A Beginner’s Guide To Reading Tarot Cards

If you’ve ever had your tarot cards read by someone who knows what they’re doing (or had a friend regale you with their tale), you probably understand how dumbfounding, cathartic, and inspiring the process can be. Part therapy and part divination, reading tarot can be learned like any language — and as long as you’re willing to put the time and effort in, you too can start tapping into whatever juju’s operating within tarot to help you make sense of what’s going on. 

Now, tarot’s going to mean a lot of things to a lot of people, whether you’re just looking for a fun party trick or really want to start exploring spirituality in a different way. Don’t go into it expecting to figure out how to look into the future, because tarot cards aren’t 100% accurate at divining what’s going to happen — and depending on who you ask, that’s not the point of them anyway. What you should expect to glean from this new skill? The same sort of thing that you should expect from learning French: an expanded vocabulary for looking at the world (not to mention a fun time getting there!). 

While this slideshow won’t tell you the difference between a Hierophant and a High Priestess, or show you the meaning of a spread of only minor arcana cards, it will arm you with the proper tools, point you toward the right resources, and help you figure out whether reading tarot is a practice you’ll want to dive into. We asked intuition coach, Dina Berrin, who has been reading tarot (not to mention, practicing astrology, numerology, palmistry, color therapy, and more) for decades, to walk us through the processes. Scroll through to get started!


Find A Deck That Speaks To You

Like calendars, there are a ton of different types of decks out there, from sparse, modernist sets to designs that showcase kittens in baskets. It’s important to pick one that you vibe with aesthetically, and to start with something that’s colorful, optimistic, and approachable (unless you’re a Queen of Darkness, in which case, go on with your dark self). If you want to play it safe, Dina says, “The Rider Waite deck is probably the most common deck. Many other tarot decks are based on this one in both its images and structure, with 78 cards, 22 major arcana cards, and 56 minor arcana cards.”


Educate Yourself

Typically, the deck you buy will come with a little booklet, but Dina suggests also buying a guidebook to help you navigate what the symbols mean and glean concrete information from the cards in order to make a proper reading. “78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack is often referred to as the ‘tarot bible’ for its extensive insights. Also, 21 Ways To Read A Tarot Card by Mary Greer systematically presents 21 approaches without getting too esoteric along the way. There are exercises for beginners for each step, and this makes the learning process all the easier.”


Get In Touch With The Deck

As much as a book can tell you, your instincts can also help lead the way. Don’t be afraid to make your own judgement calls on a card if you’re particularly drawn to a symbol or figure that’s represented. “It’s important to learn to trust your instincts. If, by looking at a card, you get a specific message, it should be acknowledged and noted.” 

As an example, one of Dina’s friends who also reads gets a strong “California” vibe from the Three of Swords card. Whenever it comes up unexpectedly in a reading, there’s always a timely California connection with the subject. Cool!


Bring A Buddy

Reading your own tarot cards is generally frowned upon. Since you’re supposed to be making impartial readings based on how you vibe with the person, and the bits of their lives that they choose to reveal to you (which is meaningful unto itself!), it’s incredibly difficult to divorce your own desires from the objective parts of it. You know how difficult it is to ID your own strengths and faults in the same way your boss could? It’s like that. The solution? Bring a buddy! 

Like all learning, it’s always more fun to do with a friend, but if you’re serious about tarot, don’t pick your BFF. It should be someone you can be honest with, but don’t feel like you have to please, or who will have their feelings hurt if you read something that doesn’t jibe with their opinion. Says Dina, “Your tarot partner should definitely be someone you have fun with and who also enjoys learning; someone with an open mind, who is not quick to judge.”


Get Your Head In The Game

Dina says its important to suspend your disbelief if you’re a skeptic, and get zen if you’re a hard-core believer. “Ground yourself, whatever that means to you. I find meditating or writing in a journal before a reading helps me quiet my mind and prepare to focus on the cards.” 

Additionally, don’t go into a reading with an agenda. “Doing readings about the same subject again and again until the answer you want comes up is a rookie mistake,” says Dina. “If and when you’re reading others, be sure to make the reading about the person, not about you. Make sure you come from a place of compassion and love.”


Now, Get Down To Business

Once you’ve learned the symbols and have practiced understanding their meanings, one card at a time, you should start practicing on someone else. Begin by having the other person ask a question — it can be specific or general. Have them shuffle the cards and flip over the top one. Now, try and connect the card with the question. Maybe they asked a question about their current relationship and you’ve flipped over a wand sign that has to do with taking action and ideas. Feel free to ask more questions to help you clarify. Have they been considering making a drastic move regarding the relationship? Have they recently read something that’s made them think differently about his/her relationship? Feel free to probe, because what your subject says will help you come to a decision. Talk it out! 

If you feel a little silly or like you’re grasping at straws, that’s fine. You’re not divining someone’s untimely demise or whether they’ll win the lotto here. Practicing seeing connections and meanings comes with some awkwardness. However, it’s wrong to say you’re giving a solid answer about something when you’re not. “If someone asks you a question you cannot answer, tell them that — set boundaries and know who you are.” 

Once you’re comfortable with reading one card at a time, move on to a basic three-card spread. Each card represents the past, present, and future, starting with the left-most one (Dina suggests only going one year out in the past and future to help you focus the questions). Remember to relate the cards to one another as well as to the person. Are there signs in their future that others will be jealous of them? Well, their present card — reflecting a promotion or a step up in their career might help you frame your reading.

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1 Comment

  1. Why can’t we get a more balanced and less stereotypical representation of tarot cards in our media? The media should tell the whole truth about tarot and inform people that tarot was really made for card games still played today and they are not only used for tarot reading.

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