While so far this blog has been aimed toward defining cards and learning about the tarot in general, some of you might not have a deck, or have just received your first deck. I thought that I would provide some information on how to approach your new addition.
The New Deck
If you buy a deck for yourself, spanking new, the energy will be blank. That is to say that no one has handled it with any sort of intention, possession, love, or hate, and thus has not put any energy into the deck.
When you get a deck, take the time to look through each card individually. Feel each card, consider the messages that pop into your head as you look at the pictures. Consider what you know of the tarot. If you are already familiar with the traditional Rider-Waite Tarot and you have bought yourself the Thoth deck, what images differ between your understanding of the Rider-Waite and the Thoth deck? How do they deepen your knowledge of the message of the cards, and what do the new symbols represent to you?
Getting to Know the Cards
Donald Michael Craig in his book Modern Magick, which highly stresses the importance of tarot cards, recommends a meditation involving the cards. This meditation is two-fold:
- It helps to focus the conscious on one thing, which is what meditation is meant to do. This will put you in an open state to receive messages from the cards, and can be useful down the line.
- Puts the images of the cards into focus, ingraining them in your mind so that you can know them.
The steps for this meditation are simple. You work on one card at a time. I personally find it helpful do the cards in the order they arrived to you in.
- Pick one card, and focus on it. Look at it for several minutes until you feel that you know the full card, top to bottom.
- Put the card down.
- Close your eyes and focus on recreating the card in your minds eye, like a printer, going left to right, a strip at a time.
It should be noted that Craig recommends this as a meditation technique rather than specific bonding with a tarot deck. However, I don’t see why it can’t be both.
A Tarot Journal
Keeping a tarot journal is a good idea while you’re learning and while you’re getting to know a deck. Many people keep one and write down every reading they have in it (obviously this extends to several volumes). If you are dedicated enough for it, definitely go for it. However, if you don’t think you have the fortitude for the long-term journaling, at least keep one while you’re learning and while you’re getting to know a deck.
If you don’t know how to get started on journaling, there are plenty of free templates on tarot journaling online, but I do recommend Benebell Wen’s template, which she offers for free. She also has a video on her YouTube channel on how she likes to organize and use her journal. Also, not to get too excited about this reader/writer, but she also has a great informational blog post about how to go about journaling.
Try to write your journal out by hand rather than typing it out. There is a strong connection between the mind and hand that typing just doesn’t quite tap in to. It is the connection between the mental and the physical, and can help to bring ideas into reality, or to solidify thoughts we might have.
Things you might include in your tarot journal:
- Books you found useful
- Keywords you find recurring between decks or interpretations
- Images you connect well with
- Decks you find do or don’t work for you
- Impressions you get for each card that differ or align with suggested definitions in the booklet that comes with it or any other book you come across
- Impressions you get from your new deck and handling it, how it shuffles, etc.
- Layouts/spreads you like or might find useful
- Meditations you use
- All of your readings
- Moon phase and any planetary influences as well (For example, as I write this there is all sorts of Piscese influences)
Recording your readings is quite important. If your journal contains nothing else, it should be the readings that you have and what you think of them.
Include the question you’ve asked, the situation which provoked the question (though, many people do daily readings for the sake of knowing what to keep in mind for the day, and that can be your ‘situation’ and your question in your journal). Record your first impression before looking up the definition in a book, compare it to the definition you find in the book, and then record your impressions of the reading as a whole.
If you want to be really detailed, in each entry try and include the date, time, day of the week, and the moon phase, and any retrograde planets that might be influencing you. The more detail you give to a reading the better. You never know, when looking back on it, what might be at play that you hadn’t realized.
When getting to know a deck, don’t expect it to give accurate readings immediately. This is why it’s important to journal your readings, so that you can see the progression of your connection with the deck.
Handling Your Deck
As I’ve mentioned before, a new deck will be blank, while a gifted or inherited deck will have the previous handler’s energy in there. Hopefully it will all be good energy. If it’s not, you’ll generally find a deck that immediately gives negative readings or is difficult to shuffle—cards will pop out all over the place, they won’t stay lined up, etc. Cards can be surprisingly characteristic and show their dislike, as odd as that sounds.
