A Survey of Unique Tarot Decks

For the month of October, I thought it would be fun to review some unusual tarot decks. I’ve been using tarot on and off for years and am just now moving into doing it professionally. I like tarot because a skeptic like myself can get just as much insight from the cards as the most devout believer in the supernatural. The images are drawn in such a way that they work like ink blots, allowing the querent (the person with the question) to project meanings onto the cards and reach parts of the brain that were perhaps stuck.

I’ve also had enough weird things happen with the cards to say, “Hmmmm…” so although I am a skeptic in my brain (I think the power lies within the querent, not the cards) my heart lies with those who think that the cards themselves have a special something. Frankly, I really just love the art.

Here is my go-to deck:

It’s my strong opinion that if a reader offers you, say, three decks, and two are pristine, pick the one that’s held together by rubber bands. But that’s just me.

This is the Universal Rider-Waite-Smith deck. This deck was designed by Arthur Waite and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith and originally issued in 1909. Most tarot decks today follow the basic pattern of this deck. It has 78 cards, of which 22 are called the Major Arcana. The remainder are the Minor Arcana, and are divided into swords, wands, cups, and pentacles. Each suit includes a King, a Queen, a Knight, and a Page. A note – There’s an earlier version of the Waite-Smith deck but the only difference is the brightness of the colors. Pamela Colman Smith used a LOT of bright yellow!

The Fool (card from the Rider Waite Smith deck)

Want to check out some fun decks that pertain particularly to either Halloween or that seem relevant to our interests? Here are: The Halloween Tarot, the Zombie Tarot, and the Housewives Tarot!

The Halloween Tarot

People seem to be either immediately drawn to this deck or immediately turned off by it. I love it. It’s standard size, with good quality cards. The art is charming and bright and playful. The only confusing thing about the deck is that the Rider-Waite-Smith suits are replaced by Halloween suits. Cups become Ghosts, Pentacles become Pumpkins, Wands are Imps, and Swords are Bats. Watch for the black cat on every card!

The Halloween Tarot created by Kipling West a black cat illustrated against an orange background with white animals surrounding it

This is the deck for when you need to visit the carnival of childhood – a place where everything is a little bit scary, but not too scary.

Two ghosts with jackolantern faces and yellow cloaks floating below a black cat - they are the two of Ghosts

It’s a place of layers, because everything has a costume and a mask and maybe another one under the top one. It’s a place of tricks and treats.


6 of the cards, featuring bats, ghosts, and pumpkins

The pic above is not a layout. It’s just a selection of cards so you can get a feel for the art.


The Zombie Tarot

Here’s a deck that is clearly intended to be funny, but it is also well thought out. I love the clever packaging. The cards seem pretty sturdy but they don’t have the high gloss of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Featuring grisly art in the style of 1960’s era zombie movies, the suits are wands, cups, swords, and hazards.

Zombie Tarot in a carnivalstyle box with Insight and Ammunition to Fight the Undead at the top

In this deck, the images and the meanings are shifted enough so that you really do have to study the deck instead of just applying your basic Rider-Waite-Smith template.

There’s an instruction book but it’s very scanty. It doesn’t give any information about reversals (cards that come out of the deck upside down) at all. On the other hand, the chaos depicted on the cards makes a great visual companion to internal chaos. In some cases this works better than others. For instance, the booklet claims that the King and Queen of Hazards represent confidence and good business sense but he images don’t suggest that to me at all.

King of Hazards, a zombie businessman in a desk chair tied to the chair with chains and caution tape

An Example of the explanation: King of Hazards distant hard work business man Steady reliable and slightly boring the King of Hazards is shackled to his material possessions and proud to admit it. Go to him for advice on money or investing and he'll never steer you wrong. Although this person may be a valuable person in a business endeavor, he can be somewhat distant in personal or family relation ships. He may represent an older man looking out for your well-being.

On the other hand, the Temperance card, in which human and zombie blood combine to make a vaccine, is a great way to think about balance and mixing elements in the proper proportions.

