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You’ve done it. You’ve finally committed to a deck of tarot cards, and you’re ready to begin reading tarot for the first time. You sit down, whip your cards out, admire the beautiful artwork for a quick sec and perhaps get a little too excited about the prospect of becoming some all-knowing spiritual guru—and then you, wait, what comes next?
Next, you might realize—damn—there are a lot of cards. Maybe it dawns on you that you only recognize one or two of them—and that little booklet isn’t nearly as helpful as you thought it’d be. Maybe you start second-guessing this whole tarot reading thing, because how the hell are you supposed to learn the meanings of all 78 cards and understand how those meanings change when cards are read upside down and get a feel for how the cards interact with one another? It’s all too much, isn’t it? Isn’t it?!
Before you go abandoning that dreamy vision of you as an all-knowing spiritual guru, remind yourself that you can absolutely learn how to read tarot. People do it all the time. But you have to take things step-by-step—day-by-day. And there are definitely some things you can do to make the process easier.
1. For starters, use a deck you like.
One of the biggest myths about the tarot is that you can’t buy your own cards. That’s what someone told me when I first started reading, and I spent too long trying to read a deck I felt no connection to—all because of some archaic rule that suggests that if you spend your own money, you’re not going to be able to read right. That’s not true. And it’s an especially difficult rule to follow when there are tarot decks out there that fit every interest. (You can even create you own, although you might also want to save that for later.)
2. Find a way to make the cards uniquely yours.
Put your deck in a special pouch, find a box to keep your cards in, give them a prominent place in your home, spend 10 minutes a day just shuffling them. No matter what you choose to do—and there’s no “right” or “wrong” here—your goal is to get comfortable with your cards.
A psychic once told me that you shouldn’t let anyone else touch your cards, except when they’re shuffling. The reasoning: Every person has their own special energy, and you don’t want to mix too many on your cards. Were they right? I don’t know, but I do know that being the only person to touch my cards made them feel special to me. And that’s all that matters.
The first thing you should do when you bring your deck home is temper your expectations. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read or how many YouTube tutorials you’ve watched, getting familiar with your deck is going to take some time. It might be easier if it were all just rote memorization, but learning the tarot is all about finding connections and discerning nuance. You’re learning a challenging new skill, so give yourself room to make mistakes, and keep at it.
4. Learn the cards’ meanings, but leave room for your own interpretations.
Once you start reading up on tarot, you’re going to find that every author has their own idea of what each card means. Each card will have a few keywords that most experts agree on, but outside of that, you’re going to find a lot of contradicting information. Plus, each card will mean something different depending on where and how (upright or reverse) it shows up in your spread.
That’s going to be a bit of a problem if you’re someone prefers the unambiguous, but look at the tarot as your chance to learn how to sit with uncertainty and become more confident in your own intuition. View the keywords as parameters for each card’s meaning, and start looking closer at each name and illustration to see what resonates with you, personally.
One way of doing this: Choose one card to focus on each day, and meditate on its meaning. Keep a journal, where you store the traditional meanings of each card, as well as your own thoughts on each.
5. Learn a simple spread, and go from there.
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a beginner was trying to read a spread comprised of 10 cards before I could read one that was made up of only three. It may feel like you should be able to fill an entire table with cards to impress your friends and family, but remember that reading the tarot isn’t just about knowing what the cards mean—it’s about using them to tell a story that will make sense to the person you’re reading for.
That’s why starting with something small, even one card at a time, is smart. It’ll let you focus on small details while building up your confidence. Just remember you’ll be inventing your own spreads in no time.
6. Read for yourself before reading for anyone else.
You may have heard that you’re not supposed to read tarot for yourself, but that’s just another myth. How are you supposed to give others insights into their lives when you can’t do the same for yourself? A great way to get accustomed to the practice is to start reading for yourself regularly. It’s totally OK to consult your books and journals as much as you need to.
If you choose to read for other people, try to hold off on that until you’re able to competently read your own tarot without having to look up the meaning of every card you pull. That’s not because you want to appear impressive, but because you want to know the meanings well enough that you can focus on the person you’re working with.