How To Read Tarot Cards

Nine Guidelines to Learning the Tarot

Most of us know at least one person who has some knowledge of those crazy things called Tarot cards. Usually they're kind of eccentric folk who march to the beat of their own drum. Maybe they carry a satchel of crystals in their pocket and talk about the universe as if they've explored its every facet. They may talk about spirits and guides and the pictures of orbs or ectoplasm they captured on film one night. It's not a prerequisite, of course. Being psychically attuned doesn't necessarily make a person eccentric or weird. But it does require the investment of time in the art of intuition. The good news is that, even if the only crystal you own is secured on a ring around your finger, even if your only knowledge of the universe is the model solar system you made in sixth grade, even if the only spirits that concern or rattle your nerves are haunting the local bar or tavern, you can learn to read the Tarot! It takes time and at least enough money to purchase your own deck (and maybe a book or two), but if you put the work in, you'll see results and in no time flat, you could be teaching your eccentric friend a thing or two about the mystical Tarot.

The least you need to know to begin is the function that Tarot cards serve in the intuitive process. There are countless tools used by psychics of every kind to initiate contact with the subtle energies that exist all around us. Tarot cards are a tool, first and foremost. In fact, while they appear to wield the power of the ages in their colorful imagery and symbolism, the true power lies in the intuitive person trying to make heads and tails of what the cards are saying. They open a door and point the way. The true detail of a reading comes with the allowance of the individual looking at the cards to let intuition take over and tell the story that the cards are attempting to convey.

The Tarot, in its entirety, is comprised of 78 cards divided into two parts. The Major Arcana deals with the first 22 cards of the deck and has to do primarily with milestones or life events. That hairy, scary Death card that fortune tellers in movies seem to throw around with abandon is a Major Arcana card. But rest easy. Death is another way of saying "change" or "transformation." That's a hint. It doesn't actually mean physical death.

The Minor Arcana deals with the remaining 56 cards, and these are divided further into four suits of 16 cards each. You will get to know the cups, swords, wands, and pentacles or "discs" very well in your Tarot-related endeavors. And that's where having a passing knowledge of Numerology and symbolism will help you in the future for clarification. For now, it's all about tuning into you--the psychic you. Whether you know it or not, you are psychic. And, lucky you, the Tarot may be just the tool to help you invoke your inner Edgar Cayce.

So close your eyes, take a deep breath, focus on your question, and start shuffling...


Step 1

Purchase a deck. Obviously you can't read cards that you don't have, and if you think there are oodles of people waiting to lend you theirs, you'd be wrong. If there is one thing that surrounds the Tarot, it's mystery. If there's a second, it's superstition. Like those stories of Ouija boards gone awry, ask most Tarot readers what their opinion is on sharing cards and you'll likely get a string of stories about "decks gone bad." Remember, any true endeavor will require at least a small investment in the beginning, and your readings in the future will be that much more succinct if you purchase your own deck. Get the cards swimming in your energy now and they'll tell you the truth every time! Use someone else's at your own risk.

On a practical note, however, your own personal deck affords a number of options that are just not available if borrowing a deck from a friend. Remember, while the Tarot is a tool, you are building a relationship with the look, feel, and energy that the cards exude, and they're getting used to the energy you supply as well. The best working relationship will come from earnestly seeking out the deck that feels best for you and slapping down the $15 for yourself. Any mainstream bookstore will provide you with options that'll make your head spin. There's a market out there! For the purposes of just learning the ins and outs, the Rider-Waite Tarot is an oft suggested, time-tested classic.

Step 2

Dispense of the small "user's guide" in whatever way you see fit. With every deck, there comes a small a book- a key, if you will- outlining the meanings of the cards in very vague terms. Frankly, in my experience learning, I found the book to be useless. There are a number of wonderful books and websites that can supply a great deal more information on the subject than the scant phrases and one word descriptions found packed into the deck. Hang on to it if you want, but don't expect it to be incredibly helpful. In fact, while you're at the store, you might do well to purchase a book on the subject instead. Believe it or not, one of the best sources I've ever found is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tarot and Fortune-Telling.

Step 3

Break 'em in! Shuffle the cards and play around with them. Remember that the first time you use them you are, essentially, introducing yourself to your deck. You're getting your energy all over them, and they're getting to know you in the process.

