Starting With Tarot: A Guide For The Beginner

A Guide to starting with tarot
Tarroco Soprafino copyright Il Meneghello Edizioni, MIlano-Italy

I am starting with tarot, what do I do? This is a very common question. Based on my own early tarot experience, and what I have learned since, I am going to discuss what is really going to help you start using the tarot cards.

Most of the posts I have written assume you have already begun your tarot journey. However, on social media sites such as Quora, it is pretty obvious from the number of people asking the same question that how to actually start with tarot is a bit of a mystery.

Bear in mind that, as with everything else in this blog, you should only take what works for you and leave the rest.

OK, lets go!

Ignore the tarot myths

The absolute first thing you should do is ignore the tarot myths. I have already written a post on these, “9 Tarot Myths – False…Or True?“, which is here. This post covers some of the main myths which appear over and over again. They are all, for the most part, completely false. In 17 years of reading tarot (as of writing this post), not a single myth (with one exception) has demonstrated any semblance of truth.

But there is one myth in particular which really appears pervasive and persistent, people asking whether it’s true over and over again. I’m talking about the myth that tarot is evil.

Ignore the tarot myths.
This does not happen when you read tarot

I have also covered this myth separately in the post “Is Tarot Evil?” which is here. But I think it’s worth repeating the essentials about this myth again here. In fact, I don’t believe it’s possible to repeat the following enough.

Tarot is not evil. The Catholic Church believes that divine guidance should only come from God. So, in modern terms, the Church has spent many centuries trash talking the competition. You will hear devout Christians saying things like ‘God says tarot is EVIL and it’s the work of DEMONS

Oh, please. It’s the 21st century, not the medieval era.

Tarot cards are just paper and ink. The decks are printed in their tens of thousands by large publishing companies and used by millions of readers worldwide. Tarot is a huge commercial industry. Tarot today is not powered by demons but by capitalism.

Reading tarot is essentially a psychological process which involves a form of creative thinking known as conceptual blending. Conceptual blending combines the meaning and art of the card, the position in the tarot spread, and a spark of intuition to generate a message. This message is usually something that we could not have arrived at just by using rational thinking. Spirits don’t really get a look in.

I take a closer look at conceptual blending and tarot in the post ‘Conceptual Blending: How Tarot Really Works?‘ which you can read here.

I was raised Roman Catholic and in all my many, many years of reading tarot I have never experienced anything evil- EVER – connected to the cards. I have not encountered spirits, or demons. On the contrary, I have only experienced immense benefits from reading the cards.

So, unless you are a devout Christian, you can bury this myth where it belongs.

Choosing your deck When Starting With Tarot

After ditching the myths, the first thing you need to do when starting with tarot is get yourself a tarot deck. I have written a post on how to choose a deck, “Choosing And Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck“, which you can read here.

However, the key thing to know is you should really get yourself a copy of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot deck or a deck that closely follows the essential aspects of the RWS. Why? Most beginner tarot books use the RWS to teach. Also, the vast majority of decks published today follow the RWS in terms of meanings so it will be easy to move from one deck to another.

The Rider Waite Smith Tarot is the 800 pound Gorilla

The Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot, first published in 1909, is a fully illustrated deck with artwork on every card. This made it very accessible to the general public and this deck is the reason why tarot is so hugely popular now.

The RWS is available in many different editions today, the differences mainly being one of colour. Some popular editions are shown here:

Choose your first tarot deck carefully.
Clockwise from top left: Rider Waite Tarot; Smith Waite Centennial Tarot; Radiant Rider Waite; Universal Waite Tarot all copyright US Games Systems

So yes, i’m recommending the RWS. Some people will say you should get a deck that you really like, even if this is not the RWS. This is true to some extent but I firmly believe that you should get a deck you like that follows the RWS closely. Even if you don’t like the RWS, there are many decks that are very close in terms of imagery so find one that suits your taste.

Art is subjective so a deck that everyone on the internet is raving about may not appeal to you. Finding a deck you like means you will be able to forge a much stronger connection to it than with a deck you dislike. Choosing a deck closely based on the RWS will make learning tarot easier.

