Tarot for total beginners: How to choose a tarot deck you will enjoy using

Hello, faithful readers! This is the second in a series of posts about how to get started using tarot to read and write for yourself and others. I kicked it off with how I got started using tarot cards. Next, I’ll go into how you can use them (everything from finding a deck to some simple readings you can do to start). I’ll finish up with some specific ways to use tarot to plan and write, particularly fiction. If you don’t already get these posts in your inbox, sign up here to follow along (plus get a free copy of Suck It Up and Revise, my writing guide allllll about revision). 

Copy of Suck it up and (3)Choosing a tarot deck to start with

There are dozens of tarot decks to choose from. Some are a few hundred years old, some are brand new—I walked past two women designing a tarot deck at a coffee shop the other day. You can make your own tarot deck; my friend Meg designed hers based on themes she found in poems.

It can be overwhelming for a beginner—a total beginner, like I was—to know where to begin. And unfortunately, tarot decks tend to be expensive; you probably don’t want to buy more than one to start.

But great news! There is an easy way to decide which deck is for you.

The basics

All tarot decks have 78 cards, including 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana cards. The Major Arcana follow the journey of the Fool through stages of life that include enlightenment, despair, love, death, and rebirth. The Minor Arcana include four suits that vary slightly from deck to deck: swords, wands or rods, coins or pentacles, and cups or cauldrons. You might find other variations based on the theme of your deck.

When you go shopping for a deck, it’s helpful if all of the cards have pictures on them. Some decks do not include illustrations for the Minor Arcana; they simply have the number and a repeated symbol for each of the suits (much like a regular deck of cards; the six of rods simply shows six rods).

This is really the only piece of information you need to know before you look for a deck.

That being said, if you are a history buff or like to begin at the beginning, the Rider-Waite (or Rider-Waite-Smith) deck is a bit like the Ur-deck for tarot. If you’ve seen images from tarot cards in popular culture, they probably came from this deck; they are bright orange and yellow and full of art from the Renaissance. Many tarot reference books use the Rider-Waite deck to explain the meanings of the cards. Other decks can be thought of as interpretations of this deck, to some extent.

Follow your intuition

There are many places to find tarot decks. You can look for a local New Age shop or a local or chain bookstore. You can also look online. Look for a deck that appeals to you, then check to see if the Minor Arcana are illustrated; I think it is easier to interpret these decks when you’re just starting out. But—go with your gut! If you find a deck that you love, give it a try.

I didn’t begin with the Rider-Waite deck—the brightness of the illustrations didn’t appeal to me, and I wanted a female-centric one. Although the Rider-Waite deck was illustrated by a woman—Patricia Smith—it reflected a male-ish (or at least mixed) sensibility to me. At the time that I bought my deck (and frankly, still now), I was on a serious feminine divine kick. Anything that reminded me of men in a spiritual setting didn’t interest me.

Maybe that’s not fair—but your idiosyncratic preferences are a great place to start. Tarot cards are a tool for your intuition. If they don’t appeal to you on a basic level—if you don’t like looking at them—it’s going to be difficult to look for messages that are meaningful to you.

One of my friends didn’t get started reading tarot in earnest until she bought an herbally-focused deck. This deck has no people in it at all, only flowers, herbs, and other plants. The deck speaks to her; it connects her more deeply to nature, which is an important part of her life and her personality. She lives in a tiny house and forages and sells dried herbs for a living.

The best advice I’ve read for buying a deck of your own comes from M.J. Abadie’s Tarot for Teens (which I highly recommend, even though I’m 31!). Abadie recommends you go to a store and pick up—literally, with your hands—the decks that appeal to you. You probably won’t be able to unwrap and look through the cards, but use the cards printed on the box as an indicator; if you don’t like them, you probably won’t like the style of this particular deck.

How I chose my tarot cards

When I decided to buy my own deck, I drove to a New Age shop in Seattle and asked to look at three or four decks. Without thinking about it too much, I settled on Tarot of the Old Path. I liked the naked ladies on the front and back, representing the High Priestess and the World, and I liked the symbols they incorporated—crescent moons, stars, deer and even a unicorn. I liked the blue-green of the box the cards came in.

