Tarot Resources & Aspiring Tarot Readers
Today, I’m going to be talking about tarot resources. These are the books we all have on our shelf, or maybe don’t have but should. Likewise, I want to take a look at tarot decks from the perspective of a student of tarot. What decks should every aspiring tarot reader have or be familiar with? How do the tarot resources we choose impact the way we read tarot? Are there any books I simply can’t be without? How does one exactly connect to a tarot deck? Do fluffy tarot decks and occult tarot decks have a place at the table together? Let’s talk about this, because let’s face it, resources are part of the learning process.
To begin, I think it’s only fair to share where I started within the realm of tarot resources. Before I started studying Occult Tarot and then Holistic Tarot, I only had a few “must have” resources. This included my Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot Deck In A Tin, a copy of Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, and a bound notebook. That was it, and even that felt unnecessary at times. Beyond that, I had amassed a few tarot decks, almost all of which featured the Rider-Waite Smith System of tarot symbolism. There were a couple Hybrid System decks in there, and perhaps one modernized Marseilles Tarot deck, but I didn’t know enough to recognize it. Yeah, it was that bad.
So, how did it all start? Well, my tarot studies began rather unexpectedly. As I’ve mentioned previously, I started off amassing tarot resources by studying Occult Philosophy, specifically Ceremonial Magick. This has been really rewarding for me personally, and I highly recommend Donald Michael Kraig’s Modern Magick, Lon Milo Duquette’s The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, and Colin D. Campbell’s Thelema: An Introduction to the Life, Work & Philosophy of Aleister Crowley if the subject interests you. Within the scope of tarot, these books led me to an interest book on tarot called 1-2-3 Tarot: Answers In An Instant by Donald Tyson. This book, while not a must have, did influence how I read tarot at the time.
In his book, Donald Tyson makes use of tarot sentences to interpret variations of three card spreads. The book also goes into detail about analyzing how the court cards interact with one another, especially when reading with reversals. Admittedly, this is the book that got me comfortable with reversed cards. The structure was easy to follow, and I could pick and choose what I used. Donald Tyson is a well-known name within the occult community, and it was probably a good place to start as a tarot beginner. But, I quickly found myself wanting more. So, the first thing I did was look for a tarot history book. This was an extremely important step in the course of changing my tarot resources.
The first recommendation to any tarot beginner that I can make is to get the history book. I’m not going to say which tarot history book is a must for you in particular, but there needs to be at least one on your shelf. Popular tarot history books today are Robert M. Place’s The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, Paul Huson’s Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage, and Ronald Decker and Michael Dummett’s A Wicked Pack of Cards: Origins of the Occult Tarot. While I’m slowly collecting these myself, I currently have and have read Ronald Deck and Michael Dummett’s sequel to A Wicked Pack of Cards called A History of the Occult Tarot. It’s extremely good, and covers tarot history from the time of the Golden Dawn forward.
The second recommendation I would make to a tarot beginner is to get familiar with some of the foundational tarot texts. These are books that don’t share tarot history, because they ARE tarot history. Some of the books will pertain to specific decks, others will be very unfamiliar to you. That’s okay, it’s part of the learning process. Luckily, most of the foundational texts are available for free, due to their public domain status. Books like, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, The Tarot of the Bohemians, and Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual are all available online (just follow the links). Other books may require purchasing or borrowing them from libraries or online stores. I highly recommend just reading through a few free public domain books first to become familiar with them and their value for study.
The third recommendation is actually to choose a deck specific book, other than the Rider-Waite Smith system. These are books that go with certain decks specifically. For example, some popular choices might be Tarot of the Magicians: The Occult Symbols of the Major Arcana that Inspired Modern Tarot for the Oswald Wirth Tarot, The Marseille Tarot Revealed: A Complete Guide to Symbolism, Meanings & Methods for the CBD Tarot de Marseille, or The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot which comes specifically with The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot. My personal choice was The Book of Thoth, which goes to Crowley’s Thoth Tarot specifically. Again, I’m trying to amass an assortment of these books as well, but it takes time as I really want to dig into each deck and book.
For the fourth book recommendation then, I would actually recommend aspiring tarot readers get a good study book, or rather, a book of interest. This can be anything you want to study within tarot specifically. For example, Tarot for Your Self, Tarot for Writers, or The Qabalistic Tarot Book: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy all fall into this category of books. There’s no particular system these books are designed for, and yet, they compliment most tarot decks and can add to the overall study of aspiring tarot readers. Admittedly, this is the easy category to amass books for. One of my personal selections was Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. Most of my other books in this category come about due to the study group.
Finally the fifth book recommendation I would make to an aspiring tarot reader is a non-tarot book that compliments your tarot study. This could be Dion Fortune’s The Mystical Qabalah, Marion D. March’s Only Way to Learn Astrology book series, or Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Each of these books can add to an understanding of tarot, but isn’t directly tarot related. There are many books on my wish list for this category, and you’ll be surprised how many make it onto yours as well. Right now, the one book I own in this category would be either The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites, and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order by Israel Regardie or, oddly enough, The Tarot of Perfection: A Book of Tarot Tales by Rachel Pollack. Never underestimate the value of these books to your individual study as a tarot reader.
