Monday, 12 September 2011

Tarot: getting to know your new deck

Until very recently I wasn't a deck magpie at all. Most experienced Tarot readers love to hunt for a new deck and build huge collections of them with different themes and styles of art, focusing on different mythologies or reflecting certain beliefs. I could always see the appeal in building a collection but I always worried about learning with a new deck and being unable to process and remember the differences between messages and meanings.

Over the last year or two my understanding of the cards has reached a new level. That improvement definitely didn't come out of thin air but through a conscious decision to make deeper learning a priority and dedicate more time to cracking the code I still felt eluded me. As a result of my new found confidence with Tarot I've been shopping around for new decks. I feel more open to the idea of moving away from my belov├ęd Rider Waite, which has been my faithful working deck for so long. I owe Rider Waite a lot! Its symbols and themes made learning easier for me and helped me to appreciate the cohesion of the cards in a way that other decks (such as Mythic, Love and Marseilles) haven't in the past. But, as is only natural, I've grown bored, and it's gotten me thinking about the advantages of branching out and embracing new decks.

One of my main worries about deck collecting was the prospect of having my understanding of the cards convoluted and muddled with different definitions and approaches. I didn't want my firm knowledge of the meaning of Justice, for example, to be watered down by attempting to memorise the very different way another deck interpreted it. What I've come to realise is that letting go of accepted definitions and allowing intuition to take over is part of what makes us into experienced readers and now that I've learned to do that it seems to make perfect sense that I should be working with multiple decks.

There's a danger of assigning prescribed meanings to symbols we see, not only in Tarot but in plenty of different areas of study and also in nature. A lightning bolt - inspiration, disruption, divine intervention. A coin - prosperity, stability, inheritance. Once we've decided what a symbol means to us we can end up always interpreting it in the same way and it becomes dull and takes away our opportunity to be creative and progressive with our understanding of Tarot. When discovering a new deck we can see symbols used in a different way with different suggested meanings and it loosens the brain box open a little.

Choice is another great upside to having a collection of decks. When I was working with Rider Waite 100% of the time I'd go through weeks of feeling uninspired and leaving the cards to gather dust. I'd neglect study and forget meanings over time. Tarot needs to be kept fresh in the mind in order for us to give quality readings and not lose any valuable ground we've gained through study, but when our deck isn't fresh to our eyes and the images are ones we've seen thousands of times, it's difficult to keep things interesting. With a collection you can combat that lack of inspiration by selecting a deck you haven't used in a while or that speaks to your mood on a specific day. You're not always going to feel connected to the grand, traditional imagery in Rider Waite. Perhaps you need the soft romance of the Llewellyn deck or a light-hearted novelty deck like Hello Kitty or Alice in Wonderland. When you change study to fit with a particular mood, you succeed in making the learning process more flexible to your needs.

Having a big collection of decks is a major push towards favouring intuition over book study. I'm definitely an advocate of respecting and paying attention to the guide book that accompanies a deck, however I'm also a proponent of the idea that inviting your own intuition into every aspect of Tarot is the only way to become the best reader you can be. The book is like a strict father - it's a guide and it's a source of wisdom, but it's also a restrictive disciplinarian in many ways and eventually all good readers want to fly out from beneath its sturdy wings. If you've got a growing collection of decks it's going to be impossible for you to dedicate yourself to intense book study the way you probably did with the first deck you owned. Instead you're going to realise that your instincts can and do make up for not noting down entire paragraphs and trying to commit them to memory.

I'm over my fear of letting go of Rider Waite. Always using the same deck is like always wearing the same t-shirt.