How to Read Tarot Cards

The Magician from the Rider-Waite Tarot c.1909 (Pamela A deck, copyright free).
The Magician from the Rider-Waite Tarot c.1909 (Pamela A deck, copyright free). | Source

Introduction to Learning Tarot

Tarot is beguiling, enthralling and mysterious. It offers answers to your questions, and pathways through confusion. You may have had a reading and found it to be spookily accurate, or perhaps you are seeking a way out of a problematic situation, or maybe you simply feel compelled to learn more about the fascinating art of interpreting messages from the tarot.

It is beyond the scope of this article to teach you to read the tarot from start to finish (note, there is no finish!), however, here you will find an in-depth study exercise to set you on your way, as well as information, tips and resources to further your knowledge and understanding.

Enjoy the trip!

How Not To Study Tarot

I'm going to suggest that you don't rush out to buy a tarot deck and then sit down with the included leaflet or book and begin turning cards for yourself or your friends over and over. By all means try it once or twice but don't keep doing it – you won't learn much that way. If you are serious about learning, then you need a study program. You can enrol on a course, or you can embark on self-directed study. It is the second option I am proposing for you – you can work at your own pace and develop your own style.

Deck, Book and Journal

Begin by looking for a deck of tarot cards that attracts you. Read some reviews online to find out which decks are suitable for beginners. Then choose a good book. I have made some recommendations below, and you won't go wrong with any one of them. The reason you should stick with one book in the beginning is because tarot authors and experts have different ways of reading and interpreting the cards, therefore, it makes sense not to muddy the waters and get yourself confused. The other item you need is a notebook or journal.

The Six of Pentacles from the Rider-Waite Tarot c.1909 (Pamela A deck, copyright free).
The Six of Pentacles from the Rider-Waite Tarot c.1909 (Pamela A deck, copyright free). | Source

Examine Every Card

Once you have your tarot deck, reference book and journal, you can begin your study. Grab your deck, shuffle and draw a single card. This is your card for the day (or the next day if you are doing the exercise in the evening). Look at the card carefully and, in your journal, write a detailed description of everything you see in the image. Be literal, look at every detail and write what you see. Then compose a paragraph about what you think is happening in the card. If there are figures in the image, what are they doing? What are they feeling? What might be going on? You can't get this wrong – it doesn't matter what you come up with – it is always valid.

When you have completed the detailed examination, refer to the card interpretation in your book and write down the keywords and meanings that the author suggests. As your day unfolds, think about the card and connect it with what is happening. What might the card mean in relation to this person, or that one? How does the card work with this situation or event? Just allow the ideas you discovered by writing in your journal to run through your mind. It might help to have the card with you, and you could even carry your journal so you can add observations as they occur to you. This is one of the best ways to begin your discovery of the tarot. As you work your way through the deck, you are also undertaking a self-exploration that will be endlessly fascinating.

Keeping a tarot journal. Courtesy of Limeryk under the Creative Commons license
Keeping a tarot journal. Courtesy of Limeryk under the Creative Commons license

Repeating Cards

If the same card keeps turning up for you, pay special attention to it. Look for anything in the card you might have missed. You don't have to repeat the exercise, but simply make a note of the day the card appears and move on to the next one. You may notice a pattern appearing.

I would recommend that you don't read for other people until you are completely familiar with the 78 cards.

