Another question I’m often asked is how I organise my collection. I have stored my decks in a number of different ways as my collection slowly grew from two tarot decks to the current 149 decks. Initially, I just kept them on my desk. That’s clearly no longer an option, I’d need a significantly larger desk! The next stage was on a shelf in no particular order. When I reached about 25 decks, I bought a wooden carry box from Ikea, and packed the decks in however the fit best.
I liked being able to pick up my entire collection and take it with me places. I added a second box when I could no longer fit all my decks into one, but I outgrew that as well.
I still use the carry boxes to carry some of my decks, but I ended up storing them on a bookcase at home.
The collection currently fills five shelves, but there’s plenty of space to expand into, and I can double up if I run out of shelf space.
That covers where the decks belong, but I still had to figure out how to organise them. When they were in the carry cases it was a matter of fitting similar sized decks next to each other and filling in the gaps with whichever decks fit, but now that I have a whole bookcase to fill, I wanted to organise them in a way that made it easier for me to find particular decks more easily.
I decided to arrange them by date, rather than by type of deck or size, which might have been a bit neater looking. I have a lot of historical decks and the dates range from circa 1450 up to the present, so sorting them by date is useful.
Some decks are a bit difficult to date, historic decks tend to have rough estimates rather than fixed dates, but it’s generally easy enough to put them in chronological order. Some decks are a bit more difficult to decide what to do with because they’re a version of an old deck but they’ve been updated or changed, so there’s the date of the original deck and the date the new version was published to choose between. I usually go with the original date if it’s a restoration or reproduction and the published date if the deck has been revamped.
If I have more than one version of a deck, like the Visconti Sforza or the Rider Waite Smith, I order them by the date I acquired the deck. Similarly if I have more than one deck released in the same year, which happens a lot with newer decks. If I get two decks released in the same year on the same day (yes, this has happened!) then they go alphabetically.
To keep track of where each deck belongs and where new decks need to slot in, I keep a spreadsheet of the decks. This is also handy if I’m looking at a bargain deck and can’t remember whether I already have it (this doesn’t happen often, I’m usually pretty good at remembering).
Tarot, and other types of cartomancy deck for that matter, are understood in different ways by different people, depending on their beliefs about various things such as deity, the supernatural, psychic abilities and so on. There are a wide range of opinions, some think they’re a way to receive messages from divine beings or guides, others think they’re a psychological tool, for some they’re a mystery, they just work without us having to understand how. For some people looking for readings, the beliefs of the reader matter, and for others they don’t. I thought it would be interesting to share my own thoughts.
Firstly, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in any kind of deity, god, supernatural being or spirit. I don’t think there are angels watching over us, or guides trying to send us messages. I don’t think the universe wants the best for us, or has the ability to want anything for that matter. I’m also pagan. Some people think that these two beliefs are incompatible but they work for me. I observe the eight holidays on the wheel of the year, I attend a monthly moot and I enjoy pagan symbolism such as the four elements. I also read tarot, of course.
These beliefs inform my understanding of tarot and cartomancy systems. As an atheist, I don’t believe I’m receiving divine messages from deity or guides. As a pagan, I believe that the symbology encoded into tarot is valuable. For me, the cards are just that, cards. They’re not inherently magic or special, but the pictures on the cards speak a language of symbolism that can be interpreted and provide insight into people and situations that may not have been considered otherwise.
I read tarot because I enjoy delving into the symbols and exploring how they apply to situations I find myself in, decisions I have to make, relationships, emotions, problems and whatever else I’m thinking about. I also enjoy reading cards for others, and discussing how they see the connections between the cards and whatever is happening in their lives. It can be anything from a bit of fun to a serious exercise, depending on who the reading is for, how much time we’re spending on it and how serious the question or issue is.
For serious readings, exploring how the symbols on the cards correspond, or don’t correspond, to the situation can help you to understand how you feel about it. Sometimes it helps you to see things from a different perspective, which can be enlightening. Sometimes you discover that you disagree with the message that the cards seem to be giving, and that’s another way you gain insight into your views on the situation you’re examining. Other times, the cards seem to back up the choices you’re making and the way you feel about things. You can also try viewing the situation from the perspective of the people depicted in the cards, or try to see how the values depicted in the cards related to the issue.
For less serious readings, it can be fun to notice synchronicity between the situation and the cards, without delving very deeply into the meaning. You can get quick answers to frivolous questions, or delve deeply into silly or fictional situations. It’s fun to draw a card for the day and try to notice anything that happens that relates to the card. Of course, you can take this more seriously too if you want to.
The point I’m trying to express here is that the symbolic language of the cards can be applied to a range of questions, situations and issues, in a variety of different ways, without the need for any supernatural or religious context or belief. Tarot can be useful, fun and interesting without it being messages from other entities or predictions about the future.
I also believe that there’s no reason in particular for the cards to fall the way they do for a reading. There’s no divine intervention, no “it was meant to be”, just the random chance created by the way the cards were shuffled. Because of the universality of the language of the symbols, any card can provide insight into any issue you care to explore. It’s up to you to find a meaningful way to link the meanings of the cards to the situation you’re asking them about.
Because different people have different personal associations for some of the symbols of the tarot, different people will interpret the same cards in different ways. If I’m reading for another person who is present for the reading, we’ll discuss what the symbols mean to them as well as what they mean to me. This can give more depth and insight to a reading. There are also different layers of symbolism and meaning that can be explored in each card, and in tarot as a whole. You might notice a particular symbol in a card during one reading, and a different symbol in the same card during a different reading. You could explore just the general meaning of the card, or dig into the symbolism of each part of the image and explore how the various aspects apply to your issue.
