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Two Kinds of Tarot Decks: Part 2, Reading Decks

As I wrote in the first part of this series, Two Kinds of Tarot Decks: Part 1, Art Decks, to me there are two main kinds of tarot decks: art decks and reading decks. This part covers tarot decks that are easy to use for actually reading tarot, rather than just being works of art.

Reading Decks

The queen of reading decks is the Rider-Waite deck. It is certainly not the only good deck for learning and reading tarot, but it is certainly the one to start with. Here’s why.

The imagery of the major arcana, the trumps, of the Rider-Waite deck was specified by the great 20th-century hermeticist and mystic, A.E. Waite, a major figure in the famous Golden Dawn magical lodge. That’s why the deck bears his name.

But what made the Rider-Waite deck revolutionary, and what made it a tarot standard, is the imagery on the minor arcana, the suit cards. The minor arcana are just as rich in imagery as the trump cards. That is why the deck is so easy to read. And that is why most modern decks are based on the Rider-Waite at least to some degree—even if their artists and publishers do not realize it.

More on the Rider-Waite in another article. The point, however, is that most decks that are good for reading have complex imagery on the minor arcana, the suit cards, not just on the trumps.

For good readings the imagery should be complex and relevant to the tarot. I’m not talking about just complicated designs. Each card should offer a wealth of evocative, psychologically active imagery that helps one’s subconscious mind convey ideas and feelings relevant to the traditional meaning tarot meaning of that card.

That is, someone might come up with a completely new deck with complex imagery on a different system that can be used to give fairly accurate readings, and it might still not be a tarot deck. There are such decks. But they are not tarot decks.

The very best way to find a good reading deck is to try out the deck. But opening a new deck and laying it out in the store is usually not allowed. If you can handle one that belongs to a friend, that will work. Otherwise, you just have to learn to get a feel for the deck just by seeing a few sample cards, even by just viewing the box.

If you know the Rider-Waite deck well, you can usually recognize good reading decks, but even then, you can make mistakes if you cannot see the whole deck. I like to read with several different decks at psychic fairs and parties.

For awhile I collected decks, and I was sometimes fooled by the box. I do not read from decks that have only coins, cups, and so on, on the minor arcana. I’m very visual, so the numerology alone is not enough.

I used to give away useless decks if they were not compelling enough to keep as art decks. But I hate giving people decks that I think they will have a hard time reading, even though they like them.

Decks based on the Rider-Waite deck, though they can be innovative, and beautiful enough to collect for the art alone, are usually a safer bet. Some can be quite eccentric and still work for reading if you know the Rider-Waite well.

For example, the Alice in Wonderland tarot I bought some years ago is simply brilliant. It should not work, but it does—partly because the Alice story itself consists of subconscious, dream energy.

Which decks people can read from accurately and easily will vary somewhat. The thing they will all have in common is complex, subconsciously true and complete imagery, a complete symbol system that provides a vocabulary for the reader’s subconscious mind to speak to speak to the conscious mind.

So while a good reading deck will work for most readers, some decks may work for only a few readers. It is up to each reader to become skilled and experienced enough on standard decks to be able to recognize unusual decks that will also work for them.

Art Decks

For a discussion of art decks, tarot decks that are beautiful but not good for giving readings, see the first article in this series, Two Kinds of Tarot Decks: Part 1, Art Decks.

Tags: Tarot Art, Symbolism, reading tarot decks, minor arcana, Decks, reading decks, Rider-Waite

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