Should You Learn Tarot With the Rider Waite-Smith Only?

We feature a lot of different decks on the Tarot Elements Fan Page on Facebook and it’s an integral part of our community there. ALL of the interpretations given by Friends are pretty awesome and make me glad everyday that I get to read such wonderful insights.

Those insights came from many sources to the Tarot Lovers who shared them and from the many different tarot decks that they use daily. We mainly feature the Rider Waite-Smith Tarot Deck and its many clones on the Fan Page and it got me wondering about where they, and every other Tarot Lover, began their tarot journey – was it with the Rider Waite-Smith deck or one of its cousins? Which of course then lead me to the question:

Should you learn tarot with the Rider Waite-Smith only?

Considering the amount of symbolism it contains, from images, icons, colours & numbers, it has given birth to so many other decks – is it necessary to learn with that deck first and then spread your wings onto other tarot decks? Or does it matter at all?

I didn’t begin with the Rider Waite-Smith but I found it quickly to deepen my knowledge. Is that more to do with most study materials being based on the RWS or because it’s the Daddy of them all? Do you think it’s possible to learn with other symbolically rich decks like the Robin Wood Tarot and not touch the RWS at all?

And of course, I can’t resist being so nosey – what tarot deck did YOU learn with and if it wasn’t the RWS, did you succumb to its charms eventually?


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45 thoughts on “Should You Learn Tarot With the Rider Waite-Smith Only?”

  1. No… I struggled trying to learn tarot with the Rider-Waite decks. It wasn’t until I picked up a Hansen Roberts deck and a Robin Wood deck that I finally “got it.”

    • Hi Lorielle – I’ve only recently really looked at the Robin Wood and although I’m not a fan of the art, the symbolism is amazing and I personally think it’s a real contender in Must-Have category for learning tarot.
      Thank you for your comment and welcome to Tarot Elements :)

  2. Good question! My first deck was the RWS but I just couldn’t connect with it for some reason. Then I found the Robin Wood deck and it has been my “go to” deck ever since. I have tried numerous times to go back to learn from the RWS but the images just don’t speak to me. I’m not giving up entirely on it; I’ll keep going back to give it a try because of the important symbolism it contains. It could be that I just haven’t been ready, yet.

    • Hi Joanne – The Robin Wood is doing well in the Learn Tarot stakes! As I said in the comment above, I’ve only really looked at it recently and really like the symbolism. I still use the RWS regularly but I play around with a lot of different decks – just might have to invest in the Robin Wood.
      Thanks for your comment and welcome to Tarot Elements :)

    • I JUST picked up Tarot and couldn’t connect with the Raider-Wait-Smith deck…the Light Seers Tarot by Chris-Anne on the other hand pulled me in and i LOVE this deck.
      i connect more with the images and FEEL so much. BUT i too feel i need to give the RWS a try. Just not feeling it though.

  3. Great question and I can’t wait to see what others say.
    I learned on the Haindl deck. Yeah, I know, right? Long story. When I look at it now, I have no idea how I did it!
    Then I used a variety of decks until I got “serious” and bought the RWS. I did that because the book I relied on most, 78 Degrees of Wisdom, used it. The more books I studied, the more I saw they used the RWS.
    Today, I use it when I’m teaching or doing workshops or general blog entires (or quickie readings on FB) because it has become a common language amongst tarotists. If we say a card name, most of us can picture the RWS and automatically be able to discuss it. Also, it is a touchstone for discussing other decks. When telling someone about a new deck, we often use the RWS as a baseline and say how it is the same or different.
    I honestly don’t know if this strong basis in RWS is good or bad or holding the evolution of tarot back, but it is nice to have a common language when talking to other tarot peeps.

    • Wow Barbara – I have the Haindl and while it is beautiful, I can’t imagine anyone actually learning with it – kudos to you honey!
      I also got the RWS because of 78 Degrees of Wisdom – fabulous book. And of course, other books I was reading used it. Not to mention Joan Bunning’s excellent and free Learn Tarot Course – RWS all the way there so it made things easier.
      I agree with your baseline comment as I think no matter what decks we move onto, if we ever started with the RWS, we still use the symbology and stories from it.
      I think the way many tarot artists and authors are expanding themes within tarot shows that it’s not holding tarot back, but perhaps it’s more the readers who are reluctant to let it go…?