When you’re getting to know your deck, make sure you’re in a peaceful setting at first. You’re somewhere that you can feel grounded, that you can feel at peace, and really connect with your deck without distraction. Make sure you are thinking of positive things, or at least that you can be somewhat positively blank as you spend time with your deck.
If you’re learning tarot, spend time with the deck’s booklet as well as any other reference book. Each tarot deck comes with a little book either written by the artist, or written by someone appointed by the artist to convey the message they intended when they created the cards. Some are detailed, some only contain key words. All are designed to give a basic introduction to tarot as a whole for anyone who might have procured their work as their first deck.
Spend time gaining a holistic understanding of the meaning behind each card. I do recommend getting more than one reference book—the more then better—so that you can see the cards from multiple perspectives and form your own understanding.
Until you’ve spent several dozens of hours with your deck, I would try to avoid using the deck in any form of upset state. My personal ‘number one’ deck I have been using since I was 17 (and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll already know what it is), which means at the time of writing this, for the last 15 years. It was years before the deck knew me and I knew it well enough that no matter the state I was in, it would give me an honest reading. That’s not to say that my deck didn’t give me accurate readings, but if I was upset—mad, sad, emotionally unhinged (as teenagers can sometimes go)—those emotions would tinge my readings, and I would get one more geared toward my upset rather than an unbiased reading.
Until you’ve reached that point, make sure you centre yourself before you read. Find yourself in a quiet place, a place you won’t be disturbed for the most part. There was a greasy spoon I used to frequent and do my readings for myself. Most of the time I wasn’t disturbed, though sometimes it did attract attention from neighbouring tables.
If those distractions don’t upset you and you’re able to return with ease to a concentrated state, then a public place is just fine. However, you should always be in a place where you can find calm.
Some people struggle to reach the peaceful state that they need to be in. The above meditation can be beneficial, but there are other ways to focus the self.
Light a candle and focus on the flame for a little while. Breathe slowly and deeply, just focussing yourself on the flame. When slow, even breaths come with ease, and outer thoughts drift by rather than nestle in the creases of your brain, then you may be ready to pick up the cards.
There are several crystals that do wonders for centring people. A few I find particularly affective are clear quartz (which really is just a staple in any crystal collection), amethyst (which promotes clear-headedness), citrine (which corresponds to the Solar Plexus of the chakras, but also promotes clarity and warmth—think of the energy of the sun), and hematite (this is a grounding stone, and extracts negative energy). Sitting with one of these crystal quietly and simply feeling the effects it has can put you in a good frame of mind for a reading.
A favourite grounding technique of mine is to sit in a chair so that your back comfortably straight and relaxed. I just line myself with the back of the chair as much as I can. This can work on a stool as well, or I’ve even sat on the edge of my bed to do this. The idea is that your hips are at as much of a right angle as they can be and still be comfortable, and your knees are at a right angle, and your feet at a right angle. If the stool is tall for this, you might need another place. Sitting cross-legged on the floor is fine as well, so long as your spine is comfortably straight.
Put your hands on your knees, palms down, and close your eyes. Envision roots going down through your feet, deep into the earth, wrapping around rocks in the way, dipping into pools of underground water, and reaching into the depth, the core of the earth. Draw the energy of the earth, the underground water, and the fire of the molten rock centre up to you, and feel the connection to these elements. As your draw in breath, feel the connection to the air. These four elements connect you to the world, ground you, and remind you of your placement in the universe.
Stay like this for as long as you’d like, breathing evenly, and feeling your roots in the ground.
This meditation can be done while walking as well, as suggested by Starhawk in her book Earth Path, in which she suggests each step taking root and connecting your to your path.
I personally find the last mediation very powerful, and it has helped me through some very difficult times, when I had the mental fortitude to sit down and practice it.
