The Bright Idea Deck – Tarot Review

Three Trump cards from the Bright Idea Deck - Passage, Shadow, and Demolition.

I’m always on the lookout for new and innovative approaches to Tarot, so when I started hearing about The Bright Idea Deck I was intrigued. The more I heard the more I liked, and eventually I got it into my hot little hands.

Interestingly, this deck makes absolutely no claim to be a Tarot deck. That’s deliberate. It is a Tarot deck, but it’s marketed as a creativity and brainstorming tool in the Self Help/Business section.

That’s kind of fitting. Like any other Tarot deck, it can be used for divination, but it’s specifically designed to jump-start creativity and foster insight, especially in corporate settings. Suggestions in the book include using them for novel plotting and character development, marketing campaigns, party and event planning, and career navigation.

I was skeptical at first, but after working with them a bit I have to admit I kind of love them. They just have to be used within their intended design.

The Deck

The “bright idea” of this deck was realized by reconsidering and then redesigning everything about a traditional Tarot deck.

I’ve got to give major props for out-of-the-box thinking. What Mark McElroy came up with is recognizably Tarot, yet utterly unique and in line with his vision.

Some of that out-of-the-box thinking?

  1. The backs of the cards are standard reversible, but the borders on the face side of the cards are color-coded. Majors are purple, and the Minors are bordered in their associated color. I didn’t realize just how helpful that would be until I started looking for specific cards, or culling out the Majors for dedicated uses. The color-coding just jumps out. This isn’t the first deck in history to use this technique, but it’s not all that common either. After using it with this deck I kind of wish it was.

    Three cards from the Bright Idea Deck are showcased here, the two "helper" cards and the reversible back image. The rest of the deck is fanned out below, and the accompanying book's spine can be seen above.

    The deck comes with 78 face cards and two “helper” cards with black borders (the back image is in the center). The one on the left shows basic suit associations and the one on the right shows the way the pip cards are streamlined.

  2. Almost all occult anything has been stripped out. There are symbols scattered throughout the art, especially astrological ones, but honestly having them in the art is kind of gilding the lily. The keyword and the art together make reading these cards dead easy even without symbolic help.

    Blue 1 (the Ace of Cups) from the Bright Idea Deck.

    Let’s take this card, Blue 1 (equivalent to Ace of Cups). The astrological signs for Scorpio and Cancer are behind his head, but we don’t need them to interpret this card. The keyword is Motivation, and that’s what this card asks. What is your motivation? Rewards or praise? Avoiding punishment? Or simply swimming around your comfort zone and not making waves?

  3. The Majors have been significantly overhauled. If you know what you’re looking at they still retain their traditional roots, but every single one of them has been renamed and approached from a less esoteric (and less off-putting for newbies) angle.

    Three Trump cards from the Bright Idea Deck - Passage, Shadow, and Demolition.

    Here we see the three cards that most often disturb people new to Tarot: Passage (Death), Shadow (The Devil), and Demolition (The Tower). I personally adore Shadow – what a cool (yet creepy) interpretation of this card!

  4. The pips have been overhauled, too, and streamlined as steps in a process. I’ve seen other decks approach the pips as stages in a story, but I’ve never seen a deck make everything as consistent between suits as this one does.

    Yellow 9 and Yellow 10 from the Bright Idea Deck.

    Here we have Yellow 9 and Yellow 10. In Yellow 9 we see that the product is finished and is ready to go. We’ve accomplished our goal. Yellow 10 shows us what happens when we refuse to let it go and move on – we obsess over minutiae while neglecting research and development for the next project.

  5. The Court cards, y’all. We need to talk about those! Ranks and hierarchies were completely ditched. They’re called Approach cards here, and each shows an approach that can be taken to a situation. This might be my very favorite aspect of the whole deck, especially for newcomers to Tarot. It makes the Court much easier to understand! Again, it’s not a unique-to-this-deck approach, but it’s utilized here to amazing effect.

    The four Approach cards of the Red suit.

    The Red Approach cards.

The cards themselves are a bit stiff out of the box, but they’re perfectly shuffleable. They feel sturdy and aren’t too slippery to work with.

The horizontal tuck box everything comes in is flimsy, though, and honestly kind of useless once the plastic’s peeled off. There’s a bigger-than-the-deck well the shrink-wrapped cards are dropped into, an empty white cardboard insert that takes up space (although not enough space to keep the cards from banging around), and the book just sits on top of everything. It’s one of the least appealing packaging jobs I’ve ever seen for this kind of set. I’d suggest acquiring a sturdier box or bag for the cards at the same time you purchase the deck because you’ll need it immediately.

The full-size softback book is fantastic, though, which makes up for the shoddy packaging. It offers ways to use Tarot I’d never considered.

Speaking of which…

Using the Deck

The deck itself is innovative. The book continues the theme. It’s hard to find truly fresh takes on Tarot these days, but this provides a whole new toolkit to play with.

The first section lays out the deck and offers some usage suggestions/exercises. I’m used to seeing some unique spreads in these kinds of books, but the Bright Idea Deck goes beyond that to offer truly unique approaches.

One of my favorites is called “What Would the Trumps Do?”. The book compares the Trump cards to 22 wise advisors, each with their own powerful perspectives and tried-and-true strategies to bring to a problem. Regardless of the issue, the book says, it can be brought to the Trumps for insight and advice.