This deck has served me well. I enjoy interpreting the illustrations, and I’ve found it fun and easy to use. Its only drawback is the homogeneity of the characters depicted. The Old Path is a very white-woman-oriented path.

If you aren’t ready or can’t buy a deck right now, that’s fine, too. Before I took the plunge with my own deck, I used a free (anonymous) online reader. An online reader will tell you to ask a question and choose the type of reading you want (for example, a one-card reading or a three-card reading). You click, and it gives you an answer. I found one on the Llewellyn publishing company website, but you can just search for “tarot reading” online. (I still sometimes use it when I’m feeling lazy or want to look at something new.)

To sum up

  • Tarot decks have 78 cards: 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana.
  • Some decks do not include illustrations for each of the Minor Arcana; keep this in mind when looking for your own deck.
  • If possible, literally touch and look at a deck before you buy it. Try New Age shops and bookstores.
  • If you can’t, don’t fret! Start with the Rider-Waite deck. Order one online and get started.
  • Not ready or able to buy a deck? No problem. Use a free one online.

Cheers and hope you are enjoying this series. Pop back in next week (or sign up below) to follow along.

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Tarot for total beginners: How I got started using tarot cards to write

Hello, faithful readers! This is the first in a series of posts I plan to share about how to get started using tarot to read and write for yourself and others. I’ll kick it off with how I got started using tarot cards, then go into how you can use them (everything from finding a deck to some simple readings you can do to start). I’ll finish up with some specific ways to use tarot to write (especially fiction). If you don’t already get these posts in your inbox, sign up here to follow along (plus get a free copy of Suck It Up and Revise, my writing guide allllll about revision). 

Copy of Suck it up and (3)My first reading

I sat for my first reading at a local juice bar during their weekly Tarot Tuesday special where a tarot reader came in and gave quick readings for ten dollars. It was a total whim; I’d seen the sign and recently had a birthday. The reader, a local woman who had taken classes from another tarot card reader, was friendly and inviting. After I sat down, she shuffled the cards and asked me to cut them into three piles. She was happy and easygoing; she fit in with the wooden chairs and rainy windows of the juice bar.

I cut the deck and the reader pulled my cards from the top of each of the three piles. One represented past, one present, and one future.

I don’t remember the details of that first reading (I’m sure I asked about writing and my family, the two things that are almost always on my mind). It was a simple reading; she pointed out details in the cards and asked if they made sense with what I was thinking about. It was lovely to be in such relaxed company.

Back again…

A year and a half later, I sat for another reading on Tarot Tuesday. The reading had changed a bit, the price had gone up—but it was the same friendly reader, with clear answers and questions for me, and observations about the cards that fit in well with what I was thinking about (as usual, writing and my family). She drew a past, present, and future card. Then, on top of the future card, she pulled cards until she arrived at one of the Major Arcana—the “big” tarot cards that symbolize the phases of life.

The first card–which represented the past–was a card I had pulled while writing the “research project” novel I’d begun a year before—the Tower card. I felt giddy seeing it, as though it was confirmation that I was on the right path.

The next was a card that symbolized a young man—it seemed to fit in with my son, a toddler who I spend most of my time with.

The next was another young person—I was pregnant with another child, and it seemed to represent him or her.

The extra cards were all from the suit of swords, and the Major Arcana card they ended in was Justice. They seemed to show a progression that would end in a final judgment. I had just sent my tarot-inspired manuscript to my agent, and in a few weeks she would send it around to publishers.

It was tempting to see Justice as a happy outcome for my novel—maybe it would be picked up by a publisher. “The cards are reminding me that I am not a fortune-teller,” she told me.

Then what are they, exactly?

This question underlies the practices I will share in this series. I am a doer, and I believe that the best way to understand tarot cards is to use them. I hope that by the end of this series, with the help of your own exploration, readings, and reflection, you will have your own answer to this question.

