We’ve all been there: up late at night on Amazon or Ebay with credit card in hand… and before you know it, 3, 4, or 10 new decks are now part of your collection. You count the days till they arrive… watching the tracking updates every day (sometimes thrice). When will they be here? Will they arrive all at once, or in small bundles?
Then they arrive. A shiny new pack of 78 mirrors. Should I open them now, or set them on a shelf for when I deserve a reward? Then you open them…
Oooh! I like that one! Hmmm… I dont get that one… Oh, I didn’t expect THAT! Wow, that XIII! So beautiful!
But now what? Sure you know the tarot structure (or maybe not), but how are you going to connect to this deck, this artist’s reflections on the iconic 78 mirrors? Some decks seem like “instant reads” right out of the pack, others will need time and study to reveal their layers… How can I learn this deck sufficiently until I am comfortable enough with it to use it in readings? The more decks, the more daunting… or maybe it’s your first deck, and learning 78 cards seems a gargantuan task.
I know your pain. I’ve been there. I am there now. I will be there again.
Many of these methods are applicable whether learning your first deck or just your latest. Experienced readers will have their own methods, and some will work better for you than others, some will apply to certain decks more than others, too. Each deck, in a way, lends itself to different methods of learning and reading—this is another benefit of having different decks, it creates new neurological connections. In other words, each method, each deck, fires up new brain cells.
So… let’s get those brain cells fired up, shall we?
10 Methods for learning your new deck(s)
1. Look through the deck. What is the overall mood? What feelings do you get from the deck as a whole? Are there some cards you immediately fall in love with, and others you’re more reticent about? These first impressions will give you many clues as to how best to work with and learn the deck’s character. Figure out what the world is that the artist is describing. Can you enter that world?
2. Deck comparison. Take out a deck or decks that you are already very familiar with… or, if you just got 3 or 4 different new ones, use those! Go through each card, comparing it between the 3 or 4 decks you’re working with for now. Place them side by side, looking at just one card from each deck at a time, say all of the Hermits or all of the Fools. Notice the differences and similarities, see if you can come up with one keyword that describes all 3 or 4 variations of that card, but also come up with a keyword that is unique to that card for each deck. Notice if the mood is different in each representation, and how that affects how you feel about the card and the deck overall. Think about how this will affect your readings, too. Is the Fool unusually sad in this deck? Is Death strangely optimistic? Does the 10 of swords whop you like a hurricane, or slice deep and narrow? Notice the patterns that surface in your deck comparisons, and notice which cards come right out of left field, seemingly having nothing to do with any other representation. When this happens, see if you can find that “unique” meaning in your other cards, and vice versa.
For instance, in the Night Sun Tarot, the 4 of Swords shows 4 swords with their points balanced on a rocky ground. A woman crouches precariously on the four swords’ hilts. Generally, this card means “rest,” but this representation seems far from restful. Sure all four limbs are supported, but this is a place between action and inaction. Ah. That makes sense, a place between action and inaction, a pause before the next move. Not the kind of deep restorative slumbery rest we might think of usually, but there is a brief rest in that pause. She needs to stop, but she can’t sustain that position for long. So we’ve found the “rest” in Night Sun, but maybe that refinement of it being only a brief pause can inform our idea of 4S in general: you need to pause, but don’t get lazy.
3. Do some practice readings. There is a deck interview on aeclectic forum that is great, but you can also make up your own. Until I’m more familiar with a deck, I try not to ask personal questions or “self-read,” and of course it’s usually not a great idea to use the deck read for others until it’s more familiar, either, especially for newer readers. So, how do I practice readings if I’m not going to read for myself or my friends and clients? Use fictional characters. Read for your favorite TV character—near the beginning of an episode, once the “problem” becomes evident, do a quick 3-card reading to see how the show will turn out. Don’t worry if you’re right or wrong, you’re just exercising your chops here. You can then do a follow up reading at the end of episodes asking about what will happen next week. At first, this works great for formulaic shows that resolve themselves in 30 or 60 minutes, like sitcoms, cartoons, or court dramas. For added challenge, use more complex shows that have lots of twists and turns that make them less predictable. You can do this for movies and fictional characters in books and comics, too.