Three cards from the Bright Idea Deck.

Three Majors from The Bright Idea Deck. Here we see this deck’s interpretation of the Magician, the Star, and Justice.

Pull out all the Major Arcana cards, put them in order, turn on a recorder, and then ask “What would Freedom (the Fool) do?” while thinking about your situation. Spend no more than 30 seconds on it and spit out the first idea or approach the card suggests. Then move on, asking “What would Capability (the Magician) do?” and consider that card. If you draw a blank keep moving. Progress this way through all of the Majors. Twenty minutes later, when you’ve finished the exercise, you’ve got 22 new approaches to your situation. Not all of them will be doable or advisable, but there should be a few that at least hint at a new direction. I certainly get some interesting insight using this technique!

After that section, each card gets 2 scant pages of explanation (with no pictures, so keep the deck close as you go through it). There are a collection of keywords, then 5 open-ended questions to encourage the reader to make their own connections with the cards, and then a brief story-type thing about each card to explain the meanings of specific artistic elements. The author states at the beginning, though, that you should feel free to ignore what doesn’t work for you. That fosters intuition from the get-go. Journaling is highly recommended with this deck!

Personally, I don’t find these to be cards for deep spiritual exploration (although I do occasionally use them for #CardaDay pulls). I also don’t like them for Tarot-based spellwork or altar meditations. If you prioritize those uses I’d suggest looking elsewhere. However, the Bright Idea Deck shines for more mundane introspection and really does encourage brainstorming. I also find the emphasis on process to be incredibly helpful – this is the deck I turn to for project kick-starts. The removal of traditional Tarot imagery makes them palatable for those who shy away from excessive “woo-woo stuff”, but it can also limit more esoteric interpretations.

Many of the qualities that make these cards fresh and unique also make them especially suited for Tarot beginners. If this deck appeals then, by all means, pick it up! You’ll have to order it because it’s out of print, but there are lots available online. However, please do realize that this is not a standard deck. If you plan to start here and eventually move on to other decks, know that the transition might be more jarring than if you’d started with something a little more traditional. That’s by no means stated to dissuade you, but it is something to keep in mind.

On a totally personal note, there are a few blonde guys in suits, like in the Capability card, that remind me entirely too much of Melon Mussolini. I find that to be hella distracting when I read. Now that this review is done I plan to go through the deck with a Sharpie and change the blondes into brunettes. It’s my deck. I can do that.

Available here for about $15.

The Five Keys – Unlocking Meaning in Tarot Readings

Note: This wound up being more advanced than I usually address on this blog. It’s aimed at those doing readings for others. I considered not posting it at all, then figured someone out there might be able to use it. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!

There’s more to reading Tarot than memorizing the little white book that comes with the deck. Sure, we need to learn what each card means, but we have to go beyond that to best serve our clients.

Luckily there are Five Keys to help us unlock the meanings of our readings. The more we as readers utilize these Keys the more accurate and applicable our interpretations will be.

The Five Keys are Question, Art, Placement, Relationships, and Follow Through.

1) Question

Tarot is a tool that helps us answer various questions. We need to understand those questions before we can use the tool. That’s what this Key is all about, and this part of a reading takes place before the cards are even shuffled. It sets the stage for everything that follows.

If the client comes in with a clearly thought out, simple, and concise question, then yay! They’ve already done the heavy lifting with this Key, so we can use it as-is and quickly move on.

That’s not always the case, though. Some clients, especially first-timers, go to a reader because the situation they’re dealing with is confusing or overwhelming and they’re a bit lost. The sign that I look for here is a client who, when asked what they’d like to read about today, offers up a whole explanation instead of a simple sentence.

A woman holds her temples with a confused expression in front of a chalkboard covered in squiggles and arrows. Caption reads

I think we’ve all seen this before. Hell, I think we’ve all been this before!

That gushing, stammering, stuttering explanation is a plea for help. Help them.

It might be that the situation appears overwhelming because they’re not seeing it clearly. For instance, let’s say they ask about changing jobs, but everything they say about why has to do with this one coworker they can’t stand. Readers can help by pointing that out and talking it over with the client. Maybe the question they really want to answer isn’t about changing jobs so much as how to most effectively deal with the coworker. Figuring that out before we begin gives us a totally different read.

Or maybe the situation appears overwhelming because they’re lumping several separate things into one overwhelming issue. This is often the case when multiple issues inspire a similar emotion. The client focuses on the emotion and doesn’t see what all is feeding it. As a reader, we can help them untangle that big knot into separate threads and then read each one individually. That leads to the resolution the client sought in the first place.

2) Art

The art of the card itself can help us interpret it. We’re all drawn to different styles of decks, right? There are also types of decks that we find easier to read than others. Those decks, for whatever reason, work with our minds and intuition in a cohesive way. So let’s use that!

Run your gaze across the card while considering the client and how this card might apply to their situation. Does something about the art jump out at you? If so, free associate with that symbol to see how it might influence the reading.

Strength, from the Voyager Tarot.

Strength, from the Voyager Tarot. The collage style of this deck is particularly suited to this technique.

For instance, take the above card. The book meanings of the Strength card all tend to reference inner strength or self-control. That’s fine as far as it goes, but how incredibly vague! There are lots of different kinds of inner strength and ways for it to manifest. To truly help our clients we need to get more specific and narrow this down some.