There are also correspondences between tarot symbology and other systems of symbology, such as astrology, kabbalah, numerology, and so on. Some decks are designed specifically to incorporate other systems, some aren’t. You can use or ignore these associations depending on your beliefs, knowledge or mood. You can create your own correspondences to anything you feel is relevant, for example, fictional worlds from popular culture (there are plenty of decks available if this is your thing), symbolic alphabets not usually associated with tarot (such as runes), or any other system that you feel is appropriate. You can use these associations for some readings but not others, depending on whatever factors you or the querent feel are relevant.
The point is, I believe that reading cards is all about matching a language of symbols of your choice to a situation or issue, based on randomly chosen pictures on cards. I don’t believe there’s anything supernatural about it. I find it useful, fun and interesting to read cards for myself and others to explore situations and gain insight. I also enjoy learning more about the symbolic language of the tarot and other systems of cartomancy.
Finally, if your views don’t match mine, that’s fine with me. There’s room for a range of views and opinions in the tarot world, and that’s one of the things that makes it so great. The variety of ways of interpreting the cards provides more richness and meaning, and also allows different readers to reject anything that doesn’t resonate with them and still be left with plenty that does. This also means there’s a type of reader available to suit every type of querent. Whether you want a reading that gives you a message from your guides, comes from the gods, tells the future, is psychic, is psychological, is silly or explores what your favourite character would do in your situation. there’s someone out there who will read that way for you. The downside, of course, is that with such variety, it might be difficult to find someone who does read in a way that suits a particular querent!
I got my first tarot decks in around 2009. I was living in Toronto at the time, and I remember that I got them from The World’s Biggest Bookstore, which was a pretty big bookstore, unsurprisingly. I don’t remember which deck I got first, or even whether I got them at the same time or not, but I do remember the process of choosing which deck to get.
I can’t remember why I decided to get a tarot deck in the first place, but I had been interested in paganism and wicca at the time and was reading all about those online, so I suppose I must have become interested in tarot along with that. Once I had decided to get a deck, I came across Aeclectic Tarot and quickly realised that there was a huge number of decks to choose from.
I did some more reading and research online, and decided that I should get a deck that I really liked, and also a Rider Waite deck because it seemed to be the one that all the books were talking about, so I thought it would be helpful to learn the card meanings and symbolism. I really didn’t like the look of the Rider Waite though, which seems like a strange thing to say because it’s come to be one of my favourite decks. I looked at a bunch of images of different cards from different versions of the Rider Waite, and eventually settled on the Radiant Rider-Waite which is more colourful I thought was less ugly.
The other deck I chose was purely based on the pretty pictures I found online. I looked through a lot of the categories on Aeclectic, anything that sounded reasonably interesting, and checked out the card images for any deck that I thought I might like. I settled on the Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti.
Around the same time, I also picked up Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, which I think I also discovered through Aeclectic Tarot, on the forums.
Possibly because Aeclectic was my introduction to the world of tarot decks, I had my eye on a few more decks right from the beginning. Over the next five years I added the next six decks to my collection (Osho Zen, Thoth, Alchemy 1977, Tarot Nova, Quest Tarot and a Harry Potter tarot) and gradually became more and more interested in tarot and different deck styles.
In November 2015, I bought my first Lenormand deck to see what it was like, another Ciro Marchetti deck, the Gilded Lenormand, and I started buying tarot decks more often. In 2016 I got 72 more decks, including more cartomancy style decks as well as a lot of tarot. My other half may be pleased to know that so far this year I’ve only added 44 decks to my collection. He might not though, he thinks I already have way too many :-/.
If you’ve had a look at my tarot collection you may have noticed that not all of the decks I own are in fact tarot decks. I have some lenormand decks and a few other types as well. Something I often say though is that I’m not a fan of oracle decks. So what exactly do I collect and how do I make the distinction between things I’m interested in and things I’m not?
For starters, I collect tarot decks. That much should be pretty obvious! I collect historic decks, pretty decks, mass produced, independently published, serious and silly. My interest started with tarot, and it’s still the type of deck I’m most interested in.
I first started to be interested in non-tarot decks when I began learning about the history of tarot and cartomancy in general. Tarot was originally a game, not a divination system, and although cards have been used for divination since before tarot came into existence, other decks were preferred for this purpose. I started to include decks designed for divination that weren’t tarot in my collection.
I’m still not a fan of oracle decks, although they are clearly designed to be used for divination as well, so I had to think about what it is that I don’t like about them that doesn’t apply to the other decks. The distinction I made is that the decks I do collect have a particular system to them, they’re of a particular pattern, like tarot. They each contain a particular set of cards which is common to all decks of that type. There are rules. Oracle decks, on the other hand, don’t follow any system, each deck has its own unique set of cards, and there are no rules to follow.
So my collection includes tarot, minchiate, lenormand, sibilla, zigeuner and playing cards, as well as a few historical decks that don’t really fit into a system but that I feel are relevant to the development of tarot or other divination systems. It also includes regional decks, those that are of a style typical of a particular place, even though they’re not related to divination, because I’m interested in how decks changed through time.
I buy both new and used decks. Some decks are readily available new and some aren’t. Some decks are out of print, so getting a used copy is necessary. Sometimes I get a used deck because it’s cheaper than a new copy. As long as the deck is in good condition, it doesn’t bother me.