot Readings.

8)  Animals Divine Tarot by Lisa Hunt, published by Llewellyn $24.95, boxed set.  Ms. Hunt is the Artist behind the Celtic Dragon Tarot and the ShapeShifter Tarot, both also published by Llewellyn.  I have all of her decks.  Ms. Hunt's artistic medium of choice for all her decks is watercolor.  Her imagery is very fluid, flowing, and has a very feminine look and feel to it.  These are awesome decks for female readers.  I'm not sure male readers would resonate well with them, but I may be wrong on that.  Unlike other animal-inspired tarot decks, with Ms. Hunt's deck you get a bit more than a bunch of nice watercolor renditions of animals on 78 cards.  All cards, including the Minor Arcana, are fully illustrated and the animals are accompanied by other Symbols that reinforce the interpretation of their particular card.  In the accompanying guide book, authored by Ms. Hunt, she takes great care to go into the interpretation of the symbols that she placed upon each card.  Her use of symbols adds not only to each card's inherent beauty but it also adds greatly to the reader's ability to interpret the card on their own without overly relying upon the guide book.  Another difference between this deck and other animal-inspired decks is that Ms. Hunt assigns Gods and Goddesses to many of the cards, many of whom are depicted on the cards of the Major Arcana and the Court Cards of the Minor Arcana.  I really enjoy this added depth.  It creates a much deeper dimension to the deck and Ms. Hunt was very careful to choose deities whose Energy resonates with the animal depicted on the card.  You can tell she took it upon herself to do a tremendous amount of research in putting this deck together.  And the artwork, it's her best effort yet and I was just amazed when I first glanced through the deck; or, should I say, salivated over every single card.  It is breathtaking.  The colors are vibrant and not all washed out, which is what a lot of people think of when you say the word "watercolor" to them.  The colors bring the animals and deities to life.  Ms. Hunt's attention to detail is second to none.  I have just one complaint of this deck and it's a big one:  they need to create it in a 4X6" format so the Reader can make out more of the marvelous details of these cards!!

  Local stores usually only stock old favorites or the newest trend that may not last, so your best bet for purchasing cards if you do not have a very well-stocked store near you, is on-line.  I fully recommend the two sites below, both of which I have ordered from a number of times.  Service is fast, friendly, and reliable.

 

Tarot Garden:  specializes in self-published and hard-to-find tarot decks for advanced readers and Tarot deck collectors.  I have ordered from them several times and their customer service and speed of shipping is awesome!  Card images are available for viewing at their site.

AstroAmerica:  has decks that are, for the most part, also available elsewhere.  Includes images of at least 6 cards from each deck so you can sample it before you buy.  Fast and reliable service & shipping.  Deck reviews are also available.

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