When we gaze at this card, maybe our eye is drawn to the butterfly. That could indicate a need to focus on the Strength that comes through change and evolution. Or maybe our eye goes straight to the ancient ruins in the background. That could indicate that the Strength of endurance might be more applicable in this reading. The flowers? There is Strength in expressing our vulnerabilities, too, and it’s one many overlook.

The Magician from the Rider-Waite Tarot.

The Magician, from the Rider-Waite Tarot. This technique works on traditional decks too!

Or gaze at this card. There’s a lot of symbolism here, and where your eye catches can direct the thrust of your interpretation. Does your eye catch on his hands? That symbolizes bridging the gap between the heavens and the earth. Maybe this card is referring to the client’s ability to bridge a different kind of gap. If your gaze lingers on the chalice, this card probably has a lot to do with an emotional-type question. The red of his robes? Maybe the client needs to seek out more worldly and material forms of attainment (which is what that red robe symbolizes).

Clients rarely go to a reader for abstract philosophical expositions of where they are in their current karmic cycle or whatever. They want applicable answers to their present concerns. This technique helps us give that to them.

3) Placement

Every book I’ve ever picked up on Tarot has a whole section on spreads. There’s a reason for that. Spreads offer placement-dependent questions that further clarify the card’s meaning.

Perhaps the most famous spread is the Celtic Cross.

My version of the Celtic Cross, showing the order in which I lay out the cards and what each position means.

This is the version of the Celtic Cross I use (which is why you’re all stuck with a graphic made in Paint). Cards 1-6 are the Cross and 7-10 are the Staff. Don’t worry if your version of the Celtic Cross is different from mine – there are a thousand variations on this particular spread. Experiment and find the one that works for you.

Let’s say we’re doing a reading and the previously-mentioned Strength card pops up in the Celtic Cross. It gains shades of meaning depending on which position of the spread it’s in.

Is Strength the Covering card? That’s where the client is right now. However, if that same card is in the Crossing position, then Strength – either a deficit or a surfeit – is a challenge that must be overcome. If in the Above position Strength is a goal to which the client aspires (perhaps indicating a current position of powerlessness or helplessness, or attempts to move out of such a state), while in the Advice position Strength is something they need to address the conflict.

See how much the position changes the emphasis? Combine that with a clear question and free association of the card’s art and deep, intricate meanings start jumping out!

4) Relationships

Cards are not read in isolation (unless we’re doing a quick one-card pull, anyway!). They’re read in relationship to each other, and those relationships invite conversations between the cards. It’s those conversations that lift a session from “interpreting a series of individual cards” to “doing a reading”.

Let’s look at that Celtic Cross again (and reuse that splendid graphic). There are some obvious links between cards to explore there.

A diagram shows relationships between cards of the Celtic Cross.

Relationships between cards of the Celtic Cross.

First, we have the Covering and Crossing cards. Those obviously relate to each other, and even the name of the Crossing card tells us that this is a little Cross in the middle of the big one. So look at them together. What do they have to say to each other?

Then we’ve got the arms of the Cross to look at. Vertically we’ve got Above, Covering/Crossing, and Below. This whole axis gives us amazing insight into the client, showing us where they’re at right now and what factors are most influencing them. How do all of these cards work together? If Above and Below – their goals and what drives them – are complimentary then moving forward is easier. However, if they’re working against each other then resolving that disconnect in the Now might be necessary before forward progress can be made. (Look to the Advice card for insight here.) How does their Crossing card relate to the goal or what drives them? Does it? Or is it just an irritation that distracts them from where their focus should more productively be? Lots to pick through here!

The horizontal axis of Behind, Covering/Crossing, and Before is a straight-up timeline. How did the Behind card contribute to the current situation, and how will the momentum those cards create together lead into the immediate future? This clarifies the whole thrust of the current situation.

Once we’ve done all that we’ve got the Staff to work with. Interpret the cards individually in their places, then take in the reading as a whole. Is the Outcome something the client is happy with? If so, excellent. Carry on then. If not, though, the future’s not set. We can change it if we like, and now that we have an overview of the whole thing we can look at ways to do that. For instance, maybe the Advice card could be shifted to get the client where they want to go.

Now we can start tying the cards of the Staff to each other and back to the Cross.

Compare the Above card to the Outcome card. Are they in alignment? If so, then the Outcome shows the client’s goal is reached. If not, then either the goal is misunderstood (by the reader or the client) or the Outcome is not desired. Clarify that and come up with possible approaches to reconcile those cards.

Does what’s going on Below have anything to do with our Hopes/Fears? Would dealing with what’s going on in one change the other?

How does the Others card relate to the Crossing card? If they’re related, then there may be a way to defuse the external drama and thus deal with the conflict. If they’re not, then the struggle may be more internal to the client. Perhaps Others can assist with easing it.

I could keep going, but you can see what I mean here. The cards aren’t static in their places. They talk to each other. Regardless of the spread you choose to use in your readings, use the relationships between the cards to further clarify and amplify your interpretations.

5) Follow Through 

This is the Key that happens when the reading is done and we’ve gotten all we can from the cards. We can’t just say “ok, we’re done here – have a great day!”. Clients come to us for perspectives, tips, and ideas they can apply to their lives. What can they do, on a practical level, to navigate their challenges and reach their goals after they walk out the door, hang up the phone, or close their email?