Avoid Art Decks & Minimalist Decks If Starting With Tarot

Many decks are supposedly based on the RWS but some are closer to RWS imagery than others. Two types of decks for tarot beginners to beware of are art decks and minimalist decks.

What’s an art deck?

Well, my definition of an art deck is one which claims to be based on RWS meanings but strays very far from RWS imagery in terms of it’s artistic depiction. These decks can certainly be beautiful but they are hard to learn with for beginners because they bear no resemblance to the RWS. Here’s an example:

Avoid art tarot decks when learning how to read the cards.
From left: Smith Waite Centennial Tarot and Hush Tarot both copyright US Games Systems

On the left we have the 3 of Cups from the Smith Waite Centennial deck. On the right is the 3 of Cups from the Hush Tarot. The Hush Tarot card has no resemblance to the RWS 3 of Cups at all! The Hush tarot is an excellent deck for an experienced reader and I do use it. However, if you are starting out with tarot and trying to learn RWS symbolism using an art deck such as the Hush Tarot, you will experience only frustration and a headache.

Learning tarot with an art deck is certainly possible from an intuitive point of view but you will will find it difficult to use other decks.

What’s a minimalist deck?

A minimalist deck is one that has either very little detail in the artwork or the artwork is sparse. Being able to use your intuition is very difficult if there is so little detail to latch on to.

Avoid minimalist tarot decks
From left: Smith Waite Centennial Tarot copyright US Games Systems; Wild Unknown Tarot copyright Kim Krans

Here is the RWS 7 of Pentacles. On the right is the same card from the hugely popular Wild Unknown Tarot. The RWS version has lots of details that you could latch on to and spark your intuition. The Wild Unknown version has the same underlying meaning but the artwork doesn’t give you much to work on. Minimalist tarot decks are best kept for when you are more experienced as card meanings in these decks play a more prominent role in readings than intuition.

Starting with Tarot: Use the Cards everyday

Now that you have (hopefully) found a deck you like that follows the RWS, the next thing to do is form a connection with the cards.

How do you form a connection with a tarot deck?

When you are starting with tarot use the cards regularly, preferably daily. Use them as often as you can because you need to form an intuitive connection with the cards. For this you do not need to know the meanings of the cards. It won’t hurt to learn the meanings as you go along but getting an intuitive feel for the deck is more important at this stage.

What Is Intuition?

 Read using tarot using your intuition

Intuition is a combination of our experience and knowledge. When you get an intuitive feeling about something, your subconscious is accessing this storehouse to give you that gut feeling that says ‘pay attention to this.’ Therefore, it is always a good idea to take heed of those instinctive feelings. Intuition kept our primitive ancestors safe from danger and we can use this instinct now. Think of it as our psychic ability.

How To Use Intuition When Reading The Cards

When you are looking at the card, try to keep your attention somewhere between the card and the question you have in mind while also bearing in mind the particular position in the tarot spread (if you are using one.) This usually takes a few moments but don’t be afraid to take some time – reading tarot isn’t a race.

As you contemplate the card and the question pay attention to any details on the card that seem to leap out at you or catch your attention. This is your intuition speaking. As you notice these details you will start to have ideas about what the card is telling you. Make up a story about what the card is telling you.

When you are using your intuition, a card can provide a message that has nothing to do with its actual meaning. And that’s totally OK!

Just go with the flow.

Learning to use your intuition with tarot is quicker than learning all the card meanings but it still takes time and practice. For another method of reading tarot intuitively see the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which is here.

So, what’s a good way to regularly practice using the tarot cards intuitively?

Using The Cards: The 1 Card Daily Draw

The easiest way to use the cards daily is to do a 1 card draw each day, either in the morning or the evening. This is how it works.

Each day, at the time that suits you, shuffle the deck and draw 1 card. If you draw the card in the morning spend some moments looking at it. Then keep the card in mind as your day progresses. See if any situation that occurs during the day seems similar to something represented in the card.

If you draw your card in the evening, again spend some moments looking at the card and see if anything in the picture reminds you of something that happened during the day.