Tips for Learning Tarot Cards

  • If you like you can scan or download an image of your chosen card of the day, print it and glue it into your journal, then you have an instant reference to the image you are describing.
  • Read as much tarot-related material as you can, research their history and use over the centuries.
  • Find out the basic numerology meanings. Knowing what each number represents, i,e, the number one is connected to new beginnings, new projects, new ideas and new relationships. This knowledge will give you a framework, on to which you can hang your interpretation of the card.
  • Practice by carrying out one-card readings for fictional characters, for example, in your favorite soap opera. Alternatively, draw a card for news stories – you'll be surprised at the accuracy of the card and the insights you will receive.
  • If a question arises in your own life, draw a card to gain clarity or to help you make a decision.
  • When you are comfortable reading one card, try two cards – see their connections, their disconnections and the way they influence each other. You will find your readings will deepen considerably as you bring more 'instruments into the orchestra'. Don't overwhelm and confuse yourself by trying 10-card readings until you are an expert at one and two cards.
  • When reading for others, be careful. Some people are easily frightened or upset and you really don't want to rush in blindly. Always consider people's feelings. Many professional readers are motivated to acquire a counseling qualification, enabling them to handle delicate situations and their clients' emotional responses. You could start with 'non-serious' readings – gather some friends together and explain that this is for fun and practice only. Get each to draw a card and tell them what the card means. Let your friends make the connections for you – this can be an eye-opening exercise as they will offer interpretations that you would never have thought of. Take notes, if you can.

Knight of Pentacles from the Rider-Waite Tarot circa 1909 (Pamela A deck, copyright-free).
Knight of Pentacles from the Rider-Waite Tarot circa 1909 (Pamela A deck, copyright-free). | Source

My Credentials

I have read tarot for more than 13 years, honing my skills on The Free Reading Network (American Tarot Association) and for World Tarot Readers. I was one of the founder members of TABI (Tarot Association of the British Isles) and helped develop and teach TABI's foundation course in its early years as well as contributing to the newsletter. I have clients worldwide.

More by this Author

Have You Ever Had a Tarot Reading? 25 comments

angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States

Very interesting. I'm not much into this kind of thing, but I do find it very interesting.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Thanks, Angela-Michelle. It is a fascinating subject once you get past the 'woo-woo' aspect :-)

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

It's really good that you mentioned to be careful reading others cards.

It is a fascinating subject. You wrote an easy to follow guide to the pracice but I get the feeling there's a whole lot more to it! Nice you didn't bog me down with too much information. Clever you.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Many thanks, GoodLady, your comment is appreciated. Yes, there is so much more to tarot than just fortune-telling.

Di McDonald profile image

Di McDonald 4 years ago from Queensland, Australia

I really enjoyed reading this page. I have always wanted to learn how to read the tarot, however I am not sure I have the patience or the memory for it. I will look into the books that you recommend, thanks.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I've been interested in exploring tarot cards for some time, but haven't begun yet. Thank you for the information and the resource list, theraggededge. Your hub and the sites that you mention will be very useful when I do get a tarot deck.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Di & AliciaC, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment. Hope you do take your tarot interest farther. x

Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Very interesting hub! My mother had Tarot cards when I was young and I always loved looking at the pictures. Never had a clue what to do with them though!

Voted up etc.

EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe

Hi theraggededge, I have some experience with this, and I see you know your stuff. Sensitivity is key - to what you read, feel and how you express your interpretations. Psychic Tarot was a book I enjoyed a few years ago. Voted up and interesting. Best to you, ECAL

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Thanks, Judi Bee. My kids are so used to them being around that they take no interest at all!

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Yes, sensitivity is of the utmost importance - it's tempting, when starting out to blurt out everything that you see but that's not the way. Got to 'feeeel' your way into the reading and gently gain your client's confidence. I like my 'victims' to leave a reading feeling uplifted and hopeful. Thanks so much ECAL.

jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA

Very nice guidelines! I dabbled years ago, but didn't have a simple, direct guide to start learning and gave it up.

denisemai profile image

denisemai 4 years ago from Idaho

Very interesting. I've always been curious about Tarot reading. Well done and voted up.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Thank you, Jellygator and Denisemai x

PerthPeter profile image

PerthPeter 4 years ago

Curious... I've heard friends say they got a reading done & were told they'd win lotto, or other gambling type thing.. What would the reading look like to indicate winning at games of chance?.. The more examples of different layout configurations, the better... Can anyone help?

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Hi PerthPeter, I would expect to see a combination of at least 3 of the following: The Empress, The Wheel, Ace of Pentacles, Six of Pentacles, Ten of Pentacles, Queen of Pentacles, Nine of Cups.