4. Like the progression in suits, 3 leads nicely into 4: Storytelling. I like to do 2-card storytelling to help build connections between cards, and see how card meanings change according to the card(s) beside them. Take your deck and shuffle, not asking a specific question. Turn over the top two cards side-by-side. Say a sentence that connects the images in both cards. Turn over the next card, and stack it on the first card. Notice how the sentence changed? It’s completely different! then turn the next, putting it over the second card. Make a new sentence. Keep going all the way through the deck until you have two piles. Repeat as many times as you want! Add reversals to make things more interesting 😉
5. This excellent technique comes directly from the Great Marcus Katz. Study the cards a few at a time—between one and three cards per day depending on your capacity—and imprint as many of the details within the image into your mind. Build the image inside your mind until you can close your eyes and see each of the details as though the card exists inside you. Gradually work your way through the deck until you can mentally go through each and every card without having the deck itself before you. Marcus recommends doing this stage at night before you go to sleep, picturing each card individually with all the details you can remember, then going back to the deck in the morning to see how you did. This stage is best done “in sequence”. That doesn’t mean you need to follow a particular sequence, it doesn’t matter whether you go Ace to King or King to Ace, what order you go through the elements, or if you do Majors then Minors or Minors then Majors. But, it should be a sequence that ensures you don’t miss any cards. As you get better at it, you can move through the sequence in differing orders. This is a great test to see if you’ve really learned your cards, as you may be able to go from Ace to King, but working backwards is more difficult, because you don’t have the same cues going from, say, 4 of Cups to 5 of Cups as you do when going from 6 of Cups to the 5. He also recommends you keep up the practice until you can “wander through the deck” freely. I have used Marcus’ technique on my first deck and with the WST, and I’m in the middle of practicing this technique on a third deck that just lends itself perfectly to wandering through it as a “house of cards”.
6. A variation of the above, take 78 blank index cards (or cut 39 in half) and just write the number and suit of the minors, Roman numerals for the majors, on one side of each card, leaving the back blank (for now). Shuffle the index cards so that they are now out of sequence. Flip through all 78 index cards, saying the suit and number out loud, then visualize the card from your deck and describe it as best you can, trying to do so fairly quickly. Some cards will come to mind very quickly, others won’t. The ones that don’t, set that index card aside. When you’ve gone through your 78 index cards, take the pile of cards that you struggled with and then pull out your deck find those cards to refresh your memory. Over time, the the cards you find more difficult to remember will become fewer. Do this once a day until every card comes to mind with relatively equal ease.
7. Once methods 5 & 6 are smooth, take your index card deck and write keywords on the back (the side you left blank in 6). Start with just one keyword (or short phrase). Try to use unique keywords for each card, and try to choose a keyword for each card that is specific to that deck. For instance, for the 3 of Cups, my keywords for each deck are as follows:
So, now you have index cards with keywords on the back, and suits/numbers on the face. Shuffle the index cards and go through them all looking at only the keyword side. Use the keyword this time to produce your mental image of the card. This is a bit more challenging, because you have to associate the keyword with both an image and a rank/suit. Now we’re really exercising those brain cells!
8. Now let’s look more closely at the similarities within each deck. Separate all your suits in the Minors and set the Majors aside for now. Spread out all the cards from one suit, in order, from Ace to King. Look at the overall theme of the suit. Is that consistent with your understanding of that suit, or does it challenge it? How does this deck convey the themes of the suit? From there, see if you can follow the progression through the suit and notice things that tie different cards from that suit together. Is there an overall colour theme to that suit? What kind of characters make up this suit? Does this suit feature more men or more women? Any particular “tribe”? Are there any symbols that repeat through the suit, that are unique to that suit (besides the obvious every wand card uses wands or tridents or staves or brooms or whatever for the wands)? Get a sense of the story and principles of the suit, and how that story progresses, with its triumphs and foibles.
9. Closely related to 8, now take each rank separately. What is similar about all the Queens? All the 5’s? What is the theme of that rank, and how is it depicted? How does that depiction give clues about that rank’s nature? For instance, in the Tyldwick Tarot, the Queens are all depicted as courtyards with reflecting pools—the watery nature of Queens is consistent with all 4 Queens. The Knights are indoors, with fireplace mantles—a reference to the fiery nature of Knights. Often the numbered minors also refer to the Majors from I to X. Compare them to the Majors, too. How do the 10’s depict consequence, time, and revolution? How do the 5’s represent learning, institution, and hierarchy? Do all the 9’s have an element of retreat and wisdom?
10. Lastly, lay out all your cards from the deck on a large table or the floor. Look at all the cards and notice similar symbols, colors, shapes, moods… Arrange and rearrange them to see the connections and establish those connections in your mind, visualizing lines that connect the cards to each other if you like. Coming back to Method 1, What is the world this deck represents? A house, a country, a town, a planet, an ecosystem? Arrange the cards as you would a map of that place. Where in the town would this character live, and why? What part of the house would this room be in? Would this part of the ecosystem be up in the air, or deep underground? Rebuild the world as though all 78 cards are part of one painting. Feel free to rearrange the painting as often as you like, but make sense of each arrangement for yourself.
In the end, have fun, challenge yourself, and play with your cards!
Do you have a favorite Method for learning your cards? Feel free to share it below in the comments!
For more Methods, two excellent resources are: