Tarot is totally having a moment. Even if that wasn’t repeatedly confirmed in the comments of our Fool’s Journey series, it’s clear from the way tarot is popping up all over the place that more and more folks are picking up a deck of cards to find out what it can do for them.
If you’re one of those people, firstly — hurrah! I’m so glad you’ve taken that step! Tarot is exciting, creative, fun, thought-provoking, inspiring, motivational and ultimately, I believe it’s life-changing. You can use tarot for working through problems, for getting to know yourself and your friends, for planning, for meditation, for almost anything you can think of. The tarot community is huge and diverse and there are as many approaches to tarot cards as there are people to read them. It can be as mystical, as or as down-to-earth as you make it — once you’ve got your cards, it’s absolutely up to you how you want to work with them.
Still, getting to know your first tarot deck can be intimidating. Where do you start with learning the meanings of all of those cards? And how do you actually do a reading, anyway? Should you read for yourself, for others, or what? What does it mean when people say they’re tapping into their intuition? And what exactly is a ‘tarot spread’?
Agh, it’s true, there’s a lot to learn. But don’t be overwhelmed — if you’ve got a deck of cards then you have everything you need to start building a relationship with your cards and growing your confidence. Here are my tips for getting started.
Get used to holding the cards in your hands
Get into the habit of picking up your cards and shuffling them when you’re at a loose end. Don’t worry if you’re not a natural shuffler or if they feel strange in your hands at first, just keep picking them up and they’ll gradually start to feel more normal.
+ Here are some different shuffling methods to try!
+ Cards too big for your hands? It’s totally okay to trim the borders!
I’m like a stuck record on this one, but seriously — this is a great, non-overwhelming way to get to know your cards gradually. It’s a simple practice. Draw one card each morning, and spend a moment or two really looking at it, noticing which symbols, colours, elements of the picture jump out at you. Then look it up online, or in a book if you have one. Keep your card in mind for the rest of your day. Where do you see those energies, behaviours, ideas expressed in your daily life?
This is a really popular exercise for bloggers and journalers, and it’s totally how my blog got started. I’ve archived my own ‘daily draw’ posts here.
Get a good book
There is no shame whatsoever in looking up tarot card meanings. I say this as a professional reader who regularly digs out her books to find out what different writers have said about this card or that. Sure, over time, you’ll develop your own ideas about what the cards mean, but when you’re just starting out, I totally recommend having a book to hand.
Some decks, like the Steampunk, Wildwood and Shadowscapes Tarot, come with hefty guidebooks of their own. If yours didn’t, here are my recommendations:
- Learn Tarot – Joan Bunning
- Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom – Rachel Pollack
- Twenty One Ways to Read a Tarot Card – Mark K Greer
- She Is Sitting in the Night: Revisioning Thea’s Tarot by Oliver Pickle
If you’re on a tight budget, there are also plenty of free resources for looking up tarot card meanings. My two favourites are Joan Bunning’s Learn Tarot (the entire contents of her book available online) and Biddy Tarot.
Dive right in and try a simple self-reading
If you’ve never read for yourself before, the first time may seem strange. Don’t worry! It is totally odd to sit down with a deck of cards and ask them what’s up with your life but heck, that’s what you’re gonna do.
You don’t need a special sacred space to do a tarot reading, but a little peace and quiet is a good idea. Get yourself a cuppa, close the door, and clear yourself a little space — clean up that messy desk, tidy your coffee table or smooth your bedspread. Put your phone away to avoid distractions.
Some people like to do a little ritual before reading their cards — grounding, saying a prayer, lighting a candle, whatever. Or you could simply close your eyes and take a few really deep breaths before you begin. Or none of those things. You do you.
Shuffle your cards for as long as you like. When you’re ready, lay three cards, facing upwards, like this:
1. The central card is you at this moment. It might represent your current state of mind, your behaviour, your aspirations or a situation or challenge you’re facing.
2. The card on the left represents something to let go. This may be a person, an approach, a habit or something else that’s not helping you right now.
3. The card on the right is advice. It might be an approach you can adopt, an energy to bring into your life, or something to do, plain and simple.
Don’t give up if you don’t immediately understand the cards, this is totally normal! Take your time, look the cards up in a book or online, note down bulletpoints or ideas about each card, try looking at them from different angles. For example, you might get a really negative-seeming card in the advice position — how confusing! Or perhaps the central card makes no sense at all. But if you keep looking and thinking, you’ll figure out what they’re saying to you.
Finally, see if you can sum up an overall message from the reading. What’s the key thing to take away here?
+ Another simple spread to get you started is the two card cross.
Read with a friend!
Reading for yourself is all well and good, but it’s also a great learning experience to read for and with someone else. If you have a friend who’s into tarot then I totally recommend having a good old tarot session. Each of you brings your cards (extra points if you have different decks, you can contrast and compare favourite cards!) You can read for each other, share ideas about what each card might mean and encourage each other’s learning.
+ See also: how to protect your boundaries when reading for friends.
Want more? Browse the entire Fool’s Journey series here — it’s full of helpful tips and ideas!
