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Tarot cards were originally created as playing cards — and in parts of the world, are still used as such. Around the 18th century, they began to be used as a divination tool — and have risen in popularity since.
But although tarot is often depicted in films and the media as mysterious and as a form of fortune-telling, it can still be misunderstood.
"Tarot doesn't tell you the future — it shows you the present with greater clarity and distance, so you have a better understanding of your choices and their possible outcomes," says Mark Horn, author of "Tarot and the Gates of Light: A Kabbalistic Path to Liberation," who has been reading tarot for more than 50 years and studied with many of the world's leading tarot teachers.
If you're newly interested in tarot cards, it can feel overwhelming to decide on a deck — but don't feel like you have to go with the trendiest one. In a tarot deck, there are 78 cards, based on the four elements and divided into cups, pentacles, swords, and wands. This leaves a lot of room for creative interpretation.
"Get the one that calls your name," explains community tarot reader Katie Florez, who gives virtual and in-person sessions in San Francisco and does a "bi-monthly free card pull" for anyone who connects with her via Instagram. "Your deck is for you to be read by you, so choose something that you enjoy exploring and feel connected to."
The 5 best tarot card decks, according to professional tarot readers:
The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck
The Rider-Waite-Smith* deck is one of the most iconic tarot decks. Horn, who owns over 30 decks, says it's his "working deck." "It was recommended to me by a teacher when I first started out and it's clear why — it was one of the first decks to use situational images on all the cards people can relate to," he says. "The images can spark one's intuition and evoke an emotional response from the client that connects to their question."
*This deck is referred to often as Rider-Waite, as well as Waite-Smith and the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Pamela Colman Smith, a queer, mixed-race woman, was the illustrator of the deck but not originally credited in the name.
The Modern Witch tarot deck from Modern Tarot Library
The Modern Witch tarot deck is based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck but includes greater representation and diversity in the cards. "This deck pays homage to [Smith's] work while making sure that people from all backgrounds are represented," says Emily Thornton, professional Tarot card reader. "I love this deck because my clients can see themselves in [it] and that is so important if we want to be inclusive in our spiritual practices."
Tarot de St. Croix tarot deck
Like the Modern Witch deck, this deck is based on a lot of similar symbolism as the Rider-Waite-Smith but has more inclusive imagery. "This deck represents peoples and cultures from all over the world," says Horn, adding that "this can make it more easily relatable."
Morgan-Greer tarot deck
Morgan-Greer is a deck filled with colorful and vibrant imagery. "It's a great deck to learn with since it's based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck so it's not as abstract as some other decks," says Florez. "This is my go-to deck when I'm traveling or someone asks for an impromptu reading."
The Wild Unknown tarot deck and guide set
This tarot deck uses animals and nature in the imagery and is based on the four elements. According to Jennifer Herrera, a tarot card reader and well-being coach, this deck is best for "a quick read and for tarot beginners," adding that "anyone can relate to the vibe a particular animal brings and [the deck] is always a crowdpleaser."
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