Sometimes they need to open themselves to a new way of approaching or looking at the situation, or work on some personal development that will assist with the current situation. I’ll often draw a “for further thought” card at the end of everything and recommend that they meditate on it for the next little bit. That can help. (As a nice touch, email them a picture of the card you drew for them or recommend they find an example online they prefer. This is especially useful for phone or online readings.)

Another idea in the same vein is suggesting an affirmation to help them focus on attaining their goals. One I offered recently is “I am a strong, fierce, fabulous woman who stands my ground”. Work with the client to come up with something that works for them, then make sure they have a copy.

Cleansing baths, spelled candles, and charged stones are all wonderful options here too. For in-person readings, I like to charge a glass pebble with good vibes towards their goal and gift it to them.

Be creative!

From clarifying the question to following through, these Five Keys are designed to help us as readers best support our clients on their journeys. Try using them in your next reading to unlock the meanings in your readings!

Gilded Tarot – Tarot Review

I clearly remember when I found the Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti.

I was surfing the internet and listening to Mark Knopfler’s Shangri-La when I stumbled across some Tarot pictures that blew me away. I was absolutely captivated by the fantasy-meets-steampunk vibe of the deck. I found all the pictures available, getting more and more excited, and within about 30 minutes I blew off my college-student budget and ordered it. I had to have it.

The week of ramen afterward was worth it.

The Deck

This is a review of that original deck, so I can’t speak to the card stock quality of the newer ones. The one I have, though, is my absolute favorite deck for shuffling. (Note: I bridge shuffle every Tarot deck I have and get frustrated if I can’t. So there’s that.)

It’s also been over 10 years of heavy use since I first opened the box. The edges are a bit worn, and the original box is toast (I use a bag now), but the cards still shuffle better than any other deck I have

And the art! The art is exquisite. Seriously breath-taking. Here, look:

Six Major Arcana cards from the Gilded Tarot.

Six Major Arcana cards from the Gilded Tarot. The High Priestess and the Hierophant are my favorites.

See the light? These cards seem to glow from within. How cool is that? The colors are vibrant and vivid, the cards themselves are lush, and the textures (check out the Empress’s dress!) are fantastic. He used real faces for the figures too, which gives them realistic expressions and life-like proportions. What’s not to love?

Marchetti digitally drew every card. It’s obviously based on traditional Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, making it easy for RWS people to pick it up, but the art has Marchetti’s own unique and visionary flair. The Gilded ditches the standard medieval backgrounds in favor of a more cosmic setting, including stars, planets, and the occasional comet. I find that especially fitting for the Majors, as they reflect a universal theme, but it works for the Minors too.

Using the Deck

I find this to be an unusually responsive deck. Some readers are turned off by the Gilded’s combination of mysticism and technology, but I find that a plus. We live in a technological world – why shouldn’t our cards reflect that? I don’t want every card to look like a circuit board or anything, but I find the fantasy/steampunk feel here awesome. (I also do cybermancy, though, so take that as you will.)

This is actually a fine deck for beginners. It’s RWS inspired, but it doesn’t have the dense Golden Dawn symbolism of the original RWS. What symbolism it does have is easily understood by modern readers, too.

Don’t take that to mean this deck is stripped down, though. I’ve been reading for 20+ years and still enjoy using this deck. I use it with clients, too. There’s nothing stripped down about it.

If you’re just starting out and are drawn to this deck, by all means, grab it! The publisher even made it easy for you and released it as a kit. It’s called The Easy Tarot and packages the Gilded Tarot deck with a Tarot 101 book.

Don’t need the intro book? The Gilded Tarot is also available here with a much more basic companion book. I wouldn’t bother with it, though – the kit has the exact same deck and is about $8 cheaper on Amazon.

Golden Tarot – Tarot Review

A few years ago I set off to Baltimore from New Orleans to present at a conference. But I forgot my Tarot deck in Baton Rouge! Oh, noes! Obviously, I wasn’t able to just pop back home and grab it, but I couldn’t go without a deck either. I had several readings scheduled during my trip and wanted to meet my commitments.

When the reader needs a deck, the reader goes shopping.

I hit a little shop down in the Marigny and picked the best deck available out of a rather sad lot. I couldn’t open it to check it out or anything, and I was in a hurry, but the box looked sturdy and the art sounded interesting. So fine. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Lucky me, it was the Golden Tarot by Kat Black.

The Cards

In keeping with the deck’s name the edges are all gilded in gold. The gold does make the cards stick together a bit at first, which can be frustrating. A little use takes care of that, though, and over time the edges acquire a lovely worn patina that’s totally in keeping with the theme of the deck.

patina

On the left is a brand new Golden Tarot, and on the right is my own well-loved deck. I personally prefer the worn look on mine and think it enhances the feel of the cards.

Unlike the Mythic Tarot, what sets this deck apart is absolutely the art. It’s made to look like something from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The artist digitally blended different elements from existing art of that time period to create each composite image. It’s collage work, but done so skillfully it can be hard to tell. A large chunk of the companion book (about a third of it) lists all of her sources, too.

Take this card:

magician

The Magician from the Golden Tarot.

This is a collage of images from TEN DIFFERENT WORKS. They’re all listed in the companion book, too, so if you’re interested you can look up the art and see the material she worked with.

