The Fool is the first card of the tarot’s Major Arcana, and represents someone starting off on a journey of learning about themselves and the world. That could be you! Learn how to read your cards and develop your mystic prowess with Autostraddle’s Tarot School. Or if that sounds like too much work, get a tarot reading right here!
What if there was this deck of cards where there was one for every feeling and experience you could possibly go through, and when you felt a little lost or confused or messed up you could pull them out of your pocket, ask a question, sling a few down and start making sense of your head and your heart?
Bingo! It’s called tarot, and it will totally change your life.
When I was first introduced to tarot years ago, I was a full-time cynic. I’d never seen a tarot deck, never given divination more than a derisive snort. But super-cool storyteller, zinester and fisherwoman Moe Bowstern was in town and she offered my friend and I each a reading. “What the hell,” I thought, and I watched as she laid down my cards.
I was grappling with something pretty major at the time, and as Moe described card after card, I was drawn in by the way they spoke to me so personally, addressing the innermost secret workings of my heart and mind. And those pictures! Charismatic queens, stormy seas, animal helpers, mythical symbols and all those weird-ass colors and patterns…they captivated me. Each image seemed to illuminate and clarify a part of my experience. After my reading, I felt strange. And good! Like I knew how to move forwards. Like everything was gonna be fine and I could totally do this shit because, whoa, The Universe Had My Back.
My friend got the bug. She got herself a deck and a book and we spent many nights in my attic bedroom, fervently turning cards, working out the intricate details of our complicated love lives and emotions, reconciling our heads and our hearts. We and our then-partners were entering into a polyamorous situation at the time, so it’s fair to say there was a lot to discuss. Tarot became the perfect tool to feed our obsessions with ‘getting it right’ and ‘holding on to our truths’ and ‘considering all the angles.’ It was the vehicle and the road and the signage that brought together all of the confusing and disparate elements of our situation.
There seemed to be nothing we could do or feel that the cards would not comment on. It was incredible. I developed a strong relationship with The Moon in those early days — a card which would repeatedly show up in my readings, prodding at me with her weird little crayfish, eerie towers and howling wolves. At the time I felt she was celebrating and encouraging my super-cool, right-on approach to relationships, and my leap-before-you-look attitude. Looking back, I’m preeeetty sure she was pointing out a long series of self-delusions with increasing urgency. Oops.
Fast forward a year. The shit hit the fan, big-style. There were breakups. My friend and I were no longer friends. I was heartbroken and moved out of town. But you know what, those 78 cards got me through. Where I didn’t have the words to describe what I was experiencing, tarot helped me to articulate stuff. Where I wanted to blame others for my own mistakes, tarot gently made me face up to my responsibilities. And when I wanted to retreat under a blanket of self-pity, tarot showed me how awesome my life could be. Four years on, reading tarot is my *actual* job.
Everyone should have a tarot deck and their own cool way of using it. Here’s why:
- You’ll get to know yourself. Tarot makes you face up to what’s really going on, and it also reminds you how ace you are. It shows you what resources you have to work with and helps you work out what might be missing. Handy!
- You’ll get to know your friends. Once they learn of your mystic prowess your mates will start bringing you all kinds of weird and wonderful dilemmas. Tarot takes Deep Friend Talks to the next level.
- You can use tarot for life planning. You can use tarot to work out how to approach all sorts of projects and goals and things and get an action plan and a really smart kick-up-the-ass from the universe. Planner-types beware: this is addictive.
- Tarot is super social. You can do readings at parties and events and you get to talk to *everyone* about stuff that really matters to them. Which is nice!
Tarot School will be all about developing your confidence with the cards and giving you loads of exercises and tips for working tarot into your life.
Maybe you’ve got a deck tucked away somewhere but you’re not really sure how to use it. Maybe you’ve never even touched a tarot card before but you’re curious about what the hell all the fuss is about. Or maybe you’re all over this tarot shizzle and you’ve got loads to contribute in the comments (which BTW would be awesome.) Wherever you’re at, let’s make some cool tarot shit happen.
“But I don’t believe in tarot!”
Okay, okay, I get it. You’re in the “how can a deck of cards predict the future that’s like totally ridiculous” camp. Here’s a thing: so am I. While I’m not here to argue with the psychics among us, I’ve never seen tarot as a way to find out what’s around the next bend (or for that matter magically tell you what colour your brother-in-law’s grandma’s cat was.) For me and for the purposes of this column, tarot is a tool for self-discovery and self-development right in the here and now.
