The Difference Between Tarot Cards and Why it Matters

I have been reading tarot cards for more than half my life.  I bought my first deck at a Barnes and Noble, brought it home, and read for everyone that I could, which was mostly my friends in high school.  Back in the early 00’s, there wasn’t quite as much information online as there is today.  Or maybe I just didn’t understand how to use the internet.  Regardless, I taught myself how to read the cards.  Instead of memorizing the stock meaning, I learned to interpret the images on the cards themselves.  This is why the difference between tarot cards matters.

What is Rider-Waite?

I have four different decks of tarot cards.  The first one I ever bought was Rider-Waite.  I felt inextricably drawn to it, particularly card number 17, “The Star.”  The simple, straightforward designs proved easy to interpret, perfect for a beginner like me.  Typically, different tarot decks have different names.  Usually, the decks are named for the artist and writer of the meanings.  Rider-Waite is still one of the most popular decks.  It was first published in 1910, so it’s been around for almost one hundred years.

The next deck I invested in was the Morgan-Greer tarot, and then the Hanson-Roberts tarot.  I like both of these decks because they hearken back to the Rider-Waite artwork.  Then I discovered the Legacy of the Divine tarot.  This artwork is still similar, but it is definitely more open to interpretation.  Let’s take a look.

Different artists, different interpretations. 

As you can see in the images above, all these cards represent the Star.  But different artists have chosen to represent them differently.  In two of the cards, the nude woman kneels over a stream and pours water out.  In yet another, she holds no containers, but the water runs from her hands.  And in the last one, she is dancing across the sky while stardust rains into the water below.  These cards all have water in common in their artwork, yet I have always felt that the Rider-Waite Star looks more determined, and the Hanson-Roberts Star looks more forlorn.  Perhaps this is my own projection onto the cards, but that is influenced by the outcomes of the readings.

The interpretation of the cards is up to you.  Any tarot teacher worth his salt is not going to sit down and make you memorize the different book meanings of every card.  Your own intuition is key to divination.  It’s all about how well you can open yourself up to the whispering of the Divine.  The cards are just a tool to use to help you get there.

Which deck should you choose?

If you really want to start reading tarot, the best thing to do is to pick a deck that you are attracted to.  When I went to Barnes and Noble to find my deck, this was back before internet shopping had really taken off.  They had one-card samples of all the decks laid out, and I chose based upon which card I was drawn to (it was the Star).  But that doesn’t mean that Rider-Waite tarot is for everyone.  If you’re not feeling it, you should definitely not chose it.

Amazon has a whole spread of decks that you can choose from.  Pick the ones that you are attracted to, that you feel inspired by.  You can also browse selections from different decks at Aeclectic.net. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s where I discovered that Morgan-Greer deck.  Or you can visit your local bookstore, local occult store, or just ask a friend where they got theirs.

I highly recommend buying new rather than used.  As a youth, I was not under the best tutelage, and the peers who taught me to read tarot advised placing a hex on my deck, so no one else would be able to use them if they were stolen.  If I were a more careless adult, or if my tastes had changed, I might have given that deck away, and my foolhardy decisions would have potentially hurt someone else.  While it is possible to cleanse cards of negative energy or spells, it’s not always easy, especially if the person who had them before you was very attached.  Remnants of their energy or their interpretations of the cards can stick, which could make your readings less accurate.  Still, this is just my personal preference; you should decide what works for you! 

Do you really need more than one deck?

I mean . . . you should know the answer to this question.  You don’t even need the one deck; all the divinatory magic comes straight from you.  Still, if you would like more than one deck, go for it!  If you want every deck under the sun, why not?  I have four decks, and I use them for different purposes.  I like the childish designs of the Hanson-Roberts deck; it feels very non-threatening, so I carry those cards around with me.  

Take your time though.  Get to know your first deck before you rush out and purchase another one.  Do as many readings as you can (for yourself or your friend volunteers) to get used to what interpretations pop up.  And honestly, go with your gut.  You’re not going to get anything out of a deck that you’re not drawn to or inspired by.

 What about Oracle Cards?

A quick word about Oracle Cards; these are different from tarot.  Tarot traditionally has four suits (wands, cups, pentacles/coins and swords) and 22 Major Arcana cards.  Oracle cards can sometimes follow but have different names, or they are just different cards altogether.  The Wild Wisdom of the Faery deck does not contain any suits.  Instead, it has independent cards like, “Gossamer Princess” and “The Silver Sisters”.  They carry their own meanings, and do not ascribe to the general meanings of tarot.  But that is another blog post for a later time.

Another deck of playing cards that could be used for cartomancy is The Fae deck. These cards have both the Seelie and Unseelie Fae in different suits.

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