My go to tarot deck has been the Herbal Tarot. It was my first deck, bought from a Barnes & Noble more than twenty years ago. Since then, I have collected more tarot decks, buying or being gifted them. But I haven’t used them. I might flip through them on occasion, admiring the artwork, but it was the Herbal Tarot that I always worked with. I love this deck. I love the artwork. I love the symbolism of the herbs. But of late it has given me mixed or even outright incomprehensible messages. Where it once gave me sound advice, now it was unclear and confusing.

I vented about this to my therapist. She is a witch, too, so I can talk about my magical side right along with my mental health issues. After listening to me she asked two questions:

  1. When was the last time I cleansed my deck?
  2. Could my deck use a break?

Both questions gave me pause. I was ashamed to realize that I hadn’t ever cleansed my deck. For a witch who writes about the importance of cleansing in magical practice, that’s a huge oversight on my part. Our magical tools pick up so much, energetically. How can we expect them to work properly if we don’t cleanse them?

The second question is the one I dwelled on. Though she didn’t phrase it that way I wondered if my deck wasn’t sick of me. I have a tendency to view things through the most unflattering lens when it comes to myself, so I tried to reframe that idea into one that came from a place of kindness. Could it be that my tarot deck needed a break? As someone who believes that everything has a spirit, it made sense to me that my deck could be feeling burnt out. This might especially be true since I’ve been going through a very tumultuous time. A tarot deck is an intimate magic tool and there’s no reason to believe that it couldn’t suffer fatigue and burnout as well.

That night, after my therapy session, I pulled out all of my decks, even the ones that I bought and never opened. I took up my rosemary and smoke cleansed each deck. When it came to the Herbal Tarot, I pulled the cards out of the box, fanned them and ran the smoke over the cards. I took the time to tell them that I appreciated the work they had done for me over the years. And then I told them that I was going to give them a break. I set the deck on my altar under a selenite wand to continue the deep cleansing they needed.

After the cleansing was finished I started interviewing the rest of the decks. I wasn’t looking for one that would give me sunshine and roses messages, but I also didn’t want a deck that would be too harsh to me. I’m going through an upheaval, this is my death year, when everything is changing. The expectation is that the change will be for the better, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling through it. So I wanted a deck that would approach my troubles with kindness. With that in mind I took each deck, one by one, and evaluated it to be my new go to.

The first thing I looked at was how the cards felt in my hands. Was the deck too big for me to hold comfortably? Did I like how they felt? Were they flimsy or too stiff? Could I shuffle them easily? I also looked at the backs of the cards. Did they have a design that showed which way the cards were oriented? I use both upright and reverse in my readings and I don’t like knowing beforehand which way the card lays. I also looked at the artwork. Did I like it? Did the theme of the deck resonate with me?

I considered if I had bought the deck for a certain use. There are some, like the Jean Noblet Tarot that I picked up years ago to use when writing a novel. Another, the Creepy Tarot, I use when I’m running the playtest for the rpg that I wrote with my family. Those decks I ended up putting aside because I didn’t feel like they were going to give me advice for my personal questions.

I then shuffled each deck. As I did so I asked each deck what message they wanted to give me. What would our relationship look like if we were to work together? And then I pulled a single card to get their answer.

My dear reader, if you have never been roasted by a tarot deck, you cannot know just how brutal it can be. Reversed cards came up frequently. The ten of swords (reversed), eight of swords and five of swords (again reversed) came up frequently. The four of cups made its appearance, as well as the eight of pentacles, reversed. Each deck kept telling me that my situation is well and truly fucked up. As if I weren’t already aware that everything is turbulent and up in the air at the moment. But what I was looking for was not what the cards were telling me, but how they were presenting the information.

I have a problem in that I constantly feel that if I don’t take the most dire, harshest view of my situation then I am deluding myself. I can be kind and give grace to everyone else other than myself. This propensity to hold myself to a higher standard than others has led to a great majority of my mental health issues and is something I am actively working on. And to that end, I wanted to find a deck that could deliver advice and information gently, without the self-recrimination that I always add to any thoughts about myself and what I’m doing.

Of the decks three delivered the message that times are complicated and rough without a snide undertone. The first is a deck that I was gifted called The Fantastic Menagerie Tarot. Its art features animals in clothing in a style that is reminiscent of 18th century illustrations. The second, another gifted deck, is the Yarn Tarot. It says it is for crocheters, knitters, spinners and weavers, but as a sewist I’m drawn to the illustrations and the emphasis on crafting. The final one is a deck I bought for myself a couple of years ago: The Dungeons & Dragons Tarot Deck. I picked it up for obvious reasons being a witchy nerd and have always entertained the idea of giving readings to people at conventions for their characters.

I ended up deciding to go with the Yarn Tarot. There is a feeling of grounding with the deck and its connection with crafting that the other two don’t have. I need a stable base at this time in my life, not whimsy.

I am working slowly with the deck, giving us a chance to get to know each other. In the meantime, the Herbal Tarot can rest and recharge. Moving forward I will take the time to check in with my decks more often, ask them if they need a rest or a break. I will give them the same kindness I ask in return.