Here are some examples of the cards:

The Fool from the Zombie deck, a white man in a grey 50s suit walking blithely through a cemetery with zombie women hands reaching from the earth behind each tombstone. He is carrying a pink wreath and a picnic basket and looks completely ignorant

The Lovers, a zombie woman who is grey in a pink 50s underwear set with a white man wearing a tank top and boxers making out in a field of flowers

I did three different readings, two of which (The Gravestone and The Broken Heart) came with the deck. I found that for the most part the imagery was perfect for my current state, which is one of dealing with some stuff but trying to have a good sense of humor about it. The layout below is one I drew without asking a question, so you can see what The Broken Heart layout looks like without also seeing into my innermost soul.

cards from the zombie deck used in a broken heart layout

I feel like this is a really good deck for when your life feels chaotic and you feel under siege. Everything about this deck is extreme and my guess is it’s best for extreme situations when you feel like it’s all life or death.

The Housewives Tarot

First off: Best. Packaging. Ever.

The Housewives Tarot is in a box that looks like a 50s cookbook with blue gingham and

recipe box style packaging with tabs and cards inside the box

The box, of course, holds the deck but also contains some cards with actual recipes on them. Such a cool way to make the box part of the deck.

The problem with the packaging is that I hate to mess it up by shuffling the cards. Still, I did it for YOU, Bitches! The publishing company is the same one that publishes the Zombie Deck so comments about the quality of the cards and their size etc apply here as well.

This 1950’s style “Domestic Divination Kit” features layout ideas like “The Clothesline” and “The Martini.” The suits are cups, wands, swords, and pentacles. Like the Zombie deck, some of the meanings are changed and some images work better than others.

I didn’t think I would like this deck aside from the novelty factor, but I did a couple of readings and found the imagery to be surprisingly apt.

The Hanged Man Death and temperance. Hanged man is a man hung by a clothesline, death is a jar of salmonella because everything expires, and temperance is a mixer surrounded by ingredients like joy justice anger and sorrow

Like, oh, say, ALMOST EVERY OTHER WOMAN IN AMERICA I feel a need to meet certain standards of house care and childcare and professional competence and LIKE ALMOST EVERY WOMAN IN AMERICA I always worry that I fall short. This deck, with its businesswomen replete with Coins and Wands represented by mops and brooms resonated more than I’d like to admit.

Devil a devil's food cake

I did a basic body/mind/spirit reading and then one of their original layouts, The Martini, which was actually really good. Here’s a neutral one I drew for photo purposes:

Martini glass layout
Sure, it’s a little crooked, but after a couple of martinis yours will be too!

The reading directions specify when to take a drink from a real martini while using this reading but I had to substitute hot chocolate. Like the zombie deck, this deck doesn’t give any guidance for reversals so I just read every card upright.

There are many different decks to play with, which can make this a insightful and also expensive interest.

What about you? What is your favorite deck? What’s your weirdest tarot story? What tools do you use to unstick yourself when you are stuck?

Comments are Closed

  1. MirandaB says:

    I like the Bohemian Gothic Tarot

    Some of the pictures make me laugh…the High Priestess looks like she’s talking on a cell phone…but I feel that a lot of the pictures capture the spirit of the cards.

    My favorite image is the Queen of Swords

    I use her to represent me in the deck. I look like that when someone interrupts me when I’m trying to read too.

  2. Claudia says:

    Love love love the Wild Unknown and Welcome to Night Vale decks. I have a special connection with the WTNV one because of how deeply I love the podcast and most of the art.

    I use the book The Creative Tarot, the app Golden Thread, and my own instincts to figure out the meanings. I’ve been called a skeptic witch, and that is honestly the best description for my approach.

    To get unstuck: implementing a daily ritual of a card of the day helps!

  3. Ren Benton says:

    I’m incapable of sit-still meditation, so I use cards to give myself an accessible period of self-reflection. I like the Rider-Waite-Smith deck because it’s familiar enough that I get the gist of the cards without having to look anything up. I’ve tried other decks because they were pretty but found them too distracting for my faux meditation purposes.

    I’ve been heavy on the sword cards lately — 8, 9, and 10 have become my constant companions, and the weeping, bondage (nonconsensual), and backstabbing are pretty straightforward depictions of what’s going on, actually. Good times!

  4. The Other Kate says:

    These specialty decks are adorable and very creative! I use the Robin Wood deck, which is based on the Rider Waite but has beautiful, nature-derived images that each convey a strong emotion. Looking forward to the rest of the comments.

  5. Deianira says:

    @Claudia: I love “skeptic witch” – I’m stealing that to describe myself!