  4. RWS is by no means the father of them all. The different versions of the tarot de marseilles are way older. But indeed, all the modern decks emulate the RWS.
    I for example use a reconstructed dodal deck. The two remaining originals date back to 1701. The noblet deck is even older (1651).

    • Hi Juju – I was referring to the Rider Waite-Smith being the Daddy of the pictorial type of deck as it has given birth to so many of its type. Perhaps I should have been clearer. I also have the Tarot de Marseille and the Thoth which I feel is equally important to the RWS, but seeing as most of our Tarot discussions on the Fan Page evolve around the RWS, that’s where I have kept the focus of this discussion.
      Thank you for your comment and welcome to Tarot Elements :)

    • Thanks for your nice and prompt response. I think that overall, what’s being advertised and promoted in esoteric shops and bookstores defines what we use. I’m French and here, most tarot users use A tarot de marseille. RWS is seen as exotic or even heavily criticised for being irrelevant. While in other parts of the world, it’s the most popular game.
      Nevertheless, the web now offers us much more possibilities to discover decks and find the right one for us.

    • Yes, there’s a definite and different tradition in Europe than in Britain and the US with tarot deck choice and of course the direction in which tarot was developed, particularly by 20th & 19th century occultists.
      What do you think of the Lo Scarabeo deck that incorporates the themes from the Tarot de Marseille, the Thoth and the RWS? Do you think it successufully reproduces their themes idividually and synergystically?

    • I totally agree with you Catherine.
      Could you be more specific about which Lo scarabeo deck you are talking. There are actually many decks sold by Lo scarabeo :)

  5. Actually I learned with the Mythic Tarot. I found that the mythology of the stories was something I could relate to more so than the symbols of the Rider Waite Smith deck. I believe it really comes down to what someone is attracted to the most. However, I do feel that if someone wants to seriously study the systems of Tarot then you need to study the RWS and Thoth deck to have a well rounded understanding of the Tarot. That being said, I do not believe it has to be the first exposure.

    • I have the Mythic Tarot Workbook but not the deck and I have no idea how that happened! It went through a redrawing at some point I believe and yet it seems hard to get hold of. It’s a deck that’s well spoken of – themes can be hard to get right, but from what I’ve read through in the workbook, it gets the mix just right.
      I also agree with you on the Thoth, fabulous deck but different in many ways to the RWS and not always seen as a starter deck – wouldn’t be without mine now. And no, I haven’t vandalised it yet ;)

    • I also learned tarot by way of the Mythic Deck- and was captivated by myths that detail each card. My connection to the deck is vast due to my amazing teacher and the incredible learning community i studied with.
      I do agree with Storm that you can not deny the depth of RWS but attraction plays a great role in the use of a deck.

  6. Here’s the first deck I used: The Hoi Polloi — I remember the key design on the back very well. It’s a Rider-Waite clone.

    I think after that I used the Palladini for a while, and also the Morgan-Greer and the Mythic Tarot. I took the Hansen-Roberts deck with me for public readings for a while, I recall. I still have a mini-HR deck on my desk at the office that can be easily toted around if need be.
    I think it may be easier to learn from the Rider-Waite or a clone of the RW, if only because most of the beginner books use it in their illustrations and because the RW Minor Arcana are fully illustrated.
    I don’t use the RW to read with now, but I still like & use some of the clones or decks inspired by the RW.
    I find some decks “talk” to me much more than others & those are the decks that I use for readings. Current decks I’m using include the Robin Wood, the Illuminated & the Infinite Visions.

