How and Where to Buy Tarot Cards
Before You Buy a Tarot Deck...
The key to buying the perfect deck... oh, let's be honest, it is rare that you come across the perfect tarot deck. You may find the best one for you at the time. You could be very lucky, fall in love and use that deck for ever more. That's rare. The problem is that there are so many gorgeous decks out there... and more coming on the market every year. How can you resist just one more deck?
At the last count I had around 50 decks of tarot cards. Do I read with them all? No. I read with four or five favorite decks. Others I keep because they are beautiful, some because they are quirky, a few are valuable, and there are several I don't really like much at all. They were the mistakes. The ones I bought on a whim without seeing them properly first. I'm hoping that I'll help you avoid those costly mistakes when buying your first tarot cards, or your second, or even your twentieth.
Where should you buy your tarot cards? Well, I'm going to give you a few ideas.
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How to Choose a Tarot Deck
Many experienced readers will advise you to start with the Rider-Waite deck. I can't really argue with this. It is the basic, modern deck. It is the standard on which thousands of other deck creators base their cards upon. It is a good deck and you should buy yourself a copy at some point. However, it is not likely to make your heart sing. Pamela (Pixie) Smith's art does the job of portraying the telling and necessary detail, but the four-color printing is, to be frank, dull. You may decide to put up with the Rider-Waite's shortcomings, or you could decide to go another route – a Rider-Waite clone. A 'clone' sounds horrible but all it means is a deck that uses the symbols of the original but is given a new look or a new interpretation by its creator.
Alternatively, you might opt for a re-colored version of the Rider-Waite. There are some excellent examples around and I will provide the links for you to see some in due course.
The third option is to go for a unique deck – where the creator has developed their own symbolism, produced their own art and given the cards their own meanings. There is nothing wrong with this, but you might find yourself unable to participate in any discourse based on 'traditional' interpretations. For example, if you were to take part in an online tarot class, then you would need a deck that pretty much follows the Rider-Waite symbolism.
So my suggestion is that you go for one of the first three options – the original Rider-Waite, a RW clone, or a recolored Rider-Waite. Personally I would avoid the old, but still popular Marseilles deck and also the famous Thoth. The Marseilles only has illustrated Major Arcana – its numbered Minor Arcana are, what we call, 'pips'. They show the main symbol of the suit multiplied by the number of the card. Therefore the Four of Cups displays four chalices but nothing else to jog your thoughts.
There are many who say there is only one deck, and that is Aleister Crowley's Thoth tarot. The Thoth is its own system, and is held in wide esteem by tarot scholars. However, it is relatively more difficult to learn and also has keywords on – which I don't recommend. Turn to the Thoth later if you feel drawn to it.
Note: All the images on this page are decks I own myself and ones that I would recommend for beginners.
Look at Tarot Images
There is nothing worse than opening your eagerly anticipated tarot deck to be disappointed in the artwork, the printing or the quality of the cardstock. It is vitally important that you spend some time in research. Some decks have a few stunning images but the rest of the cards are less than breathtaking. Go find a deck that appeals and then search, search, search for images. Try several search engines as you'll get different results.
The websites listed on the right have detailed reviews and lots of images. My old favorite Wicce's Tarot is offline indefinitely but you never know, it might resurface.
Join some tarot forums and you'll find many people willing to recommend decks and even share images.
Your Local Metaphysical Store
If you are lucky enough to have a witchy shop in your neighborhood, then make friends with the proprietor. He or she will be happy to offer advice on tarot decks but, unless they understand and read tarot themselves, then you may not be getting good advice. It's wonderful if they have a sample of open decks for you to riffle through. The store will also be able to order decks on your behalf.
When browsing a selection of tarot decks, it is fun to see if one 'calls' you. Pass your hand about 10 inches above the decks and notice if your hand gets warm over a particular deck. Take heed, though, that has happened to me before when visiting Glastonbury - I bought the deck, love it but it doesn't read well for me.
The publisher, Llewellyn, has greatly expanded its tarot business over the last ten years. They ship worldwide and have an extensive array of stock. Their website has many tarot resources and decks are categorized as 'Pagan', 'Classical', 'Contemporary' and so on. Llewellyn offers a 'Deck of the Month' with 20% off the list price. Llewellyn also carries the Italian Lo Scarabeo range of decks.
There are interviews with deck creators, tarot authors and artists. There is a news section, a blog, and, of course, a huge selection of tarot and metaphysical books. For your average tarot reader, it's like a great big candy store!
Tarot Cards on Amazon
I have bought so many decks from Amazon, I've lost count. For sheer cost-effectiveness it can't be beaten. I love to read customer reviews as they come from such a wide range of experience - from beginners to professionals. It's a shame they don't have more images of individual cards - that's where your long hours of research pay off. Go find the cards and return to Amazon to buy them.
Tarot Cards on eBay
My most valuable decks have been ones I have grabbed off eBay. I have a pristine copy of the original (not revised) William Blake tarot that I fought for and eventually paid £25 (about $32) for. I think it is worth quite a lot these days.
You need to know what you are going for and don't be tempted to pay over the odds for new decks that are much cheaper on Amazon.
Talking of eBay, the question of second-hand tarot decks arises. Personally, if a deck is clean and in good condition, I have no problems with buying a used deck. In fact, I think it is quite nice to have a deck that is 'experienced' as it were. I always give them a good cleansing by waving the cards through incense smoke or wiping them with a baby wipe. I have heard of people quickly rinsing cards under running water. Make sure you only do that with glossy cards or you'll end up with a soggy mess!
Why I don't recommend a deck with keywords
At first it seems like a good idea. Having a single keyword on the minor arcana cards to remind the reader what it is about is common sense, right? Well, no, not really. One word cannot encompass the whole range of meanings in a card. For example: the Two of Air (Swords) on the admittedly gorgeous Osho Zen Tarot, is labelled "Schizophrenia." Now I don't know about you but the general meaning of this card can mean "in two minds," but it also means fear, closed off, uncommunicative, blind to the obvious... that sort of thing. We can all feel those things but that doesn't mean that we are suffering from schizophrenia.
Also if you are reading for other people and an negatively labelled card shows up, you immediately have to reassure the person that the word doesn't necessarily apply to them. It can put the whole reading out of kilter.
Thirdly, keywords can prevent you from accessing your intuition. There's this arbitrary word staring you in the face and overlaying your knowledge and intuition and sending your mind skittering up a blind alley. Obviously all the Major Arcana have names, but that is completely different to the minors. The Majors refer to accepted archetypes.
I have heard of readers actually trimming off the borders of their cards to remove the labels... but I don't think I could do that. So that's why I avoid decks with keywords wherever possible.
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