    I backed the Kickstarter for the Tarot of Brass & Steam, so I’ve been using that one lately. (Sorry, I suck at HTML on the iPad, but you can google it.) Steampunk vibe, obviously, & gorgeous artwork by a variety of artists. I’m still figuring out my personal meanings for some of the cards.

    I’ve also got an old (as in early 1980s) Celtic-flavored deck. It’s seriously worn around the edges but beautiful & still a comforting deck to use – like sitting down to hash things out with your best friends.

  6. Lostshadows says:

    I own a couple of Tarot decks, but mostly for the artwork. I believe both mostly follow the layout of the Rider-Waite art, but it’s been a while.

    My oldest one is The Robin Wood Tarot which has a lot of pagany imagery. (Mine’s autographed) I did a few readings with this one way back in college and it seemed to work fine.

    The other one is The Gothic Tarot which is pretty dark and vampirey. Definitely a good choice if you’re looking for something less cute for Halloween. (I’ve never used it as a tarot deck. Did once play solitaire with it. It shuffled okay.)

  7. Ele says:

    I have an absolutely fantastic tarot deck by Salvador Dali — wish I could post some pics of it!

  8. 7seas says:

    My go-to is the Shadowscapes Tarot. I connect with the art in a way that I don’t with many other decks. I’m a bit of a collector though, and have a wide range of decks including a standard Rider-Waite and some very abstract ones!

  9. Kate K.F. says:

    I have the Faery Wicca tarot which I bought because the imagery really spoke to me. I haven’t used it in a while but like knowing its there when I want to. The cards are beautiful and have a lot of layers to them.

  10. These are wonderful, but did you see the dog-themed tarot cards? They raise money for service animals! https://www.buzzfeed.com/sydrobinson1/dog-tarot-cards

  11. Lepiota says:

    I’ve had a number of decks over the years. I’m not a collector, so most have ended up elsewhere. My equivalent to the one held together by rubber bands is the Mary Hanson-Roberts deck, sometimes fondly known as the cabbage pack deck because, oh, dear, the cute chubby cheeked children. But ya see, back in my teens my two best girl friends and I all ended up with copies of it, and in fact ended up trading a couple of cards across from our various decks. I don’t use tarot much, but I’m sentimental AF, so there it is, in a handsewn bag, slightly warped from age, and I do know it inside out.

    (I am tempted to drop them notes to see if they still have their copies. Though the last time anything similar came up – though on the important question of personally significant weapons we obtained in our teens – the answer was a resounding yes. Thirty years and counting…!)

  12. cbackson says:

    I am a huge fan of Nakisha VanderHoeven’s art, especially The Rabbit Tarot, which is full of rabbits that manage to be solemn, creepy, and yet somehow adorable: http://www.nakisha.com/the_rabbit_tarot.htm

  13. Kara says:

    I have the Housewives deck, and I do enjoy it. It’s the deck I go to when it’s book club night or a night out with female friends, and we’re just fooling around. I have a Fairy Tales deck too (I can’t find the exact one online) and I really don’t like it. The readings never seem to feel right with that deck. I keep it for the artwork, but it doesn’t work for me.

  14. Isi says:

    Oh my god all these comments inspired me to look at all the beautiful decks and find more and more that I’m drawn to… and I ended up buying one. Of course 😉 I don’t even know much about tarot, although I’ve been interested since my teens. The traditional decks always seemed very harsh to me, but oh these beautiful ones… So I’ll just have to get into another hobby.
    I chose the Revelations deck, for the record. I love the stained glass art style, the upside and downside images (for reading reversed cards) and hope there are enough classic symbols in the images to learn the meanings.
    Worst case scenario, I’ll have 78 pretty postcards to look at. 😀

  15. Liviania says:

    I am not really into tarot, but own a few fannish decks for the art. I really love the Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun Tarot Deck, which was a bonus with one of the Japanese volumes:


    The Hermit and The Heirophant are probably my favorites in the deck.

  16. Heather Greye says:

    I only own one deck – Celtic Tarot – that I haven’t used in a very long time. I love the images (you can see some here http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/celtic/)

    I started using the Golden Tread app a few months ago and it’s pulling me back in. It’s designs are simple and pretty. And I like having being able to pull a single daily card even when I’m not near my deck.

