Tarot decks for beginners
As both a tarot teacher and the owner of a tarot shop, I’m regularly asked which decks I recommend most for beginners. Today I will attempt to answer that question as best I can!
This post has to come with a huge disclaimer followed by a massive preamble. I can’t actually tell you the ‘best tarot deck for a beginner’ because there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this deeply, deeply subjective question. There just isn’t! I have always maintained that there are as many ways to read a tarot card as there are people to read it. And since I believe that a tarot deck is a text that is reinterpreted (and indeed re-written) each time it is used, it follows that no one deck can be the ‘right’ starting point.
This post therefore is an attempt to guide tarot beginners through helpful things to consider when choosing a first deck, rather than a perscriptive listicle of ‘tarot decks for beginners’.
I have, however, offered a few suggestions further down this post – I mean, that’s why you’re reading this post, right? I’m suggesting these decks based on my experience as a tarot shop owner and tarot learning facilitator, and a general tarot deck geek. Just know that what I think is ‘accessible’ might be impenetrable for some. Decks I find difficult to approach and thus haven’t included are to other folks an open door into tarot. If you don’t relate to the decks I’ve shared, you’re not doing it wrong!! Follow your intuition and keep seeking til you find the deck that’s right for you. There is no wrong.
So! What makes a tarot deck ‘good for beginners’?
Guess what – that depends on the beginner! Are you someone who likes to have things spelled out clearly for you when you embark on a new path of study? If so, you’ll probably enjoy a deck with quite literal images and its own guidebook. Are you an intuitive who prefers to feel their way in? More abstract imagery may be more helpful for you. Some decks tend towards the light, or towards encouragement and positive messages. Others are portals to the uncomfortable depths of shadow work. Some decks are rich and detailed, with layer upon layer of symbols and detail that invites you to delve deep into the artist’s vision, like the Shadowscapes Tarot. Others are sparse, stark even, with minimal symbols on each card, such as the Small Spells or Wanderer’s tarot decks.
Are you a person who loves colour, for whom shades carry different meanings and energies? And how about themes? Perhaps you’d find it easier to build a relationship with a deck if it was structured around a common theme or aesthetic that interests you – such as animals, impressionist art, social justice, queer culture, Star Wars… (the list of themed decks is long and incredibly varied!)
The questions go on and on, revealing layers of subjectivity in tarot deck choice. On top of the ‘simple’ matter of aesthetics, cultural associations and our personal responses to the codes carried by shapes and symbols all play a big part.
People in the tarot
We can categorise decks as those with human/humanistic figures, and those without – and different people will have different preferences. For some of us, it’s important to see ourselves reflected in a deck (whether that is seeing visibly queer people and relationships, people of our racial or cultural backgrounds, fat or non-normative bodies, etc.) There is a growing range of decks available to serve marginalised people especially – the Numinous, NEXT WORLD and Slutist tarot decks are all great examples.
I recommend getting a clear idea of what you’re looking for in this sense – particularly the importance (or not) of ‘finding yourself’ or your culture or identity in a tarot deck.
- People-free tarot decks – a selection of decks with no human/like figures.
- The agony and ecstasy of choosing a new tarot deck
- Tarot of the Queer/Trans/People of Color – a project by Asali scrutinising QTPOC representation in tarot decks.
What are you looking to learn?
This is an important question. Are you hoping to start out by learning tarot in the traditional sense – getting a handle on the widely-accepted card meanings (whether or not you may then go on to develop these into your own ideas)? If so, you’ll benefit from a deck that follows a recognisable tradition, with cards that clearly pertain to the interpretations offered by that tradition. For example, the Sasuraibito, Shadowscapes, Pagan Otherworlds, World Spirit and Circo tarot decks all follow the ubiquitous Rider Waite Smith (or RWS) tradition, and it will be relatively easy to use these decks alongside mainstream tarot books and courses.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re not interested in ‘learning tarot’ in this way, but simply want a deck of cards to work with for personal guidance. In this case, a world of non-standard decks (like the Dark Goddess, the Osho Zen or the Wildwood tarot decks, for example) is opened up to you.
