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Selecting an Oracle or Tarot Deck

Some people believe that you must never buy a deck for yourself, but wait to be gifted one from a friend or mentor. I absolutely disagree. While it is lovely to receive your first deck this way, many of us would be waiting for a very long time.

And honestly, many of the decks that have been given to me, I don’t work with. I love them and keep them, but never turn to them for readings or other purposes. What I look for in a deck might not be the same things my friends look for in decks. There are so many different decks out there for that very reason! Different people can like different things.

But not every deck I buy for myself turns out to be one that I’ll use regularly either. Sometimes I just made a bad call in purchasing it, sometimes it’s difficult to read with for one reason or another, and sometimes we change and need different things out of a deck as we continue to practice. Occasionally I will pull out one of the decks that I don’t use and give it another shot. Once in a while I find I like the deck for particular readings or events and will use it again for a bit.

All of this is to say… don’t put pressure on yourself (or your friends) to find the perfect deck. You MIGHT be gifted your first ever deck and absolutely adore it and use nothing but that for the rest of your life. (This is sort of like marrying your high-school sweetheart; which works for a very select few. And for most of us, with no disrespect to our teen-year loves… it’s a really good thing we didn’t stick with our first go at love and relationships.) OR you might be the type to buy yourself a previously owned deck at the used bookstore one day and end up collecting many decks from then on out. The cards are there as a tool for you, not the other way around. So if it means you get more out of your readings, it’s valid.

I have many more decks in my library than I use. There are around 8 decks that I use fairly regularly, but for different reasons. So here is my core team of decks that I use now or have used significantly in the past:

  1. THE WORKHORSE DECK:
    Now, having written what I did above I must admit that my first deck was a Smith-Waite (RSW) deck that my father gave to me. It’s the deck that I learned with. And although that original deck he gifted to me is tucked away in a satin bag and only used for meditation purposes now, I DO use the Centennial Edition of the Smith-Waite deck for a vast majority of my client and/or event readings. The imagery on the Smith-Waite decks is like my native language for Tarot. I am more fluent with Smith’s illustrations and better able to read in unusual environments or for strangers. Sometimes when reading with other decks I will remember the RSW equivalent as a way to get a grip on a card that may be giving me some trouble.
  2. THE LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT DECK:
    The deck my father gave me was my only deck until my freshman year of college. I remember distinctly that I was at the (then-new) Barnes and Noble in town with my friends. On one of the center displays that October they had The Halloween Tarot deck-and-book set by Kipling West. I fell in love, I bought it, I opened it at home and fell in love even harder. I went on to use that deck all throughout my twenties. I don’t use this deck very often anymore.
  3. THE HISTORICAL REFERENCE DECK:
    If you are a student of Tarot, I highly recommend investing in at least one historical reproduction deck. This miniature version of the Marseille Tarot by Camoin and Jodorowsky is a good quick-reference. Comparing the traditional imagery from antique decks to the imagery on our contemporary decks is a good exercise in looking for the archetypes and not getting caught up in decorative detail.
  4. THE HARSH TRUTHS DECK:
    I remember seeing a friend pull out her copy of The Wild Unknown deck and being fascinated with the illustration work of Kim Krans. I tracked it down online and loved it immediately when it arrived. I worked with it for personal readings intensely for a full year and realized that this deck is really good when I want to dig down and find the harsh truths of a particular situation. And to be honest there are times when I don’t want to dig that deep. No need for a hacksaw when a jewelry knife will do.
  5. THE PLAYING CARDS DECK: Since the moment I first learned that some people use regular playing cards to give readings, I had wanted to build that into my skill set. But going from fully illustrated Tarot decks to completely abstract playing cards was daunting. Then one night while in the mountains of Brazil, we were without electricity, only candles and firelight, no phone reception, and my fellow travelers were all guitarists who were busy playing music together. There were two decks of playing cards and a collection of art history books in Portuguese. I decided to really start working with playing cards. I left some money for one of the decks and it is my go-to playing card deck for readings. I don’t use this one to play games though.
  6. THE CROSSOVER DECK: I use The Odd Bods deck for readings, shuffling practice, and as playing cards for games. I spotted this deck in the gift shop at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The illustrations are incredibly quirky but surprisingly inline with cartomancy interpretations. But I also bring this deck when I go out with my kids and we play various card games together. Although I cringe when my youngest sometimes picks up a card with water on his hands, I wouldn’t give up the connecting time those card games give us. This deck has lived some life and I love it all the more for that.
  7. THE ORACLE DECK: I bought my Oracle Belline deck at Librairie De L’Inconnu in Paris. I knew nothing about this deck except that it looked fascinating and I really wanted to see what it was all about. To me, reading with oracle cards vs. reading with Tarot cards is like making a story with single word prompts vs. making a story with plot point sections. As a result, oracle decks can be somewhat blunt. I noticed that three of the more tragic cards in the Oracle Belline look very similar to The Tower card from a traditional Tarot deck.