Seriously, the skill Black used to put this whole thing together is incredible.

golden-majors

A selection of Major Arcana cards from the Golden Tarot.

Stylistically the artist blended her favorite elements from both RWS and Visconti-Sforza symbolic traditions. That’s why the Star above looks similar to an RWS Temperance – she’s blending traditions the same way she’s blending images. It’s easy enough to adjust to, though.

Aside from the deck itself, the set comes with a few extra cards (title card and the like) and a little 200-page bound companion book that tucks inside the box.

The box deserves a shout-out of its very own. Most decks end up getting after-market bags or boxes because the packaging they come with blows, but I’ve been using the original box for years now and it’s still solid. The top can slide off in a purse or backpack, but otherwise the super-thick walls on this box make it just about perfect.

Using the Cards

As a reader I find this to be a weird deck for me. I’m actually not personally fond of the art style. I can appreciate the work that went into it, and objectively it’s beautiful, but I don’t resonate with it at an aesthetic level at all. Doesn’t seem to matter, though – I read it incredibly well, and I specifically reach for this one when reading for other spirit-workers.

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend the Golden Tarot for a beginner. Since Black blended two different style families for this deck the books on the market won’t exactly fit. The companion book is a fine intro to the deck itself but won’t do much on its own to teach Tarot to a novice, either. If you’re new to things I’d say look elsewhere while you get your feet wet and circle back to this one later.

If you’re an art person, though, and especially if you enjoy the artistic time period Black worked with, I’d highly recommend grabbing the Golden Tarot. It’s fancy-looking enough to use with clients, looks gorgeous by candlelight (a fab choice for altar meditations and Tarot spellwork!), and if you’re already familiar with Tarot it’s fairly easy to read with a few adjustments.

Available here.

Tarot Card a Day Posts!

Hello, all! I am now posting Tarot Card a Day pictures on Instagram!

If you’re interested, you can see them there, on my Mystik Nomad Facebook page, and by following me on Twitter (@mystiknomad).

Here’s what I posted today, just to give you an idea of what these look like:

I look forward to sharing these with you!

Tarot Style Families

There are literally thousands of Tarot decks in print and more are created every single day. Some are faithful reproductions of old decks, some offer variations that stick very close to original source decks, and some challenge traditional structure or imagery or both.

It can all be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, Tarot decks can be loosely sorted into what I call “style families”. These families group cards based on card pattern or design, and sorting cards this way is surprisingly helpful.

For starters, knowing the styles we like (and don’t) can help us quickly zero in on the decks we’re actually interested in. With so many decks on the market, this can be a huge time-saver!

Furthermore, decks within the same style tend to read like others in that style (with the exception of decks with new approaches, discussed below). One TdM deck reads like another, RWS decks read the same, etc. Sure details can differ from one deck to the next, but the general gist of things is present. If we see a new or interesting deck in a style we’re already comfy with, we know the new one will be stylistically comfy too. Switching between styles can be an adjustment, however, and knowing that in advance helps us avoid confusion and disappointment.

There are five general style families altogether*, plus related-but-not-Tarot Oracle Cards. Let’s check them out!

Visconti-Sforza 

This style of Tarot dates back to the mid-1500s, when Tarot cards were still emerging from the cards used to play a game called Trionfi (“triumphs”, another word for “trumps”). About 15 decks – none complete – have survived. They were commissioned by Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, and later by his successor (and son-in-law) Francesco Sforza, hence their name.

Fit for a Duke, these cards were meticulously crafted with precious materials. Members of the family are depicted in the cards, too, like little portraits. They are wonderful for collectors and inspirational for artists, who either use them as a jumping-off point for their own work in other styles or create compatible cards to get a full deck. We can thank these early Visconti-Sforza decks for ideas like the visual style and card numbering, both of which are important to the Tarot we use today.

v-s-cards

Here we have examples from, in order: the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot, the Visconti-Sforza Restored Tarot, and the Visconti-Sforza Pierpont Morgan Tarot.

Tarot de Marseilles

The Tarot de Marseilles (TdM) style first appeared in the Conver deck, published in 1760. The Conver deck underlies all subsequent TdM decks. They’re the dominant card style in France, and after a version was published in 1969 with a booklet in English more American readers began discovering them too.

ancient-tarot-of-marseilles1

The Ancient Tarot of Marseilles is a faithful reproduction of the Conver deck of 1760. I personally can’t look at the colors very long without blinking spots out of my eyes, but it’s hard to get more authentic!

You may have noticed that the “pip” cards (1 through 10 of each suit of the Minor Arcana) in the above deck don’t depict full scenes. That’s one of the traits that sets this style apart from others. Like the playing cards from which they came, TdM pip cards feature a geometric arrangement of whatever symbol is used for the suit.

The images in TdM decks as a whole tend to be simpler than other styles because the originals were printed with woodblocks. Modern TdM decks still reflect that. For instance, even cards with scenes (Majors and Court cards) rarely have backgrounds. The sky is simply left blank.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a purity of purpose to a TdM deck that other styles are hard-pressed to match. They’re especially useful for those who rely more on numeric, astrological, and elemental correspondences when interpreting Tarot. Those of us distracted by overly ornamental artwork, or overwhelmed by the symbolism grafted onto the cards by later styles, might very well find these cards a welcome change too. However, if you rely more on lush imagery for interpretation these decks might not work for you.

le-tarot-noir

Cards from Le Tarot Noir, my current Tarot deck crush. Here we can clearly see the heritage of the original Conver deck, but the colors have been muted from the original garish hues and the lines are much more finely drawn. There’s also an almost melancholy whimsy here I find gorgeously compelling.

