Not a full deck #1: Removing ‘scary’ cards from your tarot deck

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Tarot ‘out of the box’ is a perfect system – in my opinion at least.

78 cards, four suits, four elements, numerological correspondences, four ‘ages’ in the courts, the Fool’s journey… it just works.

So what about removing cards from your deck? Why would someone choose to do this?

Two reasons I’ve been thinking about:

  1. Removing the ‘scary’ cards for reading at parties
  2. Removing personally triggering cards as an act of self-care (which I’ll write about in a couple of days).

This post is about no.1. If you’re interested in no.2, you’ll find that post over here!

1. Removing the ‘scary’ tarot cards for reading at parties

The first is pretty simple, though divisive, and personally I’m on the ‘don’t do this’ side of the fence.

At the NW Tarot Symposium there was a really interesting discussion about removing cards non-tarot folks find scary – Death, The Devil, The Tower, the Ten of Swords, for example – before entertainment gigs at parties. Two of the four panelists were in favour, two were against.

Those who were for were straightforward about it: you’re there to entertain, not to give ‘deep and meaningful’ readings.

People want to have fun and be intrigued and entertained, not scared or worried, and there just isn’t time in these scenarios to get into the deeper meanings of those initially terrifying-looking cards.

For me, the deck is what it is and I would rather have some lighthearted interpretations up my sleeve and be prepared to have a little fun with the querent rather than remove them completely. Besides, chances are the occasional person will sit down at your table who is familiar with tarot…not having a full deck would feel fraudulent to me (reading at a charity event last year I was approached by a chap who actually asked if I leave those cards in – he was testing me to see if I understood the complexities of those cards.)

That said I’ve had occasional hairy moments with ‘scary’ cards turning up in ‘tarot as entertainment’ scenarios.

The images speak for themselves. Many people who don’t know tarot will take it very seriously when they sit down at your table. They may understand the cards as something mystical, occultish, otherworldly – and you need to have a proper respect for this when they do.

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At the same charity event I just mentioned a woman sat down and asked about her pregnancy. The Three of Swords came up, and there was no getting away from the fear in the woman’s eyes when she looked at the unsettling image on the card. I did my best to work up the ‘strong heart’ angle, but the brief five-minute, three-card reading felt tinged with sadness.

A week later, she emailed to tell me she had miscarried, and she and her partner had found strength and encouragement in the ideas I had shared around the Three of Swords.

I get that tarot at parties is entertainment, but not everyone you ‘entertain’ is going to see it that way – and tarot is rarely ‘just’ entertainment. In itself this is an argument both for and against removing the ‘bad cards’ – but as someone who is very attached to the complete system of tarot and who enjoys finding the positive and negative in all cards, I prefer to take my chances and leave them in.

What about you? Any strong feelings on this? If you read tarot as an ‘entertainer’, do you remove certain cards or not?

Cards shown in this post are from the Dreaming Way Tarot.

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  1. I believe in working with a full deck. To remove cards is like removing a part of your body – it makes it harder to work with the deck. Also, when you exclude “difficult” cards, you are shutting out the possibility of the lessons that arrive when there are difficult things in our lives. Life is not all peaches and cream (wish it was). The difficult things often are the ones that make the journey interesting or provide the opportunity for the most soul growth.

    If you have a squeamish crowd, I recommend taking along a deck like the Connolly Deck, which is softer but still has challenging cards in the deck.

    Great post by the way! Loved this one!

    • Beth says:

      Thanks Theresa – it’s such an interesting topic! I really enjoyed this part of the panel discussion at NWTS and can really see both sides, even though I’m firmly in the ‘leave em in’ camp.

      Love your suggestion about using a softer deck – I hadn’t thought of that. Just checked out the Connolly Tarot and I can see how that would be an easier ride for parties.

      Here’s an image if anyone is curious:

      Morgan Greer might work well too (not that I’ve ever found that deck particularly soft!) or maybe the Magical Forest?

      And I agree with you *so much* about the hardest lessons being the greatest learning points. What doesn’t kill us, and all that…

  2. Leah says:

    This is a great post!! I can’t even imagine taking out the “difficult” cards — it’s all part of the big picture, and they’ll come up if they need to.
    I worked an event a couple of weeks ago where I read cards for folks non stop for FOUR full hours (about 5 min per person — fast 3 card readings), and I NEVER saw Death, The Devil, or the Tower all night. Weird, huh? that pretty much never happens. But it kind of reinforced the thought for me that they only show up when you need them!!

  3. Kelly says:

    I really can’t imagine removing those particular cards (or any for that matter) out of the deck, I guess because I don’t think they need to necessarily be read negatively. I think I’d find a few of the swords more difficult than Death or the Devil or The Tower. My first thought was along Theresa’s thoughts in choosing the right deck for that type of occasion that was more neutral, which I think of Shadowscapes as a more neutral deck.

    • Beth says:

      I agree about the swords (I just picked the most obvious ones to illustrate this article) – and I really like Theresa’s suggestion too.

  4. I strangely have always liked the “bad” cards. They’re not “bad”, they are lessons. And I think if I were to take them out of the deck, I would be doing a disservice by not helping someone approach something they think is scary and then they won’t get stronger for it in the long run.

  5. Tango says:

    I have a hard enough time occasionally denying myself reversed cards. I couldn’t imagine taking a card out of the deck. However, I also don’t really entertain strangers with tarot, so if I do have the cards out for social/light-hearted reasons, I know that I’m with folks who I trust won’t flip.

  6. Roja Jackson says:

    There are no scary cards in the Tarot, just misunderstood ones! Removing certain cards is like removing pages from a book. You may get the gist of the story but the depth and all the nuances are missing.

  7. Geila says:

    Tarot doesn’t have any bad cards! Death is transformation, a strong growth period, a new cycle. The Devil embraces all emotions, passions and desires and says, Come with me and dance. You just have to know when to pull back. The ten of swords is a new dawn. You’ve been hurt but you get up in a cloak of your own strength and walk away, and believe in a new path, like the fool, in sublime innocence.

  8. jaguar says:

    Everyone is FREE to do what their own intuition guides them to do with the Tarot cards they use at any given moment. there are NO rules to using the Tarot on any level !!! and if people think there are rules, they imposing their own oppressive ideology on a spiritual tool that has NONE. if one wishes to use the cards without any particular card, they are absolutely FREE to do so. It is very sad and insidious to see people trying to control other people and how they use such a tool. We receive messages in infinite ways, and their is NO limit to what wisdom the Tarot will show us. do NOT listen to any person, who attempts to control YOUR own inner wisdom and truth. Do what you FEEL is right for you ALONE and IGNORE other people’s “help” which is NOT help, simply an attempt to control YOUR energy.

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