There is a tarot card or card combination for more or less every experience you can go through in your wonderful, messed-up, brilliant, queer little life. There is rarely a decision I’d make or a problem I’d solve or a rut I’d get out of without a word of advice from my 78 friends. Does that sound needy and weird? It ain’t. Tarot adds an “aha!” kinda richness to this business of life, and in Tarot School, I wanna show you how to use your cards to understand and articulate this shit and to proactively move yourself forwards.
We’ll do fun exercises and experiments, create our own spreads, queer up our cards, explore different decks and get to know the kooky characters that make up the tarot. We’ll look at practical stuff too, like reading for friends, dealing with dodgy energy, reading at events and more. And if there’s something special you’d really like me to cover, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my very best to oblige.
And oh oh oh! Dear reader, I will also be reading your cards!
Hit me with your questions and once a month, I’ll be digging one weird and wonderful dilemma out of my sack and offering up the wisdom of the cards. You got a business idea but no idea how to start? Struggling to get over a break-up? Want a hand to help define some kick-ass life goals?
Go ahead: ask my cards. Email me at beth [at] autostraddle [dot] com!
In the meantime, if you haven’t got one already, grab yourself a tarot deck and a brand spanking new journal and get ready for Tarot School to begin next month!
Rules and disclaimer-type thing for readings:
- In sending in your question, you’re allowing Autostraddle to publish your dilemma for five hundred thousand curious eyes to see
- But don’t worry – we’ll keep you completely anonymous (and we’ll let you know in advance if you’ve been picked.)
- No third party stuff. This is all about you. That means no “does she love me?” and no “why is she doing this to me?” Sorry guys, but that shit ain’t cool.
- This is entertainment. I am so not responsible for anything you do as a result of your reading and neither is Autostraddle. Dear reader, you are a full-grown person with a brain and you (not I) are 100% in charge of your own destiny. You wouldn’t want it any other way.
I. Am. So. Into. This.
So ready for this!
My friends and family sometimes have a hard time understanding why I’m interested in tarot because they think it’s a form of spirituality for me.
But to me it’s more like therapy, like a Rorschach test, or a way to look at what’s happening with a new perspective.
I’m still a tarot n00b, so I’m ready to learn much more!
“a way to look at what’s happening with a new perspective.” – nicely put, I completely agree!
I already have my great grandmother’s deck and a notebook I have yet to find a use for. *wiggles in anticipation* So. Pumped. And I’m willing to bet ~Jane~ will be too!
Awww wow. I’m always a little bit jealous of people who’s mum/grandmother read tarot and handed down the skills – what an amazing thing to inherit : )
Ermagerrrd! I’m going to come up with the very best question I can think of…
Yay!! Me too guys :D
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What do I do?
So freaking excited for this! I have a deck that’s sat unused for too long…
I am sooooo excited for this! I have a mini Hanson-Roberts deck that my friend gave me yearsssss ago that I haven’t used in so long. I’m going to have to brush those off.
into it! I’ve been reading for about 4ish years, I mess around with the collective tarot mostly, though I learned on the universal, and am sitting on the wild unknown deck. It has definitely been a comfort and a process of critical thinking and sometimes I have been like “I think tarot is my cynical best friend”- mostly related to like, wanting for things to work out for me but also being really clear about all the ways I get in my own way. good stuff! tarot schooooooooool!
Was just *waiting* for the first person to pop up with a Collective Tarot. Lucky you!! I wasn’t quick enough off the mark and now it’s sold out… and rumour is that there won’t be any more print runs :'(
Cynical best friend? Yep…
that’s what I’ve heard from their facebook. it sucks real bad, because there’s really not any other deck like it. I do love that Rachel Pollack is on the scene, though her queer decks are a bit deep lez for my particular divinatory needs, but I love her work.
i’m so glad i got a collective tarot while i could! it’s so neat!
What decks do you have pictured? I’ve been looking into getting my own tarot deck, but I’m not sure the traditional Rider-Waite deck is for me.
I know what you mean Steph, finding the perfect tarot deck can take years! The decks pictured are (going clockwise from 12.00 on the top picture): Wild Unknown Tarot, Rider Waite Smith, Anna K, Mary-el. A quick Google and you’ll find them.
I personally love the Rider Waite Smith, but I’m so glad I explored other decks as reading with a variety of different decks really broadens your understanding of the cards and challenges you to interpret more intuitively and less ‘by the book’.
