Tarot, at its essence, is a tool to give us insight into what’s already there. Many people believe it’s a fortune telling device, but I think that oversimplifies things. If you read tarot to divine the future, you are likely to run into difficulties. However, when used as a lens through which to view your own mind, you are far more likely to have successful results from it.
If you’re starting completely from scratch, with absolutely no knowledge of tarot, perhaps you haven’t got your first deck yet, then I would recommend downloading an app like Golden Thread Tarot.This will allow you to pull your own cards, start your own readings, and learn about what tarot can bring to you. Personally, I would use this as a companion app to an actual deck, rather than your sole source of tarot.
In terms of starter decks, the “standard” tarot deck is the Rider Waite cards. These have the most recognisable imagery, so if you’re looking for something pretty classic then I’d go with this. If you’d prefer, there are also thousands of alternative decks with beautiful art. Tarot can be an intensely personal journey, so have a look for some artwork that resonates with you.
Personally, I use the Wild Unknown deck. I find the black and white hand drawn artwork with splashes of colour really easy to connect with. I also enjoy the various changes this author made, making the deck better for personal relations.
Now, once you’ve settled on a deck, whether it’s virtual or physical, I’m sure you’ll be anxious to know how to read.
Your First Reading
First things first, clear yourself a small space. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be special. Just make sure you have a space where you feel comfortable, and where you have enough space to work. If you have it, perhaps light some incense or a candle. Take a moment to clear your mind. Try to put all your worries and responsibilities to one side for a moment. You can pick them back up later. For now, focus on the cards.
Shuffle your cards. A simple overhand shuffle is usually plenty. You can also scatter the cards across your work space and shuffle them that way. While you shuffle, focus your intent. This is a phrase you’ll hear a lot in magick spaces; it simply means you should keep your mind focused on what you want to get out of this session.
A good question to ask the tarot is generally based around the concept of “what should I know?”. It’s not usually a good idea to ask the tarot about specific things. Remember this is a deck of cards. They won’t magically be able to tell you “you should bring your grandmother’s meatloaf to Linda’s potluck next Tuesday, that’ll make Jenny finally respect you.”
Some good things to ask your cards include…
- What do I need to know?
- What should I focus on for this situation?
- What can I do to bring about success/prosperity/love/etc
- What message do you have for me?
- How can I be my best self?
As you’ll notice, these questions are generally vague. They don’t ask a specific yes or no. They will provide the best space for your cards to show you a new insight, and hopefully provide you with some clarity.
Keep your question in mind while you continue to shuffle.
If any single cards fall out of the deck while you’re shuffling, this card may have something to say to you. Take it out and place it off to the side.
Gather your cards back into a pile when you feel you’ve shuffled enough, and place the pile in front of you.
Cut the deck with your left hand, and place the cards you’ve grabbed to the left hand side. Put the right hand pile on top of your newly made left hand pile. Now, the top card in the pile should be one that was originally somewhere in the middle. Pick this card up, and turn it over.
Before you turn to look at the guidebook, spend some time looking at this card. How does the artwork make you feel? What imagery seems important to you here? What do you think it might represent?
Now check your guidebook. Were you close? Does this card make sense to you? If you find it helpful, write down your thoughts on this card. Write down your interpretation of it as it relates to your question. If you do this often enough, you will eventually build a good relationship with your deck, and reading will become far more intuitive. This is the key to becoming truly successful with tarot.
If it doesn’t quite make sense to you, or you’d like to gain a deeper understanding, then pull another card. I like to call this a Clarifying Card. Its intent is to broaden the understanding brought about by the other cards in your reading. Personally I try to keep myself to between 1-3 clarifying cards, however I have known great tarot readers to pull several. Go with what feels right. If you feel you have enough from your single card, that’s fine. If you feel you need a little more insight after you’ve pulled 3, then go ahead. Remember the key, tarot is personal. For each clarifying card, follow the same process as above.
What if my card is upside down?
When a card appears upside-down, we call it reversed. A reversed card simply inverts the original meaning of the card.
For example, if we take the Five of Wands.
This card in its upright position generally stands for conflict, unsurety, disagreement, imbalance, and competition. This can mean that you are experiencing a maladaptive conflict in your life. This issue isn’t helping anybody get any further. It may be that the conflict is actually a discussion, and it has been productive, but now it’s time to move on before it devolves into chaos. It can also mean that you simply need to take the time to work through conflict. Is this an inner conflict, or are there others involved? Work with every aspect involved, rather than against. Every person in this card is powerful. They all have something to offer. You just need to be sure to listen.
In its reversed position, this very same card instead means that you are avoiding conflict. You’re shying away from a discussion, a disagreement, a fight, that needs to happen. Consider then if this is the best thing for you to be doing right now, or is it time to grab your stick and get into the fray? Or is it that you’ve recently come out of a period of conflict, and now need to reflect on what happened?
Now, you don’t need to use reversed cards in your readings. In fact, while you’re just starting out, I would recommend reading only the upright positions while you get your bearings. When you feel that you’re building a relationship with your cards, then you can start incorporating reversed cards into your repertoire.
Or, you can entirely ignore my advice and jump straight into things. That’s the beauty of this craft; it’s entirely up to you.
Okay, what else should I know?
An important aspect of tarot is the Fool’s Journey. This journey is depicted in the 22 Major Arcana, which are the cards without numbers on them. This starts with 0, the Fool, who represents all of us. Fool does not mean stupid in this instance, think of it instead as naivete. Have a read of the Fool’s Journey in the link above. It’ll help you to get a clearer picture of the ideas behind tarot.
In the Minor Arcana, which is every card that’s not in the Major Arcana, we have four suits. These suits are Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands. Each suit represents a different side of life, and therefore will give you insight into something different.
Cups represent our emotions and relationships. It can speak about our friends, our family, or our feelings about ourselves. It is linked to the element of water.
Wands represent, quite simply, our wants. It speaks to our desires, our spirituality, inspiration, and ideas. It is ruled by the element of fire.
Swords represent our mind. It speaks to our intellect, our ability to reason and rationalise, and our internal power. It is ruled by the element of Air.
Pentacles represent the physical realm. It speaks of everyday things, such as money, material possessions, our resources, what we do day-to-day, and our careers. It is ruled by the element of Earth
By keeping these in mind, it will help you to derive the meaning from each card a little easier. The imagery from each suit may also be present in the major arcana, so keep an eye out!
Remember that tarot is a tool, like any other. Just as a hammer will only exert as much force as you allow it to, tarot only has the power that you give it. If you go into tarot to prove it wrong, you will. If you go into tarot to learn more about your own mind, you will.
Enjoy your journey into tarot!