These following the eight tarot decks that I will be writing about and using this year. According to Marcus Katz in his book Tarotsophy, a veteran tarot reader owns thirty-three decks on average. That makes my current collection of 35 different tarot and oracle decks pretty average. Some I have owned since the 1990s. Others I acquired just last year. I picked these eight as the focus of all my 2021 tarot content. In 2022, I will add in a few more.
“When you drop the idea of predicting the future, you start to experience the cards as a mirror of the psyche. That`s when playing with the tarot becomes a path to wisdom.” ― Philippe St Genoux
The Universal Waite Tarot is merely a re-colored and refined version of the classic Rider-Smith-Waite tarot, the most popular and best known tarot in the world. It was the first published in England in 1909 Rider Company in England then in 1916 an unlicensed copy was produced by the American publisher DeLaurence. It was a fad for a time then faded into obscurity for a couple of decades. Stuart Kaplan (founder of US Games Systems, Inc) obtained the publishing rights to the RWS cards in the early 70s and he helped create the modern metaphysical renaissance which has tarot (especially the RWS based decks) as part of its core.
Why this deck: Both Arthur Waite and Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith were phenomenal occultists who helped shape Qabalistic tarot through their work with The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Waite’s subsequent Fellowship of the Rosy Cross . This deck is easy to read and teach with; anyone with any version of the RWS cards can easily follow along with my content using it.
The Thoth (rhymes with growth) is probably the second-most famous deck of esoteric tarot cards. Like several other decks on this list, it has roots in the teachings of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This deck, however, serves as a platform for Crowley’s own mystical beliefs (the foundation for Thelema). Lady Frieda Harris created lavish, symbol-drenched artwork in the Deco style that was shown in galleries decades before the deck was ever published posthumously after both her and Crowley’s deaths. You will see me refer to this as the Harris-Crowley Thoth deck; I am fan of the growing convention of honoring both the artist and the author.
Why this deck: The Thoth deck has good reason to be so popular. The complexity of its art and symbolism is intense and there are a lot of people who’d like to know more about it without delving headlong into Thelema or Crowley’s own writings. Also, one of my best friends from college, Michael Osiris Snuffin, wrote a book about its symbolism after years of us having coffee dates studying esoteric tarot together. I’m feeling very nostalgic.
U.S. Games Systems recently created this deck to show its support for the LGBTQIA+ community, and to showcase the creative talents of 45 different LGBTQIA+ members and allies. Some of the cards have more intentional occult symbolism than others. I would call this more of a hybrid of an esoteric and an art deck than exclusively one of the other. 50% of the money I am given in 2021 to specifically support my Pride Tarot content will be donated to the Lambert House.
Why this deck: I made a decision back in mid-September (2020) that this would be one of my main decks teaching tarot on Twitch. I am a member of the greater LGBTQIA+ community. I like certain art styles showcased in this deck more than others, some cards have a lot more traditional esoteric symbolism than others, but every single card and its artist has an important message to share. I will be making it a priority of mine to highlight this deck and its artists in 2021.
The New Era Elements drops the classical symbolism of Golden Dawn inspired cards. It doesn’t tackle themes from ancient cultures at all. Instead, it contains beautiful sepia art with powerful images of 21st-century global life. The creator draws from the mythos and reality of our current era. This tarot’s suits are plain and simple: fire, water, air, and earth with the court cards representing four distinct world cultures.
Why this deck: This deck is simply exceptional in how it pulls mystical and magickal concepts into a very modern paradigm. This is a new deck for me and one I think will become essential in how I present older metaphysical concepts through a 2020+ lens. I also think it will help me teach about shadow work and spiritual alchemy from a psychoteric perspective.
Mary Hanson-Roberts was a favorite artist of mine back in the 1980s-1990s. Her deck (created years before she became the artist for the Universal Waite) was among the first that I collected and over the years I acquired multiple copies. This is an RWS-derivative tarot but the art is very imaginative. People who like fantasy fiction and RPGs easily connect with this deck. This is not, however, a culturally inclusive deck. The characters are expressive but collectively white. That wasn’t something that was a concern to me as a young tarot reader in the 1990s. It bothers 2020+ me a great deal, however. For now, I’m going to use it but also talk about the issues that relate to this topic.
Why this deck: The Hanson-Roberts deck is comfortably cheerful. The figures in it just beg to have stories told about them. In fact, I wrote (but never published) a fantasy novel of my own inspired by them. I think it is a deck many new or novice tarot readers find to be really enjoyable and I have plans for really creative ways of using it on Twitch later in the year in terms of how to use tarot in roleplaying games.
Melanated Classic Tarot 2nd Edition (starting soon)
The Melanated Classic Tarot is another member of the RWS tradition. It presents the scenes and symbolism of the original RWS deck sans all the white people. My copy will be arriving in mid January. I want to take time to study the cards and the author’s own writings (hopefully talk to them and/or the artist directly a few times) before I start creating content for the Melanated Classic. I look at this deck as a wonderful contrast to the Universal Waite and Hanson-Roberts tarot. I will be using it on Twitch rather extensively.
50% of the money I am given in 2021 to specifically support my Melanated Classic Tarot content will be donated to the WA Black Trans Task Force.
Why this deck: I had originally planned to work with/write about the BOTA (Builders of Adytum) deck. I decided in mid December to instead purchase and use the Melanated Classic Tarot. Paul Foster Case was an extraordinary Christian occultist; I think Oubria Tronshaw is likewise and want to support her work.
The Haindl Tarot (starting July/August 2021)
The Haindl deck was published in the early 1990s by the German artist Herman Haindl using his paintings as backdrops. Rich iconography and symbolism from a multitude of world cultures are included. The artwork is often called “deep”, “broody”, “mournful”; personally, I find it striking and humbling. The esteemed Rachel Pollack wrote some books to accompany it which I own and will use as a foundation for teaching others to connect with this deck.
Why this deck: This is the only deck in my collection to include both Hebrew letters and Norse runes on the Major Arcana. It has I Ching trigrams on the Minor Arcana pips. It touches deeply into Egyptian, Indian, Native American, and Celtic mythology and brings a lot to the table to talk about with the greater tarot community.
The Chrysalis Tarot Deck (starting October/November 2021)
This award-winning deck by Holly Sierra and Toney Brookes was first published in 2014. It has bright, cheerful images depicting mythical figures and esoteric symbolism from a wide variety of cultures. The suits are extremely unconventional: Spirals (Wands), Mirrors (Cups), Stones (Pentacles), Scrolls (Swords) which throws many readers.
Why this deck: The Chrysalis makes world mythology and esoteric symbolism/concepts very accessible to seekers who have not studied (and may have no interest in studying) formal Golden Dawn-based occultism. This is a brand new deck for me, which I find extremely exciting; I look forward to fully engaging with it towards the end of summer.
For My Free Online Esoteric Tarot Class
I strongly recommend getting a paper copy of a RWS-derived deck in order to do the class exercises. Besides the three mentioned above (Universal Waite, Hanson-Roberts, Melanated Classic), here are a few additional suggestions I think would work just as well for the purposes of class exercises.
- classic Rider-Waite Tarot
- Spanish Rider-Waite Tarot
- International Icon Tarot
- Modern Witch Tarot (a deck I will be using in 2022)
- Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot
- Albano-Waite Tarot
- Tarot Nusantara Tarot