Ann, the main character in the moody Read With Jenna pick “The Cloisters,” uses the cards in a medieval tarot deck to gain insight about an, um, complicated situation she’s in. Tarot, which began as a game of playing cards in 15th century Europe, is now used for an array of purposes, from divination to creative aids. "Cloisters" author Katy Hays tells TODAY.com she pulled cards to guide her chapters.
Luckily, you don’t need to wait until a valuable deck from medieval Italy falls into your lap to start reading tarot cards. Today, there are a plethora of tarot decks available — thanks in large part to indie decks, which are self-published (and sometimes picked up by major publishers). Some are in conversation with imagery from the Rider Waite Smith deck, filtered through the artists’ imagination; others reinvent the wheel.
As for picking a deck? Frances Naude, tarot reader and creator of Four Noble Tarot, offers up a few guiding questions. “I always say, ‘Go for the one you feel the most drawn towards.’ Do you like it? Does it make you feel supported and nourished? Does it make you feel like you want to pick it up?'”
While shopping for a new deck, Naude says to look for the art first and see whether it gives you that “pang,” adding, “Art evokes feelings. Art in tarot is going to evoke feelings and energies as you’re reading the cards.” Naude reaches for different decks depending on her mood. Since the imagery “tells a story,” Naude says it’s all the more important to be sure you connect with the stories they tell.
Mariah Oller, tarot reader and creator of the Tarot of Life deck, says it's important to focus on finding the right deck for you, rather than acquire many. "Tarot is something you've come to often in your darkest times or in your most confused times. If you would like to look at that imagery when you are in your darkest moment, if you would like that to be your guide — that's your deck."
Below, we have a range of decks recommended by tarot readers: Classic decks like the Rider Waite Smith; decks with cards that have meanings on them for beginners; and beautiful indie decks for once you've gotten your keywords memorized.
Naude always recommends the Rider Waite Smith tarot for beginners, to familiarize yourself with the “foundation” of the tarot practice. “This is the first deck,” she says, pointing out that the “roots'' of most tarot decks go back to Rider Waite Smith.
Rachel True, who played Rochelle in the classic witch movie "The Craft," is also a longtime tarot reader. "True Heart Intuitive Tarot" pairs gorgeous, blue-toned illustrations with a guidebook that gets personal. True connects moments from her life in Hollywood to concepts from the cards. Astrologer Lisa Stardust calls it a "great way to connect to the cards," and recommends trying out the exercises yourself.
Taylor Swift fan and aspiring tarot reader? This Swift-inspired deck may be a way in. “It’s so creative,” Naude says of this deck. Each card pairs a song lyric with a concept from tarot. For example, the Tower card — which signifies things falling apart — is an illustration from Taylor Swift’s 2015 VMA performance; the Lovers card is the song “Paper Rings.”
Stardust recommends this deck from Kerry Ward, who writes tarot horoscopes for several major publications (and has a new crystal-centric deck coming out). The guidebook demystifies tarot — and the cheery illustrations defang tarot. If you tend to look on the bright side of life (or want to start), this colorful illustrated deck’s for you. Stardust also notes how the cards shuffle smooth like butter.
Stardust calls this deck "a must-have," with collage art that is "breathtaking and whimsical." "Not only are the cards beautiful, but you can feel the amount of love that’s put into this deck with every card pull," she s ays.
Beginners may be drawn to the colorful and minimalist illustrations of "Tarot of Life," created by cell biologist-turned-tarot reader Mariah Oller. Oller intended for the deck to be "easy to decipher," and tells TODAY.com her clients understand the cards on their own during readings. Oller's illustrations are simple, but contain modern applications of the card's concepts.
Oller likens this deck to "tarot flashcards." Instead of imagery, each card outlines upright and reversed meanings, so you can quiz yourself as you do readings or use this deck to supplement your tarot practice.
Naude describes her gold-and-white deck as being filled with light. "The descriptions are very supportive and actionable," in line with her goal as a reader: "When I read tarot, it's my intention that everyone walks away with a feeling like, 'OK, that might have been honest, but I know what to do now and I feel supported."
Oller teases this sensual deck as having "a lot of naked ladies" — though the illustrations are "minimalist." Author Cosmic Valeria wrote that she was inspired by the "divine feminine" for the deck.
Oller says she likes 'The Rosebud Tarot' because it's particularly easy to shuffle, especially for people with smaller hands. Deck creators Amanda Lee Stillwell and Diana Rose Harper renamed some of the cards, including the court cards, to release the card's ideas from stiff, older associations — "Queens" become "Generosity" and "The Fool" becomes "The Youth," for example.
Oller calls this deck "lovely and diverse," shouting out the detail in each of the cards. Rather than being minimalist, this deck leans into the traditional Rider Waite Smith imagery, coming up with vivid characters that match each of the four suits' separate energies.
Two words to describe this deck? Ethereal and magical. The special Midnight Sky edition, which Oller recommends, has a holographic sheen to the drawings, peppered by little stars.
Chris Anne's tarot deck has garnered a cult following. While it's in tune with Rider Waite Smith imagery, she takes an immersive approach to each card, like a pool of energy. A prolific deck creator, animal lovers may enjoy her Tarot of Curious Creatures, too — each has a whimsical portrait of an animal in the human world.
Stardust says this deck has "gorgeous cards" and "great quality." Creator Grace Duong is a maximalist and minimalist at the same time, turning up the color and creating abstract but evocative figures.
Cat Pierce of the sister-band The Pierces drew this deck by hand, and its warm and inviting imagery makes it particularly good for beginners. The cards are also jampacked with imagery — each detail is a guide rail for branching off and forming your relationships to the card's traditional meanings.
Stardust says this deck helps you "learn tarot from one of the most famous tarot readers in the world," aka Sarah Potter, a specialist in tarot and color magic.
Most decks incorporate Ride Waite Smith imagery – but not Kim Krans' popular deck, which Naude calls "beautiful and intense."