Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Worn. Warped. Dog-eared. Sticky. After heavy use, a deck eventually succumbs to age and grows too damaged to read with. But an elder deck sometimes seems too wise with too many years of experience to just toss aside for a younger, more fit ingenue. When is it truly time to retire a deck? What what other options do we have?

Left: Three-year old Legacy of the Divine deck Right: Brand new Legacy of the Divine deck
Left: Three-year old Legacy of the Divine deck
Right: Brand new Legacy of the Divine deck

I’ve been using my Legacy of the Divine as my primary client deck since I got it about three years ago. It’s warped from shuffling, the corners of some cards are bent, the edges are worn. I’ve been contemplating retiring it for probably about a year or even longer, but it is a good deck and I decided that as long as the wear wasn’t adversely affecting my readings or how the deck worked, I could keep going with it a bit longer. But it’s also sticky–the cards feel thick and they are hard to separate or fan out. The primary problem that finally caused me to spurn this deck after years of faithful service is that when I was sorting through the cards to find the significator for the Opening of the Key Spread, it was taking too long due to the cards not sliding easily. Also, fanning the cards out into the horseshoe was becoming time consuming. So finally, this past Tuesday, I bought a new copy.

Top: Three year old Legacy of the Divine is sticky and clumps badly when fanned. Bottom: Brand new Legacy of the Divine fans smoothly and easily.
Top: Three-year old Legacy of the Divine is sticky and clumps badly when fanned.
Bottom: Brand new Legacy of the Divine fans smoothly and easily.

What will I do with the old copy? I’ll keep it for a personal deck. I use personal decks differently than I use client decks, so the problems will no longer be an issue. In my twenty-four years of reading, I haven’t yet thrown a deck away, although I have passed a few on to people I thought would appreciate them.

Previously, my transition from one deck to another was easier, more natural. I transitioned my Morgan Greer deck to a personal deck after using it for many years as my primary working deck–partially due to wear, which was starting to become an issue. I actually did try replacing the Morgan Greer with a newer copy, but the new editions are too plasticky and it ended up in the Denver Tarot Meetup extra deck bag. Another concern that caused me to stop using it was because I had too many clients jump at the unusual Devil card, which is too stylistically different from the other cards. It shows a goat with an inverted pentagram on its forehead, and the harsh blocks of color, no background environment, and an eerie housefly in the center of the pentagram were all too much. I found myself having to explain the symbolism of the card rather than just reading it.

Another favorite client deck was the Tarot of the Old Path, which one day energetically rebelled. It just didn’t seem to want to be read with anymore, and no amount of energetic clearing was helping. I still pull it out occasionally, but it’s no longer a primary deck.

Decks used for phone readings, like the Robin Wood, didn’t suffer from nearly as much wear since I was the only one handling them. That deck was retired when I stopped working the phone line. It went into the Denver Tarot Meetup extra deck bag.

Decks that are too worn to use or that you don’t want anymore can be given to someone else, donated to a tarot meetup for general use by the group, sold online or to a metaphysical store, donated or sold to a local tarot teacher, used for collage or decoupage projects (great also for decks with missing cards!), donated to a school or rec center for arts and crafts projects (donate somewhere that specializes in adult classes or consider pulling any cards that might make parents raise an eyebrow if they came home from a kid’s class), used for tarot visual journaling, donated to a library, placed with a museum if you have something unique or old, framed as art or to use for meditation, put in the recycling or compost bin, or, when they are plastic coated, thrown away. Throwing them away seems like such a waste though when there are so many other options! Another option is to go to or host a tarot deck swap, and trade your old decks for some new-to-you decks!

If you’re just not ready to let your deck go, here are some suggestions for end-of-life planning for your decks.

1. One reader I know told me that she always has a back-up deck prepped and ready to go. I don’t know precisely what that means for her, but basically she always has an understudy in the wings. She said she goes through a deck in about a year. Whenever she trades the old one out for the new one, she preps the next deck to wait on the bench.

2. A colleague has used the same deck for a many years, due to a very clever secret. When a card gets bent or too worn, she replaces that single card with one from a new deck. So, for my Legacy of the Divine deck, if I was only worried about the worn cards, I would replace the three cards with bent corners, and leave the rest. I think this idea is really clever! The only problem is that it doesn’t address my sticky-card issue.

These three cards have bent or torn corners.
These three cards have bent or torn corners.

3. Another reader has several working decks (all the same deck, but multiple copies and sizes) and alternates between them. More decks means each one takes longer to wear out. He says he only replaces them when the wear affects how the deck works–for instance, a tear along the edge of the card causes your finger to grab it there and consistently cut to that card each time. When multiple decks are in play, I imagine it’s easier (psychologically and emotionally) to replace one of them than when you’ve been depending on a single deck.

4. That same reader also suggested “fanning powder,” a product used by stage magicians to make a deck last longer. You put the cards in a bag along with a couple shakes of the powder and shake it up to distribute evenly. I looked it up online and found this helpful blog and an interesting video. Playing cards generally have a different finish than tarot cards, but it’s an intriguing product and might be worth a try since my main problem is that the cards clump when fanning. (Incidentally, the video makes it seem like the powder is fairly toxic, but the blog mentions the main ingredient is zinc stearate, which is commonly used in make-up and even FDA approved as a food additive–not that that says much. I don’t know what the additional ingredients are.)

I hope these ideas help you make informed choices about how to retire an old deck or even keep it in play longer. I would love to hear what you’ve done to prolong the life of your decks–please leave me a comment with your solutions!

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Joy Vernon has been studying and teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for more than twenty years. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the psychics at Isis Books and is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.

© 2015 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.
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How to Retire a Tarot Deck