  17. Sarah F says:

    I have ‘The Goddess Tarot’ by Kris Waldherr. The suits are standard, but instead of cards like The Hanged Man or The Tower, they are all goddesses from around the world/throughout history. The artwork is GORGEOUS. I’ve never seen a more beautiful deck, and I learned about so many new female deities- the creators really made an effort.

  18. EC Spurlock says:

    Eleonore Pieper does some lovely decks; her New Era Elements deck just became commercially available https://www.deviantart.com/ellygator/gallery/53583709/New-Era-Elements-Tarot She also did a lovely Harry Potter deck https://www.deviantart.com/ellygator/gallery/46748242/HP-Tarot which I think may have limited availability.

    I myself use an electronic tarot https://www.newagestore.com/ which is surprisingly accurate. I like this one because it allows me to choose my own cards rather than just automatically downloading a spread. I like to do their 12-month spread on New Year’s Eve every year so I have an idea of what I’m in for, and copy and save as a document file so I can refer back to it throughout the year.

    Interestingly, in all my readings I have only pulled the Death card twice: once when my husband had his stroke (which he avoided telling me about for almost a week until I insisted something was really wrong and forcibly took him to the hospital) and once just before he was diagnosed with his brain tumor. I take that card very seriously now.

  19. Milly says:

    I’m one of the few people who absolutely can’t connect with the RWS imagery as its drawn – too yellow. I have 3 decks that I’ve used – Shadowscapes, Green Witch Tarot, and Sun and Moon Tarot. Sun & Moon is a blend between RWS and Thoth but the simplicity of the drawings brings you into the deck.

  20. Ren Benton says:

    I can’t believe I neglected to mention the Lisa Frank tarot. (Alas, not a deck you can buy, but the images make great phone wallpaper.)


    The Devil, a banana in a bikini, is my favorite.

  21. Christa says:

    A long time ago I worked in the children’s section of a book shop whose other part was dedicated to self help and esoteric knowledge. This close contact to the esoteric world has left me with an almost allergic reaction to many parts of it. You would not believe the people that came to that store, brrrr. But one of the good things that came out of this experience are several lovely tarot decks, that I bought mostly for the art. And roughly once a year I get a strong urge to actually use one of them. It is always very useful, and then the urge passes and I forget about it. Until next time.
    My cutest deck is Tarot for Cats, which is not of any practical use:
    My most romantic ones are the Tarot of Love
    and the Art Nouveau Tarot
    The Art Nouveau is my favorite deck.

  22. chacha1 says:

    I have never even really tried to learn about tarot, though I have a book about it, and I have one deck: the Tarot of the Cat People, by Karen Kuykendall. I think I learned of it when she was featured in a magazine about surface design, possibly Ornament. The article about her art mentioned it, and once I saw an image I had to have it, because cats.

    One of these years I do plan to write a tarot-reading heroine, and so I keep these things even though I have divested much else in the “research” category. 🙂

  23. Katta says:

    I’m not a big RWS fan at all, I just never connected with the imagery. I love the Thoth deck though, it’s just gorgeous and much more accurate for me. I have the Dali deck too and though I adore the art, I find the size a bit unwieldy. My friend just got the Fountain Tarot and it is so beautiful that I’m seriously tempted by it. Good thing I don’t work at an occult stop anymore haha.

  24. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    As I said in the previous tarot post, I still have my Waite deck from the 1970s—although it’s been well over 30 years since I read them, I just find them beautiful to look at. Coincidentally, I’m reading Willow Winters’s MERCILESS right now and the heroine (who is being held captive—it’s a VERY dark story) requests a tarot deck and when one isn’t immediately available, she uses a sketch pad to draw her own cards. She says they calm her down and let her think—and three of swords is her favorite.

  25. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    After I posted, I had to spend some time on a step-stool looking on the top shelf of my closet where I discovered another tarot set: the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck, part of the Visconti-Sforza sets, dating back to 15th century Milan. The cards all have a very Medieval look. The accompanying instruction booklet is written by Stuart R. Kaplan and is copywritten 1975.


  26. Varian says:

    I’m super picky about the tarot decks I buy, because the nudity in a lot of them make me uncomfortable (I’m sex repulsed as well as being asexual) even though I get what it means from an artistic symbolism perspective.

    I have a collection of decks, but right now the Vaporwave tarot (https://tarotwave.tumblr.com/) is my go-to tarot deck, it’s the *happiest* feeling deck I own.