There are also decks – like the Shrine of the Black Medusa – that follow the Thoth tradition, and others that follow the Marseilles.
All that said, please don’t worry if you don’t understand everything I’m saying this point.
What actually matters is that you find a deck that feels good to you. Period.
Suggested tarot decks for beginners
I realise that if you’re a tarot beginner seeking a new deck, all of the above has probably confused the heck out of you! So here’s a simple list of suggestions.
Though many decks come with their own guidebooks, I do strongly recommend any tarot beginner acquires at least one decent ‘learn tarot’ book. My favourites are Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea, and Joan Bunnings’ ubiquitous Learning the Tarot.
I’ve linked to these decks and books in the Little Red Tarot Shop, but do note that many decks are available directly from the artist!
By Stasia Burrington
This colourful, well-made deck by Stasia Burrington ticks all of my boxes. The images are accessible – not overly esoteric or filled with bewildering symbols, but with enough detail to get your teeth into. It feels friendly and cheerful – a deck that wants to be a co-pilot in your learning.
It comes with its own little book which means you get card interpretations that go tidily with the images. When a tarot artist is able to point to specific symbols they’ve placed into the cards and describe what they represent, this can really help a tarot learner to ‘hook in’ to those visual clues and remember the cards’ meanings.
By Noel Arthur Hiempel
This recently-published deck is my current favourite – for any level of reader. I particularly recommend it for beginners firstly because the book is so thorough – it literally lays out everything you need to know to get started with tarot, in a really easy-to-understand way. The book’s tone – like the cards themselves – is warm and encouraging, it takes you by the hand and leads you into tarot gently and with love. The cards themselves are busy and engaging, packed with symbols to explore.
The cards are named differently to a standard tarot deck, which is the key tripping point here – the four suits (i.e. cups, pentacles, wands, swords) are different, as are the court or face cards (page, knight, king, queen) and some of the majors too. This only becomes a problem when cross-referencing card meanings with other books/decks, but it’s easily surmounted – you can make yourself a simple cheat-sheet, using Noel’s notes in the introduction, which explain what is what.
What I love most about the Numinous Tarot is that it uses ‘they/them’ gender pronouns throughout (no more getting stuck in the idea that the Empress has to be a woman figure, etc!) and Noel has worked really hard to include not only lots of people of colour, but also many marginalised people not often found in the tarot. This deck shows us disabled bodies, non-Christian faiths, fat bodies, and a wonderful bunch of weirdos and misfits you’ll immediately want to befriend.
The Pagan Otherworlds Tarot Deck (guidebook available separately)
By Peter Dunham and Linnea Gits
This luxurious fine-art deck is painted in a classical Renaissance style and has a cult following of its own. In the words of creators Uusi, the deck is inspired by the visual beauty of nature, early Celtic mysticism and the luminous beauty of Renaissance paintings. I’ve loved observing tarot newbies take their first steps into tarot with this deck – it seems popular with folks who are interested in western cartomancy as a tradition, and who have a deep love for this style of art.
By Aleisha Fitz and Bronwyn Walls
This pocket-sized tarot deck is an unsung gift to the tarot beginner. Stripping away layers of complex symbolism, this is a soft, simple deck that encourages you to move slowly, take your time, and connect to your intuition. The ‘people’ of this deck feel beautifully neutral – faceless, ‘raceless’ and ungendered, the Mesquite Tarot creates space for any of us to find ourselves here. It’s calming and encouraging to use, and one that I believe will appeal broadly. The included guidebook is wonderful too – it’s meditative, providing just the right amount of interpretation to offer beginners a foothold, without
By Marisa de la Pena
This deck is brightly coloured, cheerful and accessible, but not lacking in depth. Marisa de la Pena’s playful gauche-painted images are loosely circus-themed, and really accessible – I love the simplicity of each card. When I read with this deck, I find the illustrations deliver meanings swiftly, in a to-the-point way. And I love getting this deck out with my non-tarot friends, who immediately fall in love with Marisa’s quirky cast of characters.
