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Best tarot cards: Dive into divination with decks for beginners, manifesting love and success

Understand your possible futures with cartomancy, fortune-telling and occult divination practices via a stunning set of tarot cards

Even if you’re a seasoned witch, finding the best tarot deck can be a particularly tough task. Once you know all the lore behind the practice (more of which can be found at the end of this article), the various traditions and card meanings, you’ll still want to get some cards you really connect with – especially if your latest selection has become a little stale.

Mystic newbies shouldn’t fear the unknown, either: tarot is not just an occult practice reserved for children’s sleepover scares. You’re building a connection with the person you are reading – or yourself, should this be a personal endeavour – to better understand the options and outcomes that are possible in the present, whether that’s about your future with a romantic partner or wider questions for your life that’s yet to come. Tarot cards can tell those stories and help make sense of the confusing world around you.

The problem is that there are a million and one different decks that you can buy today, all with stunning artwork and built on different styles. Consequently, choosing a tarot deck is an immensely personal choice, but we’ve tried to help ease you into the practice by writing an extensive buying guide on tarot traditions, how to read the cards and crucially what to look out for when purchasing, whether you’re a beginner or fully fledged psychic. You’ll also find some more specific product suggestions depending on your preference, too, so read on to get to grips with everything tarot.

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Best tarot cards: At a glance

What are Tarot cards?

Originally, tarot cards were just used as regular playing cards. However, in the 18th century people began using them for fortune-telling readings to get insights on an individual’s most pressing life questions.

Each standard deck consists of 78 cards and is made up of two subgroups: the Major and Minor Arcana. There are 22 Major Arcana cards which symbolise important life lessons and bigger picture moments, ranging from those about love and relationships, power and authority to bad news and other vices.

As would follow, the Minor Arcana are cards that represent smaller-scale, everyday themes and make up the remaining 56 cards in a deck. These are divided into four suits of 14 cards each which, while often having different names depending on the deck, can be neatly categorised as: cups (hearts); wands, batons or rods (clubs); swords (spades); and coins, pentacles or disks (diamonds).

For astrology fans, these correspond to the four astrological elements, with cups being related to water energy (emotion and intuition), wands with fire (action), swords with air (logic) and pentacles with earth (the material world). Much like a regular deck of playing cards, the cards within these suits are numbered from the ace up to the ten (also called the pip cards), while there are also four court cards per suit (the page, knight, queen and king).

How to read Tarot cards?

The first thing you’ll need to get to grips with is your deck. Learning the meanings of 78 different cards, which can be both upright or reversed for further nuance, can be a bit daunting, but it need not be a rush. Learning creatively, without constraints or pressure, is the best way to keep the cards in your memory. Some tarot readers recommend pulling one card from a deck in the morning and one at night to let you really sit with each card and its meanings, but whatever method works best for you is the path to follow.

You’ll often get an extensive guidebook as part of your tarot deck, which will help explain each card, while there are also many other books out there to delve into tarot at large (such as this and this) to learn even more. But don’t take the cards too literally. For instance, a Death card doesn’t have to signify the end of life – should you be doing a reading about a relationship, it might suggest that it’s coming to a close. Don’t be closed off to certain thoughts.

In this sense, it’s not just about learning set meanings of cards. You’ll also need to tap into your intuition – something you’ll develop over time (unless you’re a particularly powerful mystic) – to get a feeling of the deck as you shuffle on any day, hour and minute. The imagery used on the tarot deck you purchased will also be important here, as it will help conjure those emotions within you the more intimately you get to know your deck and, accordingly, the associations you form and the new meanings you develop with each card. But don’t focus using intuition on the cards themselves, as a reading is all about the other person in the room – you want to sense what they’re feeling and thinking.

If you are reading tarot cards for yourself, focusing on open-ended questions and mediating with the answer as you shuffle your cards and draw them out is a good method to start off with.

What makes a great tarot deck for me?

That brings us on to how you choose a tarot deck. Unfortunately, what makes a great tarot deck isn’t as easy to spot as smartphone specifications. You’ll find that these decks are built more on vibes than anything else. You want a deck that speaks to you so that you can then help it speak for others during tarot readings. This is a deck that makes you feel good when you’re holding the cards in your hands – in other words, you feel inspired by the imagery used. You may also prefer certain finishes or sizes to your tarot cards, but these are likely to be secondary to the artwork of the cards themselves. Beginners will likely prefer decks that are more simplistic in their illustration style, so that you can get to grips with card meanings faster. But ultimately, you want a deck that you like the look of so you can build on that connection thereafter.