Since I began using tarot cards, they have become a tool for me to understand my own intuition. As a person who writes in solitude and stays at home with a two-year-old, I have very little outside confirmation that I am on the right path. My life can sometimes feel very enclosed; I don’t get a congratulatory email from my boss when my kiddo puts on a shirt all by himself (though I should—getting dressed is hard!). Tarot is a way for me to feel as though I am on a meaningful path. It confirms my intentions and points me in the right direction when I am waffling.

But maybe this is the most important part: using tarot cards is fun! It’s hard to find a practice of reflection that isn’t heavy. Shuffling and drawing tarot cards feels like playing a game with your innermost self.

I love it. I’m glad that two-years-ago me was curious enough about tarot to venture into a hippie juice bar, and that I stuck with it even when it was no longer strictly research. I hope that this series empowers you to go on your own tarot card adventure.

Cheers and hope you enjoy this series. Sign up below to follow along!

Want to get the next post in your inbox? Sign up here for my newsletter! As a thank you, I’ll send you my guide to revising, Suck It Up and Revise. It’s full of down-to-earth, useful advice and exercises to get you revising your draft today (no matter what shape it’s in).

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Scratch Paper Podcast, Ep. 33: Lessons learned after 1.5 years of podcasting!

Welcome to the end of “Season 1”–what I’m calling my first 1.5 years of podcasting. This will be the last episode for a while, and I hope you’ll listen in! I share my favorite episodes, books, and TV, whether or not I think my podcast was a success, and my big turning point.

SCRATCH PAPER (1)

Links mentioned:

I plan to reboot Scratch Paper after a break–but I’m not sure when. Please sign up for my newsletter to get a heads up when it returns! And in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re working on. I’m @likesoatmeal on Twitter and Instagram and I love (love love) getting to know listeners. You can also use #scratchpaperpodcast to share your work and find other nice, happy writers 🙂

 

Here’s a box to sign up for my newsletter. I’ll let you know when Scratch Paper resumes, what happens with Wait, and any other projects that come down the line–plus, you’ll get a free ebook all about revising.

Sign up here!

And thank you! My newsletter list is a key part of my success as a writer and podcaster. Your support means a lot to me!

How to listen:

  • You can subscribe on iTunes or on Stitcher.
  • You can listen to it right here in your browser by clicking the play button below.

Pssst…find all of the podcasts here!

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Scratch Paper Podcast, Ep. 32: 5 Steps to Start Revising + Free Ebook!

*This draft is terrible**This draft is perfect!* Sound familiar? Listen in for five steps to get started revising that terrible/perfect draft. I share how I managed to revise my 120-page thesis in two weeks, plus my favorite way to tie a big project together (with highlighters! And lists!).

Also! Scroll down for a free ebook–newsletter readers, it’s coming your way.

SCRATCH PAPER (1)

Links mentioned:

Your turn: How do you revise? Share in the comments below or use #scratchpaperpodcast on Twitter or Instagram. Tag me! I’m @likesoatmeal and I love (love love) getting to know listeners.

Suck It Up and Revise|What do you do when your draft is done...but it doesn't feel done? Here is a guide to next steps, whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, short pieces or manuscripts. Click through to get your copy!

And now here’s a free ebook! I wrote Suck It Up and Revise a while back and  *just* got around to polishing it up and putting it online. It’s fourteen chapters plus exercises to get you revising right this minute (after you take a break, of course). If you like down-to-earth advice (like this podcast) and practical  tips for getting through the often opaque writing process, you’ll love this book. Read more about it here.

Instead of publishing Suck It Up and Revise on Amazon, I decided to give it away as a free PDF for newsletter subscribers. If you’re already on the list, great!  Thank you so much for supporting me–the book is on its way. If not, you can sign up right here, and I’ll send the book to your inbox.

Sign up here to get Suck It Up and Revise!


And again–thank you! My newsletter list is a key part of my success as a writer and podcaster. Your support means a lot to me!

How to listen:

  • You can subscribe on iTunes or on Stitcher.
  • You can listen to it right here in your browser by clicking the play button below.

Pssst…find all of the podcasts here!

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