• Julie Embleton

Desert Island Decks


Desert Island
One deserted island, five tarot decks . . . Could you choose five of your favourite decks?

When I first began studying tarot, I had only one deck, my beloved Smith Rider Waite, which to me, was a comfort blanket, best friend, and sage grandmother all rolled into one. As my confidence grew with the cards, temptation began to poke with all the fabulous decks out there, and I finally caved and cheated on my SRW with Erik C Dunne’s Illuminati Tarot. ‘No more!’ I assured myself. Why would I need them? What’s the point? Isn’t two decks enough? Eh, no. Seven years on, and I have a little more than two decks now—fifteen by my count, with one on order via kickstarter, and another on which I’m impatiently waiting to be restocked. In my defence, fifteen decks over seven years shows a certain degree of restraint, and with the exception of one deck within that count of fifteen, I use them all regularly. I was asked the other day, which ones are your favourites? So to answer, here are my Desert Island Decks, which I’ve limited to five even though I think that’s pretty harsh. I mean, it’s not like I’d need to take food and medicine onto my desert island too . . .


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Smith Rider Waite Tarot for Desert Island Decks
Smith Rider Waite Tarot. My workhorse deck.

Number one is my Smith Rider Waite (US Games) illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith. I learned to read with this deck and I’m emotionally attached to it. Honestly, if my house was on fire (knock on wood) and all humans and pets were safely out, I’d seriously consider running back in for this one. All my decks are based on the SRW because the imagery is so important to me. It’s not the most beautiful deck to look at, but whenever I take it out, I get an echo of the early days, reminding me every time of the mystery and thrill tarot brings.


This is my workhorse deck. If I’m facing into a reading that’s promising to be heavy or tricky, I feel safest with this deck. It also gives a no-nonsense reading, but without being snippy, which my Illuminati Tarot tends to do. (While I love the Illuminati deck, it’s a sassy deck which I use mostly to read for myself unless I know the client can handle it.) I recently bought the Universal SRW which is a re-colourised version of the deck to highlight the symbolism more. I haven’t worked with it yet, but I’m curious to see if I connect with it as much as its big sister. We’ll see.

Paired with dumortierite and amethyst crystals. Pouch from Baba Studio.

Golden Art Nouveau Tarot for Desert Island Decks
Golden Art Nouveau Tarot with its stunning art and gold foil finish.

The Golden Art Nouveau Tarot (Lo Scarabeo) Illustrated by Guilia F Massaglia takes the number two spot. This deck I bought for myself after drooling over it online for months, and I just love it. Again, the SRW imagery makes it an effortless deck to work with, while the artwork and gold foil finish tickles me pink every time. There’s a lovely vibe off this deck too. While as reliable as my SRW, it always gets a little deeper under the hood during a reading, and the Shadow Card with this desk is always on point. I love the facial expressions of the figures, along with the delicacy yet strength of the artwork, and no matter whether I use this deck to read for myself or clients, it never bullshits, and always gives a solid read.

I keep a dumortierite crystal with this deck. Pouch handmade by me.

Heaven & Earth Tarot for Desert Island Decks
Heaven & Earth Tarot. I just adore this deck.

My third choice is the Heaven & Earth Tarot (Lo Scarabeo) by Jack Sephiroth & Jaymi Elford. As soon as I unboxed this beauty for the first time, my heart did a flutter, and still does when I whip this deck out. For some, the imagery and colouring is a little too dark and ghostly, but I adore it. When I work with this deck, I always feel as if I’ve slipped into the in-between. It gives a read heavy on emotional aspects and when I emerge from a reading with this one, I’m usually in need of grounding to return to the present. The card stock is good quality, and shuffles well, while the borderless images really appeal to me. I usually cut the borders off cards (except my original SRW) because something about that frame often gives me a sense of a barrier in a reading, but with this deck and how the images flow from one card into the next, its seamless. It’s a very communicative deck.

This deck pairs with dumortierite and a black obsidian crystal, etched with the Elder Futhark rune Algiz for protection, spirituality, divination and teaching. Tarot pouch handmade by me.

Ethereal Visions Illuminated Tarot for Desert Island Decks
Ethereal Visions Illuminated Tarot. The artwork and foil finish make this another favourite deck.

My fourth choice is the Ethereal Visions Illuminated Tarot (US Games) by Matt Hughes. A gift from my daughter, this was another deck I stalked online for quite a while. It’s one of my most used decks right now, and my clients always comment on it. I love Art Nouveau, so the style immediately appealed to me, but it’s the vibe from this deck that really makes it special. Although my grandmothers are long gone, I feel like reading with this deck is like having a cuppa and a chat with a grandmother, where the advice is sage, to the point, but kind. I find this such an easy deck to read with, it’s inching very close to the heels of my SRW. It usually takes me a while to get to know a deck, but this one became very familiar early on, and even though the cards are larger than my other decks, it feels good in my hands.

Blue lace agate and dumortierite crystals live with this deck. Pouch came with L’Occitane products.


Witches Tarot for Desert Island Decks
Witches Tarot. My me-only deck, and one with a powerful connection.

Last, but not least, is the Witches Tarot (Llewellyn) by Ellen Dugan and Mark Evans. I think this is possibly the third deck I bought, and I only use it to read for myself. It lives in an ornate wooden box beside my altar, and I use it for daily or weekly draws, and for occasions when I want to do a more significant reading for myself. I like the imagery and colours, and the accompanying guide book is fantastic, but for me the beauty in this deck lies with our connection. Even though it’s not my favourite in terms of artwork, (removing that black border is on my to-do) we just click, and because it’s so damn accurate, I tried on two occasions to use it for a family member readings, but both times it laughed in my face and delivered a totally skewed reading. With a more witchy vibe to this deck, the Devil is replaced with Shadow Side, and Judgement with Karma which I love.

The crystal with this deck is a merlinite, while the wooden box I’ve had so long, I honestly can’t remember the source.



So, there you are, my 5 Desert Island Decks. It has me thinking about the decks I didn’t choose, and why they didn’t make the cut, so maybe I’ll do a Deserted at Home Decks list in the future!


Have you a collection of favourite decks? I only have one deck on my wishlist right now (very restrained, right?) which is the Brady Tarot, so I think I can be convinced to add a few more. Let me see your decks! You can reach me at julie@creativesoultarot.com



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