If you spend a little time in the tarot community on youtube, you may already be familiar with the gauntlet that Kelly Bear recently threw down before those of us with healthy (i.e., large and ever-growing) tarot collections. Kelly challenged her viewers to name the five decks they would use if they could only work with five decks for one year.
Although I don't have youtube channel, I just couldn't resist answering the question. You may notice, though, that although I said "recently" above, the date on that video is actually March 24th. This lil' post has been languishing in my drafts for that long because this question is TOUGH, y'all! The struggle is real.
I'm no stranger to tarot deck overwhelm. I have a big collection, and even though my working decks only form a small proportion of that collection, I often feel like my attention is spread too thinly. This is particularly true now that I have decks in my shop, as I try to give a little airtime to all the tarot and oracle decks I carry in the store. Of course, having the means to build a large collection of tarot decks is hardly something to complain about, and I am gratefully that I'm able to pursue my passion in this way. Sometimes, though, all these deck options can feel like a double-edged sword.
Periodically, I think about using a single deck for all my work for one month... and then I break out in a cold sweat and try to pretend I never had the thought. Different decks serve different purposes, and each deck brings its own unique sensibility to a reading. Not to mention, at different phases of one's life - even different seasons - some decks feel more resonant than others. Decks that I thought essential to my tarot practice two years ago now don't speak to me at all. Decks that I thought would never ring my bell (like the Sakki Sakki Tarot) are now at the top of my reading rotation.
Having said all of that, it's a hypothetical question, so calm the heck down! But it does seem valuable to ask the question - what is essential to me in a tarot deck? Even if it's just at this moment that the answer resonates. What do I need out of a deck? And out of a group of decks, what sensibilities and styles would I want to capture?
Ok, quit stalling. If I were going into tropical exile for a while, which decks would I choose to take with me?
Regular readers won't be surprised to see the Spirit Speak tarot at the top of my list. It's one of my favourites - deeply intuitive, deceptively simple, supportive, clever, clear to read with, and its images have a kind of bendable quality that really encourages personal interpretations. Something about the stark, symbolic style of the deck allows me, as a reader, to be more receptive. I like having those blanks to intuitively fill in!
(By the by, the pictured second edition of the Spirit Speak Tarot is on the way out, but Beth over at Little Red Tarot still has some copies in stock!)
It wouldn't be a desert island exile without the mermaids! Once again, if you're a regular around these parts, you'll know how I feel about Dame Darcy's Mermaid Tarot. It sticks quite closely to the symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith, but with sailors and mermaids and hot, seaside babes of indeterminate genders. It reminds me of the riot grrrl zines I loved as a teenager, so fresh and raw and beautiful. If any of that makes it sound like it's not a practical deck to work with, don't be fooled - these mermaids read well! And hey, if anyone is going to help me get back to civilisation (and the rest of my tarot collection), it'll be these seasoned sailors.
I mentioned above that the Sakki Sakki Tarot was a slow grower for me. When I first became aware of it a few years back I was immediately certain it wasn't for me, but when our paths crossed more recently, something about it just clicked. Perhaps it's the emphasis on creative practice (this deck includes an additional trump, The Artist), which is increasingly what I use tarot for in my own life, or perhaps my taste has just lightened up, but I love this playful, colourful, and sometimes-abstract tarot deck. It has a kind and slightly silly vibe, and always gives supportive and practical readings. Definitely essential for lightening the mood when one's desert island exile is getting one down!
At this point, The Wild Unknown Tarot doesn't require much of an introduction. It's one of my workhorse decks, ready to take on any and all types of queries, treading a perfect balance between the practical and the esoteric. I use it for clients and for myself, and thus far haven't read for anyone who didn't respond to its nature-inspired images. Somehow, The Wild Unknown never seems to run out of juice! Handy if we're spending a year together, trapped on an island.
The Dreaming Way Tarot is an old favourite of mine. In fact, it was one of the first decks I bought back when I started getting serious about tarot, and unlike some of the decks I've worked with over the years, the shine has never worn off. Like The Wild Unknown, it's a workhorse deck that reads well under practically all circumstances. Perhaps there won't be wifi on my desert island so I may not be doing many client readings, but this is one of the decks I use most frequently when reading professionally because it's very accessible, even to the casual user. And don't get me started on the outfits! With this as my inspiration, I'll be carving out a fine silhouette in my Ariel-style sail canvas island attire.
I ummed and ahhed over this list for weeks, knowing that whatever five decks I decided upon would be subject to change at a moment's notice! Who knows what five decks I'd deem essential in a week, a month, year?
For now, though, these are my picks. What are your five desert island tarot decks? I'd love to know! As ever, leave me a comment below or come and give me the lowdown on Twitter.