Disclaimer: I view tarot as an intuitive tool to help you be introspective about your own life, not as a predictive tool. Tarot has no divinatory powers and cannot tell your future. Think of it as a psych experiment instead. 🙂
These are decks that use the basic system of tarot made famous by the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (RWS). That’s the one in all the movies. The RWS deck I use and strongly recommend is the Universal Rider-Waite. Here’s what it looks like:
The cards shown above are The Fool, The Magician, The World, the Ace of Cups, and the Page of Wands. I’ll display these card equivalents for most of the RWS decks I add here, so you can compare them all and see just how differently individual tarot decks can interpret the same basic ideas.
Badgers Forest Tarot — This is a really adorable deck, very pure, with minimal imagery. The traditional suits are represented by rabbits (wands), foxes (cups), crows (swords), and badgers (pentacles).
The Brady Tarot. I said I wasn’t going to get another animal deck but this stunner seduced me over time. This is one of my favorite tarot decks; I think it’s one of the most complex and imaginative and fully realized and well-executed decks around (including the fact that the guidebook is written by veteran tarot expert Rachel Pollock), and because I think these 5 cards just don’t do it justice, I’m tossing in a few more:
Celestial Stick People — just the most charming, whimsical tarot deck I’ve ever seen — the color and design are incredible, i’m obsessed with this deck — I think the colors and the design are absolutely fantastic.
Celtic Dragons: This is a popular deck — it won’t be for everybody, but there’s quite a lot of smart interpretations wrapped up in these dragons!
Dame Darcy Mermaid Tarot. A lovely, vibrant deck with lots of nautical (and of course, mermaid) imagery!
The Dark Mansion Tarot. Beautifully illustrated whimsical Victoriana, very fun, with lovely detail!
The Tarot ng Daigdig sa Balintataw (“World inside the pupil of the eye”) by Lynyrd-Jim Narciso. This is a very limited-edition deck from 2009; my copy is #79/100. It’s a Major Arcana only deck in a style drawn from Filipino folk art, and as you can see, it’s stunning.
The Deviant Moon Tarot: Despite its massive popularity, I was never drawn to this deck until I fell in love with its Tarot de Marseilles sibling, the Trionfi Della Luna. It was easy to enjoy the horror-tinged, Venetian carnival-infused fantasy imagery after that.
The Enchanted Tarot: out-of-print deck featuring rich pastel colors, detailed imagery, and tapestry-like design.
The English Magic Tarot. I’m fascinated by this period of English history and I’m way into this art style, not to mention the uniqueness of the card imagery.
The Everyday Witch Tarot. I really love this popular, optimistic, colorful deck!
Gay Tarot — a deck very much commemorating a 90s gay male experience, but still one with a lot of depth
Golden Thread Tarot: a very popular deck, minimalist with beautiful Art Deco designs and gold filigree!
The Haindl: This is a gorgeous, somber deck with non-traditional imagery and lots of esoteric symbolism:
Hanson-Roberts deck: this is a pocket-sized Rider-Waite clone with softer imagery and lots of pretty colors.
The Hermetic Tarot: A gorgeous black and white deck based on the Thoth (Crowley) tarot tradition, with rich details, astrological correspondences, and loads of esoteric imagery:
The Illuminated Tarot by Carol Herzer: Dark Crystal Rose edition. This is a limited variant of a pretty incredible series of hand-colored Rider-Waite-Smith clones by Carol Herzer.
The Instant Archetypes Tarot: This is a new Major Arcana-only deck with oversized cards, based on modern archetypes.
Jugendstil Tarot: This is a stunning art nouveau majors-only deck from Japan. Mine is a 2013 reprint from the original 1986 ed.
Lubok / Russian Tarot, a lovely, rather obscure deck, created by an artist and a filmmaker, based on Russian folk tales. This deck is so colorful and full of personality.
Ophidia Rosa Tarot: This is an abstract botanical tarot, black/white//sepia-toned with a smattering of color.
Prisma Visions Tarot (Third edition): yep, it’s that famous deck with the tableaus and the giant terrifying swan. Here are pics of some of the tableaus (the suits) plus a few of the Major Arcana cards:
Sakki-Sakki Tarot: This is a fun, abstract deck that’s bursting with color and vibrant weirdness. I got this deck on a whim and have been blown away by how much I love it. It’s intended as an artist’s inspiration deck by its author, who’s an Israeli artist, and it’s probably my favorite tarot deck. <3
Shadowscapes Tarot: this one is extremely popular because it’s absolutely gorgeous, a perfect fantasy deck.
