A question came up on one of the tarot forums late last year that stopped me in my tracks, and after thinking carefully about it I haven’t bought a new deck of any kind since (although I still lust for quite a few).
“How many decks are too many?”
My flippant answer at the time was “One more than you can comfortably afford.” But if our only purpose in owning a deck is to read it and not simply admire it, one deck that is perfectly suited to our needs should be sufficient. I can speak from experience here: I owned only one deck of any type – the Thoth – from 1972 to 2011 and used it exclusively for divination and esoteric study. We now live in a throw-away consumer culture, where stimulating novelty trumps the comfortable banality of the familiar and can become a mesmerizing quest in its own right. I doubt that deck creators who spend years of their lives slaving over their offering think of it as a “throw-away” (done with integrity, producing 78 – or even 36 – works of art is a huge task), but the fact remains that we as consumers are too easily bored and restless, especially when convention dictates that new decks must hew to an established pattern or risk being instantly forgotten. It’s a rare deck that can embrace familiarity and freshness with equal grace; of the 60+ decks I presently own, I can think of only a handful that have pulled it off with both style and substance.
I’m not a total Luddite, of course. In each of the half-dozen or so branches of modern cartomantic practice, I have a small number of decks that I find indispensable. The Thoth obviously dominates the Golden Dawn category, but the Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus and the Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal are worthy companions, while other esoteric decks are almost universally uninspiring. The RWS tradition is ably represented by the Centennial Edition, the Albano-Waite and the Golden Universal. Among the TdM ranks, the Conver Ben-Dov is the stand-out of the few I own, while – except for Paul Huson’s Dame Fortune’s Wheel – the “Continental” contingent (Etteilla, Wirth, etc.) has yet to be populated. I have only a couple of pagan-themed decks, of which the Druid Craft is the run-away favorite. Lenormand is an evolving passion where I still haven’t found the “Holy Grail,” and Kipper remains virgin territory. Oracle decks don’t interest me much since they are entirely too free-form for my taste, and anything to do with fairies, animals, vampires and their ilk need not apply. If I were pushed to it, I could get rid of the rest of my inventory and never miss a beat, but at least I now approach all new aspirants for my dollars with a skeptical eye and a tight grip on my wallet.