What Is Tarot & How Do I Start Reading My Own Cards?
How do you read tarot cards for the first time?

Written by Sarah Rose Anderson

April 25, 2021

Taking the first few steps of your tarot journey is incredible because you’re taking steps towards getting to know your heart, inside and out. However, there can be a few bumps in the road and very few signposts along the way. So, how do you read tarot cards as a beginner?

I’m Sarah Rose, a tarot reader at the Totems & Tarot Healers Hub, and I’m going to be your guide as we go over the basics of tarot together. After this one, snappy read, you will leave feeling empowered to make your own decisions about getting your first tarot deck, or perhaps, starting to use the one you already have, with confidence.

What is tarot?

Without getting too much into the history of tarot, let’s take a look at what it is right now in today’s modern world.

A tarot deck is a set of cards, and while each tarot deck is unique, they also tend to follow the same system and we’ll outline it here for you. Each tarot deck has typically 78 cards:

  1. 22 Major Arcana cards
  2. 56 Minor Arcana cards

What are Major Arcana cards?

Major Arcana cards are a series of 22 cards that tell the story of the “Fool’s Journey,” a universal archetypal story, much like the Hero’s Journey. Together, these cards form a timeless story, filled with hope, love, light as well as trials, tribulations, and strife. These are also the cards you might have an association with tarot already, like The Sun, The High Priestess, and The Tower.

Each Major Arcana card offers a snapshot of situations, people, and energies that the fool encounters on their journey. These are representative of the major flashpoints in our lives, especially at times of transition, that occur to pretty much human at one point or another — think heartbreak, loss, vice, as well as mentorship, growth, and growth.

Typically, the Major Arcana cards all follow the same structure, with variations depending on each deck’s artistry. They all have numbers, astrological signs, and symbols that are associated with them.

What are Minor Arcana cards?

Minor Arcana cards are easier for beginners to understand because they kind of mirror a regular deck of playing cards. There are four suits that are typically standard in each deck, although some decks have variations:

  1. Wands
  2. Cups
  3. Swords
  4. Pentacles

Each suit has cards from Ace to 10, as well as “Court Cards” which are typically the Page, the Knight, the Queen, and the King.

Each suit and each court card have their own meanings. For example, the suit of cups is associated with the element of water, with the heart chakra, and with our emotional inner world. And, a Page is usually associated with freshness, newness, about to embark on a journey, almost like a mini-fool card in each suit.

Additionally, many decks will come equipped with guidebooks that give you individual card meanings as well as tips and guidance for how to read tarot and use your deck in particular.

Read More: The Totems & Tarot Healers Hub

How do you read tarot cards?

If all that seems like a lot to keep track of, know that it really isn’t. You probably already have all you need to get started reading your own tarot cards.

Yes, there is a lot involved in tarot and you can dive very deeply into the meaning behind the cards. But, if you don’t pick up a deck and start reading, it’s not likely that you’ll improve as a reader. So, how do you read your own tarot cards?

Reading tarot cards is highly individualistic. As a professional, I’d recommend starting and sticking with one deck until you start to feel comfortable.

You can read tarot cards in a few ways, but here’s a mini-process you can follow to get started reading your own cards today:

  1. Set an intention
  2. Pull your cards
  3. Intuit the messages

1. Set an intention

Here’s a hot tip most people miss about tarot reading: you have to set an intention. If you go plucking a card from a deck willy-nilly, then it’s not going to mean much to you. I’d recommend coming to your deck in a state of calmness.

Take a few deep breaths even while you’re shuffling your cards. Then, once you feel like you’re relaxed, set an intention.

That can look like asking in your head for a card that will help give you guidance on an issue you’re currently facing: what should I do about my deadline at work?

It can look like an open-ended question or statement: what do you have to tell me about my love life?

An intention doesnt have to be a question, either, you can meditate on your current situation and then pull cards. As long as you are consciously making an effort to decide what you want to reflect on, it works.

2. Pull your tarot cards

There’s no wrong way to pull your tarot cards, especially if you’re pulling cards while focusing on your intention.

Of course, everyone has their own ways that feel good to them. You could try shuffling your deck and then splitting it into two or three piles before drawing from the top of one of the piles. You could fan them out in front of you and select each one individually.

However you decide to do it, it should be done in a way that feels comfortable and supportive for you. Plus, you can try experimenting to see what works.

There are one-card readings, three-card readings, or any number of arrangements called “tarot spreads” that you can try. Really, the possibilities are limitless, but I recommend that readers try just one-card draws to start and once they are feeling more confident, they can try a simple three-card tarot spread like past/present/future.

3. Intuit the messages

Now, the hard part: intuiting the messages. So often, darling little tarot newbies are so excited to read their cards. Then, they pull their first card…and they also draw a blank. They don’t know what it means. Nothing’s “coming” to them and they feel defeated.

But, that will not be you, because you’ve read this guide! Let’s look a card together and I’ll walk you through an example process of intuiting meaning.

The moon tarot card from the Neo Tarot deck.

Let’s say we’ve chosen this beautiful card, The Moon, from the Neo Tarot deck. I have asked my deck with an intention that it would give me a healing message.

Without looking at the book or drawing on my professional knowledge of tarot, here’s what I might intuit:

  • I see the moon, it makes me think of night time, being alone, dreaming
  • Coming out of the water, there’s a creepy-crawly, it makes me think of darkness and grossness, it reminds me of something negative from my past
  • In the centre, there’s a pool of water, a reflection, and it reminds me of my deep emotions

So I might take these visual cues, emotions, and associations and piece them together into a message. So, what’s the healing message? It could be something like:

  • Pay attention to your dreams
  • Spend some time in quiet reflection, maybe journalling or even dream journaling
  • Think about what that creepy-crawly could represent, an old relationship? The shame around a past mistake?

So, this is just an example walk-through of what you might see, hear, feel, remember, and intuit from reading tarot cards. It’s an extremely individualistic and unique process as no two tarot readings are ever really the same, so I recommend those beginner readers try to get their cards read professionally so they can be exposed to a number of different tarot reading modalities before they find what works best for them.

Read more: The Empress Tarot Card Meanings

Beginner tarot reading tips

The sun tarot card from the wild unknown tarot deck.

Here are my tips for beginners who might feel a little bit trepidatious about reading tarot cards for the first time:

  • Unless you are throwing your deck at someone’s head, there’s no wrong way to read tarot.
  • Take a picture of your tarot reading and come back to it later…see how your perception of the cards changes even day-to-day
  • Join a community of supportive tarot-lovers and readers like Totems & Tarot and Mystic Rose
  • Choose a tarot deck that is fun for you to read and that gets you excited, it shouldn’t be a chore to read your cards!
  • When you pull a card, give it time to sink in. Notice how you feel, what you see…what colours are on the card? what symbols or associations do you have with what you see…try writing it down before going to your guidebook

Getting your tarot cards read

Sarah Rose is a tarot reader at the Totems and tarot healers hub.

If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice to help me along my tarot journey, it would have been to look for mentorship and guidance from a professional tarot reader.

Even to this day with six years of experience under my belt, I still get readings done on a quarterly basis to help me check in with myself and to continue growing and developing as a reader.

Check out the Healers Hub to learn more and book with a reader that’s perfect for you and start up levelling your own tarot practice.

– Sar

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