If you’ve ever looked through one of our tarot cases, you know that there are a wide variety of decks available. In fact, there are so many tarot decks being made that we can only really carry a very small selection of them. How, then, does someone go about picking the deck that is right for them? Good question! So, to this end, this month we take a look at tarot decks, what makes one different than another, and some suggestions on how to go about choosing yours!
A Quick History
Though many people believe that the tarot originated with the ‘gypsies’, or nomadic tribes in Europe, there is little evidence to support this claim. The earliest known examples of tarot cards originated in 15th century Italy, and were essentially playing cards with ‘trump’ set added to the standard numbered, suited cards. At the time, decks of this nature were hand painted and therefore could only really be owned by the wealthy and royalty.
It wasn’t until 1781 that the practice of using the cards for divination became a public practice. It it likely that they were previously being used for this purpose, but the first book exploring the symbolism and reading methods wasn’t published until that year (in Le Monde Primitif, by Antoine Court de Gebelin).
Tarot vs Oracles
The first thing to know when choosing a divination deck is that not all sets of cards are created equally. We can divide these tools into two categories: Tarot and Oracle cards.
Tarot cards use four standard suits (minor arcana)- usually Swords, Cups, Wands and Pentacles, but sometimes they will substitute other symbols that fit more closely with the theme of the deck – and a trump suit (major arcana) of named cards, such as The Magician and The Tower. For this reason, once you have begun to learn the meanings of tarot cards, you can easily switch from one deck to another with a dramatically reduced learning curve.
Oracle cards, though clearly based on the tarot concept, use a totally different organization to the deck. Instead of the standard tarot suits and numbering system, oracles often have a much smaller and simpler set of cards with no suits or trump cards. They might depict totem animals, angels, singular words, or just about anything. The reading method is usually similar to tarot , but the skills you gain from learning to read the cards in one deck generally will not translate over to other oracle decks.
Choosing Your Tarot
So, if the suits and major cards in a deck of Tarot are essentially the same, and they are read the same way, then what is the difference between one deck and another? Simply put, the choice lies in the artwork. Every tarot deck is illustrated with a theme, or a set of pictures made in a certain style that relates to one another (and the meanings of the individual cards) in some way. In essence, the deck that is right for your will contain artwork that you can relate to – which is something very personal and different for everyone.
Why is this so important? Most people, when they begin to learn the tarot, start by trying to memorize the meaning of each individual card. This can be a daunting task, if for no other reason than there being 78 cards in a standard tarot deck. That’s a lot of memorizing! The function of the artwork on the card is to help solidify the meaning in your mind. In fact, many professional tarot readers do more interpretation of the artwork than recitation of the written card meanings.
Still having trouble choosing? Try holding the decks you are considering in your hand and gauge how comfortable you feel handling them. New tarot will usually be sealed, but you can still get the same effect by handling the box with the deck in it. Pay attention to and trust your instincts here. If you know how to use a pendulum, you also might use one to determine which deck is the best one for you.
Tarot is one of the most detailed, well-respected methods of divination available today. There is a definite learning curve in the beginning, but if you practice regularly it quickly becomes easier and eventually second-nature to consult the cards on a variety of topics for yourself or others!
Earth Lore carries an ever-changing variety of tarot decks at both locations.