    • Valerie – you’re such a treasure!
      Do you find the Illuminated very different to read with than the standard RWS? It’s colours are very different, but the images are the same – does glitter really make the difference ;) ?
      Lovely comment, thank you Valerie :)

    • Hi Catherine!
      The images are indeed the same, but I have the iridescent color version and man, are those colors gorgeous. The cards just shimmer. Maybe they’re not as ‘groovy’ as the Hoi Polloi, but it’s not the early 70s anymore! ;)

  7. Using the Rider or BOTA decks are pretty much essential if learning Esoteric Tarot.
    If divining with Tarot then, yes, using any deck that allows the reader to intuit easily will do :) I personally think it’s important to know a different, standard meaning for each card, regardless of the art or style.

    • I agree with you Dea – if it’s Esoteric Tarot you’re after, you cannot ignore these two, nor the Thoth.
      Have you coloured your own BOTA? Did you find that helped to cement the meanings and symbols as you were learning them?
      Thank you for expanding the discussion :)

  8. I learned Tarot from my Egyptian Deck AGMuller, 1980.
    I was a bit of a recluse when it came to learning all things Tarot, so…
    …when I DID get to a RWS facsimile (11 yrs later)…believe me, I had one heck of a shock! :-D

    • Hi Kustiana – did you stick with the Egyptian Deck or did you manage the switch to the RWS?
      I actually began with a Marseille clone, then went onto the Quest Tarot, then the RWS….. lots of things came together for me when I got the RWS, though it’s not my full time reading deck of choice, it is my study deck of choice.
      Thank you for your comment and welcome to Tarot Elements :)

  9. I learned with the Rider-Waite and have used and read with other decks eg Robin Wood, Spiral, Morgan Greer but always end up reverting back to the Rider-Waite, it’s so ingrained now that I don’t really feel the need to use anything else. I like looking at other decks and still buy those that take my fancy.

    • Hi Lori – I use the RWS when I’m designing a new spread. I think because I study with it and so I naturally reach for it – it’s like an old friend :)

  10. I don’t think it’s necessary at all, you should learn with whichever one you feel drawn to. A lot like losing your virginity. You don’t do it the way everyone suggests, you do it however you feel most comfortable. I do think the reason it’s recommended so much though, as a good learning tool is because most of the books and sites out there for beginners use that deck as an example. Makes it easier to follow along.

    • Hi Dan – Such a fine analogy, and quite apt when you think about it. Such a significant event should be a pleasant memory, not a search for a replacement.
      Lovely to see you here again :)

  11. I started out with the Rider Waite Tarot, found it difficult to work with, and within a couple of weeks moved on to a RW clone – the Morgan Greer Tarot. Iwould advise getting a Rider Waite deck simply becuase this is the deck that the predominate number of Tarot classes is based on, but I would also advise keeping one or more decks handy that you could relate to in a stronger fashion (that is, if you found the Rider Waite a difficult deck to connect with).
    It is important to understand the Rider Waite imagery, if only for reference purposes, but the deck(s) that you end up reading with will be the decks that you most closely connect with.

  12. Hi there! I struggled with the Rider Waite. It seemed too “archaic” to me! I found the Deviant Moon and that is what I read.
    I do use the R/W to learn all of the symbols and traditional meanings.

  13. The first deck I had was the Swiss 1JJ, however when I got really serious about tarot, which was many many years later, it was with the RWS that I learned. It is the deck I use for teaching, because of its wealth of symbolism but also because it is the mother of most other modern day clones. if you can read with the RWS then you will find the others easy to understand – with the exception of the Thoth which isn’t a clone and a whole new study programme of its own.

  14. I think each person should pick their own deck that speaks to them. Mine was the uncolored MotherPeace round deck. As I colored I let the cards dictate what colors to use. Then I learned the history of the picture and found I have tapped into an ancient wisdom that I have inside. It’s helped me understand and listen to my intuition and made intuitive reading easier for me.

  15. Hello all. My 1st deck was the HerbalTarot-it seemed a natural being a gardner…but it left me going huh??? Then I got the Robin Wood and went Ohhh.(love it) health issues brought me back to the herbal and it amazes me how deep it really is. RWS is my favorite(is it because its a mini deck or because of the New Vision that can be used as a companion or brings me back to the basics) I’ve been working with the Mystic Faerie this month just cuz i love it 2!!!! ah whats a reader to do…?

