11_pipersEleven Pipers Piping: Sometimes a new deck calls with a siren song; a lure like the Pied Piper of Hamlin.

In our materialistically focused society, people tend to like getting new things, and the New Age community is no exception. You can walk into almost any New Age store across the country and find a tantalizing display of expensive tschochkes, brick-a-bracks, collectibles and dust collectors available for purchase. People have always been hungry for shortcuts to heaven, or to ascension. It’s human nature.

There is nothing wrong with buying or having nice things, if a person enjoys them. I have collected various things myself over the years: miniature figures, books, video games, penguin items and — yes, tarot decks. The problem is when the collecting is for the wrong reasons.

local_storeA local New Age store

Let’s face it, people are drawn to card reading often because it’s a visual medium. People here in the U.S. who read cards seem to gravitate towards the lavishly illustrated decks more so than the relatively plain-Jane Tarot de Marseilles, or standard Bicycle playing cards. That’s not a bad thing. I myself enjoy reading with the well-known Waite-Smith deck, and one of those lavishly illustrated decks, the Lo Scarabeo Tarot.

The problem is when the collecting is on some level an attempt to compensate for lack of skill, or to shortcut the learning process. In other words, new decks are purchased as if looking for that proverbial shortcut to heaven.

“The One”

One common myth, in my opinion, is that there is “The One.” One deck, like a soul mate of pasteboard, which will evoke scintillating gems of wisdom from the reader. There are people who may start with one deck and read with it for years, frequently or exclusively. With that one deck they become like the stereotyped old married couple who know each other effortlessly and can finish each other’s sentences. In some uncommon cases it may be that this deck resonates so well it’s as if they created it themselves.

Visual Literacy

I think the key here is that bonding still has to occur over time. I believe visual literacy with one’s deck of choice is a key part of accurate readings. By visual literacy I mean being familiar with each card such that conscious thought isn’t needed to immediate know what it means. That kind of familiarity can only come by being exposed to the deck over time.

So every new deck means going through a period of work to attain visual literacy. I used to proudly say that I considered my tarot decks interchangeable because I relied on the meanings and framework I have for “the tarot” rather than being worried about the symbology and depiction of each card. This is similar to what playing card readers and traditional Lenormand readers do. (I’m in good company with that approach, as far as I’m concerned!) However, I’ve come to realize that there is still a period of adjustment to a new deck, because while an 8 of Swords may have a certain meaning for me, I still have to grasp that the card in front me of is an 8 of Swords. It  takes time to recognize with a new deck.


8 of Swords — Lo Scarabeo Tarot

Decks that are Duds

Another risk is that you can end up buying decks that you aren’t crazy about or that you actively dislike. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, provided you have the disposable income to lose. However, if you’re like me, you now have another thing that you don’t care about cluttering the house. Getting rid of it will take some effort, unless you just throw it out. I never advocate purposely wasting money. In my case, I’d have to find someplace to sell it online, or take it to the local used bookstore where I might get $1 for it. Sure it’s “just” a deck and a minor matter, but all of those minor matters can add up as cognitive background. Heck, the whole art of feng shui relies on keeping clean spaces where energy can flow through a home — something that doesn’t need to be blocked by unwanted items like tarot decks.

Me! Me! Me!

And lest you think I’m writing as if I’m holier than thou, I just went through the dud deck scenario. I have a month of free shipping from amazon.com and some credit, so I bought an oracle deck I was on the fence about. It’s outside of my usual area of interest but I thought I’d give it a try. It has whimsical illustrations and I especially liked the card backs. However I didn’t care for the topics which were more psychological in nature than I’d anticipated and I knew I’d never use it.


I can’t see the point of having hundreds or thousands of tarot decks, with many of those being duplicate or triplicate copies. (There are people online who do.) I have around one-hundred decks. Which looks crazy now that I see it in print! I’ve been making an effort to pare down, and I’ve currently got about twenty-five set aside to sell. It still seems like too many decks to own.

I’ve heard people who collect say that owning a tarot deck is like having 78 paintings. I want to know where the more prolific collectors find the time to admire those 78 paintings, multiplied by the number of decks they own. I don’t get to pore through mine regularly; but I do try to rotate the decks I have out for active duty.

My collection has grown as I purchased decks for research. Yes, I like to see how different divination systems work and what makes them or their creators tick. For example, the Anubis Oracle with its combination minors; the Russian Gypsy Fortune-Telling cards (recently sold) for its crazy match-’em layout; and the Merlin Tarot because it uses William Gray’s Tree of Life assignments.

Final Words

I didn’t expect to have such a long post, but here we are! I guess I had a lot to say, so thank you for bearing with me.

As I said earlier, collecting to collect is fine. I think it’s important to distinguish between buying decks to collect, and buying decks as part of the learning process or hoping for a shortcut. People who want to get good at reading cards of any kind are better off focusing on one deck to start, and avoiding the collection trap. Don’t worry about “the one,” and consider that you really need a solid visual literacy with your deck of choice. If you want to get decks for comparison or to relieve boredom, I’m not going to stop you. I do think that you’ll get the best mileage by focusing on — using — one deck for a period of time. The duration will vary by person.

In closing, I will offer a suggestion made by benebell wen on her enjoyable tarot blog: enthusiasts might consider starting a collection around a theme.

How big is your collection? Do you want more decks? Less decks? Do you think the market is over-saturated? Let me know what you think in the comments!