By doing these daily exercises you not only become familiar with the cards but you begin to intuitively associate certain situations and energies with particular cards.

Even though I have been reading tarot for many years I still do a 1 card daily draw for myself in the morning. Tarot reading is a skill and I use every opportunity to practice, practice, practice. On the day I began writing this post I drew the following card:

Practice doing a daily 1 card draw
Sacred Rose Tarot copyright US Games Systems

The King of Cups was an interesting draw, Kings are in full control of their element – in this case moods and feelings – and use their expertise in an outward manner. In this case, the King of Cups symbolised my goal of influencing the feelings of the people reading this post! The symbolism that caught my eye here was the tight clenching of the cup (control) and the hand holding out the undine (a water elemental) representing a controlled outward expression of his abilities.

The Daily 3 Card Spread

A quicker way of intuitively connecting with the cards is by doing a daily 3 card reading. This way you learn about more cards daily. You can always do this and also do a 1 card draw.

For my daily 3 card spread I use Situation, Challenge, Advice as the spread positions to get a sense of the day ahead. This is really useful if I already know about the plans for the day ahead, say at work.

If I know there are particular problems that need to be resolved that day I might instead use Root of Problem, Advice, What I resolve to do.

Speaking of tarot spreads…

Learn Some Tarot Spreads

When you are starting with tarot, as well as connecting with the cards, it is really important to learn some tarot spreads that cover a few common topics. It is the tarot deck plus the spread that really give tarot it’s ability to answer questions.

A tarot spread is essentially just the question broken down into the specific elements of that question you want answers to – these are the spread positions. I gave some examples above of some simple 3 card spreads but there are countless other spreads.

Some people will say you don’t need a spread. Even if you don’t use a spread, you usually have something in mind when you put down the cards like ‘What do I need to know about today?’ But, a tarot spread really helps you to find specific answers to your question. I strongly recommend using a spread.

There are tarot spreads for any topic you can think of with any number of cards from 1 to 78 (the full deck!)

When you are starting with tarot it’s probably easier to learn a few small spreads with, say, no more than 5 cards. This just makes doing the reading easier without the mental overload of using a large spread.

Here’s an example of a 5 card problem solving spread that I sometimes use:

Starting with tarot. Learn some spreads
Morgan Greer Tarot Italian Edition copyright US Games Systems

The positions are:

  • Top left The Challenge or Obstacle
  • Bottom left Complications
  • Bottom right What is hidden
  • Top Right Idea, person or thing that can help
  • Centre Action to take

What About The Celtic Cross Spread?

Learning tarot spreads. The Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross Spread. Rider Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

The Celtic Cross spread appears everywhere, in practically every beginner tarot book. It made it’s first public appearance around the time the original RWS tarot was first published and has become ingrained in tarot consciousness.

I don’t believe it’s actually a good spread to learn when you are starting out. For a start this is a whopping 10 card spread – that’s a lot of cards to process. Also, the Celtic Cross is a general purpose spread. Trying to use it to answer every question you have is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. It’s just painful.

It’s much easier to use a spread that answers your specific question. A good tarot spread book I recommend is ‘Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower Your Readings‘ by Barbara Moore. There are many tarot spread books but I believe this is one of the best. Keep it handy when you are starting your tarot journey.

Even better than choosing a spread to fit your question is to custom create a spread to exactly answer your question. Some people feel uncomfortable at doing that but it’s easy and a good skill to learn as you are starting with tarot. I explain how to create your own tarot spread – and how to read a spread – in the post ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which is here.

Start a Tarot journal

I wrote about the importance of tarot journals in the post ‘Reading Tarot For Yourself – 7 Things To Avoid‘, which is here, but I want to quickly mention it again.

When you are starting out with tarot it’s a really good idea to keep a note of the intuitive impressions you are getting from each card. You then have a record of what you have already learned. And, as I wrote in the post above, keeping a journal to note down your tarot readings will help you remember those readings so you can reflect on them later. This also makes for a great learning tool as you can look back on what each card in a reading meant for you.

