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Reading with multiple decks

June 11, 2010

A while back Helen asked me this question:

“… What are your thoughts on using multiple decks for a reading? I have recently been reading with a Tarot deck and an oracle deck simultaneously (two cards per spread position) to try get some extra clarity on the reading.”

This is an interesting question, but I have put off addressing it because I don’t really have an answer.  This is not something that I have done before, at least not in the way that Helen is talking about.[1] On rare occasion if a card’s message seems obscure, I may pull the corresponding card from a different deck to gain further insights into it.  So, for example, I might set the Nine of Coins from my Tarot of the Masters deck next to the Nine of Pentacles from the RWS deck if it were to perplex me in a reading.

TOM Nine of Coins and RWS 2.0 Nine of Pentacles

As I noted in a previous article, “We have to study [a card] from many different perspectives in order to even begin to see its total range of meaning.”

Another similar process is to do a reading for a couple where you do parallel readings with the same spread using separate decks for both individuals. But again, this is not what Helen was talking about.

So, what about Helen’s question?  I’ve never done a reading where I pulled two cards from two different decks for each position in a spread, so I have no idea how that would work out.  But although I haven’t done it, maybe one of you, my faithful blog readers, has?  Any comments about this?  I’d be interested to hear about it.

[1] There is a way to use cards from one deck to suggest positional meanings for a spread, then use cards from another deck to do the reading using that just-created spread.  But that’s a tangential topic, so I’ll save it for a future blog post.




From → Readings, Spreads

  1. No I haven’t pulled two different cards for each position but I have done the same cards one with an ordinary deck and one with a dark one to get both sides of the picture so to speak.

    I have done readings where position 1 may demand three separate cards and position 2 the same as in positive and negative positions and you read those three cards together for those positions. I suppose that would be similar to what Helen was talking about.

    I find when I need to do a, this is for, and this is against, type reading, that works very well.

    • Helen,
      Using one card from a “happy” deck (maybe the Hanson-Roberts) and one from a darker deck (maybe Sacred Rose or Deviant Moon) might prove to give a very interesting two-points-of-view look at a card!

      • Yes James the Deviant is the Dark deck I use and it really does give eye opening results.

      • Desirae permalink

        Hi! I’m not sure how old this post is, but if I may..
        speaking of the Deviant Moon deck. The imagery in that one resonates with a ‘terror’ line of my intuition and I don’t even want to look at it when they come up on a pinterest search or something. How does one get past imagery like that in order to harness the intentions of those decks as well? I have 4 Tarot decks currently, but my ‘darkest’ one is the Millennuim Thoth. I LOVE the imagery but I find it more difficult to read so I use it for the spreads/questions that require a ton of deep thought. (I’m currently working on using just this one for my dailies until I have a more solid grasp of the meanings of the cards since they are so different) but my regular two are The Light Seer’s Tarot and Dreams of Gaia Tarot.. If you can gain any insight about my taste from that.. lol. I would love to branch out to different types of decks and not be so turned off by the imagery! Any advice?
        ps. I didn’t even learn on a RWS deck. Thats how much I am attached to the visuals

        • Honestly, my advice is to just stick to decks that don’t give you a bad visceral reaction. (There are literally hundreds of Tarot decks out there from which to choose, so there is something for everyone.) However, if you do want to explore one that makes you a bit squeemish, what you are doing with the Thoth deck is a great exercise.
          PS: This blog post is over a decade old.

        • Desirae permalink

          Oh wow! Apologies for bringing you back, it came up in a Google search.
          Thanks! I guess I just figured it meant something, kind of how the cards that turn you off in a deck you own are probably something you should face. But I’ll stick with what I like.

  2. Hi I have done this for clients just for a change ….

    I started by doing this is Doreen Virtue’s decks…
    Taking 3 decks row A 3 cards from Healing with Angels
    row B 3 cards from Ascended Masters
    row C 3 cards from Archnagel Michael

    Read column 1 together as one sentence…… how they relate the past ..
    then read column 2 as one sentence… how they relate together as the present, merging towards…
    column 3 …..

    Another way sometimes take a Tarot deck eg Native American Tarot
    North card 1
    West Card 4 East Card 2
    South Card 3

    Take a related themed Oracle deck eg Shaman Wisdom Oracle

    Beside the North card 1 add #5 and #6
    East Card 2 add #7 and #8
    South Card 3 Add #9 and #10
    West Card 4 Add #11 and #12…

    North card read 1, 5 and 6 together as one meaning
    then East 2, 7 and 8
    South 3, 9 and 10
    West 4, 11 and 12….