Alright, with the book recommendations out of the way, we can talk tarot decks. In actuality, my recommendations for amassing tarot decks is similar to that of tarot based books. When it comes to collecting tarot decks, there’s a lot that goes into choosing a deck on an individual level. Many tarot readers feel like a deck just speaks to them, which is fine. Go ahead, get those decks, but also, consider other decks as well. If you’re not analyzing why you’re purchasing a tarot deck, then you might just be getting an impulse buy. I’m not judging those who purchase decks on impulse at all, even I do it, but preventing most impulse buys might be nice. The less we impulse buy, the more money we have to invest in those decks we really want for the long term. So with that, here are my recommendations on tarot decks.
First, get a tarot deck that speaks specifically to you. Odds are this will probably be a Rider-Waite Smith deck, and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it might make things easier. But, if the deck isn’t a Rider-Waite Smith, that’s perfectly okay too. Just get a deck that makes you excited about tarot and tarot reading. This can be the popular Everyday Witch Tarot, The Linestrider Tarot, or The Wild Unknown Tarot. But, it can also be decks like The Hermetic Tarot, Universal Tarot of Marseille, or Tabula Mundi Tarot. The important thing is to get a deck you can connect with and like. Does the art speak to you? Is the theme one that makes your mind creative? Where do you anticipate going with the tarot deck’s imagery? These are all questions to ask when choosing a deck in this category. My personal deck of choice in this category, oddly enough, is The Happy Tarot.
The second deck category is a historical deck you want to study. This is probably the deck that goes along with the book you purchase too. Don’t spend too much in this category unless you want to! Decks like the Visconti-Sforza, Book of Thoth Etteilla, and the Golden Tarot of the Renaissance are all available for a fairly decent price. That doesn’t even take into account newer historical decks still in print, such as the Thoth Tarot, Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, or the Oswald Wirth Tarot. Any number of Marseilles Tarot decks are also in print. Knowing which system of Marseilles Tarot a deck is based on will help, if only to cut down which decks are purchased. But, for study purposes, the book will probably recommend a specific Marseilles deck for you. Again, you can keep collecting, or just compare and contrast for studying, it’s really up to you.
For a third deck recommendation, I’d recommend getting a deck in each of the systems common today. If you are being careful monetarily, this is still easily doable. You can pick a popular Rider-Waite Smith deck, then study the Thoth, Marseilles, or Golden Dawn Tarot for your historical deck, and then simply purchase the other deck needed here. The reason for this is I really do think it adds to the overall study and comprehension of tarot. An occult deck, like Crowley’s, will teach correspondences missed by the other decks. The Marseilles will teach relationships between Major Arcana cards, or perhaps, numerical symbolism of the pip cards. The Rider-Waite Smith will teach symbolism within the cards and corresponding relationships, something it does quite well in my opinion. Studying all three systems will expose you to the pros and cons of each, and allow you to strengthen whatever deck you ultimately use for your everyday readings.
My fourth deck recommendation is to get a hybrid deck of any two systems you choose. There are numerous versions of hybrid decks, and I’ve purchased a few without realizing it. Many mixed decks keep the numbering of the Majors consistent with Marseilles decks, but then illustrate pip cards with an actual scene. Other decks try to incorporate the symbolism of multiple systems, such as the Lo Scarabeo Tarot, currently on my wish list. These decks help those looking to learn a new system by getting rid of the need to start completely from scratch. Hybrid decks will also help tarot readers looking master each system by allowing a search of symbolism to take place. Comparing and contrasting deck difference is sometimes easier in a single deck blending both. Currently, I have a few hybrid decks, but I’m looking to replace them with the Lo Scarabeo Tarot, as it incorporates all three major systems popular today.
The fifth, and final deck recommendation is a strange one learned through experience. I highly recommend getting a deck that pairs well with either another tarot deck or another form of divination. Some tarot decks and oracle decks have the same theme and/or creators, such as The Arthurian Tarot and The Camelot Oracle, The Linestrider Tarot and the newly released Hedgewitch Botanical Oracle, or Guardian Angel Tarot Cards and Loving Words from Jesus. Other decks may pair well with each other despite having no apparent reason to. For example, some of the pairings I’ve come up with for this are The New Mythic Tarot and Goddess Guidance, Book of Shadows Tarot and Housewives Tarot (using the Majors in place of an oracle), or the Thoth Tarot and the Tarot of Sexual Magic (using Majors as an oracle). Learning to compliment your tarot deck is a must. At some point, you’ll want to add to your readings, and this is a good way to do it.
Lastly, I just want to say that all this is built upon the idea that you want to purchase books and tarot decks. You don’t have to do this to be a “legitimate” tarot reader. I’m an aspiring tarot reader myself, and this is just how I’ve managed to learn. If you’re tight on money or watching your finances, borrow books. Arrange a tarot deck night with your friends if they’re interested in tarot. Read some of the free public domain sources online. Study pictures of tarot decks instead of purchasing them for that study time period. Knowledge doesn’t need to impact your finances, and anyone saying so needs to jump in a lake. For years, I never bothered with tarot resources. That’s okay too. Everything comes in its own time. Feel free to take my recommendations and pick and choose what works for you. Being a unique tarot reader is about discovering what makes YOU unique, so don’t hesitate to embrace whatever that is.