Get a beginner tarot book

In this blog i’ve often said that learning to read tarot intuitively is important and something that can get you reading tarot quite quickly without needing the card meanings.

But the card meanings are the backbone of tarot – it’s intuition plus card meanings that give tarot it’s power. So, after you have been reading using intuition for a little while, absolutely go and start learning the meanings. The card meanings add garnish to the intuitive reading and can actually spark your intuition in themselves.

When you are starting with tarot, try reading the cards intuitively first. Only after you have done this and gained some meaning from the cards should you reach for the tarot book.

You might be tempted to try learning all the card meanings first. Well, that’s how I started out when I was learning tarot. It was pretty difficult; using the card meanings alone without developing your tarot intuition results in some pretty unsatisfactory mechanical readings. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone new.

There are many good beginner tarot books available on Amazon. There are so many that I can’t really recommend a single one as being the absolute best. As a rough guide go for a book that has at least a 4 star average rating and at least 100 reviews (many have over a 1000 reviews). You won’t go far wrong with that.

Ignore The YouTube Videos That Promise Quick Results

When you are starting out with tarot it is tempting to go on YouTube and see if you can quickly learn the tarot. There are videos that promise you can learn all the cards in 2 hours. Or that you can read like a professional tarot reader in 1 hour.

It’s nonsense. As I mentioned, just learning the card meanings is going to lead to some terrible readings if you don’t learn to use your intuition as well. Reading tarot is a skill and, like all skills, to get good at it takes practice and time.

You will likely forget half the cards meanings after 2 hours of rote learning.

If you want to learn tarot, then take the time to learn to read tarot. Your effort will be rewarded, shortcuts don’t work and will just end in disappointment.

What’s Next?

Everything I discussed above should get you going at the start of your tarot journey. It does take time to become familiar with the cards but it’s worth it.

Once you start to feel confident with reading the cards for yourself, the next step would be to practice reading for other people. There is a lot of content in this blog to help you with reading the cards, both for yourself and other people, so have a wander around.

One of the things you may be wandering is whether you need to use reversed tarot cards in your readings. I mention this here and not in the main advice because you do not need to know tarot reversals to get started with the cards. Some people use reversed cards, others don’t. If you choose not to use reversals nothing bad will happen; the 78 upright cards provide all the information you will need.

If you want to learn an easy way to read reversed cards see the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With If you want to know about elemental dignities – an alternative to tarot reversals – see the post ‘Using Tarot Elemental Correspondences In Your Readingshere.

And above all, enjoy yourself as you explore the tarot.

Major Arcana Meanings Part 3: Hermit to Hanged Man

Major Arcana Meanings Hermit through Hanged Man
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

We continue through the mental part of our journey with the major arcana meanings of The Hermit through to The Hanged Man. This section of the major arcana contains some of the most mysterious cards of the entire deck. But all will be revealed!

Major arcana meanings for The Fool to The Emperor, plus links to the other meanings, can be found here.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Hermit

Major Arcana Meanings The Hermit
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Voice of Light
Zodiac Attribution: Virgo
Keywords: Introspection, Self-reliance, Inspiration, Knowledge

The Hermit made an appearance on the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV album (ask your parents) but what else can we say about this slightly mysterious card?

This card represents seeking knowledge, the truth, divine inspiration. As one of the major arcana, the Hermit represents those times in your life where you want or need to understand where you are going or what is happening/will happen next. Want to really know what to do with the rest of your life? That’s Hermit energy. Trying to understand deep philosophical or spiritual meaning? Hermit again. Trying to understand the implications of a major event in your life? Yep, Hermit energy.

In the here and now plane of existence you may find yourself as the Hermit when you are engaging in something creative such as painting, writing a novel, inventing. This is when you search and feel for that inspirational spark. Which usually hits you when you are alone. And at night.

As well as a seeker of inspiration and knowledge, the Hermit can suggest those times in your life when there is nobody to help you and you need to be truly self-sufficient. During the recent pandemic lock downs here in the UK, many people needed to become self-reliant in order to get by due to isolation. This requires mental fortitude as prolonged isolation is extremely bad for your mental health.

