Starting to read the tarot can be really intimidating. There are a lot of cards – 78 of them – that each has detailed descriptions of meanings behind them. Major arcana, minor arcana, spreads… where do you even start?
Some might feel like they need to memorize the meaning behind each card first. This might work if you have incredible memorization skills, but for those of us that don’t, here are some ways to jump into the tarot and start using it right away – without having to memorize it all first and learning it as you go!
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Intuition Over Memorization
Rather than trying to cram in every detail of every card, try to examine the art on the card and see what you notice. Don’t freak out when you come across Death or The Devil. Generally speaking, the cards aren’t meant to be taken literally. Rather than see “death” and think “cool, guess I’m gonna die soon,” think about the deeper meaning behind the art, the card, the concept. How does it make you feel? Is there any symbolism you can see that has an answer or response for you?
This method is how many professional tarot readers actually read for their clients. While they probably know about the traditional meanings, having a hard answer behind each card without letting your intuition guide you could keep you from seeing something important.
Check Your Work
After you draw a card and read it intuitively, go to a book or other resource (I’ve listed some free online resources below) and take a look at the “traditional” meaning behind it. Were you close? Did you find the same themes? Don’t beat yourself up if you came up with a completely different answer than the traditional description. Reading intuitively means that you might pull the same card in multiple drawings and it means something different to you. Your intuition could be reading it that way for a reason!
Daily Single Tarot Pull
Every day, make it a part of your routine to ask your deck a simple question like “what do I need to look out for today?” and draw a single card. Intuitively read your card first, before checking your work. As you go about your day, keep it in mind. If you want to keep a record, start a tarot journal. At the end of the day, write down or just reflect on the differences between your intuitive reading and the traditional meaning. What are the similarities or differences between the two, and how did either reflect in your day?
Putting the cards in action like this and applying it to your everyday life will not only help you learn and remember the traditional card meanings but also get you more comfortable reading intuitively and finding your own meanings and answers too!
What to Ask the Cards
A common misconception is that a tarot is a tool used to tell you your future, but it actually is a tool for guiding you.
Avoid questions that have “yes” or “no” answers. Questions like “will I be rich?” is asking the cards to tell your future (which it probably won’t do accurately). Instead, ask questions like “what can I do to become more financially stable?” so the tarot can help be your guide.
Once you’ve become comfortable with the cards from your daily draw, try this simple 3 card pull. The three cards can represent several things, but try to keep it simple. Such as:
Past, Present, Future
Situation, Action, Result
What I think, What I feel, What I do
You, Another Person, Your Relationship
Let’s take the first example. The card you draw to represent your past could represent how you felt in the past, how you feel looking back now, or a situation you were in before. The second card, the present, might represent how you currently feel about where you are in life, a current situation, or it could even reflect your fears or your desires that are affecting your current situation. The third card, the future, could represent the path you need to get to where you want to be, or it could be a result of the steps you are taking in the present (which could be good OR bad).
Remember the cards aren’t dealing you with a definitive prophecy of what’s to come. How you interpret the cards will depend on the question you asked, the relationship that they have to each other, and your own intuition when reading them!
Starter Deck Recommendations
There are a lot of different tarot and oracle cards on the market. Some of these decks are just gorgeous and have all sorts of themes and art styles. Each deck will carry its’ own energy, symbolism, and meanings through the art.
If you are drawn to a gorgeous, non-traditional deck and want to learn that using the above methods, go for it!
The cards below are all variations of the classic tarot deck. If you’re interested in learning the “traditional” meanings of the tarot cards, choosing one of these or a deck that is similar in imagery could make it easier to follow each suite’s story and pull the traditional symbolism intuitively from the artwork so you learn it more quickly. Here are just a few good starter deck options:
Originally drawn in 1909, the Rider-Waite tarot deck is the most popular, well-known deck there is. If you want to go with the absolute classic, this is it!
The Radiant Rider-Waite is the original deck seen above with a much brighter, vibrant color scheme. There’s a full-size version of this deck, as well as a mini version (as in smaller card sizes!) that comes in a tin.
The Smith-Waite Centennial Edition Tarot deck is my personal deck (as seen in all of the photos on this post). Opposite the Radiant deck above, this is a muted version of the color scheme for an elegantly worn appearance. This deck also has a pocket-size version in a tin!
Labyrinthos Academy Tarot Card Meanings List