A Negative Deck
If you find that your deck tends to read more negatively, it could be something that you’ve done by handling it when in a bad temper, or just not storing it in a caring way. It could also simply be the deck itself—sometimes they don’t arrive blank, or the previous owner didn’t look after it as well as they should have. In these times, you need to cleanse your deck.
This is a good practice to have any way, regardless of the vibe your deck is giving. At the end of the day, it collects its impressions of you, and as you change, your deck should change with you. You shed outworn aspects of yourself, and so should you.
There are a couple of ways you can cleans your deck.
- White Light:
In a peaceful place, hold your deck and envision a purifying white light surrounding your deck. This white light is there to cleans your deck, to fill it with love, and to push out any negativity. If you can’t visualize this, then just know it’s there, feel it running from you to your deck. Another method is to do this for each card, running your hand over it as if wiping it clean. It’s more time consuming, but I would argue most likely more effective.
Again, a cleansing crystal can be beneficial here. If you have an amethyst, clear quartz, or citrine rock cave big enough to hold your deck, these make for excellent cleansing spaces. Alternatively, placing a large form of any of these crystals over night is beneficial.
- Full Moon:
There is some bravery here, but if you feel confident that your deck will be safe, leaving it in the light of the full moon is a good way to cleans a deck. It might be helpful to use a netted cake-cover (the kind to keep bugs away from food), or put it in a green house, just so long as your deck gets the longest exposure to the full moon through the night.
- Smudging: Using a white sage bundle is a fantastic manner of cleansing. I personally will always endorse it as I find the experience almost intoxicating when I smudge myself or my area. Light a white sage bundle (which are fairly inexpensive from any store you find them in), and run the deck through the smoke. Like the white light focus, it might be more effective if you run each card through the smoke, letting it wash over front and back. Sandlewood is also an affective scent.
- Spending Time with It:
Spending time with a deck and going through each card and handling it absent mindedly can be helpful to cleansing your deck. Sometimes all a deck needs is time spent with it, a reminder that not all readers are the same, and that you are the positive nourishment it might need.
An Important Note
I have found time and time again that the state of a tarot deck reflects that of its handler. It shows you what you put into it.
If you find your deck has turned negative, spending time with your deck might be the best option for you. Not only is it a time to give goodness to your deck, but it is a reminder of the goodness and positive nourishment you need to provide for yourself to be spiritually healthy. This health directly affects your emotions, your mentality, and as a result, your physical wellbeing.
Look after yourself and your deck is sure to follow.
Purposing a Deck
As mentioned before, I have a deck that I have a specific use for. As an avid collector of tarot, I find it impossible to give equal time and use to each deck if they’re for the same purpose. So I have certain decks for certain purposes. My Spiral Tarot is for my daily readings. I have the Impressionists Tarot by Corine Kenner for writing-related readings. I have the Aquarius Deck by David Palladini that I use for deeper, spiritual needs. I have the Thoth deck for more ‘universal’ questions, and I have the Faerie Tarot (by Nathalie Hertz) that I use for a tarot/astrology column I write for a magazine.
This is not the limit of my collection either.
So you’ve collected a few decks, what do you want to use them for?
You do not have to designate a use for them, but for me, I find it just makes sure I have a bit of variety in my life regarding my tarot cards. Personally, and this is very personal, I worry about my cards getting jealous, as silly as it sounds. I literally have no basis of this worry, but it’s there.
I found the designating a purpose to certain decks helps to keep the boundaries up for when and why I use a deck, to prohibit any jealousy.
It’s like running a pub, and preventing staff from getting jealous of different wages: the pot wash can’t expect to be paid the same amount as the head chef or the bar manager. The decks used for the column I write can’t get jealous because my daily use deck is being used more often—they have different roles.
That being said, if you decide that you want to use a deck for a specific purpose and for that purpose only, then you need clear ways of assigning that deck that purpose. This can vary from how and where you store it (for example, if it’s for spiritual purposes maybe it stays on your altar, versus your daily use might find its way in the bag you carry around with you) to the oils you anoint it with (certain scents correspond to certain vibrations).