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Tarot Deck Reviews
I have a penchant for tarot decks. I've found that some decks are 78 little pieces of art, and I enjoy collecting them. As my tarot knowledge and practice has expanded, I've discovered that some decks are definitely better than others…but what's intuitive for one person might be useless for another.
So, with that in mind, feel free to peruse the list of decks I own, including those I rarely (if ever) actually use. Tarot is a subjective field of study, so whether or not you find my thoughts on each deck useful is up to you.
Drawing people can be pretty difficult, and there are a lot of people in your average modern Tarot deck. I dislike poorly-drawn people, so my art score is always going to be a bit weighted on how well-done the people are. I find bad artwork to really distract from a reading, which is supposed to be about getting past the physical world to focus on something bigger.
I like quite a bit of Pamela Colman-Smith's other artwork, but her Tarot illustrations really don't do it for me. I prefer more lively imagery with dimensional depth.
A lot of modern Tarot decks use collage-style digital artwork. I personally don't like this kind of art. I prefer to focus on decks with a full set of unique, original illustrations.
For a general idea of how I rate artwork…just keep in mind this isn't an exclusive or explicit list:
|Beautiful illustrations with no distracting flaws.|
|Very good illustrations that lack the “oomph” of a five-star deck.|
|“Hotel art” - styling that is generic, odd faces and people, or otherwise a little off.|
|Mediocre illustrations, to the point that it distracts from the reading.|
|Terrible artwork, rendering the deck useless for reading.|
“Reading intuitively” means reading meaning from cards without relying on a book of descriptions and suggestions. A lot of people claim to be able to read intuitively very well, but I've found this a learning process, personally. It's probably because I have a pretty analytical mind compared to your average adult female, and my inclination for supernatural metaphysical spiritism isn't very strong.
So, for me, how intuitive the deck is has been rated against the standard RWS deck, simply because that has become the modern standard. I think the RWS deck is pretty difficult to use, though, because it uses a lot of imagery that's pretty foreign to millennials and the younger set. So, a three-star rating refers to a deck that follows the traditional Smith-Waite imagery close enough that you can read with the deck easily if you're already familiar with the standard. I've reserved higher ratings for decks that I find truly intuitive - that is, the imagery offers some kind of tangible, useful message without necessarily relying on the accompanying book.
This is a high bar for me. I've found a lot of decks aren't very intuitive for me, but everyone is different, so don't just take my word for it!
For a general idea of how I rate a deck's intuitive imagery…just keep in mind this isn't an exclusive or explicit list:
|Easily deciphered imagery with meanings that don't require a book to interpret.|
|Imagery that is relatively easy to decipher, with or without a background in Smith-Waite imagery.|
|Generally just follows the Smith-Waite codex.|
|Doesn't follow Smith-Waite, and doesn't have easily-interpreted imagery.|
|Uses too much imagery that is overly abstract, esoteric, archaic, etc. Useless for reading.|
Little White Book (LWB)
Every deck comes with a book explaining the meaning of each card. The smallest books are little pamphlets, with short summaries of each of the 78 cards. These are colloquially referred to as LWBs, or “little white books”. It's become more popular, as printing has become cheaper, to create larger, more comprehensive books to accompany a deck. The actual review will have details on what book is included with each deck.
For a general idea of how I rate the included book…just keep in mind this isn't an exclusive or explicit list:
|Real book with full narrative image descriptions as well as interpretation notes. Full-page illustrations for each card.|
|Same as above, but maybe not as well-written.|
|Small book (bound or LWB) with good card descriptions, images, spreads, artist notes, etc.|
|LWB with short card descriptions, spreads, notes, etc.|
|LWB with unusably brief card descriptions, no notes or suggested spreads|
This is an important one. A lot of Tarot decks these days are printed in China on poor quality cardstock, with poor finish quality. Llwellyn's decks are notorious for being pretty low-grade. They partner with some very talented artists and authors, but if you want your investment to be around for the long haul, you'll care about quality.
For a general idea of how I rate quality…just keep in mind this isn't an exclusive or explicit list:
|Excellent print quality (color, accuracy, etc.), heavy-duty cardstock, quality packaging.|
|All of the above but not quite as A+.|
|Average quality. Probably should be sleeved if you plan on regular use.|
|Mediocre quality - bad color saturation, flimsy cardstock, chipped print on card edges. Definitely sleeve.|
|Bottom-of-the-barrel. Reconsider purchasing, and definitely sleeve if you do.|
Robert M. Place is one of the foremost experts on the real, documented history of the tarot. His book, The Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism, is an in-depth examination of the history of sorcery (the magic of the Egyptians and other ancient cultures in the Middle East and northern Africa), western alchemy, the occult movement of the 19th century, and how the tarot came to be what it is today.
I also recommend Robert's book if you're using the standard RWS deck with Pamela Colman Smith's artwork, because he goes into detail on the rationale behind those original designs.
While Robert's decks do include a little white book, I strongly recommend purchasing this volume if you decide to buy either The Alchemical Tarot or Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery. This book has in-depth descriptions of all the cards, with a lot of extra historical context for the major arcana. The Jean Noblet Tarot is the French tarot deck pictured in Robert's book, and as of July 2020, there is only one publisher of this deck in the world, located in France.
More on the tarot in general can be found over at notes and thoughts.
I strongly recommend riffle (dovetail) shuffling any deck with edge-to-edge printing. Printed images are layers of ink on top of white cardstock, and printing to the edges means that ink layer is up against the edge. So, edge (overhand or Hindu) shuffling runs the risk of chipping the edges of your cards pretty easily. Stick with riffle shuffling, and your cards will probably last a bit longer.
I have a slightly obsessive tendency to want to keep the things I own in really good condition. Because of that, I started sleeving my tarot cards as soon as I bought my first deck for serious use. I really love Sleeve Kings' "WOTR" card sleeves, which are 70x120mm. They're made of extra-thick, ultra-clear PVC, and are perfectly sized for standard tarot cards, with very little wiggle room for each card. It's a little harder to shuffle sleeved cards, but the more you do it, the easier it will be.
Llewellyn in particular usually prints their tarot decks using mediocre print quality and thin cardstock. If you care about keeping your Llewellyn decks in good condition, I definitely recommend sleeving your cards. I'm sure someone will come along to tell me that sleeves prevent me from tapping into the energy of the cards, but I haven't found any difficulty reading with sleeved cards.
I don't like keeping cards in bags, because it's too easy for the cards to get damaged. So, I store my sleeved decks in custom boxes I make myself, using 1/16“ chipboard. I also have several Ultimate Guard tarot deck boxes, but Ultimate Guard discontinued production of these boxes in 2019. The last couple I bought were of really sub-par quality, so I don't recommend trying to find those deck boxes on the used market, unless you can find them for a few dollars apiece.
The Deck List
Complete Deck List
These are Tarot decks I own. Some I use more regularly than others; some I don't use at all.