Non-Traditional Tarot Decks: An Argument

Aquarian Tarot in a Tin

‘Traditional Tarot Decks’ is an evolving term, at least in my mind. If you were to ask a hundred years ago what a Traditional Tarot Deck was, anyone would tell you it was the Tarot de Marseille style decks, which have scenes on the Major Arcana, but only a countable representation of the suit on the pips (for example, the 7 of Wands would just have seven Wands on it).

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Image Credit: All Poster (website since shut down)

However, my entire Tarot career has considered the Rider-Waite Tarot to be traditional. And now, I personally consider the Thoth deck to dapple in the term ‘traditional,’ though I’m sure there are a few who’d fight me on it.

But where does this leave those who fall out of the realm of tradition? After all, a Traditional Tarot Deck must be of the style of one of the above mentioned. Though with the gaining popularity and the easy of publishing and the swiftness of online marketing, Non-Traditional Tarot are wriggling their way in.

Before I make my opinion known, I just want to clarify a couple of things:

1. Oracle-branded decks are not Non-Traditional Tarot

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Image Credit: Well and Good

Oracle is a form of divination. There are many myths about a person or group of people who are, themselves, oracles. When it comes to cards, all tarot decks are oracle decks, but not all oracle decks are tarot decks.

Just to get vaguely scholarly here (and I do mean, vaguely), the Cambridge English Dictionary defines ‘Oracle’ as

  1. (Especially in Ancient Greece) a female priest who gave people wise but often mysterious advice from a god
  2. Someone who knows a lot about a subject and can give good advice.

There is not set system that accompanies the term ‘Oracle.’

2. Tarot is a part of a specific system

There are certain characteristics and thus, a certain system that defines Tarot specifically. These characteristics are:

  • 78 cards in total
  • Of the 78 cards, there are 22 Major Arcana
  • Of the remaining 56 cards, which are the Minor Arcana, there are 4 suits: one to represent Earth, one to represent Air, one to represent Fire, and one to represent Water.
  • In each suit there are 4 Court Cards, generally the Page/Princess, the Knight, the Queen and the King (though there are other variants which equate to the same thing)
  • In the non-court card suits, the card numbers run from Ace to 10, making 40 numbered Minor Arcana, four of each suit.

There are some small variations that are small enough to be overlooked when it comes to classifying a deck. For example, the Impressionist Tarot has an extra card labelled ‘Illumination,’ which is without a number, but presumed to be a Major Arcana.

The Argument

It is absolutely essential for the beginning Tarot Reader to pick one of the basic decks—preferably the Rider-Waite, and obtain a deck of similar style to study. This is until they get the meanings down. Once they have the meanings down, then they need to study why the meanings are found in the cards with what imagery (hence the reason I start each Weekly Tarot Card with Observations and Descriptions of the cards). As soon as the student can identify certain symbols and colors and images with certain meanings, they can begin to read the Tarot rather than recite the Tarot.

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Image Credit: Building Beautiful Souls

This is also why I say that Tarot is an on-going lesson. You’re always a student. If you think you have mastered it and there is nothing left to learn, then you need to check your ego. It’s like saying that you’ve read every story that could possibly be told.

However, once you’ve read for a while, there are certain turns of phrases you find slipping into your practice from time to time. They’re handy tools to keep in your pocket to drive a point across in a reading—short, sweet. And when you get to this point, you sometimes find that you do feel that Tarot doesn’t have anything to teach you.

I’ve kind of been at this phase.

Of course I’ve known that no matter what I have plenty more to learn, which is why I keep reading books, reading blogs, I’m in Tarot groups, etc—because I know that other people’s experiences with certain cards will only expand my understanding.

But whether or not I use what I learn in a reading is a whole different ballgame.

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Enter, the Non-Traditional Tarot Deck.

I got my first on last Wednesday. I won’t say which deck as I have the review of it tomorrow coming out. But I will say that despite the fact that I know all the cards inside and out, I struggled to read with the deck—by no means of disconnect with the deck. But it was that I had to really work out what the pictures were, and because I had to work out what Card I was looking at, it threw off my game.

I finally worked out that one was the 7 of Wands, and I was suddenly blank. What the Hell was the 7 of Swords? So instead of drawing from my bank of knowledge, I had to look at the image and reflect on it. I was forced to read the card rather than to recite.

That was when I understood the importance of Non-Traditional Tarot Decks. It is switching up the norm. When a deck doesn’t say have any of the raised Wands or people in a deck to indicate what the 7 of Wands could possibly mean, then you do have to work on developing that understanding again, especially if the deck involves animals.

Breaking out of patterns and the norm is so important. I think that’s why there are a lot of Tarot readers turning to oracle decks as well, because they are a break from the patterns, they’re a new tool to access information that makes the brain create new neural pathways.

The more neural pathways you have, the more connections you’re making between situations and card definitions, and thus, you’re gaining an expanded understanding of the card.

Personally, I found a completely different reading style from my very first reading with this new deck, and I cherish it. I am having to work to not be constantly reading and looking at this deck because I have so many other things to do. But it’s that reminder of my passion that I didn’t know had been fading.

So, as of this deck that arrived on my doorstep on Wednesday, I am a strong supporter of Non-Traditional Tarot Decks, with the stipulation that the work to learn Traditional decks has already been carried out.


  1. An excellent example on a non-traditional deck from just a few years ago is the Silicon Dawn tarot, by artist Egypt Urnash. It’s a 99 card deck, with a partial fifth suit of minor arcana and multiple new major arcana, It’s difficult to find now, unfortunately due to the limited print run, but it is the very epitome of a non-traditional deck to me.

    1. Neat! I’ll keep an eye out. I’m currently visiting a friend of mine in the US who is a deck collector. I’ll see if she’s come across it or even (date a hope) has it! I’d be intrigued to learn a new suit. I’d imagine thought that 99 card would be difficult to shuffle though.

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