Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deck Collecting versus Tarot Reading

The Tarot Shelf years ago when 1 shelf would do...
I am the proud curator of about eleventy billion decks.  Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration.  In truth, I have somewhere around 650 tarot decks, and 150-ish oracle, Lenormand, and playing card for divination decks.  I am cuckoo for cartomancy, that much should be obvious, and I know how you tarot freaks are, so no, you can't have my home address.  We won't even talk about my hundreds of books.

I don't have a lot of of discrimination in buying new decks.  Hell, I don't have much discrimination in buying old decks, either.  I will absolutely try anything.  I don't keep every deck that comes my way, but I give all of them a chance.  To stay in my collection, it has to meet at least one of the following criteria: be a deck I am going to use professionally, be beautiful, add something unique to tarot, or have sentimental value (i.e.; have been a gift).  I have most decks that are in print, and a good many that are no longer.  I love self published decks, small print and independent works.  I am by no means the most rabid collector I know, but I made due with just the one deck for most of my life, so I had lots of time to make up for.

Has having all these decks made me a better tarot reader?  The answer is somewhat mixed, but leaning heavily towards no.  I definitely have gained different perspective from all my (much loved) decks, but few of them were actually necessary for my growth or learning as a reader.  They have enhanced my experience, but not defined it.  I imagine this is kind of like how I learned to read with a battered old copy Harry The Dirty Dog and my kids had both Harry and interactive computer games, Leap Pad, and Hooked on Phonics.  Different and varied paths to the same destination.

Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set- The Fool
One of the questions I am asked frequently by people who want to learn tarot but are unsure where to start is what deck to use.  My suggestion is two pick up two decks- a bog standard printing of the Pamela Colman Smith/Arthur Waite collaboration commonly known as the Rider Waite Smith deck, because most tarot books today and classes teach based on this system.  My favorite printing of this deck is the Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. in 2009.  The colors are subtle and the cardstock lovely to hold and shuffle.  Not everyone connects to the art in this deck, so I also suggest each student get another deck which they just love for the way it looks.  If it follows Smith Waite tradition, great, but a new student is unlikely to be able to tell.  Just get something with 78 cards that insists it come home with you.  Tarot is a language of pictures, so it matters that the reader likes what they are seeing.  I also suggest that they NOT buy any books about learning tarot until they have a firm grasp on what they feel each card means, but most people ignore that one.

Anna K Tarot- 8 of Swords
After all these years of amassing decks, I have come to decide that for me, there is no "The One", and the although the search has been fun, I am always let down as deck after deck does not quite fulfill me the way I was hoping.   Then it dawned on me- when I let go of my expectation that a man would make me happy, and just went about making myself happy, I found the perfect guy for me.  Now I don't expect him to make me complete, but he just kinda does.  It probably works the same for tarot decks.  I carry the key to my own satisfaction inside me, and when I am happy with myself as a reader I am not expecting a deck to transform me.  Now I can enjoy each individual deck for what it has to offer, and unlike husbands, I can pick up another whenever I like.  (My husband is endlessly fascinating to me.  Just to be clear.)

So, collect decks as time, space, and money allow, but follow your own bliss in that area.  You only need one.  After that you are just making piles.  I know fabulous readers that only use one deck, and not having a collection that even equals 1% of mine does not hinder any person as a reader.  If anything, the opposite is true.  Bringing decks into your home does not make a tarot reader.  Having books on your shelf doesn't, either.  Throwing down cards and coming to grips with them, even it feels like you are Jacob wrestling the angel (and sometimes, you probably are), that is what makes a tarot reader.


  1. Great advice! and omg you got sooo many decks!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Angelo! Yes, I have a bunch of decks haha :-)

  3. Beautiful post, Manda, though you're removing my justification for my "collection" - not even half yours, but I'm working on it :) Tbh, I agree that we don't *need* these decks, but looking at each new one is another way of wrestling the cards. So, as you say, many paths, one destination, but if you don't walk any path, you won't go anywhere ;)

  4. There is nothing wrong with having beautiful things that you love nearby, as long as you aren't making a hallway through your stacks of stuff and pushing them off the bed to have room to lay down. That is probably not even wrong if you are at peace with it and live alone. Myself, I have no intention of not getting more decks, and I have more than a lifetime's worth to study now. I get joy and peace through holding them and leafing through each one, but I got the same feeling while I only had one deck. I think you should have as many decks as make you happy, Chloe, because I certainly do!

  5. Wow, I love this picture! My decks are scattered over my bedroom, due to lack of space. I have one big box in which I keep many of my deck, plus two drawers and a shelf. And I only own about 115 decks, max.

    I loved your post. I think that having many decks does not make anyone a better reader... the secret to be a good reader is knowing your tool well. The amount of deck can help or hinder that, depending on the person's learning process.

    Personally, I love my decks. I am specially an oracle collector and each different oracle is like a unique friend to me. :-)

  6. Thanks, Marina! The decks take about four shelves like this now, all packed full, and a dresser. Oh, the shame... Not really, though. I love my decks, too. I was just helping my less tarot deck endowed friends understand with tarot, it really is quality time over quantity of decks. I like looking at all your different oracles on your posts, Marina!

  7. I really enjoyed this post! It was fun to spot some of the decks I own as well in your collection. I saw Revelations and Kat Black's Golden Tarot pretty quickly!

    It's always nice to know what others feel about their collections. There's no right or wrong way to tarot after all, just what feels right.

    Your blog is such an inspiration!

  8. I've always kept a cap on my decks at around 60, so storage has never been a problem, we make space for what we love don't we? ;)
    You ask, does it make me a better reader?
    The one thing I know for sure is it makes me a 'different' reader because it has opened up tarot and oracles to the wide world beyond base keywords.

    I love my decks!!

  9. edited to add, I've probably had at least 800 decks over the years though...if I don't love 'em I let 'em go.

  10. That is one of my favorite games to play, too, Monica, when people post pictures of their spaces, or collection lists. I love to compare, see what I am missing, and plot ways to come by whatever it may be(I don't steal from my friends, promise!) The Man threatened to take a recent picture, but I told him if we did that we might end with

    You make a good point, there is no wrong way to tarot. Love it! Thank you for stopping by!

  11. One of the reasons I love to read your blog, Sharyn, is that you use the different decks and you see new things and bring them out for me. I think that is so fun, and that you have a special talent for that. So, I think you have a very valid point about being a different kind of reader because of all the different exposures. We sure do make room for what we love :-) In my case, I am not sure that I truly love all those decks, and it is more like I get rid of what I don't find any redeeming qualities in, and I am a generous looker.

  12. This is an interesting post. I must have just under a couple of hundred here. I guess it depends on how you view each. I will always find room for those I love and the ones I am not so fond of, take space. I just never seem to find a balance between what is coming in and what is going out (the latter is less, hehe).

    I think that there are some blogs which are so interesting because of the different decks used and rotated. I love that. But as a reader, generally, I think there is something to be said for really getting to know the images of one. One that has experience layered up in it and which you know so well. I guess the good old RWS is my go-to deck, if honest. Unlike many, I have always found the art mysterious and intriguing.


  13. Reading tarot offers suggestions and possible outcomes but it never predicts the future. It's sole purpose is to guide you make your decision.

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