A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Tarot
Tarot readings take many forms. It can be a very personal experience because there are no set-in-stone rules that one MUST follow. That’s why I love it so much. Each person who reads tarot has their own unique way of doing so.
I like to do readings because it helps me “dig below the surface” and really examine where I am in my life. Readings bring forward a lot of thought-provoking aspects to light that otherwise might go unnoticed.
But first, let’s answer some common questions about tarot…
What is tarot?
Tarot cards come in a deck of usually 78 cards, containing a set of Major Arcana, aka the “big picture” cards, and Minor Arcana which consist of four suits (Wands, Swords, Cups, and Coins or Pentacles). The Minor Arcana tend to dive deeper into more minute aspects and have multiple different meanings. It can be confusing at first, but with practice, readings can become very second-nature.
Are tarot cards meant to tell the future?
For me personally, no. Cards do not predict my future. I do readings to gain insights into questions that I might otherwise have never thought about. I use them to get to know myself better, to help align with my true intentions, plus they are great for meditation. According to The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, “The most powerful sources of information come from within; the Tarot aids in coming in contact with one’s Higher Self.” I like this quote and find that it sums up my relationship with my decks very nicely.
Isn’t it affiliated with witchcraft or gypsies?
Sometimes, but not always. Personally, I rather like some witchy and gypsy things anyway (and when I say “witchy things” I don’t mean dark magic or casting evil spells), but people from every religion and spiritual path can and do use tarot decks.
How can I read tarot?
First, you need to familiarize yourself with the symbolism within each card. When I receive a new deck, I like to go through each card one-by-one and listen to my gut reaction with each card. It’s important to pay attention to how a card makes you feel. Also, pay attention to the details within each card. It’s amazing how much information you can gather from such a tiny picture. If you’d like, you can also purchase a book like The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings or Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot: A Comprehensive Guide to help you learn more about each card’s meaning and symbolism. There are various sites such as Biddy Tarot that offer a lot of great information as well.
Tarot doesn’t always need a lot of preparation, but it’s important to find a ritual that helps you clear your mind and focus. I like to sit in bed or on the floor in the zen den, depending on what feels most comfortable at the time. Sometimes I play music, and sometimes I like a completely quiet room. It just depends on my mood and what I feel I need in the moment. Sometimes I burn palo santo or white sage to help center myself, light some candles, and maybe even set up some crystals to create a nice visual effect. Tarot is all about the visuals, so it’s important to set up a space that is both appealing and relaxing for you.
Spreads are created to add more multidimensional aspects to your readings. The cards in your spreads are often asking questions in relation to the others. I try to draw no more than 3 cards at a time for the sake of clarity on my part; if I draw any more I usually don’t retain as much information and find that the meanings can get a bit too complex for new readers like myself. I’ve used other kinds of spreads that deal with more cards, but I usually use those during the New Moon or the Full Moon when I set my intentions for the upcoming weeks (I’ll be sharing a post about this in the future) and I’m willing to spend some extra time on them. But if you’re new, try sticking to 1–3 card spreads for a little bit, until you’re more comfortable with handling more. Some recommended 3-card spreads are:
- Mind / Body / Spirit
- You / Your current path / Your potential
- Current situation / Obstacle / Advice
- Where you stand now / What you aspire to / How to get there
A card is pulled as an answer to a question, so it is important to know what kind of question you should be asking. Again, liek I stated above, I stay away from predictory or time-based questions. I also stay away from questions that have a “yes” or “no” answer since cards have multiple meanings and don’t offer simple yes or no answers. Open-ended questions are key.
My questions tend to revolve around clarifying my feelings or focusing on goals. Some examples I’ve used:
- “How am I currently living in alignment with my purpose?”
- “What can bring me closer to my goals?”
- “What is currently standing in my way?”
Drawing and Reading the Card(s)
Everyone has their own preference on how to pull cards for tarot. The only two universal rules are that they are well-shuffled and face-down. Sometimes I fan my deck out in front of me, sometimes I cut the deck in half and read the top card, and sometimes I just scatter them all out in front of me at random. Then I really focus on my question, whisper it out loud, and pull my card(s).
Once you’ve pulled your cards, it’s important to really examine them. Take it all in. The scenery, the characters, the symbolism, the story. Each card has multiple meanings, multiple angles, stories, etc. See how each one makes you feel.
I like to examine each card for any immediate symbolism and mood that comes to me, and think of how they may offer answers to my question. Most of the time I refer to one of my tarot books afterwards to see if I’ve missed anything and also to help me learn more about the cards since I still consider myself a noob.
Personally, I don’t usually read a card differently if I draw it upside down. A lot of tarot readers do. My reasoning is that I tend to get an uneasy feeling with inverted cards, even though inversions aren’t always necessarily negative. If I do draw one upside down I usually take it as a sign to focus a little longer and a little harder the card and its message.
I really hope this helps you with your tarot journey! Please feel free to leave a comment or question if you have any!