Have you just picked up your very first tarot deck?
Hurrah! Welcome! So glad to have you with us on the strange, profound, beautiful journey of self-discovery we call tarot.
Tarot is exciting, creative, fun, thought-provoking, inspiring, motivational and ultimately, I believe it’s life-changing. You can use tarot for working through problems, for getting to know yourself and your friends, for planning, for meditation, for almost anything you can think of. The tarot community is huge and diverse and there are as many approaches to tarot cards as there are people to read them. It can be as mystical, as or as down-to-earth as you make it — once you’ve got your cards, it’s absolutely up to you how you want to work with them.
Still, getting to know your first tarot deck can be intimidating. Where do you start with learning the meanings of all of those cards? And how do you actually do a reading, anyway? Should you read for yourself, for others, or what? What does it mean when people say they’re tapping into their intuition? And what exactly is a ‘tarot spread’?
Agh, it’s true, there’s a lot to learn. But don’t be overwhelmed — if you’ve got a deck of cards then you have everything you need to start building a relationship with your cards and growing your confidence. Here are my tips for getting started.
Get used to holding the cards in your hands
Get into the habit of picking up your cards and shuffling them when you’re at a loose end. Don’t worry if you’re not a natural shuffler or if they feel strange in your hands at first, just keep picking them up and they’ll gradually start to feel more normal.
+ Cards too big for your hands? It’s totally okay to trim the borders!
I’m like a stuck record on this one, but seriously — this is a great, non-overwhelming way to get to know your cards gradually. It’s a simple practice. Draw one card each morning, and spend a moment or two really looking at it, noticing which symbols, colours, elements of the picture jump out at you. Then look it up online, or in a book if you have one. Keep your card in mind for the rest of your day. Where do you see those energies, behaviours, ideas expressed in your daily life?
This is a really popular exercise for bloggers and journalers, and it’s totally how my blog got started. I’ve archived my own ‘daily draw’ posts here.
Get a good book
There is no shame whatsoever in looking up tarot card meanings. I say this as a professional reader who regularly digs out her books to find out what different writers have said about this card or that. Sure, over time, you’ll develop your own ideas about what the cards mean, but when you’re just starting out, I totally recommend having a book to hand.
Some decks come with hefty guidebooks of their own. If yours didn’t, here are my recommendations:
- Learn Tarot – Joan Bunning. The ubiquitous guide to tarot card meanings.
- Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom – Rachel Pollack. A profound and intelligent journey through the tarot. You can read this cover to cover, or use it as a reference book for individual cards.
- Twenty One Ways to Read a Tarot Card – Mark K Greer. Lots of different approaches to tarot.
- She Is Sitting in the Night: Revisioning Thea’s Tarot by Oliver Pickle. A radical, queer-friendly, right-on reference book based on Thea’s Tarot, but suitable for use with any deck.
If you’re on a tight budget, there are also plenty of free resources for looking up tarot card meanings. My two favourites are Joan Bunning’s Learn Tarot (the entire contents of her book available online) and Biddy Tarot.
Dive right in and try a simple self-reading
If you’ve never read for yourself before, the first time may seem strange. Don’t worry! It is totally odd to sit down with a deck of cards and ask them what’s up with your life but heck, that’s what you’re gonna do.
You don’t need a special sacred space to do a tarot reading, but a little peace and quiet is a good idea. Get yourself a cuppa, close the door, and clear yourself a little space — clean up that messy desk, tidy your coffee table or smooth your bedspread. Put your phone away to avoid distractions.
Some people like to do a little ritual before reading their cards — grounding, saying a prayer, lighting a candle, whatever. Or you could simply close your eyes and take a few really deep breaths before you begin. Or none of those things. You do you.
Shuffle your cards for as long as you like. When you’re ready, lay three cards, facing upwards, like this:
1. The central card is you at this moment. It might represent your current state of mind, your behaviour, your aspirations or a situation or challenge you’re facing.
2. The card on the left represents something to let go. This may be a person, an approach, a habit or something else that’s not helping you right now.
3. The card on the right is advice. It might be an approach you can adopt, an energy to bring into your life, or something to do, plain and simple.
Don’t give up if you don’t immediately understand the cards, this is totally normal! Take your time, look the cards up in a book or online, note down bulletpoints or ideas about each card, try looking at them from different angles. For example, you might get a really negative-seeming card in the advice position — how confusing! Or perhaps the central card makes no sense at all. But if you keep looking and thinking, you’ll figure out what they’re saying to you.
Finally, see if you can sum up an overall message from the reading. What’s the key thing to take away here?
+ Another simple spread to get you started is the two card cross.
Read with a friend
Reading for yourself is all well and good, but it’s also a great learning experience to read for and with someone else. If you have a friend who’s into tarot then I totally recommend having a good old tarot session. Each of you brings your cards (extra points if you have different decks, you can contrast and compare favourite cards!) You can read for each other, share ideas about what each card might mean and encourage each other’s learning.
Take the Alternative Tarot Course!
My popular online course is just $35 and you can take it at your own pace. Rather than teaching you the card meanings one-by-one, the Alternative Tarot Course aims to build your relationship with your tarot cards. Over eight weeks, you’ll develop simple practices and try out all kinds of exercises to get you looking at you cards in different ways. You’ll end up feeling more confident about tarot reading and better connected to your cards.
This course is suitable for all levels – complete beginners will find it a helpful introduction to their tarot deck, whereas more experienced readers will find it deepens their relationship with their cards. For bloggers and journallers, the course is filled with exercises and tips to inspire your tarot explorations.
Over to you guys!
If you’re a total tarot newbie, what’s your biggest block or fear, and what’s working for you? If you’re a more confident reader, what tips can you share to help people get started?
First published on Autostraddle.
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.