How much should I spend?

Most tarot decks cost between £15 and £25, though you may see prices £5 under or over that range. Those on the more expensive end tend to come with a guide book that can be useful to learn your deck more intimately, but isn’t always necessary given the number of guidebooks online. Still, it’s a nice addition, especially for beginners, and tends to be worth it as a well-made keepsake.

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The best tarot cards to buy

1. Rider-Waite-Smith: Best tarot cards for beginners

Price: £16 | Buy now from Amazon

Created in 1909 by mystic Arthur Waite and illustrated by Pamela Smith, this iconic set is considered to be relatively intuitive and therefore the essential starting point for beginners. It uses situational images on the cards that are easier to relate to than other more esoteric decks, and even if you don’t know what’s going on, there are many interpretation guides to delve into (such as this one) since it was one of the first tarot decks to be mass-produced.

Key specs – Size: 2.75 x 4.75in; Finish: Gloss; Type: Rider-Waite-Smith

2. The Wild Unknown: Most distinctive tarot deck

Price: £21 | Buy now from Amazon

This independent deck created quite the buzz in online tarot communities, so much so that it was serialised on the mass market shortly after. Artist Kims Krans used her beautiful penmanship to form black and white line-drawings, coupled with the occasional dash of colour, that really stick in the memory. In fact, the artwork is so stark that many say it produces a lot of raw emotions, so make sure whoever you’re reading is comfortable with brutal truths and darker sensibilities.

As its design crosses traditions between Marseille, Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth, this deck can be understood as its own interpretive system – and perhaps not the best option for those looking to learn the tarot traditions in that sense. For instance, the court cards are daughter-son-mother-father instead of the usual page-knight-queen-king combo.

Still, that makes it a good choice for both experienced readers looking for something different and more casual tarot readers who aren’t interested in lore, especially since the accompanying 200+ page guidebook assumes no prior knowledge whatsoever.

Key specs – Size: 2.75 x 4.75in; Finish: Matte; Type: Marseille (with Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth influence)

3. The Modern Witch Tarot Deck: Best modern tarot set

Price: £18 | Buy now from Amazon

This deck by Lisa Sterle features vibrant imagery that perfectly reformulates the Rider-Waite-Smith legacy for the present day.

The Modern Witch Deck showcases every type of witch under the sun, making it feel much more inclusive than more traditional sets. We agree with Michelle Tea, an author who explores queer culture and feminism, among other topics, who noted “the love for PoC, queer and femme witches” this deck provides. Modernising is also seen outside the human elements, with more obvious updates in the form of cityscapes and contemporary fashion.

In person, the cards are a bit on the thicker side, which some purchasers have said makes shuffling trickier. But we’d rather have an exceptionally high-quality finish than an easily tearable card. Coupled up with a plush, hardcover guidebook and sturdy sliding box to fit both into, this set really feels like the perfect gift for the 21st century tarot fan.

Key specs – Size: 2.45 x 4.25in; Finish: Gloss; Type: Rider-Waite-Smith

4. Hermetic Tarot Deck: Best for astrology lovers

Price: £19 | Buy now from Amazon

Based upon the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (a secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult), these cards, developed by Godfrey Dowson, are considered a classic set.

What makes this tarot great for even the newest of astrological converts is that full astrological and elemental symbolism are used on the cards. You’ll also find other alchemical and kabbalistic aspects too, which is great for any Thoth deck fans, plus a booklet that explains the meanings of each upright and inverted card and the Golden Dawn’s teachings at large.

There is a lot of depth in the deck illustrations, layered with dual meanings and new insights to discover every time you pick up a card. This might be better suited to more experienced readers, but the advantage is that this can aid the flow of ideas and feelings and therefore allow for a wider interpretation of card meanings. The only other thing to note is that they’re drawn in black and white, which might not be to everyone’s taste.