    • PS I would like to get the thoth-I’m not drawn to it but would like to explore the deck and see what happens:)

  16. When I was researching my first deck, the images of the original RWS deck made me cringe, seriously. I was looking for, and found, my dear Ancient Egyptian Tarot… after that one, I have been through several decks before I finally, with a sigh, decided to take the “must have” deck, and landed on the brightest Radiant RWS… and I have been with it for two months, every day: I ADORE it. The power of this deck (RWS) in incredible, perhaps, due to all the people who have strengthened the energy of it through millenium… Now I dream to have ILLUMINATED deck…

  17. Although the Rider-Waite Tarot deck is the deck I learned to read from, had I known then there were others to choose from I may not have.
    Over the years I discovered that by allowing students to choose whichever 78 card Tarot Deck that appeals most strongly to them AND subscribes to the RWS FORMAT enabled them to unleash their personal intuition more quickly and master the Tarot more easily.
    That is why Tarot Dynamics, was designed to accompany any 78 card Tarot Deck that the reader or student is most comfortable with. That also enables students and teachers to be “on the same page” no matter what deck they are using.

  18. hi the Catherine I used the tarot de marseille at firs and could notget the hang of it at all, the symbols for a person that was just learning and no guidance at all I struggled yet seemed to learn the Major arcana with the little scrap of paper, then in a shop I saw a deck that was based on the rider waite the Guilded tarot, and got some other deccks that I lve by the way and I have the Origional Rider Wait Smith deck never realy used it, for ages as I have the Robin Wodd deck as I am a country bumpkin at heart, since using the robin wood, for some reason went to the rider wait deck that I have and wow what a connection I got my heart was zinnnnging for the first time that I looked at Tarot and since then I use the robin wood and the rider wait as I feel that have totally connected with the symbols and the meanings, also tend to use my gutt feelings as well all looking good.

  19. Great question! I was given an RWS deck when I was 14 and I struggled with it (like Joanne) for years; but I love the fact that some folks seem to just fly with it. I couldn’t “connect the dots” with it and my reading attempts were pathetic.
    I bought a deck of Crowley-Harris/Thoth cards when I was twenty and, although I wasn’t really inspired by the style (or Thelema for that matter), from that moment on, I just “got it”. I suspect that the astrological markings and colours made it easier to “grok” some cards (7 of Disks – Saturn in Taurus – “heavy gravity day”; 2 of Wands – Mars in Aries – “my way or the highway”, etc.). The astrological, elemental and numerological ques seemed to make it easier for me to connect with the divinatory meanings from either Waite and Crowley.
    I now love the Haindl deck and I have no idea either how Barbara was able to connect with it (and, Barbara, you have my sincerest admiration). I read using RWS when necessary, for example, when reading for others whom I don’t know. I’m sure many of you share my affliction for buying more tarot decks than I will ever be able to use in a lifetime but my preference for “serious” study is still Crowley-Harris.
    To Catherine’s catalyst question “Should you learn tarot with RWS only?” I would have to say that, speaking as someone who does not do the things I should; the answer is no. Learn tarot anyway you can. If RWS were the only option; I would have given up long ago and missed the adventure of a lifetime.

  20. I originally started with the Marseilles deck – not an easy one to start with but the ONLY deck available at our local bookstore in 1981. I found a Rider Waite deck a few months later and have to admit, I enjoyed reading with it more and felt I could grasp the tarot easier. I’m very visually oriented so that worked well for me. That being said, it’s not the only way. Each aspiring reader should find a deck that speaks to them.

