I have been asked a few times what Tarot deck I use. So I thought I would do a quick blog on my favourite decks and a little bit on why.
I bought my first deck in 2011. As I picked up a pack of Rider Waite Smith cards off the shelf in Watkins, there was a loud thump next to me as something heavy fell to the floor. “That’s a sign – buy them!” was what I heard in my head, and so the RWS deck ended up coming home with me. It’s taken me many years of working with Tarot to get familiar with it, to really trust what it tells me, and to realise that its 78 cards are archetypal situations which we are all working with and through. Tarot shows what will come and explains how we have got to where we are. It is an invaluable friend. Anyway, here are my favourite decks:
The Rider Waite Smith Deck: The artist behind this deck, Pamela Colman Smith, was a genius. One of her key innovations was to bring alive the 40 Minor Arcana suit cards by illustrating them with human characters or additional imagery. Previously static and abstruse Suit elements like 4 Swords were suddenly taking part in a mini story involving a human being. This was ground-breaking within the world of tarot, and made divination of the Minor Arcana Suits so much easier. Smith recycled, but also in many cases improved on, the traditional 22 Major Arcana images that traced back to Tarot de Marseilles. Her images are simple, child-like and easier to work with than other decks. No surprise then that the RWS deck, first published in 1909, remains enduringly popular and it still the most imitated deck in the world.
There have been a number of editions of the RWS. My first pack came with the light blue “Roses and Lilies” back design, but I found the image quality disappointing. My favourite version of the RWS is the Rider Tarot Deck edition, which has restored a lot of the bright vibrant colour to the images. I received this edition as a Christmas gift and, along with the Thoth below, this is the one I use most regularly.
Thoth Deck: Another amazing deck, this one designed by another female artist of genius, Lady Frieda Harris, between 1938 -1943. I found this deck very hard to get into at first because there is so much more dynamism in this deck than the RWS. There is also a wider range of colours (some of which I found jarring), abstract geometric images and background details; it can all feel a bit cold, noisy and overwhelming. But as I’ve become familiar with it, I’ve grown to love it. The cards are evocative and mystical. Where RWS uses characters to bring alive the Minors, the Thoth uses titles, astrological symbols and compelling geometric images which speak to the intuition. This is a go-to deck for me. I particularly now use it when doing the Opening of the Key Spread, an involved reading technique that can make use of all 78 cards.
Tarot of the Spirit: This deck is used, I understand, by Jane Wallace the founder of Psychic Sisters in Selfridges. I don’t use these that much, but I love the modern art by Joyce Eakins, which uses the RWS as a springboard for some beautiful and vibrant new interpretations of the well-worn themes. A couple of times the symbolism has shocked me with its relevance to the question I’ve asked.
The Wild Unknown: This deck recasts the familiar Tarot archetypes into wild natural settings. For example, Wands become branches, often accompanied by snakes (Kundalini rising). Again, I don’t use them much, they are more an aesthetic rather than divinatory pleasure. But they are completely different from any other deck I own, and sometimes that difference can be a key for unlocking fresh insights on a situation or person.
The Tantric Dakini Oracle: Ok, strictly speaking these are a 65 card oracle deck, but they are divinatory and I like them, and occasionally I use them (for myself). The first reader I ever went to see used this deck: he used them to accurately predict – seven years ahead of time – when I would start my own business. They are designed by the extravagantly talented Penny Slinger, and are a collage of painting and photos. Done in the days before digital art, the images could do with being reproduced and digitally sharpened, but even with this slight drawback these are some of the most distinctive and eye-catching cards I have ever seen. I adore them.
Playing Cards: Again, not Tarot cards, but I regularly turn to the humble playing cards. Because they lack human portraits or descriptive imagery (apart from the Kings, Queens and Jacks and suit patterns) they can be harder to use. But that can also be a blessing sometimes as it leaves a wide-open space for intuition to roam. With limited imagery, they also lack the subtlety that one might receive from a picture for example. But their bluntness can also be an advantage on occasions: a Queen of Spades in a reading is probably going to be a troublesome person, as will a King of Spades. The cards just tell it as it is.
So there you go, those are my favourite decks.