Home Discussion Forum What is in a typical tarot deck?

What is in a typical tarot deck?

I know that tarot decks differ depending on geography, system of belief, etc. but i was wondering, what is in the most common kind of deck? how many cards are there? are there suits? just tell me what you know, if you know a cool way with a spread to go with it put that in too! basically anything and everything you know about tarot cards is welcome 🙂
also, this is because I’m thinking of designing my own deck, so if you know a particularly easy (in terms of a small amount of cards) deck, let me know.


  1. Although there are many, many decks (too many to list), the Rider Waite deck is the most common deck used. It is by far the most popular deck around. It is the one most people imagine when they think of a tarot reading. It is the medieval looking deck and has the following cards:
    Major Arcana:
    Fool, Magician, High Priestess, Empress, Emperor, Hierophant, Lovers, Chariot, Strength, Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, Devil, Tower, Star, Moon, Sun, Judgement, World
    Suit Names: Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles
    Court Cards: King, Queen, Knight, Page
    There are 78 cards total in the deck; 22 major cards and 56 minor cards.
    Here is a site that has several decks available to view and learn about.
    Of course, you should also look into all of the Oracle Card decks available as well. Such as: Healing with Angels, Goddess Guidance, Gypsy Oracle Cards, Wisdom of Fairies, just to name a few.

  2. She’s right and I can’t add to that. Rider’s a good deck and get Waite’s book to go with it. Avoid the Crowley deck, the symbolism is off and it has “bad” vibes.

  3. About all that can said of a ‘typical tarot’ is that it has five suits, one numbered 1-21, and four each with ten cards numbered 1-10 and with four court cards. There is then an extra card, often numbered 0 in occult packs, called The Fool. And that’s where typical ends. We could still talk of what is typical per region – there, even the number of cards will vary, as well as the themes. To see that, we should look at a little history…
    Playing cards arrive in Europe during the mid 14th century via the Islamic world. These earliest packs had, like our own, 52 cards split into four suits. These suits were cups, coins, scimitars (a type of curved sword), and polo sticks. Each suit had three court cards, being a King and two subordinates – though these were not illustrated as, by most interpretations, living things could not be depicted in art.
    Europeans did not know of Polo at that time, so this suit became batons and the court cards were illustrated with a King, a Rider, and a Footman. These cards are called the Latin pattern and are still used to play games in countries such as Italy, Spain, and even parts of South America. French suits are seen in France during the 15th century and become dominant in most, though not all, countries because their pip cards were much easier (therefore cheaper) to reproduce.
    Tarot cards were created in Italy in the mid 15th century for the Milanese court by adding a fifth suit of picture cards. These cards took as their theme a triumph procession, hence their early name of trionfi, meaning triumphs and from which we get our word trump! There was also an extra card called The Fool – it was not actually part of the trump sequence and was used as a type of wild card. The earliest pack we have had 6 court cards in each regular suit, being a male and a female in each of the three ranks. Most of the extra cards were dropped, retaining the Queen and giving us a pack of 78 cards.
    It was (and still is) common throughout continental Europe to play games using packs that have a reduced number of pip cards. This became the case for many of the tarot games and so in some regions they are only sold with the number of cards required to play. The most common pack in central and Eastern Europe has just 54 cards!
    There were also packs with unusual arrangements of trumps. For example, the Tarocchino (or Tarocco Bolognese) used in Bologna replaces the II-V of trumps with four equally ranking cards called the Four Moors. Another excellent pack – though sadly no longer in use – was the Florentine Minchiate, which added an additional block of nineteen trumps. This sophistaced game died out early in the 20th century but at one time was highly popular, with records of it being played as far afield as New Orleans in the mid 19th century!
    At the start of the 18th century, German card makers began to produce tarot cards with French suits, replacing the traditional trumps with designs of more regional relevance – such as local land marks. Also produced were packs that featured animals (and these can still be found today in Germany). As I’ve mentioned, French suits were much cheaper to produce and this pattern of tarot card quickly became dominant in Central and Eastern Europe – evantually gaining dominance in France by the early 20th century. These packs feature a wide variety of themes, from comic book characters, national costumes, historic events, and even pin-ups.
    At the end of the 18th century, a Parisian occultist, Antoine Court de Gebelin, published his belief that the cards were of Ancient Egyptian origin and began the use of the cards in Divination. This also gave rise to occultists redesigning the cards to better reflect their beliefs and it is these cards that are better known in the English speaking world.
    And that’s that. With all of the games and occult beliefs being catered for, there is so much variety in tarot that it is hard indeed to call any a “typical” tarot.
    If you want to design your own pack, then you might like to take a look at this site first – in case you want to design them with a view to getting a pack printed:
    Edited to add: I don’t know why I got the thumbs down – my reply is both factual and non-judgemental. I’ll add some references if there is any doubt.

  4. I have been reading the Tarot since 1973 and what I know about the Tarot is far too vast to be posted here. To help answer your questions:
    The most common decks are the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) and the Thoth.
    There are usually at least 78 cards consisting of 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. However, some decks have more cards by expanding the Majors, the Court Cards, or even both and then there are decks which focus on the Major Arcana only.
    The Minor Arcana suits can have various names including, but certainly not limited to pentacles/coins/earth, rods/wands/fire, cups/chalices/water, swords/crystals/air. The Major Arcana can also have different names for each card.
    Two common spreads are the Past, Present, Future and the Celtic Cross. If you are looking for something cool, different, and in depth, then try out the sample tarot spreads at my site:
    I am an experienced tarot, oracle, and self-help deck creator and designing your own deck requires a lot of thought, time, and effort if you want to do it right. There are many steps involved which will take up too much time to go into here but the following will help you to get started:
    If you want to design a tarot deck, first you will need to have a very good grasp of the Tarot. You cannot just pick any old image and put it on a card, it must have a specific reason for being there which is actually related to what the card means to you, other than “I like it” or “It looks good.” Oracle and self-help decks can have as many or as few cards as you want and you will not need a Major Arcana or a Minor Arcana, but just like with tarot cards, you will still need to have a sound explanation of the design for each and every card so others will find your deck easy to work with.
    Next, why do you want to design your own deck? Think carefully about this because when creating a tarot, oracle, or self-help deck, especially one to be used by others, the best decks are made with the pure intent of truly helping people and not created for a self-absorbed ego boost.
    Whom are you designing the deck for? Will it be a personal deck or something that you would like to mass produce? If it is only going to be for your own personal and private use, then you can use whatever you like that appeals to you such as pictures in books, magazines, newspapers, etc. The downside of doing this is if you change your mind later on and want to mass produce, you will need to redo your deck because it is highly unlikely that you would get permission from the owners of all the copyrighted images you used.
    If you are thinking of designing a deck for mass publication, you will need to be sure that you do not violate anyone’s copyright such as taking copyrighted photos from magazines, books, the Internet, etc. It is always best to use your own photos or draw/paint/design your own images but whatever medium you decide upon, do not engage in design overkill which is putting too many things on any single card because you will only end up with a very confusing and distracting deck which will make it hard to read with.
    Another important consideration, especially with tarot decks, is if you want to get the attention of a publishing house, the deck you design will need to be a creative idea because all of the ones I am aware of are no longer seeking clones/copycats of already published decks.
    Joy to you,
    Maralee Fox-Heins
    Tarot/Oracle/Self-Help Deck Creator,
    Soul Pattern Authority, Tarot Engineer
    Home of The Retro Cats Tarot and many more!


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