Rider-Waite-Smith

In 1909 AE Waite commissioned Pamela Colman-Smith to do the art for a Tarot deck later published by the Rider Company. It was the very first Tarot to use fully-realized scenes for the pip cards and quickly became the American standard. Often labeled as Rider-Waite decks, many Tarot enthusiasts honor Colman-Smith’s contribution by naming her too.

The original RWS deck is available in several sizes and coloring styles: the Commemorative, the Original, the Radiant, etc. Beyond that, this is such a popular deck that the market is flooded with “RWS clones” and “RWS-inspired” decks. Clones redraw and/or recolor the original art but otherwise exactly copy it (thank you copyright interruptions!), while inspired decks use much of the same symbology but put their own spin on the actual art.

rws-cards

Here we have a string of RWS clones. They are from, in order: the Rider-Waite Tarot, the Albano-Waite Tarot, the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot, the 8-Bit Tarot, the Golden Tarot, and the International Icon Tarot.

rws-insp-cards

These RWS inspired cards have a lot more variation, but their heritage is obvious. They are, in order, from the Gilded Tarot, the Fenestra Tarot, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, the Sacred Isle Tarot, the Tarot of the White Cats, and the Wizards Tarot.

RWS decks are by far the dominant style in the US. When most of us think “Tarot deck” it’s an RWS deck we picture. Because of that, learning to read Tarot with one is fairly standard. Many Tarot teachers and Tarot books recommend starting with one, too. I have to disagree. In my opinion RWS decks usually (but not always) add more complications to the process of learning Tarot than necessary. That can be a stumbling block for those new to it.

There are more accessible approaches. I suggest beginners start with one of these other decks, get comfortable with Tarot basics, and then tackle one of the many gorgeous RWS decks available. In my experience, learning Tarot is less frustrating and overwhelming when we can ease into it a bit.

Thoth 

Lady Frieda Harris painted the original Thoth deck according to directions from Aleister Crowley, who called them The Book of Thoth and wrote a companion book for them. Some of the cards were painted as many as eight times over the course of five years! A limited edition was published in 1944 and the deck was published for a wider audience in 1969.

Since then artists have created their own intensely layered artworks based on the Thoth framework, leading to the birth of this style family. This is the third most common style, behind the RWS and the TdM.

Decks in this style are a radical departure from TdM and RWS decks. The original Thoth deck incorporated elements from many different philosophies and magickal traditions, ranging from  Kabbalah and I Ching to Western magick and Egyptian mysticism. It also debuted a new way to number and name the cards, changed established associations and correspondences, completely overhauled the Court cards, etc. Decks based on the Thoth deck use the same unified-magpie approach but come at it from areas Crowley didn’t, giving a wide variety of expressions to the core ideas.

thoth

Several examples of Thoth decks. They are from, in order: the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot, the Haindl Tarot, the Kingdom Within Tarot, the Magickal Tarot, and the Via Tarot.

Using a Thoth deck well requires familiarity with Crowley’s work and a lot of study. In the hands of a skilled reader, though, they can be extraordinary. These are absolutely not beginner cards.

New Approaches

This style family includes all of the new, different, and unique decks on the market that can’t be easily lumped in with the other style families.

A definite product of its time, The New Tarot was channeled by Ouija board and published in 1969. It was the first modern deck to break from the more established style families. The Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles came out in 1975 and was the first deck based on photographs. The following year we got the first deck based on a non-Western culture (The Xultun Tarot), and in 1981 the first round deck (The Motherpeace Tarot) came out. The Motherpeace Tarot was also the first feminist-based deck to find widespread distribution. As artists and readers experiment and push the limits of what Tarot can be, more and more decks join this style family.

New Approaches decks can vary from the other style families by taking singular artistic approaches, using nonstandard symbol sets, including a few additional cards, going with different names and/or orders for the cards, etc. Most use a combination of the above.

pm-and-experimental

See what I mean about variety? SO. MANY. OPTIONS! In the first row, we have, in order: the New Tarot, The Mountain Dream Tarot, the Xultun Tarot, the Motherpeace Tarot, the Darkana Tarot, and the Voyager Tarot. In the second row, we have, in order: Tarot in the Land of Mysterium, the Goddess Tarot, the Australian Animal Tarot, the Dante Tarot, the Dreampower Tarot, and the Merlin Tarot.

Oracle Cards

This category includes all the other cards used for divination and/or self-exploration that aren’t Tarot. That doesn’t mean they can’t complement Tarot – Lenormand cards are gaining a following among Tarot readers, for instance – but they are completely different systems.

In addition to the aforementioned Lenormand cards, this category includes Minchiate cards, angel oracle decks, animal wisdom cards, affirmation decks, and playing cards used for divination, among others.

Tarot decks contain 78 cards spread across 5 suits – one for the Major Arcana and four in the Minor Arcana. The four Minor Arcana suits include four Court cards each. Names and orders may change, meanings may be tweaked, but all of these elements are present in a Tarot deck.

