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Learning without Rider Waite deck??

Thread originally posted on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum on 16 May 2003, and now archived in the Forum Library.

RedEarth  16 May 2003 
I was wondering if anyone first studied tarot without the Rider Waite deck? I know it is always recommended for beginners, but I wondered if it would be ok to learn on something else? I have Glastonbury tarot which I love, and also Moon Garden, which I really like as well, though quite different to Glastonbury.
But I know the Glatonbury tarot is quite different to the more traditional RW.

Do I need to get a RW deck as well? Will it be like re-learning all I have done so far with Glastonbury tarot?



allibee  16 May 2003 
Hi Redearth

I've been reading for absolutely years - with very good feedback - and I do not now, nor have ever owned or even touched a Rider Waite Deck.
By all means have a look at the imagery, I would say, but it is not at all necessary or compulsory. It is however the joy of the internet that you can if you wish study the images for any deck on the web.


Keslynn  16 May 2003 
I agree totally with Allibee, but with one caution. I would say that it would be easier for you to learn on a deck that is identifiable as one that is in the tradition of either Marseilles, Rider-Waite or Thoth. These three decks are the major ones, and once you learn on one of those or something similar, learning the others becomes quite easy. If you learn just on a theme deck with no relation to those 3 tradiations, it makes it difficult to apply your specialized knowledge to any other deck.

Just my two cents.

I personally learned on a Morgan-Greer which is a Rider Waite clone with an awesome 70s vibe.

:) Kes 

littleneptune  16 May 2003 
RedEarth--I did not learn tarot on a Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck, and I turned out alright...but seriously, the main reason this deck is so recommended for beginners is because there are a lot of books which use it, making it easier to learn with a wide variety of reading materials. Also, it has an illustrated minor arcana, which is often easier for beginners to use (instead of memorizing all the card meanings). But the deck itself is definitely not superior to others! It is just one way of learning the tarot. I think the most important aspect of reading tarot well is having a deck that you like and whose images 'speak' to you in a language you can readily understand. If you have that, you have no reason to change to the RWS. But if you do decide to switch decks, you may indeed need to relearn SOME of the cards, because different deck creators have different world views. 

WolfSpirit  17 May 2003 
I have the Glastonbury tarot and I think it is a good deck to begin with, the book is quite good.
The deck is not that far from rws, but it has a more positive outlook in many cards, for example 8 of swords in rws is a blindfolded woman in an oppressive situation, in the Glastonbury the card is called "release" and you see a woman taking action in order to fend of the oppressive situation. So the accent is more on positive action to move away from a bad situaton than on the bad situation itself. I think it will not be too difficult to change to another deck based on rws.
I have to admit though that I did start with the rws - it was simply the only deck available in my bookshop ;) 

Mimers  17 May 2003 
I would agree with the others. You don't have to buy the RW. It is true that most books reference this deck, but they also usually have pictures for your reference in the book. You should be fine.

Have fun learning! It's a wonderful thing :) 

sagitarian  17 May 2003 
ABSOLUTELY NOT! The first deck I used was a RW clone, but you don't even need a clone to learn cards. You can use any deck you want, whatever one feels right to you. If you try to force yourself to learn using a deck, just b/c you feel you should, but the deck doesn't feel right, then DON'T FORCE IT.

What speaks to you is all that counts here! 

Thirteen  17 May 2003 
I'll play Devil's advocate here. Fact is, something like 90% of the decks out there are Rider clones, whether YOU know it or not. So someone who says they didn't learn on an RW deck or never have touched one isn't being competely truthful--UNLESS they learned on and use exclusively the Marseilles or Thoth deck.

If not, then it's VERY likely they learned on a Rider clone, or have used a Rider clone. And though there can be wide flexablity in image and meaning in other decks, that doesn't mean they're not based on, and/or very similar to Rider. This is why it's BEST to learn on RW (we'll get back to Marseilles and Thoth in a minute). First, so you can switch to other decks very easily, second so that when you get another deck you can see the differences, understand WHY the deck's creator might have made those changes, what they were aiming for, what they agreed/disagreed with in Rider's interpetation, etc.

I'll give you an example: In The Secret Tarot Deck, the 4/Swords is a woman sitting on a coffin. But the card is about rest, meditation. So how does that connect to the woman on the coffin? Why is she sitting on a coffin and not a bed? Is she emblematic of death? The answer lays with the RW tarot, of which the Secret Tarot is a clone--in the RW tarot, a knight rests in his coffin--discussions here (and Rider's own notes on the subject) clarified the reason for this: Knights resting from the crusades often lay down in the coffins they'd left behind form themselves (in case they died in the crusades). They did this as a form of prayer and meditation and humility. Thus, the card relates to battles with swords, resting from those battles, meditation on surviving them and what might have happened, etc.

