Getting Started

Getting started with tarot is pretty easy. When it comes right down to it, there isn’t a whole lot that you need to be able to read cards. But, as you become more interested in tarot, you may find your collection of related items growing. To start, I recommend the following items:

A Tarot Deck

Determining which Tarot deck is right for you is obviously a personal choice. However, I would recommend choosing a deck with traditional Rider-Waite (RWS) symbolism if you are a beginner. Most websites and books deal with this “traditional” symbolism. Although you may choose a deck other then RWS, you will still be able to use these general books and sites.

For beginners, I would suggest any of the Rider-Waite variation decks (Universal Waite, Albino-Waite, etc). They all generally feature the same pictures with different, sometime garish, colouring. I’d also suggest the following: Aquarian Tarot, Robin Wood Tarot, Hanson-Roberts Tarot and Morgan-Greer Tarot. I suggest leaving theme decks, like the Unicorn Tarot or the Dragon Tarot, for when you have more experience with Tarot cards.

There are several web sites that can you help choose which deck to buy. Many feature sample cards and summaries, as well as reader written reviews. I’d recommend Aeclectic Tarot, Tarot Passages’s deck reviews, Learning the Tarot, and Taroteca’s Multiply site as great starting places.

Which ever deck you decide on, try to get one that uses 8 Strength/11 Justice and Wands = Fire, Swords = Air symbolism. This is the more traditional symbolism, and makes learning a bit easier. But most importantly, find a deck that you really like! Don’t waste your time with a deck you can’t stand.

If you are curious about which deck I began with, it was the Aquarian Tarot. It’s a 1970s-style deck with art deco themes that uses traditional Rider-Waite symbolism. I bought those cards instead of the Rider-Waite deck because I couldn’t stand the pattern on the back of the RWs cards.

Tarot Journal

Any type of notebook is suitable for this purpose. It should be large enough to keep notes on your readings, meditations, card meanings, or anything else Tarot related you might want to record. I’d recommend using a three ring binder with tab dividers for each section you find you need. My tarot journal currently has sections for general tarot notes, deck specific notes, readings (done for myself and others), spreads, and correspondences. I also keep a separate small notebook with card meanings in it.

There are several other items you can get when starting out. In my opinion, none of these items are necessary. I have listed them below so that you can make your own decision.

Companion or General Book

When you open up your deck, you’ll notice it comes with a little white book (called LWB by most people) what gives you a little bit of info about the cards, their meanings, and one or two spreads. For some decks, the LWB is all you’ll need. Other decks, especially ones with innovative or non-traditional symbolism, are easier to learn if you purchase the companion book. I have bought a few companion books for decks that I felt benefited from them. The Robin Wood Tarot: The Book provides wonderful insights into what Ms. Wood was trying to accomplish with colour symbolism. The Tarot of the Old Path book was helpful in explaining the flower symbolism of that deck.

However, overall the most useful books I have on Tarot are general books. Among the best, in my opinion, are 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachael Pollack, and Tarot For Yourself by Mary K. Greer. I’d also recommend Tarot Plain and Simple by Anthony Lewis.

There are also a lot of great websites out there that can help you learn the Tarot (including this one, I hope). Or you may want to check out your local library to see which Tarot books they stock.

Silk Scarf & Wooden Box, or Bag

Traditionally, Tarot cards are kept wrapped in a silk scarf when not in use, and stored in a wooden box. The scarf is used to protect the cards from unwanted vibrations and impressions, so black is generally thought of as the appropriate colour. A handmade scarf is best, since you want to attune the cards and storage
items to you. But I don’t see anything wrong with purchasing a scarf and purifying it.

The box serves to further protect the cards of any impressions they might pick up when not in use. And it also does a good job of keeping the cards clean. Make sure the box you make or purchase is at least large enough to store your cards and the scarf without bending.

I use small, handmade bags to store my most used decks. A few of the bags have a small cross stitched design on the front, in a style to match the deck within. One is made from a silk-like fabric with a design embossed on it. And another is made from a velvet-like material, with a stamp-embossed design.

Tarot Cloth

Some people often have another piece of silk that they use to doing their readings on. This cloth is large enough to lay out plenty of cards (generally a yard or so square), and has fringe around the edge to prevent it from slipping. It is used to protect your cards from the surface you are reading on. If you are a needle-worker or fabric artist, this may be a cloth you’d like to use to express your creativity. Or perhaps you could use a fabric that complements the theme of your deck.

After gathering your items, it is time to break in your deck. For the first month or so, it’s best to carry the deck with you everywhere. If you can, also sleep with it under your pillow. I actually slip mine into my pillowcase so it won’t wander away in the middle of the night. By doing this, you are “activating” the deck, and giving yourself time to get used to it.

It helps to you to become accustomed to the images and feel of the cards. If you are Wiccan, or belong to another Pagan path, you might want to purify your deck in some type of ceremony. It can be cleansed and dedicated like any other tool. Although, if your cleansing ceremony calls for an item to be placed in water, just give the cards a like sprinkle so you don’t ruin them. For flame, pass the cards above the fire source, but not close enough that you would have to worry about them catching on fire.

There is a great deal of contention about whether you should let someone else handle your Tarot deck. Many people feel that you should never allow anyone to
handle your deck, even when you are doing readings for them. Others feel that a quick shuffle and cut is OK. And still others feel it’s no problem for people to touch their deck, assuming the person isn’t full of negative emotions. I think there are almost as many opinions as there are Tarot card owners. Personally, I think it’s alright for someone to touch your cards, for a quick look or a shuffle, but you should reshuffle the cards yourself afterwards to clear them.