Perhaps you’ve decided you want to learn tarot, but you have no clue how to begin. Certainly, the first deck is important because you are training with it, but don’t just buy the Rider-Waite because someone told you that everyone starts with that deck. Choosing an initial deck is actually a simple process, but it may take some persistence. Although I would argue this should be true of any deck, the first deck you buy should make sense to you on a level beyond that of memorizing the meanings from the enclosed book. You should spontaneously comprehend the archetypes and symbols in the pictures. After you master one deck, you will be able to more easily overlook the symbols in another set that may not entirely work for you.
Since it is important to find a deck with pictures and symbols you like, look at as many decks as you can. I suggest looking at certain major arcana cards in particular: the devil, death and the fool are good indicators of the feel of the deck. From them you can judge the belief structure on which it was based. There are decks with obvious Christian symbology and those with Pagan concepts, plus there are many based on specific mythological or historical symbology. Some decks are drawn austerely while others contain very complex symbols from varying metaphysical systems. There are even decks with artwork consisting entirely of geometric shapes and swirling colors. When choosing your first deck, it comes down to this: do you like the way it looks and feels?
After you have found a deck or two that might work for you, focus on your overall emotional response to each deck. If you truly use the cards, you will bring the energy of that particular deck into your life. Ask yourself: do I want this influence in my life? How does the symbolism fit with my individual opinions and views? If the archetypes don’t match your beliefs, you will soon discover that the deck was a mistake, no matter how beautiful you find the art.
Since you can find a tarot deck in any style or conceivable theme, you are not limited in choices. Take time to consider the deck from an objective viewpoint. Will you be forced to learn a specific metaphysical or esoteric system in order to fully utilize the deck?
For instance, the Tarot of the Sephiroth is steeped in the Kabbalah. As its name suggests, in order for you to work with the code of the deck, you will need to understand the Kabbalah — and that’s not something you can pick up on a Saturday afternoon. Some decks are even more complex, incorporating several esoteric traditions. One such deck is the Haindl Tarot, which includes symbols taken from the Kabbalah, Runes and I Ching. Similarly, if you are nervous about nudity, you probably shouldn’t pick the Robin Wood deck. For effective use, other tarot sets require a knowledge of geometry or herbalism.
Many tarot decks are based on a specific culture. Examples of these are the Minoan Tarot, the Tarot of the Orishas, or the Ancient Egyptian Tarot. When you are drawn to tarot based on a historical civilization, a specific religious tradition, or a mythological system, consider how much you know about that tradition. Do you have a foundation of knowledge about the stories and deities? Will you need to learn the concepts behind the pictures and research the symbolism?
To help you in your search for the perfect tarot deck, check out this great site online: http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/. It includes all of the popular decks plus numerous hard-to-find ones, and even a few unpublished tarot sets. Sample photographs are displayed for cards in each tarot.