The Ultimate Beginner's Guide To Reading Tarot Cards

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person holding tarot cards

If you're feeling stuck or confused about your current situation and want to understand yourself better, learning how to read Tarot cards or getting a reading is a great first step.

You may be looking for answers that don’t become apparent. Or, you might find yourself repeating the same patterns and can't figure out how to stop.

Whether it's about how you handle yourself at work, in relationships, or with your family, it's easy to feel as though you're living the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Sometimes, the best thing Tarot cards can do for you is help you get to know yourself better.

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A professional Tarot reader, as opposed to a fortune teller or someone offering psychic readings, can help you use Tarot cards to awaken your intuition and begin seeing your blind spots and unhelpful habits.

Reading Tarot cards yourself takes a lot of practice and a deep commitment to self-honesty. Some people find it helpful to work with a Tarot reader as a guide for a while, in the process learning to read the cards for themselves.

In the giant scheme of things, you're the only one who can heal your own mind. But first, you need to know how your mind works.

Though the earliest Tarot readers began practicing in the 14th or 15th century, using readings for divination and healing became popular in the 18th century with the arrival of the Rider-Waite deck, the most commonly used Tarot style.

Here's a quick guide on how to read Tarot cards and get to know yourself better than ever before.

Understanding The Tarot Deck

Most Tarot card decks consist of 78 cards, based on the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition. These cards are divided into 56 Minor Arcana cards, with 4 suits, and 22 Major Arcana cards.

Major Arcana cards include cards like The Magician, The Chariot, or The Sun. These represent big milestones and karmic influences on your life’s journey.

Minor Arcana cards tell us about our day-to-day trials and tribulations that tend to have a more temporary influence on our life. These 56 cards are divided into 4 suits: the suit of cups, the suit of pentacles, the suit of swords, and the suit of wands.

  • Cups: Your emotions and connections with others
  • Pentacles: Finances, career, and material possessions
  • Swords: How you communicate your thoughts and seek truth
  • Wands: What motivates and drives you

Like suits in a regular deck, each of the Minor Arcana suits are also divided into four court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King), and cards numbered ace through 10.

The court cards typically represent people in our lives, while the numbered cards usually dictate a level of progression or intensity within the theme of each suit.

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How To Do A Tarot Card Reading

Becoming a Tarot reader takes practice but if you’re a beginner, you can still get off to a good start with your readings.

1. Choose your deck.

There are countless different styles of Tarot decks. The most common deck, and a great deck for beginners, is the Rider-Waite deck, but even this one comes in many styles and forms.

Some superstitious folks believe you should never buy your own first Tarot deck; it should be given as a gift. But since Tarot is all about intuition and feeling, you can form your own rules on this.

It’s generally best to choose an artwork or style of deck that you connect to or resonate with, since you’ll be the one forming stories with your cards.

2. Get to know your Tarot deck.

Using the guide above, you can start your Tarot journey by familiarizing yourself with each suit, and learn to recognize all the different cards from the deck.

Most Tarot decks will come with their own manual that breaks down the meaning of what the cards represent, and this is a great way to learn about your deck.

But this is only a rough guide. You should also lean into your gut feelings and intuition about each card. You might even find that you feel differently about each card depending on the day or the reading.

3. Focus your topic.

Tarot readings have the power to reveal truths about many aspects of life, so it’s easy to go into each reading with countless questions and requests. However, to get the most out of a reading, it’s best to choose one overarching topic or question.

Tarot is not designed to be incredibly specific or word perfect. Intuition and interpretation rule this practice.

Choose open-ended questions to guide your readings. Think of questions like, “How can I strengthen and build my career?” rather than, “When will I get a promotion?” You might also find new questions emerging — and that’s a great thing! It means you’re accessing your intuition on a deeper level.

4. Shuffle your Tarot cards.

While you ponder your question, begin slowly shuffling your deck.

Allow yourself to feel connected with the cards as you pass them through your hands. They are leading you now, not the other way around.

Shuffle for as long as you need in order to feel that the cards have been cleared.

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5. Cut the deck and create a spread.

Using your shuffled deck, there are then many different formations you can choose when cutting the deck into sections.

The 10-card Celtic cross Tarot spread is a common one you might see at advanced Tarot readings, but a simple 3-card spread is a good start for beginners. With this spread, you cut the deck into 3 stacks, leaving them face down.

There are many different interpretations for this spread, but a good place to start is with the past, present, future card spread. Starting from left to right, take the top cards from the deck and face them up.

6. Scan your cards.

Remember your intuition? Before you jump into reading each card, absorb your emotional reaction to each one. Observe what sticks out to you in each image and how it connects to your question.

Do this with each card as you go through the spread. Then, you may begin to form a more clear reading, informed by each of the cards and how they relate to one another.

Again, practice makes perfect, so don’t feel let down if it takes time to really connect with the cards.

7. End with a closing ritual.

It's important to draw your practice to a close and leave with space to reflect on the lessons the cards have given you in this reading.

Don’t just stand up and leave your cards spread all over the place. Instead, shuffle the cards, thanking them for their service. If you did this reading with another person, be sure to thank them, too.

Put the cards neatly away and go forth on your journey to self-discovery.

The Bottom Line

The Tarot isn't magic, evil or scary. It's simply a tool for understanding and gaining insight.

With Tarot, learning never ceases. Think of a Tarot reading as a mirror reflecting back to you the influences and challenges in your present life. When you take time to know the cards and see how they relate to one another, the reading comes to life and more profound answers become apparent.

Keep in mind that self-honesty is critical when reading your Tarot cards. It's easy to see only what you want to see, and disregard the blatant truths you want to ignore.

The cards don't hold any power within themselves — they’re just cards. And like any tool of divination, they can be utilized to stimulate your intuition and provide you with guidance on your path.

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Ellyn Bell is an intuitive and spiritual coach who uses Tarot to help people overcome obstacles and reconnect with their intuition. She's co-author of the book, 'Singing with the Sirens,' as well as a social justice activist. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter for more.