How to Read Tarot Cards
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.
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.
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.
I have read tarot since 2000, 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, as well as contributing to the newsletter. I run my own tarot website at tarot-study.info and also write tarot-related content for other websites.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I am a tarot novice. Can you tell me what I need to do in a five card reading when the Tower card turns up? I got the King of Wands, Ten of Pentacles, Ten of Cups, and Three of Wands. How should I interpret this?
If you are new to tarot, you should restrict yourself to one or two cards only. Take your time and learn to interpret all the cards. Also, you have to learn how to tune into your intuition.
I cannot interpret your cards because I don't know the question or the situation. The cards you choose represent the energy around you then. That's why you should stick to one or two cards. Presumably, you are using some kind of book or web resource, so make notes about each card. See how they fit in with what's happening in your life at this point. Then make sure you go back to your notes to see how things turned out.
Learning tarot is like undertaking a degree all by yourself. It takes determination and dedication.