Silhouettes Tarot, 2nd edition, limited edition (95 of 1000): This is a gorgeous out-of-print deck that’s become a hard-to-find cult favorite. I love this deck: the florid abstract imagery, the design, the colors, it’s great.
Slow Holler Tarot: This is an out-of-print, limited-edition, multi-artist queer Southern Gothic tarot. Speaks for itself, really.
This lovely fun deck was crowdfunded, and all of the cats featured are portraits of actual cats, living and dead, memorialized by their owners who chipped in for the deck. It’s the sweetest. I swapped out the “World” card in this display for the Hermit card, just because I love it so much.
Swietlistej Drogi (Radiant Light) Tarot: Haunting Polish deck with stunning imagery and amazing design.
Tarocchi di Dario Fo, a rare abstract deck created and illustrated by the Nobel-winning Italian playwright. Vivid and racy and thoughtful, feels very archetypal and yet slice-of-life at once.
The Tarot of the Boroughs: a quirky, hilarious local deck pretty much just sold here in NYC:
True Black Tarot. This wildly popular new deck is out of control, it’s clearly made from black velvet and actual magic.
The Tyldwick Tarot. This is a dreamy, 19th-century-styled collage deck, tinged with fantasy and surrealism, which is nearly out of circulation due to the recent death of its creator, Neil Lovell, the founder of the Malpertuis Designs studio. This is a deeply introspective deck that’s so gorgeous it almost has to be seen to be believed; I’m a bit shocked to have gotten my hands on a copy.
Marseille decks and pip decks
Tarot de Marseille (TdM) is a very old tradition of tarot that predates the RWS system by several centuries. TdM has very distinct iconography and a traditional pattern for presenting and designing images that all TdM decks usually still follow today. The Marseille system of tarot shares shares the Major Arcana with the Rider-Waite, but the Minor Arcana relies more on numerology (my jam!) and individual interpretation. The numbered suit cards are usually patterns or pips rather than individual illustrations. Lots of RWS decks are also pip decks; I’m including mine below.
Ancient Minchiate Etruria Tarot, a.k.a. the Minchiate Fiorentine Tarot. This is a rare out-of-print 1996 deck that’s a replica of a 1725 deck. This deck is a unique tarot system that combines the basic TdM pattern with extra elemental & zodiac cards.
BruT by Uusi — This is a fetching minimalist, brutalist pip deck with playing card design for the minor arcana. Plus it comes with a tableau!
Corte dei Tarocchi, an unusually tall! limited edition deck created in 1999 from hand-etched zinc printing and watercoloring, and based on medieval Italian iconography and court culture. This elegant deck is a cult favorite and it’s easy to see why.
Claude Burdel Marseille Tarot (replica deck from 1751). This is a carefully crafted facsimile TdM deck by Yves Reynaud of a famed 18th-c. Swiss deck known for its quirky iconography and sumptuous color palette.
Claude Rochias (1754) — This is a 2015 limited edition by Yves Reynaud, a facsimile of a lovely 18th-c. Swiss Tarot de Marseille deck. As you can see, it’s very similar to the Burdel, but the colors are even more vivid.
The Hirajeta Deck: This is a dark, gorgeous Japanese-influenced deck with a touch of horror. I love this deck a lot.
The Musterberg Tarot, 2nd edition: This is a sumptuous limited-edition Marseille deck made to resemble 18th-c. deck variants and drawn from a fantasy world of carnival schemers called Pennyland, invented by the design studio just for this. I love this deck so much!!!
The Sola Busca tarot, Lo Scarabeo limited museum edition. This famous Italian deck (named after the family that owned it when it was discovered) is generally considered to be the oldest pre-tarot deck — that is, the oldest known deck to unite the traditional 56-card suite with a set of trump cards. Most of the trump cards are based on archetypal Roman kings, and thus diverge from the tarot as we know it, but there are a few surprising moments of symmetry. And the deck overall is just stunning in its boldly colored weirdness.
The Tarot De Louttre B. This is one of my holy grail decks! It was published for the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1981 by french card publishers Grimaud-Ducale, as part of a special minimalist art exhibit.
