A Beginner�s Guide
to Learning Tarot
By James W. Revak



Choosing an appropriate deck is both important and challenging.  Today options can overwhelm the beginner; hundreds of decks of almost every imaginable “flavor” are available, ranging in quality from outstanding to terrible.  Some sources lamely advise you to pick a deck that “speaks” to you – and leave it at that.  However, a deck which speaks to you may be junk or unsuitable no matter how exciting or visually beautiful.  Therefore, this guide will give you practical, detailed advice and specific recommendations that you can use today to begin picking a deck that will meet your needs.  However, to be relatively concise and avoid overwhelming you, it discusses only a tiny fraction of all available decks.

Selecting a deck is to an extent a personal matter; one which may be great for you, may be poor for the next Tarotist.  When you shop, look for decks which visually attract, excite, and inspire you, but I encourage you go further.  How you feel about a deck is important, but probably should not be your sole criterion for selecting one, especially as a beginner.  Indeed, some decks, which are visually gorgeous, initially stimulating, or even deliciously witty, may be poor choices because they are superficial; you will probably quickly outgrow them.  Others are so obscure that few resources – be they books, Websites, or well experienced users – exist to help you; you probably want to avoid them in the beginning.  Therefore, seek to discover decks that are exciting and inspiring, but also make you think, have depth, and have helpful resources.

To begin, consider exploring those described below.  Later, make a special effort to examine them critically in person; some Occult, New Age, and chain bookstores have sample cards or even complete decks you can inspect.  Decks may also be purchased from online and used bookstores and Internet auction sites.  You may also wish to ask experienced Tarotists whom you know and respect for advice prior to making a purchase.

All decks explored here have the usual suits (Batons or Wands, Swords, Cups, and Coins or Pentacles) or very similar ones.  Unless otherwise noted, they also have:

  • Major Arcana with typical numbers, including the Fool as 0, Strength as VIII, and Justice as XI;
  • Major Arcana with typical titles or very similar ones;
  • Titles in English;
  • Courts cards comprising King, Queen, Knight, and Page;
  • Reversible backs; and
  • Cards measuring approximately 2 3/4 x 4 3/4 inches.

Some decks are available in additional sizes or languages.  Please ask your bookseller for details.  A few may be difficult to find, including in the U.S.  The following sites are excellent sources for many such decks: Alida, R. Somerville of Edinburgh, Il Trigono, and Le Valet d’Coer.

To view a larger version of any illustrated card, simply click the image.  Illustrations have been created with significant care.  However, you may need to adjust your monitor for optimal viewing, if they appear either too dark or light.

This guide continues with more about decks . . . click here.

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Copyright � 2002 James W. Revak.  All rights reserved.  (12/10/02).