Oracle cards are way more free form. They can have any number of cards, follow any rules they like, and create their own structure as they go. The art can range from incredibly simple to ornate, and many include quotations.

oracle-cards

Oracle cards. Here we have a card from the 45-card Archangel Oracle, a card from the 44-card Rumi Oracle, and a card from the 80-card Archetype Cards.

Some are simpler than Tarot, but others (like the 97-card Minchiate cards) are more complex. While most are packaged with the only book you’ll need to understand them, information on others can be scant. Make sure you have the info you need to get started before investing in one of these.

*There are other types of Tarot decks, specifically historical ones, that I didn’t cover here because they’re not widely referred to or used. If you’d like to learn more about these other styles check out Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot: A Comprehensive Guide.

Tarot Decks for Beginners

Let’s say you’ve never touched a deck before in your life but want to learn Tarot. Or maybe you’ve been reading for years and want to know what to recommend to students. Please don’t automatically reach for the standard Rider-Waite! There are better options!

I know them are fightin’ words for some of us, so let me explain.

What makes a good beginner deck? 

New students aren’t looking to do professional readings right off the bat, so they don’t need to look for decks with that in mind. Instead, they need a deck that will get them familiar with Tarot structure, ground them in basic meanings and associations, and introduce them to intuitive card interpretation. Once those skills are firmly in place the student can move on to more challenging decks and broaden their basic skill set.

In my opinion, the best decks for beginners hit the following few points:

  1. A good deck consists of the standard 78 cards, broken into the standard Major and Minor Arcanas with Court cards. The names and associations can deviate from the traditional, and the Majors can be reordered, but they all need to be there.
  2. A good deck is approachable. There should be something about it that is familiar, comforting, or interesting enough to immediately engage the person using it. This is completely up to individual preference.
  3. A good deck ideally relies on stories instead of complex symbolism to convey meaning. If meaning is conveyed symbolically, the symbols need to be carefully chosen, easily understood, and as minimal as possible.
  4. The art of a good deck is at least moderately attractive, and all labels are clear. This is, again, a wholly personal choice.
  5. It’s readily available and affordable (preferably under $25, but definitely under $50).

So which decks hit all the notes?

Recommended Beginner Decks

These are my nine beginner picks. A few might even surprise you! They run the gamut of themes and approaches while meeting my requirements and staying true to the essence of Tarot.

They are, in alphabetical order:

The Beginner’s Guide to Tarot Kit (aka the Sharman-Caselli Tarot)

If a student must go with a straight-up RWS-style this is my absolute favorite of the bunch. The creators deliberately stripped out most of the esoteric Golden Dawn stuff and simplified the presentation. They wound up with a deck that has the feel and associations of the original Rider-Waite without all the extraneous bits that can confuse newcomers. The book works well as an intro to Tarot, too.

sharman-caselli

Three cards from the Beginner’s Guide to Tarot, a simplified and approachable version of the Rider-Waite.

Available here for about $30, book included.

The Bright Idea Deck

Marketing-wise this isn’t a Tarot deck (even though it totally is). It’s been pitched to businesses and professionals as a way to “generate ideas, expand creative expression, and stimulate thought processes”. As a result, there’s almost no esoterica in this deck, making it uniquely accessible to beginners and those turned off by overt mysticism.

bright-idea

The Bright Idea Tarot. Here we see this deck’s interpretation of the Magician, the Star, and Justice.

One of my favorite aspects of the deck is that the companion book offers more open-ended questions than it does rock-solid meanings. That encourages the reader to engage their intuition from Day One, as opposed to having to learn over time to trust themselves enough to step away from the book when necessary.

This Tarot is fantastic for practical application. It’s not very suited for deep spiritual reflection, though. Students may also find it challenging to move from this to another deck, especially with the way the Minor Arcana is streamlined. For those attracted to this one, I’d suggest also eventually getting a more traditional Tarot for meditation purposes. That’ll make it easier to transition to other decks when you want to spread your wings. I review it in depth here.

Available here for about $15, book included.

The Gaian Tarot

The Gaian Tarot shows people experiencing spiritual moments during daily activities and while out in nature. Those students focusing on conscious living and environmentalism in the modern world might find this to be a very comfortable deck. It is softened yet powerful. It’s also inclusive, which is very welcome in a Tarot deck!

gaian

The Gaian Tarot. The Guardian of Water is one of my favorites in the deck, the Three of Earth shows a modern kitchen, and the Strength card resonates with serene power.

The Gaian Tarot is very Rider-Waite-like in structure, but some of the card names have been changed to reflect the deck’s theme. The Court cards were carefully balanced for gender (two men and two women for each rank), which I like, and associated ranks have been changed to stages of life (Child/Explorer/Guardian/Elder). Traditional suits are dropped in favor of elements: Pentacles, Swords, Wands, and Cups become Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The book is solid, too, so bonus.

Available here for about $30, book and awesome box included.

The Mythic Tarot

This is my standard recommendation for beginners. It’s based on Greek mythology, giving those who have studied it a nice sense of familiarity with the deck. Major Arcana and Court cards are associated with a specific story or mythic figure, while the pip cards take us step-by-step through a story associated with the given suit. That makes the cards much easier to remember!

majors

The Mythic Tarot. Here the Lovers card depicts the Judgment of Paris, The Star shows Pandora opening the box, and The High Priestess evokes the whole story of Persephone’s abduction.