I did a reading for a young lady a couple of years ago and, as a throwaway line at the end of the reading, I told her to go and buy a lottery ticket because it looked like she could be in for a win (the Ace of Pentacles and the Wheel of Fortune were next to each other in a three-card reading). About two weeks later she emailed me to say she had won £10 on the lottery that week and had also received £4,500 from her grandfather as a gift.

I would never tell anyone they were likely to win the jackpot but it doesn't hurt to allow the possibility of a win by telling them to buy a ticket. I can't give you particular spreads and layouts, it depends on the actual question asked.

Another thing that might work is to create a sort of wish board using the tarot cards that represent abundance (as listed above). I did it once when we were looking for a house and it worked a treat. I stuck pictures of the sort of house I wanted, a map of the area, wrote down all the features we required, chose the cards, laid them on the board and weighted them down with crystals. Left it where it wouldn't be disturbed. We got the house with everything and more, quarter of a mile from where I'd specified and at just £50 more than the price I'd written down.

barbergirl28 profile image

barbergirl28 4 years ago from Hemet, Ca

This is a great suggestion for learning tarot cards. When I was a junior in high school my parents got me my first deck of tarot cards and a book to help me do readings. I have done readings for others through the book and they have been surprised at how accurate it was. I have to admit though, I have since then bought other decks and my first deck is still the one that works the best for me.

I love your suggestion for learning how to read these cards without a book. I am going to have to try this by studying the cards a little harder. I have tried to look at the cards and feel what their meanings are but I am still very novice at the reading tarot cards because I don't practice much. I will have to pull them out again.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Tarot is so fascinating, Barbergirl28, once you get pulled into the complexity, but at the the same time the beautiful simplicity, of the cards, your life seems to connect to them. I often say... oh that's a Tower situation for sure... or... he's definitely a Knight of Cups. Much fun and lots of delicious insights! Enjoy your study.

Demetre Winfield profile image

Demetre Winfield 4 years ago from chicago

tarot is fascinating and it can be very complex. i have been reading them for about a year now and it is amazing to people how acurate they are. i use a deck called devient moon which has given me very powerful readings since i switched over to them. your hub is a pearl among hubs on this subject.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Many thanks, Demetre. I have the Deviant Moon deck too, although I confess I have never used it for a reading. I have over 50 decks and only ever use about three of them! Good luck on your tarot journey.

EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe

Interesting comment about your house wishes. Really fascinating. I am also thinking about a new home so I may try doing what you did but without the crystals, that's a little out of my element. BTW, I had a recent reading online by a colleague and she really helped me illuminate my personal situation - sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. Best regards, Anastasia

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Thanks, Anastasia. Yes, tarot is excellent at clarifying what you already know :-)

MichalWrotter profile image

MichalWrotter 15 months ago from Czech Republic

Hello there, I have been study tarot for 3 years now. It always amaze me to read others and their opinion or input in those fabulous meanings. I believe Tarot is a tool to our soul. It reflects and guide us. I like to use tarot as a self navigation to make right choices. Sometimes, we stand on a cliff and not sure if we should make the step or not. Tarot would not tell you to either jump or not to but gives you option which suits your needs. Tarot helped me to better understand to myself and my needs. A well choosen cards can help you with understanding to your needs. I like the quote " Tarot is a mirror to your soul"

Thank you so much for your article. Very nicely written and so helpful for people who starts with tarot.

I would just add one thing. If you choose to learn tarot, use your intuition, imagination and your heart. Every card speak to each person different way as it would always reflects What the person ask for, struggle with.

There is no right nor wrong way to understand tarot. The way you enjoy it, is the best way.

Thank you so much for this article.

Be blessed.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 15 months ago from Wales Author

Thank you, Michal. I completely agree - there are infinite ways that the tarot can work for a person. It's an endless fascination and a lifelong study. Enjoy your tarot journey. Blessings to you.

Shaurya Singh 3 months ago

Interesting Read @ Bev, my aunt used to read tarot cards. I stumbled upon your article and for a lay man I think I now know that fate can be read :)

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