Just last week I got a new tarot deck after dabbling with the Rider-Waite for a few years, familiarizing myself with symbols and meaning in a google guided sort of way. The new deck is the Sacred Circle Tarot: a Celtic Pagan Journey with a big fat book accompanying it. I cleansed it in my own little made up way and now this column is the perfect thing! Totally jiving with your explanation of tarot as a guide for the here and now, self reflection not future prediction. Imma go pull a card now.
Any info on what deck the card the kitty is touching is? I have a Rider-Waite deck and some sort of faery art deck, but I love the art style of that card and would love to check out the rest of the deck!
Absolutely – it’s my favourite tarot deck and it’s called the Wild Unknown Tarot. I’ll be using it plenty in Tarot School!
Sure, it’s the Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans. It’s absolutely stunning and my number one fave. I’ll be using it a lot in this Tarot School series!
wild unknown is real purty. they make jewelry with some of their designs and I WANT IT SO BAD. ( but it’s ‘spensive.) I think the designer lives in topanga canyon, for all y’all LA babes. excited to get to know it better- I have not thrown myself at it super hard because I’m just less familiar/plus I used it on new year’s to like, pull a card for the year ahead, and a friend of mine pulled a pretty heavy card and ever since then has been like “I do not like that deck it is not very nice to me.” which is not a reason to give up on it forever, but I think it is not like, gentle and nice the way the collective tarot is.
I LOVE this stuff. I have a friend whose really into this as well as an aunt. I really want to invest in a deck.
Do it do it do it!
I am so excited for this new column. It is also coming at the perfect time, because I am currently taking a beginning Wicca class. I have the Gilded Tarot. One of my friends in the class has the Steampunk tarot, and it is ridiculously gorgeous. It also helps that all the women in the Steampunk deck are super hot.
I *love* the Steampunk Tarot! I got it originally as a ‘novelty’ deck – more for playing with than serious readings… but it has some real hidden depths and I go to it for client readings all the time now :)
Hot women? So true! It’s the outfits, no?!
Oh gosh, we have some of the same decks. I love the large-sized one of the woman’s paintings, it’s really intense.
(I have…way too many, it’s a problem)
I’ve been reading Tarot for something like 13 years now, and it’s absolutely true just how useful it is as a psychological tool.
Ha! Deck collecting is a serious addiction right? I sold/gave away all but my very favourites when I moved onto my boat – was good to be forced…!
The large cards are the Mary-el Tarot by Marie White. Very deep, very intense like you say. I’ve been using it for over a year and still don’t feel I know it well enough to use it with clients.
Hope you’ll share loads of your 13 years’ tarot wisdom with us in the comments Frog :)
Yay! I was wondering if you (Beth, or anyone really) could recommend good books or websites for interpreting tarot? (if that will be covered as you write more, great! I’m into it.) I use the tiny insert that came with my deck and also sometimes a book that I have, and they each often leave me wanting more.
Yes I absolutely can! Am thinking this might have to be the next post – watch this space :)
Meanwhile there are a few nice suggestions in the comments thread… Wild Unknown being my number one fave, and other readers have suggested a bunch of others too.
Ok so I love this article and I’m wondering if we can just drop our deck-recs in here? Cause I have two:
First, and I hesitate to even mention this one because it’s out of print, there’s the Collective Tarot. I feel like everybody in the queer tarot scene already knows about it, but it deserves all the praise it’s gotten.I always find it to be so . . . kind and understanding, if that makes any sense.
Second,there’s my absolute favorite deck, the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn. This deck is ALL KINDS of awesome. It’s like sci-fi, cartooney, comic-book style illustrations and a punk-rock DIY design on deck structure. Plus it treats women as the default, so there are just ladies all over the place. Which is awesome. Basically, I love this deck and I can’t say enough good things about it. When I read with it, it’s spunky and shoots-from-the-hip and it keeps me honest. This is the deck that got me into tarot and kept me there.
Yay – thanks for the recommendations Audrey! Aww man another of you lucky people with a Collective Tarot – I’m pretty sure it won’t be coming round again. It shows how much the world needs queer-er and more diverse tarot!
I’ve seen lots of good stuff written about the Silicon Dawn – need to check it out!
I also have the Silicon Dawn deck (and I always want to type it as Silicone Dawn, which would be… something else). I especially love the Void cards and the way the Fool card is broken down into multiple archetypes.
But I’ve had the deck for a while and still can’t figure out how to handle the 99 cards in an actual reading. Like, I try to figure out what their imagery/vibes are adding to the suit, but then when they come up in a spread I just think “gah WTF is this?” Lately I’ve been using the deck with the 99s taken out, but that feels like cheating. If anybody has wise advice on how they incorporate these cards in a reading, I’d be interested to hear it!