  27. denise says:

    I avoid tarot cards…they might be too true.

  28. WS says:

    I have the Celtic tarot (as linked above, which I’ve never much liked). My husband has the Robin Wood tarot, which I’ve always thought is lovely.

  29. Carole says:

    I teach Tarot and I find The Rider Waite/Pamela Coleman Smith Deck is most powerful because so many Tarot Pathworkers have accessed the wisdom through these symbols, so it is very high energetically. If you want to learn to read tarot and do your first reading immediately, I highly recommend Easy Tarot Guide by Marcia Masino.

    I am working on Counted Cross Stitch copies of the Major Arcana and combine information from the Rider Waite Deck, as well as colour symbolism and meanings from the BOTA Tarot deck as well as from the Rabbi’s Tarot by Daphna Moore.

  30. Liza says:

    Everyday Witch Tarot is my jam. I love it so and it’s brutally honest.

  31. kt says:

    Hudes Tarot. Might be out of print. I love the surface calmness.

  32. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    Sorry if this was mentioned before and I failed to see it, but apparently there’s a romance series called Cards of Love with each book written by a different author and inspired by a different tarot card. The covers are sepia toned and are quite evocative. I haven’t read any of them yet, but I’m planning on reading the Sierra Simone book as soon as I finish the other books in her New Camelot series.


  33. Reetta says:

    Really cool topic. I love watching pictures of Tarot decks. They are so beautiful. I own only one deck, Morgan Greer Tarot. I should do a reading, it has been long time since the last one.

    If you are into a bit grimmer series, Kresley Cole has a great Post apocalyptic series inspired by Tarot. The first book is the Poison Princess

  34. SB Sarah says:

    @Carole: My eyes got SO BIG at the idea of your cross stitch project! I hope you’ll share pictures!!

  35. Cyranetta says:

    Even though I haven’t used them for years, I still love the Aquarian Tarot (https://www.tarot.com/tarot/decks/aquarian).

  36. Leanne Howard says:

    I love seeing all the Tarot readers and users on here! I should have known that the Bitchery would be into this, too. All my loves can be found on this blog.

    My personal favorite deck is the Wildwood Tarot. It’s an ecology/sustainability-themed Celtic deck. One positive is that, in Tarot as in nature, nothing is really dead… so “Death” in RWS is “The Journey” in Wildwood, etc. I find it a great deck for solitary readings (readings just for me and not for others). And the art is gorgeous.

    Also, has anyone heard of the Jane Austen Tarot? Apparently it’s hard to find, but it does exist!!!

  37. Nelly Dreadful says:

    I have a good old Universal Waite deck myself hanging in there from my adolescent occultist period. I’m a bit of a collector, so I have a bunch kicking around. Only three I really read with regularly:

    The Waite, which I’m most familiar with and which seems to give fairly practical tough love advice.

    The Cosmic Tribe tarot (NSFW!) ( http://www.stevee.com/tarot.html ) A very colourful, very photoshoppy, very nude photocollage deck. It tends to give what feels like very upbeat encouragement.

    My current favourite is the Cosmos tarot from Light Grey Art Lab, which is quite possibly the most exquisitely beautiful deck I own. ( http://lightgreyartlab.com/cosmos/ ) Each card is based on a different constellation and painted by a different artist, and they’re all gorgeous. I haven’t quite got a feel for the… the voice of the deck, yet? Still learning it.

    I’m also working at customizing a cartomancy deck for myself, taking a standard deck of playing cards and scribbling keywords and doodles on each card with sharpies to create a unique fortune telling deck. It’s going slow, I keep getting distracted by other things. ^^;

  38. Mary says:

    Fun post! My two favorite decks are my first one: The Morgan Greer deck, and one mentioned in a comment above, The Wild Unknown deck.

    The Morgan Greer one has some great 70’s style art and I was really drawn to the colors. Here’s an example (my favorite card in the deck): http://vampiretarot.com/tarot/morgan-greer/large/6_of_cups.jpg

    The Wild Unknown has beautiful colors and imagery. https://phoenix-lotus.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/wildunknowndarkmajors.jpg

  39. Carol S. says:

    About ten or so years ago, there was a woman in Philly who was working on a Knitter’s Tarot. I can’t find it on-line, so I’m not sure whether she ever finished it and sold it, or what…I think they were black and white images but I can’t remember any more than that.

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