The Tarot of the III Millennium!! This legendarily weird deck was described by the publisher, Lo Scarabeo, as “Perhaps one of the most unusual decks of all time.” I have been fascinated by it for a while and randomly scooped it up for a relative song on ebay. The trumps are hand-drawn, the suits have insets from the Tarot de Bologna, an 18th-c. Italian Marseilles deck, and there are random urls (to dead links) scrawled randomly over the art. It’s so much weirder in person than I was prepared for, and I honestly have no idea how to read with it (or even whether this should really be classified as a Marseilles deck or not), but I’m eager to figure it out!
Trionfi della Luna, 2nd edition — this is the Tarot de Marseille deck from the creators of the famed Deviant Moon tarot. This deck is just incredibly beautiful, and I’m including a few more cards so you can get a feel for how it plays with the traditional TdM imagery as well as the artistic style of the Deviant Moon.
The Trionfi della Luna also comes with its own set of extra trump cards that display horizontally!
Non-traditional decks, Lenormand, and oracle decks:
There are lots of modern oracle decks that completely forego traditional tarot imagery and design and do their own thing. The Lenormand is another traditional system, but it’s entirely designed for fortune-telling.
Alternate Realities Lenormand: Lenormand decks are not tarot. They’re fortune-telling cards with very clear imagery, meant to be combined together to predict your future. (Which of course is impossible because fortune-telling is fake, but these cards are fun to read anyway!) This is a little-known deck, and a love-at-first-sight deck for me..
Classic Crime Lenormand by Malpertuis. This is a rare deck by the fabulous Malpertuis Design studio that was never even made available to the public. It’s based on vintage Penguin detective novels, with their classic Penguin-green-and-orange color palette, and their clever titles (with hints in the author names for the card identity.) I made a Google doc for this very special deck, if you’d like to see more photos!
The Anthony Apesos Tarot. The artist designed this abstract, nature-themed deck to be intuitive/imaginative. Though it’s styled as a tarot, its non-traditional labeling makes it far more suitable for use as an oracle deck, at least for me!
The Arthur Rackham Oracle, 1st edition. A very popular recent deck based on the art of British book illustrator Arthur Rackham! Here are some extra cards so you can see the various moods of this deck.
Cosmos Tarot / Oracle deck — this is a gorgeous multi-artist tarot deck with oracle. The card meanings in this deck are usually original and rarely aligned with traditional tarot.
The Daemon Tarot. I’ve had this deck for a while but considered it more like a set of trading cards (even though the demons have been assigned divinatory meanings). But many people use it as an oracle deck, so why not?
Morgan’s Tarot. This is a non-traditional deck that was made as a joke in the 70s but gained a cult following!
Healers of the Earth Oracle. I really love these card assignments, and the images (though taken from stock illos) are lovely. This is a 73-card deck; I’m including extra cards here so you can get an idea of the tone!
The Minotarot. My tarot holy grail. This is an incredibly rare French deck (published in 1982) that can be laid out as a traditional tarot spread, as a choose-your-own-adventure, or as an alternate tableau that tells an erotic narrative of Theseus and the Minotaur. It’s a bit more special than my other decks, so it gets its own special Google doc.
The Old Arabian Lenormand. This is a stunning Lenormand collage deck from the Malpertuis Design studio, and I am so lucky to have gotten my hands on one of the few remaining copies. The edges of the cards blend together to form a subtle tableau; I can’t get over this deck.
The Silson Lenormand. This is the third Malpertuis Lenormand deck I was so lucky to come by, and just like the others this fanciful Medieval-styled deck is unique, mesmerizing, and beautiful.
Tarot of Shadows — this is a distinct tarot system ostensibly based on evil, lolol, but really it’s more of a somewhat gentle oracle deck. Comes with an incredibly detailed and thorough guidebook.
Pre-ordered decks (on the way):
The Blood Moon Tarot. I am a sucker for dark fantasy imagery and gorgeous illustrations. (Arriving
May End of 2019 April 2020)
5 Cent Tarot by Madam Clara (arriving
late September November January, it got delivered to the wrong address 🙁 )
The Sabbath Tarot, an electrifying queer male erotic dark fantasy tarot that I’m over the moon about! (arriving
December 2019 Early 2020)