How should I learn how to do readings for myself or my friends? is a question that comes up quite often. In my opinion, the best way to learn to read tarot cards is to relate them to your own experiences and emotions.
Start with a Good Rider Waite Deck
Tarot cards are easy to pick up and endlessly fascinating once you do. Once you understand the structure of a Rider Waite Smith deck you can pick up any 78 card deck and give a reasonably accurate reading. Because the cards of any rider Waite tarot deck have similar interpretations. Even though some art is more appealing to you than the art styles of other decks, the meanings are essentially the same.
There are literally thousands of gorgeous tarot card decks out there. And it can be kind of addictive to learn to use and interpret them. It is lovely to have a nice selection of different decks to choose from. Tarot card meanings stay consistent over the many decks but each art style may offer a different shade or meaning on an old favorite.
Really Look at Your Deck
Different art styles may stir different parts of your soul and inspire you in different ways. Tarot decks are a way to listen to your own inner wisdom. Enjoying the art and the cards are the first step in finding your own style and voice.
However, once you have a gorgeous deck you are happy with don’t make assumptions. The first thing to do is take a look at the tarot deck you are working with. Make sure all the cards are present. Look at each design. There should be 22 major arcana cards, four tarot suits; Cups cards, Wands cards, Pentacle cards, and Swords which have cards 1-10, and the four suits have four court cards each – a page, a knight, a queen, and king card.
Make sure you have a Rider Waite style Tarot Deck and not an Oracle deck
I am belaboring this because there are also oracle decks with fewer cards and more loose interpretations. They can be great divination tools too especially if you pick one that really speaks to you. They have their place but they are not the place to start.
So start with a good basic Rider Waite Smith deck with art that really speaks to your soul.
Secondly, make sure they are all there and then spend some time just looking at the cards. What are the background colors? Is there weather or a season indicated in the art of the individual tarot card? Does the look on the face of the subject of the card tell you anything? Really look at the court cards and ask yourself if they could be friends or enemies or do they remind you of favorite celebrities in classic roles?
Use Empathy, not Memory to Identify the Card Meanings
If you are blank on the meaning or need a quick reminder take. at our quick reference Tarot Card Meanings chart on this site. But the best way to remember the meanings of the cards is to look at them and let an emotion surface around the art or the keyword of the common interpretation of the tarot cards’ meanings. Once you have connected a card to an emotional state you will never have to look it up again and you will easily be able to empathize with the person you are reading for.
A good tarot reader can put themselves in the shoes of the questioner. That empathy will carry you far above the average tarot reader and make the card meanings fly into your mind.
The cards have a reputation for fortune telling but really they are closer to art therapy. A good reading should be a chance for a person to really be seen at their depths and heard in a profound way. After all, we all want our story to be heard.
Start With Simple Tarot Card Spreads
Once you have a grip on the structure of the deck and the meanings of the pictures on the tarot cards it is kind of like knowing individual words, but tarot card spreads help you start to make sentences in this new language of emotion that you are learning.
Try a simple three-card spread. Three card spread can mean past, present, and future. A beginning a middle and an end. It is the most classic form of a story. It’s also an easy layout for beginners to memorize. It will limit the number of symbols you are trying to interpret and make it easier to pause and listen to your own intuition about the imagery rather than reading the meanings out of a book.
If you want to get fancy try a three-card spread with two cards above and two cards below which can mean lessons just past and lessons just ahead.
Remember the card in the center is the action card. It is in the present and the tarot cards around it are modifiers and you should see a progression of action across the three cards you have pulled.
How to interpret the cards you pull
The key to success is ensuring that your thoughts remain calm. If the card is unclear, calm your mind and think about the emotional tone of the card. Feel the colors and connect via your heart to the heart of the message of the card. Take a deep breath and think about the big picture of the cards spread before you.
Reading tarot cards is a game for empaths so use the intuition that the world is always trying to squelch. Read the number of the card but refer to your own internal imagery and think about a time when you have been in a situation that the card suggests.
Then begin to look at the cards around the main card and see how they may influence the situation in a positive or negative way.
Don’t fear the scary cards that may trigger you. Tarot readings are the art of storytelling and every story has to have challenges and disappointments otherwise our hero or heroine would get bored, not to mention our audience.
You can easily build a story from any three cards in the Rider Waite decks. I often use them as writing prompts and make stories around them to practice my fiction skills.
Embrace the Shadow but Finish the Story.
Never leave someone in fear with your tarot reading. Even if the Tower card or Judgement card looms large, help your querent think of creative questions to resolve the fork in the path that may lead to dark consequences.
Tarot is a great tool for gaming out different scenarios and outcomes. Just the fact that you have sat down and looked at all options can be freeing to the tiny voice in your head. the one that whispers, ‘what if’ in the middle of the night, and keeps you up until you can’t face the morning light when it finally comes because you have spent all night worrying.
Remember that these are your cards and this is your reading. So if your story comes to a sudden stop on a cliffhanger ending you can always just draw more cards to get more chapters of the story.
Also, don’t forget to look at the bottom of the deck. The bottom card often gives a mile-high perspective of the problem that often pulls things into sharp focus.
Many times the best thing you can do as a tarot reader is to give someone a new perspective.
So the mechanics of the reading and the precision of the card meanings are less important than the connection between you and your querent and the fact that you can listen to your own intuition to make them feel empowered to create their own imagery and vision of success.
The power of the art on the cards helps.
Most importantly, Have fun
The best way to learn to start reading tarot cards’ meanings is to get a fun deck and familiarize yourself with the cards. Learn one simple card spread and take your cards to your next party or night out with the girls.
You will have them lined up to listen to your card readings and it is a great way to meet people and get to know them individually rather than trying to tackle a large group. It can be a superpower for introverts. Have fun, and check out our FAQ for any questions you have!