Reading tarot cards is many things to many people: A spiritual practice, a helpful framework or self-reflection or decision-making, or even just a fun parlor trick. Whatever reason draws you to tarot, learning can be both rewarding and challenging. There are as many ways to learn tarot as there are tarot decks—this is just one way to do it.
You can’t read tarot without a deck of tarot cards, so your first stop should be to get a deck for yourself. Now, common tarot lore dictates that you should be given your first deck, but most tarot experts I’ve spoken with about this practice say that it’s a silly barrier to entry that you don’t need to worry about, and I tend to agree. So! Go forth and pick out a deck, keeping a few things in mind.
As a novice tarot reader, the best deck to learn on is the Rider Waite—it’s the most traditional deck, and the one most books, websites, video tutorials, etc. that offer instruction in the tarot will be based on.
If you want something a little to the left of traditional, there are lots of decks that offer a twist on traditional Rider Waite images. A few I like are The Modern Witch Tarot, Morgan-Greer Tarot, Gilded Tarot, Wheel of the Year Tarot, and Witches Tarot.
The tarot consists of 78 cards, organized in two parts, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is subdivided into four suits of 14 cards, Ace through Kings, very much like standard playing cards. That’s a lot of card meanings to learn! There’s also this: While standard card interpretations do exist, much of your tarot practice has to do with your own responses to, and feelings about, the cards.
Given that, getting a tarot journal—even if you’re not typically a journaler—will be a huge help as you get to know the cards. In terms of learning the card meanings, using a journal is akin to taking notes in school; the act of writing down, in your own words, what you’ve just learned will help you commit it to memory. The other benefit a journal offers is giving you a space to jot down those personal reactions, responses, feelings, etc. that individual cards evoke for you.
The tarot is both simple and complicated, so you’ll need some resources to help you learn. Books, websites, online classes, video tutorials, in-person courses, or a combination will be essential.
When buying a new deck of tarot cards, check to see if there’s a corresponding guidebook, which will be the best place to start learning about your specific deck. If no guidebook specific to your deck exists, these are some good titles to check out:
Then, check out some websites—there are tons of websites dedicated to tarot card interpretation, spreads, and other information. A few that I like are Biddy Tarot, Astrology.com, The Tarot Lady, and Little Red Tarot.
A friend who has struggled to learn tarot recently asked me for help. The main problem, she explained, was that she would dive in with great enthusiasm and then get so totally overwhelmed that she would give up entirely.
The mistake most people make when trying to learn tarot is trying to jump in at the proverbial deep end by doing a 10-card Celtic Cross spread; it’s a classic tarot card spread but understanding the meaning of the 10 positions in the spread in addition to interpreting 10 cards you’re not yet familiar with is a lot.
Instead, simplify things with these two ways of learning the fundamentals of tarot: First, focus on getting comfortable with card meanings before you dive into doing readings using complicated spreads; second, use a simple 3-card spread to get comfortable with readings, and then build on that by introducing 4- and 5-card spreads.
So back to my tarot-challenged friend! I mentioned she asked for help, and I gave her the help, and now I’m sharing it with you.
- Pull a card every morning and spend 5 minutes writing in your tarot journal about it. Note things like what images you see, what colors you notice, how it makes you feel and what you think it means. Use a new page for each new card, so you have space to continue making notes on that page as you get to know the card over time.
- Then, look the card up on card interpretation sites or books and read about its meaning. Make notes in your journal about what you learn and what, in particular, jumps out at you.
- You can ask the daily card a question, like “What will be the theme of today?” or “What lessons should I be on the lookout for today?” or you can just treat the card as a guide to the theme of the day.
Week 1: Practice using the 3-card Past, Present & Future spread 2-3 evenings this week.
Week 2: Look up a new 3-card spread and practice using it 2-3 evenings this week.
Week 3: Alternate using the two 3-card spreads 3-4 evenings this week.
Week 4: Look up a new 5-card spread and practice using it 2-3 evenings this week.
As you come across cards you haven’t gotten to know in your daily practice, start new journal pages for them and make brief notes along the same lines as the ones you make when you pull your daily card. You don’t need to spend as much time on this though!