Note: I definitely recommend grabbing a ‘learn tarot’ book to go with this one, since the included booklet gives just the briefest overview.
By Danielle Noel
This hip, cosmic deck is a huge favourite among beginners. Creator Danielle Noel has spun a pastel-hued digital universe of sacred geometry and portals to the astral plane, inviting you to step through into a dreamlike landscape. Again, this deck comes with its own book, which is helpful in understanding the specific symbols and patterns and concepts Danielle draws on. It’s described as a ‘lightworker’s deck’, which put very simply means it is focused on increasing love and light (rather than delving into shadow.)
Note: I’ve not used this deck, but I know that it’s been a route into tarot for many, many people and those who love it, really love it.
The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck & Guidebook
By Kim Krans
For many years, this was my ‘home deck’ – and it’s still the one I most often carry with me, the one I use most for personal and client readings, because clients relate to the images so easily. This was also an LRT bestseller – and the deck that launched my shop many moons ago! Kim Krans’ lovely imagery is simple and accessible, the use of colour is clever and offers a second layer of symbolism, as does the use of shape and line. The court cards are renamed (Daughter, Son, Mother, Father) but at the deck follows a clear traditional structure and is just… really easy to use.
I take issue with the now-included guidebook (you used to be able to get the deck on its own). The guidebook is one of those that suggests different court cards represent people with certain physical characteristics (like hair or eye colour) which is frankly a load of racist nonsense too often thoughtlessly peddled in ‘learn tarot’ resources. The Wild Unknown Tarot can be easily used with standard tarot books, though – I definitely recommend skipping the TWU Guidebook and picking up any of the books recommended above.
The Fountain Tarot Deck & Guidebook
By Jonathan Said, Jason Gruhl, and Andi Todero.
Painted in oils, the Fountain Tarot was another LRT bestseller before it was picked up by a major publisher, and customer feedback from that time told me that beginners loved it! Blending strong, rich colours with sacred geometry, this deck has an atmosphere that is both ancient and futuristic, I can’t quite describe it, but it touches a place other decks I’ve used don’t reach – it’s like shifting onto a different plane and looking back at your life through a prism, like a really helpful step back in order to gain perspective. The small guidebook offers a simple introduction to the tarot itself and the ideas behind this specific deck and some really lovely card meanings, but you may want to grab a book to back it up.
The Shadowscapes Tarot Deck (with or without guidebook)
Stephanie Piu-Mun Law’s beautiful tarot was my second deck (I started, as many do, with the Rider Waite Smith). Though I wasn’t personally down with the pastel/fairy aesthetic of Stephanie’s illustrations, I found that day after day I was returning to her website, intrigued by the many layers of tiny details in each card. There is so much to go on here, a whole fey universe to become lost in. This deck opened up worlds for me, showing me for the first time that the cards’ intricate meanings could be illustrated differently, with different symbols. There is just so much to go on here, each time I lay down one of these cards I’m drawn to something different.
The optional guidebook (written by the wonderful Barbara Moore) is a great gift – it’s detailed and thorough, offering a genuinely nuanced journey through each card. I don’t use this deck enough these days, but as a beginner – wow, it really took my tarot studies up a notch.
Want more ideas?
- Asali recently shared a roundup of her favourites: Tarot decks for beginners that aren’t Rider Waite Smith clones.
- Here are ten people-free tarot decks for your collection.
- Here are eight queer tarot decks to check out (some of these in-progress decks have now been published!)
- Tarot of the Queer/Trans/People of Color – a project by Asali scrutinising QTPOC representation in tarot decks.