Key specs – Size: 4.6 x 2.75in; Finish: Matte; Type: Marseille (with Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth influence)

5. Lover’s Path Tarot: Best tarot set for love, dating and relationships

Price: £12 | Buy now from Amazon

Authentic love and relationships can offer the sweetest of rewards and thorniest of challenges, so making sense of those heightened emotions via a tarot built for the job is a good place to start. The Lover’s Path was created by Kris Waldherr and features imagery of mythical and historical loves such as Romeo and Juliet or Persephone and Pluto drawn in sharp lines with pastel hues at a flat perspective.

The set doesn’t particularly follow any tradition, though the Major Arcana do follow Rider-Waite-Smith style, but you’ve got an accompanying book and spreadsheet with card layouts to help you understand all the card meanings.

Key specs – Size: 3.5 x 4.75in; Finish: Glossy; Type: Rider-Waite-Smith

6. Conver-Ben-Dov (CBD) deck: Best Tarot de Marseille cards

Price: £23 | Buy now from Amazon

For those that enjoy medieval drawings, the Conver Ben-Dov deck is the pick of the bunch faithfully reproduced for modern times. It features original Tarot de Marseille cards made by Nicholas Conver way back in 1760 restored for modern times by Dr Yoav Ben-Dov in 2011. It took three years for him to complete the restoration, with all the lines redrawn by hand using an ink nib. It follows the exact colour scheme of the earliest available Conver deck too, found in the Paris National Library. And you can tell it was a labour of love, as the cards look brilliant up close. There’s a separate book by Dr Yoav Ben-Dov called The Open Reading should the deck encourage you to dive into tarot history further.

Key specs – Size: 2.44in x 4.72in; Finish: Matte/gloss combination; Type: Marseille

7. Disney Villains Tarot Deck: Best tarot cards for child-like wonder

Price: £18 | Buy now from Amazon

Bring out your inner child, or get your own offspring into tarot, with this delightful Disney deck. Released in 2021, this is one of the newer options for you to delve into and features the most iconic villains from Disney’s animated films ranging from Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmations to the baddest characters from Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and more.

There isn’t a lot of symbolism or other features usually associated with tarot cards, which is why beginners or youngsters, given the Disney theme, may be best suited to this deck. The accompanying guide book furthers that stance, since the meaning of every card, whether upright or reversed, is laid out for you to pore over at ease. It all comes in a decorative box and overall is a deck that would make a great gift for any Disney fan.

Key specs – Size: 2.44 x 4.72in; Finish: Matte; Type: Rider-Waite-Smith

The traditions of tarot: Different decks and their history

The three most common tarot deck types you’ll come across are based on the Rider-Waite-Smith, Thoth and Marseille traditions.

The majority of tarot decks in the Anglosphere are based on the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck created in 1909 by publisher AE Waite and illustrator Pamela Colman Smith. These tend to have more traditional and intuitive imagery, drawing from the medieval era, paganism and Christianity, which make it ideal for beginners.

Alternatively, the Thoth deck – illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris and published by Aleister Crowley in 1944 alongside the Book of Thoth – features more esoteric imagery drawing from occult traditions and practices. Namely, symbols from Egyptians (Thoth is an ancient Egyptian God), astrology and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (of which all of the above tarot readers were members), and was considered a modernisation of the RWS deck. It is considered more open to interpretation than RWS, too – for instance, a Green Man with horns (often associated with rebirth, nature and the circle of life) is featured on the Thoth Fool card instead of a young man walking unknowingly towards a cliff edge with a white rose (symbolising base desires) and a bundle of possessions (untapped knowledge) on the RWS. Hence, decks based on the Thoth deck are a suitable pick for more experienced readers after something more abstract, since they can help present new messages and meanings.

The third main strand of tarot is the oldest: the Tarot de Marseille. It is thought to have arrived in Marseille in 1499 after the French conquered Milan and soldiers brought the then-simple card game back with them, and was subsequently mass-produced there by the end of the 1600s – hence the name. By the 1800s it was being used for tarot readings and setting the foundations for all that followed. As such, Marseille-based decks are great for history buffs and those looking to dive into the history of the practice. However, since the cards were made for standard card games, the imagery – which draws heavily from Christianity – might be on the more simple side for some. Likewise, given its age, there aren’t all that many out there, so they are perhaps worth considering for that reason alone.

Despite all this, there are many modern decks that forgo these traditions entirely as artists look to create their own tarot language in the 21st century, as well as simply decks that speak for themselves. It all depends on whether you’re intrigued by history and tradition or just wish to go for artwork that you connect with.

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