Learning Tarot: A Beginner’s Guide

Learning Tarot: A Beginner’s Guide

Reading tarot is, first and foremost, a personal practice that encourages self-care, self-compassion, and self-trust. Over and over again, throughout the course of our individual lives and for as long as we live, we will wake up from time to time to find ourselves lost, confused or frightened. This is the price we pay for the triumphs, the joys, the passions, and the rich connections. 

When we are lost, tarot functions like a compass, drawing us back to what matters, shining light on our blind spots, and asking us to ground in our intentions before moving forward. A deck of cards is a potent and powerful tool for personal growth, and a boon in hard times.

If you’re interested in learning tarot, there are so many unique and personalized paths to take. Here are a few tips I’ve pulled together from my own experience, in hopes that they may be of use to you on your journey.

Learn with a classic deck.

My mother used the classic Rider Waite tarot deck, so when I decided to buy my own first deck, I wanted the familiarity of the one I’d grown up seeing. Ultimately, I’m glad I made that choice, because the Rider Waite is truly the standard, classic deck upon which the majority of books, websites, and tarot resources are based.

The illustrations are so full and rich with symbolism, details, and material to pull from when drawing meanings from the cards. Even with years of reading under my belt, I find that there is always something new to discover about each card; they bring something new to each querent and context.

There are so many beautiful decks, but you’ll find that the Rider Waite illustrations are most widely referenced by books and websites. If the Rider Waite deck doesn’t do it for you, the Aquarian Tarot and Morgan Greer decks are also widely referenced.

Create your own tarot book.

There are so many tarot books to choose from that it may be overwhelming to choose one when you get started. My first book was Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot by Rachel Pollack, but more often than not I preferred to google the meanings of the cards and take my own notes. Some of my favorite resources for looking up the cards online were Biddy Tarot, Truly Teach Me Tarot, and Aunty Flo.

Buy a blank notebook and create a page for each card. You might also wish to create pages to take notes on the broader meanings of each of the suits, archetypes, symbols, and anything else that will serve you in your reading. Allot at the very least both the front and back of each page for every card. As you continue to read throughout a range of complex life scenarios, you’ll find that the cards can mean many different things depending on context. I rarely use my book during readings, but I often return to the book to make a note of unique meanings or interpretation as I encounter them. I find that even if I never go back and read them, the process of writing interpretations down helps them to crystallize. 

Establish a daily practice of working with your cards.

When I got my first deck, I pulled a card every morning for probably three years as I drank my coffee. Sometimes, I’d pull a card before bed in the evening as well. A committed, regular practice each day is a way of strengthening your relationship with your self and your intuition. It becomes a sacred time to reflect, set intentions, or simply check in with your body and mind.

If you’re just starting to learn the meanings of the cards, pulling one at a time allows a more in-depth exploration of each. Once you’ve done this for a while, you can start experimenting with multiple cards to learn the ways the cards play upon each other.

Once you begin to read combinations and spreads, you’ll need to be able to shift out of your thinking, problem-solving mind—the part of your mind that memorizes the card meanings and can mechanically recite them—and into an intuitive, present mind, in which you experience what’s in front of you with clarity. So the more solid your knowledge and memorization of each of the individual cards is, the better you’ll be at reading with creativity and intuition.

When you’re ready, practice putting down the book.

Reading tarot is an intuitive practice that requires dropping in as fully as possible to the present moment, releasing judgments, self-criticisms and insecurities to the best of your ability, and allowing the creativity and wisdom of your intuition to guide you. It’s very difficult to do those three things when you’re reading from a book.

When you learn to read tarot, you’re doing so much more than just pulling cards and reading notes about what they mean. You’re building a deep level of trust in your self and your intuition. If you choose to read for others, you’ll inevitably go through a process of building trust in yourself, that whatever is pulled, you will have something of value to draw from it.

As you ween yourself off of the book, read for your self and those you know and trust and feel comfortable enough to simply say “I don’t know, let me check the book,” when necessary. It’s always okay to consult the book, but you’ll be amazed by how much more fluid and coherent your readings become when you begin to let go and trust your ability.

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