Step 4

Pick a card, any card! This is the point when you're going to begin building that relationship I was talking about beyond mere shuffling. How do you build a relationship with little pieces of paper with colorful pictures on them? You give them attention, time, and the opportunity to "speak." Set up your working area however you choose to. There's no real need to stand on ceremony unless you feel compelled to do so. Set up a candle or two, light some incense, get some soothing music going in the background, pray or meditate. However much or little you feel is necessary, set the mood. Then sit down and pull a card from the deck. You are not going to read anything. Far more important than the rote meanings you can find in any book, on any website (or in any pamphlet like the one I just told you get rid of!) are the meanings that come to you intuitively. This is when you start exercising your sixth sense.

For this purpose, I would suggest having a journal handy. When you look at the card you've chosen, simply focus on how you feel about it. Notice whether the card is right side up or upside down. Observe what parts of the picture jump out at you and your feelings about those elements of the card. Take note of anything that you feel in your gut is important about the card, including keywords. If suddenly a word--"betrayal", for instance--comes to mind, write it down. Understand that this is your personal reading of the card you are holding. Such observation is invaluable and will provide you with your own personal key to the cards that you are using. Write down all of these observations in your journal and move on to the next card.

Step 5

Set a schedule and a limit. Don't think that you're going to sit down and have all 78 cards figured out in a few hours. Figure out a time that is good for you for at least the next two weeks in which you can dedicate your time to--let's say--five cards a night. If you feel you can only do one or two, that's fine. But the point is to pace yourself and allow a bit of routine to come into the mix as well. After awhile, you'll start to notice that your mind will adjust more easily to "Tarot Time" if you know that every night at precisely 8 o'clock you sit down to observe your deck.

Step 6

Write down your questions! There are so many symbols imbedded into the Tarot that you're bound to scratch your head over many of them. Write them down for further research. What's the sideways figure 8 above the Magician's head supposed to mean? There is almost nothing in the cards that doesn't hold some inherent meaning. Look into it!

Step 7

Determine a layout that you feel comfortable with. There are many ways that the cards can be laid out. There are old stand-by layouts like the Celtic Cross Spread, there are others that are more specialized, and then there are those that you determine yourself. I personally have used and modified over time my own very basic but effective "gypsy" spread that involves twelve cards. Three on top represent the past, three in the middle represent the present, and three on the bottom represent the possible outcome. Three descending cards on the right side represent underlying influences in the past, present, and future from top to bottom. Very basic, but it works for me. I came up with it and the cards have always served me well in this type of layout. Determine the spread you use based upon the question being asked, the amount of detail desired, and the level of comfort you feel with the spread. But don't let fear hold you back! Let your intuition be your guide!

Step 8

Spread 'em! Once you've established that relationship with each of the cards and you feel you have a handle at least on what each of them means to you, go ahead and ask a question. Lay out the cards and see what you get. Refer to your notes, pay attention to your intuition, look up the meanings of questionable cards in that book I suggested you pick up. Keep a note of the date, layout, and cards in the reading. Also note whether the cards are right side up or upside down, because the meanings will change accordingly. But have fun! Understand that your first reading will probably be very vague, not because you're not good at reading the Tarot but because--like everything--practice is the key.

Step 9

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Hey, we're all human! We err continuously! But if you get hung up on needing to be right about everything, you'll never grow. Give yourself some breathing room, have fun, and don't feel bad if you don't hit the nail on the head for quite some time. Let yourself learn, let the cards speak, and before you know it, you'll be wowing your friends and family with your expertise in the mystery of the Tarot!

Within the Tarot alone, there is so much more to learn, and if you choose to continue building on your new store of knowledge about the cards and about divination in general, you will find that life is actually quite a great deal richer. You'll see the cards in your everyday life and you'll feel your intuition pulling you constantly toward your highest and best! Don't think of them simply as a fun way to impress your friends, think of this as a spiritual journey and you will begin to see why it's such a powerful experience when you sit down to see what the cards have to say. The cards open doors to transformation. Who knows, maybe you'll even invest in a satchel or two of crystals!

Christopher Berie is a freelance writer with great interest in the metaphysical arts.  He has read Tarot cards for almost 16 incorporating his knowledge of Numerology, I Ching, and the use of pendulums in his readings.

Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles:



This is a great article. I am going to pull out my set of Tarot cards that have been lanquishing in a closet for 10 years and get back to reading them. Thanks for the suggestions on websites and a book. Also, I had never tried getting to know each card individually before trying to see what the whole deck was telling me. Thanks.

By Marion Cornett