Q&A: “It’s barely a tarot deck”

Last week, I received this question from a reader:

I’ve had my deck of tarot cards for only a month, but I saw the Wild Unknown deck on tumblr and fell in love with it and ordered it as a “help get through the semester” sort of thing. The owner of the local small Wicca shop, when I mentioned I had ordered it, looked it up and royally ragged on it (“it’s barely a tarot deck,” said it was “impossible to read,” was confused that there were animals, not people, featured).

Because I’m teaching myself about tarot, and also Wicca but that’s separate, I’m sort of like a little Bambi who thinks both are very scary looming clouds of intimidation to deal with.

But! I knew that tarot is about personal connection to the cards more than anything (especially what an old cranky stranger thinks), and I remembered that you used the Wild Unknown Tarot deck quite a bit and loved it a lot as well. Do you have any comforting words about the deck?

Part of me is afraid that the woman’s negative words will throw me off my balance with the cards when they get here, despite all of my personal empowerment [attempts].

Thank you,


As I read Jenna’s email, I felt pretty mad. Who was this shopkeeper to tell a budding tarotist that a deck is ‘impossible to read’?

I replied with lots of reassuring gushing about The Wild Unknown Tarot and how I personally find it to be the very best deck to read with. (Plus, it’s the only tarot deck I stock in my shop, which says something about my love for these cards!) But, just like the shopkeeper, that’s just my opinion. Maybe this woman will love her new deck and scale new heights of tarot reading with it. Maybe she’ll hate it. Or maybe she’ll love it for a month or two and then get a whole new deck and consign this one to a cupboard of once-loved, now-forgotten tarot decks.


The point is that my opinion of this deck doesn’t matter one bit.

As Jenna points out, it’s all about her personal connection with the cards. Some people love animal-based decks. Some people look for feminist or robot or pagan or Harry Potter themed decks. I’ve fallen for many tarot decks on-screen, only to find that when I read with them, I can’t get a connection…and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by several decks I wasn’t drawn to intially, but somehow seem to speak to me when I’m reading. People go nuts for Ciro Marchetti’s tarot decks – personally I find his artwork eye-wateringly disgusting, whilst I’ve not found many nice reviews of my beloved Kitty Kahane Tarot.

I could ramble on, but you catch my drift. Each to their own. What’s upsetting is that the shopkeeper used her position as a ‘tarot authority’ to potentially dissuade a tarot newbie from a deck she liked. Not cool!

On a more specific note, I was bewildered by the shopkeeper’s unfamiliarity with animal-based decks. Hasn’t she heard of the Wildwood Tarot? Or the Badger’s Forest Tarot (currently on my wish list)? Or any number of other animal-based tarot decks? What would she make of the Tarot of Trees, or the Dragon Tarot, or a deck like the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn, which features people, but also robots and cyborgs and not-people-people and gender-nonconforming people? Does this, too, mess with her idea of what makes a deck easy to read?

I get that if you’re a serious tartotist you might get frustrated with all the ‘novelty’ decks that are constantly coming out. But who’s to say what’s a novelty deck and what’s ‘proper tarot’? A tarot deck’s truth is in the mind/heart/soul of the holder, not of the vendor – it’s down to the person using the deck to understand whether they feel they can use it for readings.

Searching for the right tarot deck?

Here are a few of my favourites 🙂

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  1. Ellen says:

    Each to their own: Thank God for the diversity in decks: I love and own all you favorites except the Wild Unknown. It is just to expensive for me. I love working with all of them but somehow I always return to the Original Rider Waite which fits me like an old sweater: comfortable and warm

  2. Beth says:

    I know what you mean Ellen…although I have my favourites, I too often come back to the Rider Waite Smith. I guess there’s something about that very first deck you learn with.

  3. chloetarot says:

    Ha, I like to think I can read with any deck! Perhaps that vendor was simply thinking about their bottom line, trying to scare Jenna into buying one of the decks available in their store ;b

  4. Mindy says:

    I love how you said that your opinon is given but in the long run it doesn’t matter. Just like the shopkeepers,it is only someone’s opinion. I have run into many many people who feel they are entitiled to impose their opinions on others and this happens with everything. I belive that it is important for the reciever of information to realize that everyone’s mind works differently and connects differently. Take what you like and leave what you don’t.

  5. Danielle says:

    Wow, the Wild Unknown is my first tarot deck – after having seen it in your Autostraddle column, I knew that it was the one that I needed. I’d never touched tarot cards before those were gifted to me, on my birthday a couple weeks ago, but that didn’t stop me. The cards felt right and I can’t imagine they’re any more difficult to interpret than any other set of cards would be!

    Basically I guess what this boils down to is: thank you for your Autostraddle column and for turning me on to these cards. I’m deeply in love with them!

  6. A wonderful post Beth! I absolutely agree. Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one that doesn’t get the Circo Marchetti craze. I can’t handle the art either. 🙂
    -Sarah Dawn

  7. Niki says:

    Absolutely agree with you Beth. I’m a beginner tarot reader and while some have said to stay away from The Wild Unknown if you’re a beginner, it was my first deck. It was the only one that spoke to me and I think having that connection is so much better. It proved to be a good choice too because I was more inclined to work on my tarot studies with The Wild Unknown. Had I gone with something else I might have just given up altogether.

    • Beth says:

      That’s so great Niki. And this deck is really getting a *lot* of people into tarot – I’m guessing it’s many people’s first deck 🙂 Good luck with your tarot studies! xx

  8. Winter says:

    This is way late but seeing them on your course page banner, they intrigue me & as an artist, they are eye candy! Methinks you struck the shop lady on a slow sales day 🙂

  9. The flip side is that, like many, my first deck was Rider-Waite and despite having them for over a decade they still don’t ring true for me. But of course that’s the one that is recommended to beginners. So that’s the one that most beginners get. I see them as sort of the equivalent of a little black dress for all… when I’d much rather be wearing red or turquoise. Those who can rock their lbd, great. The rest of us need to keep looking and shouldn’t be told that our turquoise frock was so last season.
    All that said, now that my aging deck is dog-eared and has water damage I like it a little bit better. At least it’s got a bit more personality now. It’s a start. I’m still tempted to turn it into an art project most of the time.

  10. luna says:

    Im not mainstream at all, or have my opinion but I find it hideous and wouldnt collect decks while other people dont even have what to eat, how many decks these collectors need?
    I cant understand the wild unknown and the black and white doodling is very unapealing to me

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