I’ve already done a fairly in-depth review of this deck here. The original, which I prefer art-wise, requires a bit of hunting down and can be expensive. However, the NEW Mythic Tarot, with “updated” art, is available here for under $10. I also highly recommend the workbook, available here for the New Mythic and here for the original. I’d say get the book for the original version regardless of which version of the Mythic you go with, though, as the information is the same and it’s much cheaper. Yay bargains!

The Pagan Tarot

Ok, the Pagan Tarot is one of a kind. The structure and meanings of the Rider-Waite are maintained, but all the art is thoroughly and completely modern. There are cars and computers in here! It focuses more on scenes from day-to-day life than esoterica, which makes this deck easily relatable for those new to Tarot. It’s also very Wiccan in focus, so that may or may not appeal.

pagan

The Pagan Tarot. Here we have a fantastic modern interpretation of the Hermit, a relatable Nine of Pents, and a Death card showing the transition of between “old self” and “new self” that happens during initiation.

As a note for those interested, this deck is careful to balance genders among the Court cards. Not surprising for a Wiccan-based deck, but still worth mentioning. I don’t personally like how it’s done (Swords and Wands for men, Cups and Pentacles for women), but I do appreciate that an attempt was made in that direction.

Available here for about $30, book included.

The Tell Me Tarot

Think of this deck as a Rider-Waite with training wheels. The artwork is vastly simplified and interpretation suggestions are actually written on the face of every card! This makes getting started much less frustrating – going back and forth to a book sucks. This deck doesn’t even bother with a book. Instead, it comes with a couple of extra cards that give the barest of basics and lets the cards clarify themselves.

tell-me

The Tell Me Tarot. On the face, we can see both a cartoony version of traditional Rider-Waite symbolism as well as some text. The traditional name is given, as is a keyword and card alignment (whether it’s generally a more positive or negative card). After that come interpretation suggestions.

This is definitely a transition deck. It’s excellent for beginners and sets them up well to move on to other Rider-Waite decks, but they will need to move on – and fairly quickly at that – if they want to get deeper into the cards. Students may find it worth the investment, though.

Available here for about $20.

The Science Tarot

In the Science Tarot, traditional mysticism has been exchanged for scientific theory. It works remarkably well. Also, since we did learn science in school and didn’t learn mysticism it’s wonderful for the beginner. We might have to think back to our school days or look up things that we’ve forgotten, but the meanings come across brilliantly.

While it’s set up in Rider-Waite fashion, the art and associations are quite different. Here the Major Arcana have all been associated with scientific stories or concepts, such as Schrodinger’s Cat for the Wheel of Fortune. The traditional Pentacles/Swords/Wands/Cups suits are instead Magnifying Glasses/Scalpels/Bunsen burners/Beakers. Court ranks have been exchanged theme-wise as well while keeping standard meanings, and each one is associated with a famous scientist. There’s even some gender exchange in the Court, which is always a plus for me.

science

The Science Tarot. Here we have a Major, Court, and Minor card.

As a bonus for the scientific and mathematically minded there are equations and formulae scattered all throughout the art. Have fun finding them!

Available here for about $25.

The Whimsical Tarot

Don’t let the cutesy art fool you – this is a fantastic beginner Tarot that can grow with you. Designed by the same woman responsible for the classic Hanson-Roberts Tarot, all of the images here are drawn from fairy tales and nursery rhymes. That gives us access to a ton of nuance we already know!

The cards that can scare Tarot novices are rendered in a friendlier fashion, too. For example, Death is Sleeping Beauty, the Devil shows Pinnochio as a puppet, and the Tower is the Wolf blowing down the house of the Little Pigs. We know that the situation was transitory for the characters in all of those stories, which reassures us that the scary stuff can pass for us as well.

whimsical

The Whimsical Tarot. Notice how the label for the Major Arcana card isn’t static. The numbers are, but the labels are placed differently depending on the card.

I will say that the book is pretty lame, though. It’s super small and the descriptions are brief. It doesn’t even tell us which story the card comes from! Not to worry – this list gives us the stories in case we can’t figure them out, and we can use those to flesh out the sparse meanings. There’s also a full-length book you can get for this, but it’s so pricey I wouldn’t bother unless you love the deck. It’s certainly not necessary.

Available here for about $20.

The Wizards Tarot

Into Harry Potter? Give this deck a whirl! From the get-go, we’re pulled onto the campus of a Hogwarts-esque school called the Mandrake Academy. Each of the Major Arcana cards is reimagined as a Professor of various magickal disciplines, while the Rider-Waite-inspired Minor Arcana cards show students of the school. The Court cards depict elemental creatures associated with the suit.

wizards

Three cards from the Wizards Tarot. The Initiate is the Fool, starting their magickal education. We can see Mandrake Academy in the background of the Six of Cups. The Hanged Man is also the Professor of Runes, particularly fitting in this location when we consider Norse lore about the origin of the runes.

One of the coolest things about this deck is the companion book, which is a pretty entertaining combo of Tarot guidebook and Basic Magick 101. Each Major Arcana card teaches both a practical magickal technique and has its very own associated spread. How cool is that?

Available here, and the most expensive one I saw was $30. Make absolutely sure you get the one with the 200+ page book that came out in 2011, too. The 2014 version’s 80-page booklet just isn’t the same.

Have any others you’d like to recommend? Let me know in the comments!