How to Understand the Meaning of Tarot
Many people have a lot of misconceptions about Tarot, including what it actually is and how it can benefit everyone. Even those who don't subscribe to “fortune telling” and “divination” can use Tarot and its symbolism for more personal understanding and inspiration. I personally do not and have never believed a pack of cards has the ability to tell anyone what will happen to them in the future. That is fortune telling nonsense and unfortunately many people buy into this myth.
Tarot is a great tool for critical thinking and multifaceted contemplation. When you see the visuals on the cards, the stories they present relate to real-life situations, feelings, and possibilities. Looking at a card layout and comparing it to what is going on in your life can give greater understanding, and help you look at things in creative new ways your mind may not have been open to previously.
I have taken this approach to Tarot for the past 23 years and I've been teaching it on various websites. I believe that it is an amazing self-discovery and personal growth tool when it is approached with an open mind and without superstitious nonsense.
I recognize my view isn't always popular. There are many who claim they can “foretell the future” with Tarot cards—and in many instances you absolutely can! My argument is that it isn't the cards telling your future, it is your own expanded mind, consciousness, and awareness that develops from using the cards over time.
If you sit down with a deck of cards, ask what is going to happen to you in the future, pull several, and start reading a book of vague definitions you are going to be more confused than you were in the first place. This is a disempowered view of how to use Tarot, and frankly, how to approach your life. If you want a magic tool to give you easy answers, you are missing the point.
So, if Tarot doesn't give me the answers what's the point? The point is to use the imagery to tap into intuitive, creative thinking. Many of us think analytically about everything. This isn't bad, it's how we get through daily life. When approaching problems we tend to just go “Google it” to get an answer.
When we get into the complexities of life though, we need to seek answers that are more multifaceted and comprehensive. This is where we have to think critically, but also intuitively and creatively. This is where we really stretch our human capacity for thought, wisdom, and understanding.
How to Actually Learn Tarot
Learning Tarot as an art form requires effort. It is not an analytical process where you simply memorize a bunch of definitions and then off you go. Tarot books are sold by the hundreds of thousands—each proclaiming the “fastest, easiest” way to learn to read cards etc. This is all marketing hype. If you truly want to learn to read Tarot then you have to teach yourself.
No two people will see the same things in a work of art. If you and a friend look at a photograph or painting, you may share some obvious conclusions that are similar, but each of you will have slight variances in your interpretations. The image may invoke different thoughts, ideas, and feelings in each of you. That is as it should be, we are all individuals with different perceptions.
Mistakes are made in Tarot by newbies assuming that their interpretations must be “wrong” because an “expert” who has written books on the subject will obviously know more. This is a fallacy that causes a lot of people to struggle to learn a tool that could be very beneficial to them. First, is a basic misunderstanding of what it is and how it works, second is the belief that you need someone outside of yourself to tell you what to think.
I love the Radiant Tarot. It is the same as the Rider-Waite (the most famous traditional Tarot deck), but it has more vivid colors and just "grabs" me more than a standard Rider deck.
Many beginners to Tarot like to choose decks closely related to the original Rider deck because there is a lot more information published on these decks. That can be advantageous, but pick one that speaks to you.
Tarot Journals and Reading Lessons
Find a deck you love, one that really speaks to you. There are hundreds of decks with many different styles of artwork. Find one you love that really draws you in and buy that deck. Next, buy a notebook or journal.
Each day, take a card from your pack and look at it for several minutes. Write in your journal what the card is, your immediate reactions, what you see first, and how it makes you feel. What is the story being told by the image? Write the story down in meticulous detail. You can do a few per day, but no more than three or you start to blend and confuse the interpretations in your mind. Don't use the book that comes with the deck until AFTER you have done your journal for that card. The goal is to tap into what this card means to you, not the creator of the deck.
After you have gone through the entire deck, do it again. This time add anything you missed to your pages, any new insights, feelings, or wisdom. Continue this process until you've gone through your entire deck twice. If you stick this out and really work through it, you will find you are naturally able to be an amazing Tarot reader. Why? Because you will have a detailed, highly personal connection with the cards that triggers your own creative and intuitive thought processes. After that, you can begin to look at questions that are specific, and see with more well-rounded thought processes.
Sample Tarot Reading
One of my favorite cards in a standard Waite deck is the Sun. I love the happy feeling and the symbolism. As you can see, in this card a brand new baby is riding on a horse beneath the blazing sun. The first thing I notice is the naked baby. Babies represent new potential, nothing tainted; this child has not been corrupted by things like doubt, anger, guilt, etc. The horse represents a journey, moving, and strength. The Sun itself is warmth, a source of energy and sustenance. It is deeply penetrating and is always there sustaining life even when we aren't paying attention. When night falls, the sun is still there and will return again.
When we look at the sun in the sky it seems small like that baby. In truth however, the sun is a massive power source responsible for sustaining all of life. We also tend to view our own power as small, and in my mind the Sun is a reminder that we are all in control of our own destiny. We decide, based on the actions we take, what happens in our life. The baby reminds us to be open to new opportunities for growth, to keep moving in new directions, and to not be afraid to be ourselves. Babies are free to just be, they don't concern themselves with the judgments of others, they just are who they are.
So let's say hypothetically I am seeking some advice about my business. Perhaps I ask something like “What do I need to do to make my business the most successful?” I draw the Sun card. I reflect a bit on the meaning of that card that I shared above. This card would be telling me that I need to take a chance, be willing to put myself out there, and that I need to put a lot of good, strong energy into my venture to guarantee its success. In this card I see potential (the baby), a need for hard work, and forward motion (the horse), and a need to see that my ideas are stronger than perhaps I gave them credit for (the sun). If the Sun were drawn reversed, perhaps it might be telling me that I am putting too much energy into something that doesn't really have the best potential at this particular moment. Don't give up, but understand that the timing is not right just now; the sun will always return another day, but for now direct my energy in a different way.
See, it didn't tell me what “IS” going to happen—that is based solely on my will, determination, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. What it did reveal are some important lessons and things I need to do to help ensure my success. As I contemplate the symbolism and lessons of the card and how they correspond to my current circumstances, it opens the floodgates of the mind. It initiates more complex thinking—it draws in creative, multifaceted thought processes and helps me explore all the options.
Keep in mind, this is also a single card. Most readings are more complex and detailed—looking at different variables like potential challenges, where things appear to be headed at present, longer range potential, others involved, etc. There are as many different spreads as there are decks and you can create your own custom spreads too—but that's a different article!
Learn More About Tarot
- Tarot Card Meanings Major Arcana
Learn the spiritual symbolism and life lessons of the Tarot's Major Arcana in this hub that also features an accompanying video to make learning visual and fun.
- Tarot Numerology – What Tarot Card Numbers Mean
Have you ever wondered what the numbers on a Tarot card mean? This hub covers the numbers on the cards and also other numerological patterns that sometimes show up in readings.
© 2013 Christin Sander