    You could be suprised how much info it really adds to a reading…… another dimension…

    I have worked with RWS and Crop Circle Cards…

    Melodies Millenium Tarot with Crystal Ally Cards or Toni Salerno’s Crystal oracle…

    I have tried other combinations that work very well….

    try it play around…try different spreads…….. discover the connection……

    Client’s love it……

  3. I use two decks to do a past life reading – I have another Past Life layout based on the Tree of Life but it is moew complex. Easier to use two decks and lay out a Celtic Cross (or your favourite layout) to compare this life and the past one and how it might be influencing your present. I also would use two decks for a relationship reading, it does work very well although personally I always take cards presenting in a reversed position in a relationship reading as to representing the other person. Just my thoughts.

  4. cynthia tedesco permalink

    greetings james,

    i did not invent COMPARATIVE TAROT but this is how i’ve solved the multiple deck issue for myself…

    many collectors, scholars & just ‘US’ want to use many decks or oracle & tarot decks together when reading. this is how i’ve solved the problem for myself… adapt for one’s own rituals & preferences as deemed appropriate:

    a/ USE ONE DECK FOR YOUR SHUFFLE DECK = i use a mini RWS & use it only as a shuffle deck that way you’ll always have it around & ready… there are many MINI DECKS NOW IN MdT and THOTH ETC ETC whatever deck you use a lot can become your SHUFFLE DECK & this may change over time… i like using a MINI for my SHUFFLE DECK.

    b/ shuffle & place acc. to your rituals & the spread you are using as per your question…

    c/ take out your other decks & using the SAME CARDS FROM THE SHUFFLE DECK place next to the SHUFFLE DECK CARDS or arrange in spreads as per the SHUFFLE DECK.

    this way expensive decks do not get damaged by shuffling yet can be read & i can honestly say the readings have been more in depth than w/out comparative methodology.

    a dining room table or sitting on the floor is nec. if you’re doing a large spread. i’m extremely fond of variations on the 3 card spread so it’s not too hard to manage. for those lovers of larger spreads the floor or dining room table would be nec.

    this is a great way to read when iconography/visuals are important to the reader or client for any reason…

    hope this helps others…

    all good things,

    • Excellent process, Cynthia. Thanks for sharing this with us. I would just add that it would help to keep your non-shuffling decks in order to make it easier to find the cards you dealt with the shuffle deck. You probably do that, but I thought it would be helpful to mention it.

  5. I have used the oracle/tcard method as she described. The oracle seems to open up the details of the tcard.

    I have a friend who reads a version of RW. At the end of a session, she then has the client pull an oracle card for a special message that may or may not have anything to do with the questions in the reading.

    • I can see the benefit of using a totally different kind of deck to give you a different perspective. This might be a good way of dealing with “bad” cards in a reading — pull a card from some kind of advice deck to go with it.

  6. I don’t do this myself. In the past I’ve tried doing the “extra card for clarification” that I hear so many others talk about, but usually I’ve found it unhelpful. Generally if I can’t make sense of a reading or get what’s needed, I figure I’m missing something that’s already there, or the question needs to be clarified.

    I’ve also found if I keep pulling cards for someone when I’ve finished reading what’s already there, they keep changing the question, or going off on tangents. Which I guess is fine if you have the time, but it can REALLY drag out, and in those situations people typically aren’t listening to what you’re telling them anyway. They’re still hoping to hear what they want to hear.

    • Digital Dame — I agree about the “clarification” cards. I think they generally add more confusion than clarification. For example, in one class I was teaching, I discovered that one of the students had almost a dozen cards laid out when I had asked them to do a 3 card reading. I asked her what the extra cards were for, and she said that they were “clarification cards”. I asked her if they had clarified things, and she said, “Not yet.”

  7. Rev. Mary Miller permalink

    I wanted to comment that I, too will use multiple decks for a deeper contextual meaning to a reading, esp. for differing views: psychological versus physiological aspects that can “pop” more clearly from differing types of decks.

    What do I mean? Not all decks have the same definition, even if they are based on the 78 tarot format. (Not just oracles can have a differing affect on a reading, so can alternative decks). For example, I have found that “Daughters of The Moon” (round deck, having goddess energy, more like Motherpeace deck, yet distinct in its’ own format) paired in a layout with Rider-Wait can seem outlandish, but when laid out in a line: left physical (Rider), right emotional (DOM) can give some interesting information as to deeper meanings behind action (why we do what we do) and help explore changes emotionally that can change the physical. I am probably not explaining this as well as I can, but it seems to work.