  21. I started out learning with Rider Waite but after a while I found it a little dull (in a colour sense). So began the journey of being a Tarot collector. I think the Rider Waite is an important deck for any reader but I’d probably recommend the Universal Waite for a beginner. It’s just prettier ;-)

  22. Your question brings back pleasant memories. I remember the mechanics, if not the message, of my first Tarot reading when I was twelve. The reader used the Morgan-Greer. I just loved it. The first deck I purchased a couple of years later was the Hanson-Roberts. In hindsight, I think it must have been because I was working with colored pencil at the time and felt connected to the medium because I don’t recall ever really connecting with it. Shortly thereafter, I found a RWS deck and studied and used it for a while, again without a great connection.
    My Tarot “study” truly began when I bought Crowley’s Book of Thoth and Thoth Tarot about a year later. Crowley and Lady Harris created what I consider to be a true artistic and esoteric masterpiece. That said, I rarely use it. However, the study of it has allowed me to read with most any Tarot that I have.
    After dealing with Tarot over the last (almost) twenty years, I use Marseille-type and historical reproductions almost exclusively. On a fluke, I did use the Centennial Edition of the RWS at a party recently and was struck at the “new” beauty of the deck. I am a great fan of turn of the century “public” art and illustration and Pixie created a most beautiful example with her 78 pictures. She was quite gifted and I am sincerely more impressed with the original version than so many of its descendants.
    So, should you learn on Rider-Waite-Smith? Not necessarily. I couldn’t. Find a deck that speaks to you and it will. It need not be RWS or any of its many, many imitators.

  23. I started out learning with Rider Waite but after a while I found it a little dull (in a colour sense). So began the journey of being a Tarot collector. I think the Rider Waite is an important deck for any reader but I’d probably recommend the Universal Waite for a beginner. It’s just prettier ;-)

  24. My first deck was the Golden Tarot by Kat Black. Thought it was beautiful but had a hard time relating to it for some reason. Then I went searching and found a unique deck at a metaphysics shop. The deck was the Inner Child Cards and for some reason the psychic there was trying to talk me out of that deck, she did, but the next day I ran back and got it.
    The cover of that deck connected well with me. So about like 1.5 to 2 years later I finally got an original RW deck. I did not connect with it like many of the clones, but so far I find it to be honest and I find in that deck a lot of deep symbolism that I don’t find in some of my favorite of decks. However, the Inner Child Cards is my deck of choice as its been the most accurate in predicting in comparison to all of my other decks… except for the Thoth, I now have a stronger bond with it and its deep an insightful and penetrating.
    I think you learn from whatever you are given to work with really. I think if someone wants to earn their Tarot certification, a RW deck is necessary to have and learn from. But I think that in the end no matter what deck you learn from… all of them involve a learning process as you can learn a lot from any deck.

  25. I started out with the Rider-Waite Smith deck. It give me a great start to the tarot-a baseline. I have since moved on to the Mystic Dreamer tarot deck and more recently Legacy of the Divine Tarot. :)

  26. I recently started learning to read Tarot. I have purchased the Rider Waite because everything seems to be written about it. I have been drawn to the drawings from the Haindl deck though but have been hesitant to try it with my limited knowledge. After reading the comments above perhaps I should give it a try.

  27. I don’t know the name of my first deck. I had zero knowledge about Tarot and i was just 14. Ipicked up whatever was available. It just had the word ‘Tarot’ written on the box. I tried to read with it for a year or so, but it was difficult because of the pips, there were no pictures. I had to literally learn up the meanings of every single card as the symbolism wasn’t so good. I came to know about the Rider Waite deck and bought it immediately. It is that time i sinked into the world of Tarot. RWS has great symbols and it makes tarot learning very easy. Many decks are similar to this deck. My next deck was the Osho Zen deck. It is completely different from the RWS, and has its own symbols. Its really different. If someone wants to know basic tarot then RWS is the best starting deck in my opinion. Even the Robin Wood deck is really good and easy to follow. The Thoth, though I bought it long ago with the intention to study it, I find it very difficult as I get so intimidated with all the various symbols. I feel dizzy with the geometric shapes. Right now, i use the Robin Wood deck alot. I prefer it to the RWS because its so pagan and full of nature. I find the RWS a bit cold and the characters in it a bit expressionless. Even the 3 of cups girls don’t look too happy. But, its a great starter deck and a MUST HAVE to know what tarot really is.

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