Yeah I just leave the 99s out, along with a few other cards. They usually just feel like overkill to me. Same thing with all the fools. Sometimes I use three, sometimes just one. I dunno, I feel like it’s a really forgiving deck that way; you’ve got a lot of room to mix and mach and it’s all cool, y’know?
Ah dude! My sisters do Tarot, my aunt’s actually in a coven and she taught them. This article is so rad.
This is awesome! I can’t wait!
I’m so excited for this! I have a few tarot decks that I read with, but I struggle with getting away from the book. Right now, I try to just think about how a card feels and what I see, but sometimes all I get is “dude stacked up some cups and is just gonna leave them there I guess”.
This is my exact same problem.
If you have an iphone…there is an app by Brainscape called “tarot” and it helps you to memorize ALL the cards in a standard tarot deck. I found the app by searching for “tarot” I think. It has helped me SO MUCH in remembering the key traits of each card.
Do you think this app would work well just on a normal web browser? I don’t have an iphone, but it is available that way as well.
I am so ready for this. Perfect.
This is amazing, I can’t wait! I have a beautiful tarot deck sitting on my altar… but I don’t know how to read it! This must be a sign to get my butt in gear and begin the journey down the road of tarot. (:
On a regular basis I will wonder if it’s even possible for Autostraddle to get even cooler/more relevant to my life, and then it will happen and I won’t know what to do with myself. I LOVE tarot, bought my first deck last year, have a tattoo of the Wheel of Fortune card on my arm (http://instagram.com/p/Z_FZ_zJL1j/), and did a tarot reading for myself every morning on my month long solo bike tour last fall.
So jazzed for queering up the readings/tarot spreads too, especially given that my deck, while awesome and super pagan/celtic, is definitely rooted in the male/female dichotomy relationshipy ness thing, and finding ways to have that be queerer will be fabulous.
I can’t waaaaaait
This is great.
I’m a daily Tarot reader- every day I make an omelette and pull one card to contemplate while I eat to give me a little inspiration for the day. (Today was the Ace of Staves. I am not being nearly as focused as I should on my tasks.)
I’ve always been a proponent of using the Tarot as a way to work out issues you’re dealing with now, as opposed to fortune telling. Glad this article is going down that path.
What a wonderful morning routine! I might switch out my usual breakfast reading (stuff on the internet) for a one-card reading. On the other hand, if I did that… I might have missed this article. Hmm…
Oh, this is SO EXCITING. I’m not sure if I am a believer or not, but my aunt has been doing tarot readings for as long as i’ve known her, and the few times she’s done mine, I just sat back flabbergasted. Really interesting stuff. I actually love her deck so much (the artwork), that I purchased it with a small book; but that was mainly to ogle at the artwork. I have no idea how to actually use it or what anything means.
Any resources for anyone wanting to learn the absolute basics of what it is, what the different decks are, etc?
this is what my aunt/i have.
BOO. WHY DIDN’T IT WORK?!
I used http://www.learntarot.com/ when I first started.
It’s a free, guided course, and it also has a handy list of the card descriptions and meanings. I come back to it every time I do a reading for myself.
http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/ also has a forum where you can ask questions to the community
awesome, thank you!
Holy shmao guys! I feel like this is what I need in my life right now. Autostraddle, you just get me <3
I have several decks and I tend to get really confused when the same (or similar) cards from those decks have different meanings.
I’m never really sure how strictly to follow the meaning that comes with the booklet (should I ignore it?) or to go a meaning based on instinct (which is kind of made up?) or a mixture of both.
Well, everyone has their own approach. Personally I use a mixture – of ‘book’ meanings, intuition in the moment, and meanings I have developed for myself with practice.
It can be helpful to pull out those two cards from the different decks and look for the common threads between them – then you can use this as a starting point when either turns up in a reading.
Or focus on getting to know just one deck really well to start with. When you’re confident with this, branch out into another one. That way you’re adding to your learning with the new deck and building on a foundation, rather than confusing yourself from the outset.
Great question though, definitely something I’d like to cover in this series : )
Thanks! Both of those sound like great ideas. The second seems a little easier, so maybe I’ll try that. I would LOVE an article just devoted to different methods of interpretation sometime!
Great, great article!!
I have owned a deck since around the age of twelve when I was gifted it by an Uncle (he and his two brothers are very random when it comes to presents). I never learned how to read them, though it does come with a guide (which I have read a time or two) and they are quite interesting. I did however take it to school one day and fooled my friends into thinking that every card that came up for them was negative. It was all so funny.
