Reflections on an Adage

Reflections on an Adage

Posted by Jeannette Roth on Dec 3rd 2018

December 2, 2018

With much of the world currently at the height of the gift-exchanging season, I've found my thoughts turning toward that old tarot adage: that one cannot acquire one's first deck for themselves, but instead must have it gifted to them by another.

While I still hear this admonition repeated from time to time, the majority of the tarot practitioners that I've personally interacted with over the last 10 - 15 years have told me they don't really ascribe to that belief. And my research on the topic -- while admittedly not entirely exhaustive -- has failed to turn up any compelling explanation for espousing this particular tarot trope.

While philosophically, I'm entirely in the "there's absolutely nothing wrong with buying your first deck for yourself" camp, I'm a bit torn about it on a karmic level. As it turns out, my personal tarot journey began with not one, but two decks being given to me -- although describing my very first tarot as having been "gifted" is a bit of a technicality. I was ten years old, just back from summer camp, where another girl had brought a tarot deck along with her. We'd all circled around and experimented with the cards for the better part of an evening, looking up meanings and giggling nervously, as ten-year-old girls are prone to do. But I fell in love right then and there.

When I returned home, I begged my mother to buy me a deck just like it -- and, being a fairly progressive woman for her time, she did. That deck, a Swiss 1JJ, was a good friend for a while, but eventually -- as many of the things from our childhoods do -- it fell away as a source of curiosity and comfort.

My second deck found its way into my hands during college. A Wiccan friend saw me lingering over decks at a vendor's table during a visit to a science fiction convention. After sensing how, once again, the images were calling to me, she insisted that I purchase one for myself. I refused, thinking it would be just another money suck for a student on a tight budget -- something that would amuse for a time, only to be placed on a shelf to gather dust forever thereafter. Two weeks later, a package showed up at my apartment. Inside was a Hanson-Roberts deck, and a note from my friend: "I feel that you absolutely need this."

She was right. A true intuitive, that one.

After that, I never looked back. In the intervening 35+ years, more than 350 decks have found their way into my personal collection, and I work daily in a business that owns a library containing over 2,000 decks. And yet, in all that time, that "childish" Swiss 1JJ deck has never left my side -- even though I never consciously remember taking it anywhere with me after it had been tucked away in its drawer for the "last" time. As I moved to new cities, left for college, moved from apartment to apartment, and then again to other cities -- I never once "packed" it. And yet, it always eventually resurfaced somewhere, at some point, in each new location.

Now, of course, I know exactly where it is, all of the time. Its story touches me in a spiritually profound way, such that I no longer take it for granted. And I find myself reflecting, from time to time, what it and its sister, the Hanson-Roberts deck, really represent in a karmic sense. If I had purchased one or both of those decks for myself -- at such time when I had the resources to do so -- I don't believe that my long-term connection with tarot would have been significantly different. Tarot clearly has always beckoned to me, for reasons that defy worded explanations. And once in my hands, it would have shaped my life for the better, regardless of the circumstances of the deck's acquisition.

But what if, in the end, I never had bought them?

The idea that one must receive their first tarot deck from another sets up, in my opinion, an unnecessary block for getting this marvelous tool into the hands of many who could benefit from its wisdom. But on the flip side, the idea that one can touch a life for the better by gifting an individual with their first tarot deck is a practice that I have had first-hand experience with. I was truly blessed by my mother and by my friend with those first two decks, in a way that neither perhaps could fully foresee. Their "small" acts of kindness resulted in a major positive impact on my life -- a consideration I can never hope to repay.

Therefore, my conclusion: the reason that I have not succeeded in finding an explanation for why one must receive their first deck as a gift is because we are, perhaps, looking at the question from the wrong angle. For the recipient, whether the deck is a gift or whether they purchase it for themselves, the outcome is the same: the opportunity to benefit from tarot's practical and spiritual potential.

For the rest of us, however, the result is quite different: to gift or not to gift. To influence, to teach, to inspire -- or not. To actively make a positive difference in the world, or to leave the outcome to chance.

So perhaps it's time to flip the narrative.

Perhaps it's time to move the focus away from the recipient receiving their deck, and instead to the giver giving the deck.

What a difference that small shift in perspective could make.