your first tarot deck what you need to know

I remember the first time I purchased a tarot deck. On a rare outing to the mall, I dove into my favorite place in the world: the book shop.  I had just started studying astrology so my destination was the tiny new age section.

As I ran my fingers across the small selection of astrology books, my eyes locked on a tarot deck.  The Marseilles Tarot!  It was the only one on the shelf.  Curious, I snatched it up and decided to purchase it.

And that started my love affair with tarot.

This was not an easy deck for a beginner but I persisted.  I was determined to learn this tarot stuff!

A few months later, I was back at that mall and once again, lingering around that new age section.  Lo and behold…the Rider Waite SmithTarot was waiting patiently for me.  I got home, unwrapped that deck and then…I “got” it.  This was “my” deck.

To this day, I’ll deviate to other decks from time to time but I always go back to my trusty Rider Waite Smith.  (I tend to be a brand loyalist in other things as well…been using the same inky black eyeliner from Loreal for years.  Once I find something I like, I stick with it.)

If you’ve been thinking about diving into the wonderful world of tarot, the first step is getting your paws on deck.  Are you ready?

First things first – let’s get a silly superstition out of the way.  Ever hear this rumor: your first tarot deck needs to be purchased by someone else.  I’m here to say bullocks to that.  It’s the surest way to get a deck you don’t like.  Or to be kept waiting.  When you’re called to read tarot cards, waiting for someone else to get off their duff and grab you a deck doesn’t make sense (and you surely don’t want to nag your way to acquire one).  So drop that notion right now.


Next thing: find a place that sells tarot decks.  If you are lucky, you’ll have a well-stocked metaphysical shop in your hood.  If you don’t, you may have to go the route I did and scour your local bookstores.  The beauty of a brick and mortar establishment is that you can see the deck and feel it in your hands.  How it looks and feels will determine if this is “the one”.  I’m a very visual and tactile person so this is my favorite route.

If that’s not an option, your best bet is to head online.  You might be able to find a deck you like through a site such as Tarot Garden or Amazon.  You may also want to go directly to the publisher or, in the case of self-published decks, to the author (ex: Fountain Tarot or The Wild Unknown).

Some of these sites will give you images of the cards.  There are also plenty of sites that offer deck reviews such as Aeclectic Tarot, often with plenty of pictures to give you a feel for how the deck looks and works.  This can be helpful for those who are not fortunate enough to have a local shop.

Examine the deck as carefully as you can. Take your time and pore over the cards.  Which deck appeals to you? Are you finding some decks seem to have images that “pop” for you?  If you are holding it, how does it feel in your hands?  Is the card stock sturdy or does it feel flimsy?  Is the deck easy to shuffle?

Trust your gut +  personal aesthetic. It needs to be a good fit and look great “on you”, like a nice pair of skinny jeans. How you feel should determine your ultimate decision.

Still unsure? You can always ask your tarot lovin’ friends for advice (does this tarot deck make my butt look big???).  They may have some personal favorites that they can direct you to.

If all else fails and you’re still feeling uncertain, grab The Rider Tarot Deck. It’s a classic and most modern tarot decks are based on it.  You can’t go wrong.

Once you get the deck home, it’s time to unwrap it – and begin reading!  Some tarot practitioners like to take their time and open it with reverence.  Not me.  Like a kid at Christmas, I have no such patience for things like that. I just rip it open and toss the box!

Next, spend time with it. Shuffle it.  Season it.  Get to know it.  Use it alone for a while so that you get used to the deck.  The best way to make your connection is to simply keep working with it until it feels like a comfy old sweater.  At that point, the deck is “broken in” and ready to read for others.

Some tarot readers have special rituals to “consecrate” a new deck.  Leaving it out in moonlight surrounded by crystals, an invocation or prayer, smudging with a sage wand, or even sleeping with it under their pillow (I’m too princess and the pea for that) are common ways to cleanse and prepare the deck. I don’t do any of this – I just shuffle the heck out of the deck for weeks until I feel it’s ready to roll.

A few common questions:

Q: Do I need to keep it wrapped in silk or in a wooden box?

A:  This is a matter of preference.  It will protect your deck so it’s not a bad idea but it’s not essential.

Q: Can I work with a used deck?

A:  By all means! If your granny passes down a deck or you find a used one in a store that you are drawn to, give it a go.  I don’t work with used decks myself because I want my decks to be connected to only me.

Q: How do you know when it’s time to retire your deck?

A:  I retire a deck when the edges are so frayed that it no longer shuffles properly.  In my opinion, a shabby deck leads to a shabby reading. I like my tools to be crisp and sharp. Which means I go through a lot of Rider Waites around here! That being said, many people are impressed by an old deck because they think it has more power, especially if it’s been handed down from generation to generation.  You’ll have to “feel” it out and trust your gut on this.  If the deck doesn’t seem to have any “juice” or if it starts to fall apart, retire it.

Q: What is the best way to discard a tarot deck?

A:  You can put it away in a drawer if it’s still meaningful to you. Or you can give it away to a metaphysical shop or bookstore that takes used decks.  You might want to pass it on to a friend.  You can throw it out.  Or you can try these suggestions: Gonzo Tarot – 7 good uses for old tarot cards.

Q: I’m having trouble memorizing the meanings in the little white book.  What should I do?

A: If you’re totally new to tarot, grab a great beginner’s book such as Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners.  (Here’s a list of tarot books I recommend.) This will give you a lot more to work with than that little white book.  Pull a card each day and study it thoroughly.  Journal your interpretations if you’d like.  Or take a marker and write some of the interpretations right on the deck (yes, I know some tarot readers are aghast at the idea but cards CAN be replaced). If you keep at it daily, in time, those interpretations will stick and you’ll be surprising yourself and amazing your friends.  Don’t give up…just keep practicing.

Happy deck hunting!



© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2015

image from stock photography

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