Whether it’s your first or your fiftieth, a new deck is exciting. You want to learn this deck and you want to learn it now. Slow down. Seriously.
I used to get a new notebook and label a page for each card before I’d even looked at them. That’s because I thought it was the “right way” to keep a tarot journal and I wanted to do everything the right way and get an A+ in tarot.
So I basically assigned myself essays on each card before I did anything else. How many of those notebooks do you think got filled with fabulous insights? Fewer than you’d imagine. Nothing like giving yourself homework to quench your excitement.
Here’s what to do instead.
Put aside the companion book or LWB.
Notice I didn’t say to throw it in the trash. I’ve had people tell me to immediately throw away the book and only read with my intuition. That’s not necessary. There’s any number of insights from the deck designer in there that you’ll want to come back to later. Plus, your intuition may not know the language of flowers or whatever that the artist used on every card or that they were even intended to have meanings and not just aesthetic.
I put companion books on a bookshelf and little white books (LWB) in a shoebox. They’re safe and ready for you when you come back to them. First, spend some one-on-one time just you and your deck.
Look through each card in the deck for a few seconds.
This is a great time to count the cards and make sure they’re all there and that there aren’t duplicates of one or another that’s missing altogether. If there is an issue like that, contact the publisher. I’ve only had one deck in over twenty years that had a missing card, and the publisher got one out to me immediately.
Sort the deck into piles.
Make three piles: Major Arcana, Pips (Ace through Ten of each suit), and Court Cards. Are there any cards leftover? Some decks have extra cards.
Turn the Pips and Courts facedown and look through the Majors. Are any of them renamed? Sometimes Death becomes The Close or Transformation and Judgement becomes Karma. Make a mental note of whether the card titles have been changed. You don’t have to drag out a journal yet. There’s plenty of time later. Just browse and observe.
Lay the cards out in three lines: cards 1 through 7, cards 8 through 14, cards 15 through 21. Decide for yourself whether to put the Fool before the beginning or after the end. What do you notice when you see the entire Major Arcana like this?
After you’ve spent some time with the Majors, gather them up and place them facedown. Now look through the Pips. Place them in four rows: Ace through Ten. Spend time looking across the rows at the suit and down the columns at the numbers. Are the suits all color-coded by element? What do all the Aces have in common? What about the Tens?
What are the suits called? Are they the standard Swords, Wands or Rods, Cups or Chalices and Pentacles or Coins? Or have they been re-envisioned? Is there a scene on each card or just the pips?
Spend some time with them, then gather them back up and lay the pile facedown. Pick up the Court Cards. Lay them out in four rows across and four columns down. What do you notice right away? Are the Court Cards wearing the same color as other cards in their suit? Are they all the same animal? What about the ranks: is each of the Pages an elf? Are all of the Kings sitting on thrones? Do the Knights have horses (or motorcycles?)?
Have the Court Cards been renamed entirely? What system did the deck creator use? What are the ages of each court? Genders? Are they even all people? Spend some time meeting each court card, then gather up all of the cards.
Shuffle the entire deck.
For a first shuffle, I like to deal the deck into three piles so that no card is next to the one it used to be next to before I riffle or hand-over-hand shuffle. Give them a good mix.
Do a reading.
It doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t have to be about anything serious. You can simply do a new deck reading and ask the deck how the two of you will work together. You can use a spread you usually use for new decks (that you’ve created or gotten from a book or website) or you can pick up the deck’s companion book and see if there are any spreads the creator came up with to use with this deck.
You could look up the book’s meaning for each card, but a better idea at this stage is simply to say what you see on each card and then think about what that might mean. If you want, you can check your answers with the book after you’ve thought the reading through.
If you have extra time after your reading, sort the cards into three piles again. This time the piles should be cards you love (these are the ones that drew you to the deck in the first place), cards you don’t like (the ones that make you wonder why the same deck creator who made the cards you love also made these ones), and cards you’re neutral on (you probably won’t have equally strong feelings about all 78 cards).
Shuffle again and sort into two piles. This time the piles are cards you understand right away (these ones are super clear and easy for you to read) and cards that need to be studied (the ones that make you go WTF?!).
Spend as much time as you want with the cards, shuffling and sorting into whatever piles you can think of. This doesn’t all have to be done the same day. You can come back to these new deck exercises any time.
Don’t forget the most important thing: Enjoy your new deck!