Over to you guys! If you’re a total tarot newbie, what’s your biggest block or fear, and what’s working for you? If you’re a more confident reader, what tips can you share to help people get started?
this is lovely and just what i needed to remind myself that i really, really want to get back to pulling a daily card every morning. i’ve been wanting a new morning ritual but i keep putting it off for fear of not sticking to it (if that isn’t the most ridiculous reason to put off doing something you want to do, i don’t know what is). new morning ritual begins TOMORROW.
sometimes i make up spreads as i go, like as i’m shuffling, and i determine what the placement means based on what i’m getting from the cards. it sounds totally backwards and like an illegitimate way of doing tarot, but giving myself permission to make some shit up as i went along really helped me feel more comfortable when it came to trying out the “real” ways of doing things.
also! i kind of mentioned this when i reviewed the wild unknown app, but i used to put off getting out my deck when i was in a weird mood or if my whole vibe was off-kilter, because i wanted to be with my cards when i was the most centered or the most chill or whatever. since having that epiphany with the app, i realized that i really didn’t have to be my best self with my cards, i could just be me, and that probably it was better to be with my cards while i was at different states of chill or unrest or weird or centered, so we could learn the most about each other.
la la la this is the most honest i’ve ever been about tarot on the internet! thanks beth!
Aw, I’m so glad you’re getting back to daily cards @green – it’s such a simple yet self-indulgent yet grounding yet helpful daily practice.
Also on that thing of deciding the positions once you’ve laid the cards down – I do that all the damn time. Like, if I’m not sure what spread to use or I don’t feel like one, I just think ‘let’s let the cards decide’. It’s very freeing to read like that. (And I think there’s too much out there about ‘proper’ ways to do tarot, which is such a load of nonsense.)
AND I’m so glad you raised the thing about ‘being in the right place’ to get out your cards. I still grapple with that one all the time. Often I find that if I sing a few down anyway (as in even if I’m in a bad moon/place) that’s when I get the very best lightening-bold or gentle breakthrough moments.
Thank you for sharing!! Hope you’ll keep doing it, I love your insights! xxx
Wow, this is awesome and has made me feel like I actually CAN explore my interest in tarot. Be gone, insecurity!! <3
Yaaaay! Do you have a deck @audreyfaye? (I really love hearing which ‘first decks’ people have)
Not yeeeet!! But I have some careful online shopping to do :)
My sister-in-law was really into Tarot when she was younger and she gave me a couple of sets. I liked the cards when I was younger because they had neat pictures on them. Then I later made up a game with them to use for a D&D campaign and also used them as a prop for a Deck of Many Things.
Okay now I’m intrigued.. what’s a Deck of Many Things?
I’ve had a deck for several months that I’ve been slowly working through in terms of figuring out the meaning of them, but there’s so many cards! I honestly like the idea of not worrying too much about having any meanings figured out and just winging it as it goes. Especially since the deck I have (one based on Vertigo comics) seems like the pictures end up subverting a lot of the typical meanings for each card.
Plus all of this is weird, because I’m probably the least woo person I know, but I’m still getting a pretty good amount out of this.
Welcome to the totally-non-woo tarot society :D
Yeah, if you wait till you ‘know all the meanings’ you’ll never get started…and the best way to learn the cards is to dive in! Happy tarot-ing! xx
I have two very, very different decks (Wild Unknown and Silicon Dawn), and my two witchy dude friends and I will do tripartate card draws for each other. Hearing how they interpret the cards helps me remember the meanings, since I associate the cards with their stories/words.
Hi Beth! Thanks for recommending Biddy Tarot as a place to go if you’re learning Tarot. I love helping those new to Tarot build up their confidence! And you’re written a very helpful, grounded post on how to get started.
this is exactly what i needed to begin doing tarot spreads for myself so that we can have even more in common and also to talk about with each other, SO! oh, and also for myself, in case that wasn’t clear.
One of my dearest friends and I have been talking forever about trying our hands at tarot. I don’t know if it’s intimidating or what, but we still have yet to give it a go. This is the fuel I needed. Thank you!! I will be directing her this way as well!
Can I just say how refreshing it was to read this article? When I bought tarot cards just two days ago, I was so scared the community was going to be very elitist, but getting to read this and hear ‘just do whatever makes you feel comfortable, you do you’ just made me feel so at ease. I can’t wait to learn more and more, your articles about tarot are just wonderful!
Thankyouthankyouthankyou – just what I needed! I’m back to morning journaling since summer and bought the WildWoodTarot at a tiny bookstore two weeks ago. I laid out the wheel of the year on the floor of the living room to get to know my cards . Quite powerful they are! And/but so many … Didn’t really know how to approach them in the best way and stopped instead. That is very me :) But “Daily Cards”, that can be my way. One by one, take your time, casual approach, writing … sounds like a lot of fun. I’ll start right now!
Any advice on buying a first deck? I feel very much like this should be a big going-to-Ollivanders-type moment. In reality, is online shopping A-OK? Do I just pick a deck that I like the look of?
@busylilro Ah first decks. Basically yes – online is totes legit and yes – pick one that *speaks to you*, however that may be, the artwork/look of the cards, one particular card that really jumps out at you, something mysterious that calls you to the deck… who knows. Also, if you find after a while that you really just are not jamming with your deck, don’t give up – do try another if you can afford to!
Here’s a helpful post from Autostraddle: http://www.autostraddle.com/the-fools-journey-8-tarot-decks-to-get-you-started-237059/
Here are my readers’ top ten favourites: http://littleredtarot.com/your-top-ten-tarot-decks/
And here’s a great post on the agony and ecstasy of choosing a deck! http://littleredtarot.com/choosing-buying-a-new-tarot-deck/
Wow. It’s been sooooo long since i have busted my tarot cards out. Feeling inspired again, Thanks!