One of my favourite cards is the three of swords. I always said if I wasn’t so afraid of needles, I’d get it tattooed on my body, with the swords representing both of my parents and the love of my life. I think the swords hold the heart that is depicted in the picture together. I had an idea that if I lost all three of them, my heart would cease to exist and I would die. Maybe that’s just a silly idea, but that’s what came to mind!
Wow Sage, that’s so beautiful – amazing interpretation! A friend of mine has that tattoo – at first I thought ‘why would anyone want the symbol of heartbreak tattooed on their body?!’ …later I came to understand the card in a different way – for me it’s often about the heart’s true strength – it’s hurting, but it’s not bleeding, not falling apart. I love your idea of the swords ‘pinning’ it together :D
Wow Beth! Thanks for that about the three of swords. Very helpful!!! This is going to be awesome!
This is such a lovely addition to the site, thank you so much for supplying it. I’ve mostly been giving readings on my own the last few years and haven’t had many to share it with. It’s a huge treat for there to be this hip voice articulating their tarot passion. Looking forward to more. *breaks out Silicon Dawn deck*
Ah there’s that Silicon Dawn again, really must get a deck!
Eeeee! Excitement! :D
I collect tarot decks. Love them. Looking forward to more of this!
This is the best thing.
I have only ever read my own tarot, and I used to do it once every semester to reassess my current life situation. I didn’t read tarot to figure out my future classes or anything – I just wanted to turn over all the rocks and find ideas that I might have not considered before moving on with my life. I feel like I’ll be a long time dabbler, and I can’t wait to see more on this!
Inspired my this column, I pulled out my cards and shuffled them up for the first time in years. I have the X/1999 tarot deck, which I’m pretty sure is a bootleg (e.g., “The Tower” card isn’t the same art as the official image in the art books) and it’s really hard to read because I’m actually not too familiar with the manga, or tarot, and the symbolism is nonstandard – but I’m excited to start again!
Fun subject. Carl Jung had a lot to say about tarot and archetypes, and using it for psychological introspection, if memory serves.
I’m a Rider/Waite/SMITH (remember to include Pamela Smith aka Pixie, the amazing woman who actually drew the cards!!!) purist but I also recommend the Wildwood Tarot, formerly the Greenwood, to anyone interested in British and Northern European folkloric imagery.
Completely with you on remembering the Smith!! Such a shame there is so little out there to read about her – fascinating woman. The RWS tarot is my go-to deck (it’s usually in my handbag) – despite the heteronormativity etc etc it’s still so hard to beat.
Also, Wildwood Tarot: YES. I gave mine to my partner but missed it so much I’m about to get another :)
I got the Wildwood deck not long ago. I haven’t used it much, but it’s been amazing so far!
I love this! I love my deck but find I only use it when I am in a megadisaster. I think it would be helpful to use on a more regular basis as I mainly use it for self reflection and as a tool to find the right words when I can’t. Plus it’s fun and I love having my friends over who have different decks and we give each other readings. It is the perfect way to get caught up with someone you havent seen in ages. Especially if you want to cut past the boring work, kids, etc. monotony and get into the personal details of what is really going on with your friend.
This makes me a million times happier that I bought that Amanda Palmer kickstarter deck of tarot cards. I’m so excited about this!
OMG that actually happened?! My friend drew The Hermit! I thought that project had died a death – thanks so much for the tip!
I’m so excited about this! As a pagan, I’ve always been surrounded by tarot but have been to busy/poor to learn/take classes for it. This is such a great opportunity ah!
So this is something that I’ve been vaguely interested in pursuing for a long time, but never got around to actually doing. The day after I read this, I ordered a Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and just got it! I’m so excited to start this thing! All the cards are so pretty, I just keep shuffling through them and smiling. :D
Beth, Sugar, You are AWESOME! Just sayin’…..
I’m excited about this! I’ve always been interested in divination and have several tarot decks. I’m looking forward to blowing the dust off of them and learning how to use them! I will post pics of them if I can figure out how to.
I just bought the Medicine Woman Tarot deck, which has really gorgeous woman-centered artwork, unlike a lot of the other decks, which mostly seem to valorize male virility.
So psyched to get started!
Yay! Somebody like me! I use tarot more as an advice tool, and occassionally to help my creativity as a writer. You’d be surprised how useful tarot can be in forming plot, coming up with conflicts and resolutions for characters, and just for getting yourself out of a writer’s block.
Thank you for your article, I’m going to read all your other articles too. :D
Where you considering maybe doing a discounted price for folks of low income/ unemployed? it would be appreciated