    I have also noticed that adding various decks (english decks with american decks, Sacred Path Tarot with distinctive English landmarks, spiritual views, etc) can add additional symbolic representation that can break us out of going for the “typical” meanings we find within the cards.

    So the answer here with many others, is Yes, I find using multiple decks at TIMES affective, but I don’t always use multiple decks, it depends on what I am feeling from the client and the readings need.

    • Thanks for this other interesting perspective, Mary. This is basically using a double-card spread (physical/emotional for each position) with separate decks. A little different from what Helen is doing, but I like it.
      And yes, definitely would be an intuitive choice as to whether or not to do this.

  8. I had a multi-deck reading done for me at Enchantment resort in Sedona. The reader had me choose two decks from a multitude of decks, each was in a different colored tarot bag. Until the decks were removed from the bags, I didn’t know what decks would be used. First he laid out a spread with one deck, then doubled each position with cards from the second deck. I believe that he read the second set of cards as commentary and expansion of what the first cards “said.” It was exciting and fun to do it this way and I admired the reader’s skillfulness. I have always planned to do this, but never got around to it. I’m feeling inspired now to try it.

  9. I forgot to make clear that the reader did not choose the duplicate card from the second deck, but had me also shuffle that deck and the modifying cards were simply dealt from the top as is usual.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Elinor.
      Yet another fun way to do this! You don’t say specifically, but I assume this worked out well for this reader?

  10. Yes, it did. But now that I have read the other posts, I am excited about trying this with perhaps the first deck relating to the conscious, outer level of the situation for the person and the second deck addressing unconscious elements, or…

  11. Thanks James and everyone else who posted about this. I will definitely try out some of these ideas:-) For me (not highly intuitive yet), it has been really helpful to clarify the meaning of a Tarot card by relating the two cards in each position to each other. Maybe one day I won’t need that:-) The variety is also great, oracles and different Tarot decks are fun to work (and play) with.

    • I hope this addresses your original question, Helen.
      Let me know how your experimentation with some of these suggestions turns out, ok?

  12. Yes thanks James, and I also look forward to reading the future blog post that you referred to:-)

  13. I mainly use multiple decks of the same cards… I like Robin Woods. As I read for a large amount of people. But have used multi-tools to read playing cards are great and also have thrown a rune or two down.

    I’m slowly (aquainting) combining my new Pui-Man Law deck and Woods decks together. They have different meaning for most of the cards and it’s proving an adventurious mix.

    I would how ever it’s done make sure that cards are complientary to each other (be it as opposite(yin/yand) or similar forces (white/grey)) I could see it really mucking up the works if one over powers the other ( not sure if this makes sense or not but sometimes I see my Tarot decks as personalities… some are stronger and more agressive others softer and you need to listen closer)… But all things are possible in Tarot it’s only our personally limitations that hold us back.

    • Hi Shale,
      Thanks for this perspective. And yes, I understand what you mean about how some decks could overpower others.

    • Elinor Greenberg permalink

      Shale, I like your idea about combining decks together and your further comment about how one deck might overpower another. That would be an interesting experiment to do sometime in a workshop with a batch of decks. Playing with pairs of them and seeing which work and which go flat and why. If you cared to, you could explore your idea further and write an article on it for a tarot site. I may play with it myself, if you don’t mind. I’d love to hear more of your and other people’s thoughts about the decks personalities and potential useful and non-useful pairings.

  14. It does sound interesting your right and please go right ahead and explore it and if you don’t mind keep me in the loop. I already have so many unfinished works/books I really don’t see me working on anything else…LOL…

    And something else yo may consider as well… not only may differnt decks types over power or enhance eachother… it may not be the deck alone. Again I see card decks have their own personality that comes out. Granted they are imprinted by the read (and possibly even a bit by the clients) but even two decks of the from the same artist may read/react differently. What would really be cool to try out as well would be to find two people with the same decks and do a head to head …. one subject/question… and see if one will over power or concede or even if they will just fall into syc with eachother.

    I can tell you when I mixed my old deck of RWoods with a new deck of RWoods (hahaha I slowly eased them closer together not to jar the new-ness with the old personality…took me 3mons.) happily this worked wonderful… over time I was able to combine the two to create a one very lardge one minded deck that congealed nicely. I get the impression that if I would have forced the merge one or both would have rebelled (or another way to look at it would be cracking the energy that was already in place over years of use)…

    So that may be another option as well… good luck would love to hear your outcome/read your article…

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