If you were to learn the Tarot from the SECRET TAROT, you'd end up knowing the meaning of 4/swords, but not WHY that woman is sitting on a coffin. But learn from RW, and you know right away that the 4/swords in SECRET is relating back to that knight-in-the-coffin image in RW. You can extrapolate that the change in ST is to have a woman waiting for the Knight, to help him rest and heal from his battles; rather than symbolize death, she indicates the life that's waiting for the soldier who expected to end up in that coffin.

Sometimes I think we make perhaps too big a deal over the "do what feels right" philosophy on this Forum, and ignore aspects of history and basics. We forget that sometimes it's a good thing to learn how to read and understand music rather than figuring out notes by pounding on a piano. Pounding on the piano may seem natural and creative, learning notes and music theory restrictive and boring. But the boring and restrictive notes and theory can open FAR MORE possiblities for your creativity in the long run than pounding on that piano--which can actually limit you.

Which brings me back to Marseilles and Thoth. I'd recommend RW for beginners just so that they can then buy and adapt to just about any other deck out there. But if you have ambitions toward being a real tarot reader, than the other two decks are a must! I'm sure jmd will be here in a bit to urge you to start on the Marseilles, the oldest deck, and he might be right there. These three are the basis for all decks out there, and learning them is a must if you're very, very serious about tarot.

And that's the other side of the argument. 

Pantalaimon  19 May 2003 
Of course you can!!! I started reading tarot with a "Tarot of the Trance" deck, and I like the illustrations SOOOOOOO much better than the RW and that helped me learn bunches beter 

CompassRose  19 May 2003 
Well, I am no tarot expert, by any means, but that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion :D.... I started out with the Aquarian Tarot, and used it for years. Thirteen is quite right; most decks out there are R/W clones or corruptions or derivatives. Now, the thing with that is, whatever you think of the look of the R/W, its symbolic language was very, very carefully chosen and planned, by people with a frighteningly comprehensive understanding of all sorts of magical and ritual systems.

The majority of the various ripo- er, evolutions of the R/W out there have been designed, IMHO, by people who do not have that understanding. These artists might pull a couple bitsies out of a given R/W card because they like them, or think they're neat, or feel they add something to the visual design of the card... leaving out other images which might have equal importance, or which might reinforce or influence the meaning of the pieces they DID use.

Some (including me, at times) might argue that if one is not trained in those particular traditions of mysticism, that those symbols aren't all that important anyway; it's what you do with the cards. Some (again, including me) would argue that after you use the cards for a while, many of them will gain added personal meanings and twists that go beyond the image and the traditional meanings anyway. (After all, one can use a deck of playing cards for readings really; the pretty pictures are very very helpful, but hardly necessary.)

Enough rambling. I eventually DID start working with the Rider/Waite, when I found the Universal Waite. (One reason I never used the R/W before was that I simply found the artwork... in the cheesy, bright-coloured version that used to be all you could get... terribly obnoxious and clunky. Then I got the Universal. Hey! Who knew the Queen of Pentacles had a rabbit? Wow!)

I must say that I DO get much more from the R/W cards, though whether it's the cards or simply more experience, I can't say. There is a lot going on in those images, and now I find that most of the rest of my (far too extensive) collection of decks seems... thin, and flat. Oh, I like many of them just fine as art, but as for reading with them -- pfeh.

So my personal recommendation is go ahead, and work with the deck that speaks to you... but you will probably find, eventually, that (again, as Thirteen says) if you get really serious and want to go deeper, you will find yourself heading to one of the "root" decks anyhow. 

Macavity  20 May 2003 
I think a lot of these "clones" allow you to get a good handle on e.g. what the RWS is about - and can be more enjoyable to use? Then there are the other major groups e.g. the Crowley Thoth decks, where (As sometimes mentioned here! ;)) there is Clive Barrett's "Ancient Egyptian" tarot. This has (nice) illustrated minors based on the Crowley-Thoth keywords and preserves much of the symbolism and "methodology" too. Best of all, (with the book) it is virtually self-contained for the beginner and can be extended as far as you wish to go. Then, one day, you can take off the "training wheels" and transfer to Crowley's deck. On the other hand, you may love your CB so much that... :)

(another shameless plug by) Macavity 

Kiama  20 May 2003 
Everybody in this thread has some excellent points.

I didn't get myself an actual RWS deck until I had collected around 30 others. And because most of the decks around today are based on the RWS, I still learned pretty easily, and could then also look at the RWS later on and say 'Yep, I understand this deck'.

I think that the RWS deck is useful to have for study and comparison. But sometimes it can get a little boring to read with (IMO) and there are other decks around which are basically the same but which look a darn sight nicer!

The Glastonbury Tarot, for instance... (It's one of my favourites!)


The Learning without Rider Waite deck?? thread was originally posted on 16 May 2003 in the Using Tarot Cards board, and is now archived in the Forum Library. Read the threads in Using Tarot Cards, or read more archived threads.

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