Tarot cards originated in 15th century Europe for playing card games, but over time they have evolved into a popular tool for divination, meditation, and self-reflection. There are many different types of tarot decks available today, each with its own unique imagery, interpretation, and purpose. Understanding the key differences between the major tarot deck varieties can help guide you in choosing the right deck for your needs.

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck is the most classic and universally recognized deck. First published in 1910, this deck features vibrant imagery that incorporates symbolic elements from astrology, numerology, the Tree of Life, and more. Key features include:

Standard 78-Card Deck

  • Contains the traditional 78 cards separated into the Major and Minor Arcana
  • Major Arcana depicts archetypes like The Fool, The Magician, Strength, etc.
  • Minor Arcana divided into four suits (wands, cups, swords, pentacles)

Beginner-Friendly Interpretation

  • Card illustrations provide visual cues about meaning and interpretation
  • Scenes depict people interacting with key symbols to tell a story
  • Provides a useful starting point for beginners learning tarot

Influential Esoteric Symbolism

  • Imagery pulls from diverse spiritual traditions for layered meaning
  • Symbols like lions, mountains, suns represent mystical concepts
  • Draws on systems like astrology, Kabbalah, alchemy, and more

The Rider-Waite-Smith deck offers an enlightening blend of archetypal imagery ideal for gaining an introductory understanding of tarot. Its layered symbolism also provides more advanced readers with ample material for deeper analysis.

Marseille Tarot

Marseille Tarot
Marseille Tarot

The Marseille Tarot originated in the early 17th century in Marseille, France. Known for its bold graphics and pared-down details, the Marseille style serves as the foundation for many modern tarot decks. Distinguishing Marseille Tarot features include:

Symbolic Color Coding

  • Vibrant colors hold symbolic meaning (e.g. white = purity, red = vitality)
  • Color choices provide additional interpretive value in readings
  • Brighter colors signify more positive themes; darker shades indicate challenges

Focus on Essentials

  • Illustrations contain fewer details compared to other decks
  • Simple graphics allow readers to intuit own interpretations
  • Minimalist card images avoid steering analysis down a fixed path

Variations Among Deck Styles

  • Marseille style allows flexibility around card details
  • Many designs utilize unique embellishments and style choices
  • Provides range of deck options catering to different tastes

The Marseille Tarot’s bold colors and focused visuals create ample space for readers to connect the cards with their own inner wisdom during readings. This interpretive freedom makes it a top choice for experienced tarot enthusiasts.

Thoth Tarot

Thoth Tarot
Thoth Tarot

Conceived by the famed occultist Aleister Crowley and illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, the Thoth Tarot conveys Crowley’s extensive esoteric knowledge spanning astrology, mysticism, and more. Key attributes include:

Wealth of Occult Symbolism

  • Imagery draws on Crowley’s expansive mystical expertise
  • Cards integrate symbols from Egyptian, astrological, yogic, and other esoteric traditions
  • Requires significant background knowledge to fully interpret

Abstract Artistry

  • Cards feature futuristic, abstract paintings from Lady Frieda Harris
  • Breathtaking artwork stands apart from traditional tarot imagery
  • Evokes imagination and intuition during readings

Non-Standard Structure

  • Contains 80 cards with unique category divisions
  • Major Arcana includes unnumbered cards like The Fool, plus adjusted numbering
  • Four suits correspond with elements (wands=fire, cups=water, etc.)

The Thoth Tarot offers intriguing reinterpretations of traditional tarot, though its complexity makes it best suited for intermediate and advanced practitioners. Harris’ visionary paintings also provide ample material for meditation.

Oracle Decks

Oracle Decks
Oracle Decks

Oracle decks represent an alternative variety of divination card deck typically focused on channeling spiritual advice and affirmations. Common oracle deck features include:

Uplifting Messages and Mantras

  • Cards feature positive phrases, spiritual quotes, and inspirational words
  • Empowering sentiments boost mood and offer guidance
  • Ideal for personal affirmation and self-encouragement

Mystical and Natural Themes

  • Many decks incorporate magic, dreams, nature imagery
  • Visuals tap into fantasy realms, elemental worlds, cosmic wonders
  • Transport reader into imaginative inner journey

Customized Topics and Structures

  • Oracle creators have flexibility around card numbers, content, sizes
  • Wide array accommodates diverse themes and reading styles
  • Caters to specific needs like romance, career, self-care, etc.

Oracle decks allow readers to choose from a vast range of enchanted worlds brimming with spiritual insight. Their affirmative messages chart a path towards inner healing and empowerment.

FAQs about Types of Tarot Decks

What are the main tarot deck types?

The most common tarot deck varieties include the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, Marseille deck, Thoth deck, and oracle decks. These each have distinctive imagery, card numbers, interpretation style, and purpose.

Which tarot deck is best for beginners?

The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck works very well for beginners. It contains classic tarot symbolism and illustrations that provide ample visual cues, making it more intuitive to interpret during readings.

Do all tarot decks have 78 cards?

Most standard tarot decks contain 78 cards separated into the 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. However, some non-traditional decks like the Thoth tarot contain 80 cards with additional Major Arcana cards.

What kind of cards are in an oracle deck?

Instead of the traditional tarot card suits and arcana, oracle decks contain carefully crafted cards focused on sharing spiritual guidance, affirmations, and mystical themes. They come in a wide variety of styles catering to different needs.

Which tarot deck has the most symbolism?

The Thoth tarot designed by Aleister Crowley features the most dense and complex set of symbolic imagery of any major tarot deck. It draws on Crowley’s extensive knowledge of diverse esoteric traditions like Egyptian mysticism, yoga, astrology, alchemy, and more.


Exploring the unique flair of tarot and oracle decks opens doorways to spiritual self-discovery. Whether seeking predictive insight from classic tarot or uplifting affirmations from artistically-designed oracles, readers can unearth their inner wisdom according to personal preferences. By understanding the array of divination deck options available today and matching needs to the right deck style, the true magic awaits revelation.

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