The TdM Hermit is very similar to the RWS version. In early TdM decks, the Hermit is sometimes shown with an hourglass instead of a lamp which changes the meanings of the card. Perhaps the hourglass represents the fact that acquiring knowledge takes time. Or that we can only remain isolated in thought for a certain period before excessive introspection becomes harmful.

And if The Hermit was slightly mysterious, it’s perfectly mundane compared to the next card in our journey.

Major Arcana Meanings: Wheel of Fortune

Major Arcana Meanings Wheel of Fortune
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Forces of Life
Planetary Attribution: Jupiter
Keywords: Good Fortune, Unexpected Change, Fate

The Wheel of Fortune is truly one of the more mysterious cards of the major arcana, if not the entire tarot deck. It represents good fortune or upcoming good fortune as well as unknowable fate. If you use reversals, it could indicate bad luck. The dog headed humanoid figure moving up the wheel is Hermanubis, a combination of the Greek trickster Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis, both gods are conductors of souls to the afterlife. The descending snake is Evil (as also seen in the Lovers card).

Whenever I have received this card in a reading asking ‘What can I expect today?’ or similar, the Wheel of Fortune has always come to represent some unexpected event which turns everything upside down (pun intended). Literally, some unexpected event which comes out of nowhere to make my day more ‘interesting.’ Usually, interesting in an unpleasant manner. Think of this card as message to ‘Expect the Unexpected.’

However, when I receive the Wheel of Fortune in a position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take,’ the card suggests the need to focus on improving your fortunes in a major way through various means. Which means it’s also the ‘kick up the backside’ card!

The message of the Wheel of Fortune then is to keep on your toes and stay alert as well as making positive changes in your life. Not something to be afraid of.

The TdM Wheel of Fortune is very similar except we have a handle protruding from the side. This implies that the Wheel can be controlled to a greater extent than the RWS version. This is true. Remember that we all have free will and can act to change our futures.

Major Arcana Meanings: Justice

Major Arcana Meanings Justice
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Lord of Truth
Zodiac Attribution: Libra
Keywords: Balance, Judging, Truth, Critique

I personally find Justice of the most fascinating cards of the major arcana. The card means fairness but whenever I draw it in a reading it usually suggests being critical of self and finding out what really matters – getting to the truth of things.

This is a card that can be quite hard to understand because it can mean so many things. On a mundane level it can suggest fairness in legal issues as well as weighing up arguments to make a decision. On a higher metaphysical level it can suggest the effect of karma – receiving what you give out. I have also found it can mean that someone is critiquing and judging you – not a comfortable position to be in.

When you receive Justice in an ‘Advice’ position, it is telling you to weigh up what is most important to you and/or the need to act in a fair and balanced manner in the situation.

The RWS and TdM versions of the card are very similar except for the numbering. A.E. Waite swapped the positions of Strength and Justice in the RWS to fit the esoteric pattern he wanted. The TdM retains the original positions. It doesn’t really make much of a difference in actual readings unless you want to do a deep dive into tarot esotericism.

And up next, we have the most mysterious card in the entire major arcana..

The Enigma of The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Spirit of the Mighty Waters
Elemental Attribution: Water
Keywords: Meaningful Sacrifice, Suspension, Punishment, Inaction

The Hanged Man is one of the true enigmas of the tarot deck. Being hanged upside down was a punishment for traitors which gives us one possible meaning for the card. Another common meaning for this major arcana is being able to understand something from a different perspective. However, the RWS version of the Hanged Man goes a little deeper. Notice the golden aura of enlightenment around the figure’s head; this tells us that the suspension is a willing sacrifice in the here and now in order to gain intellectual and/or spiritual insight.

In my every day readings, the Hanged Man has come to mean something less meaningful and more mundane. The card usually signifies an enforced period of inaction – letting time pass by. Sometimes this inaction is due to external forces that can’t be controlled, other times it is necessary and self imposed. Here in the UK, the pandemic lock downs in 2020 and 2021 have had that enforced Hanged Man energy. Way too much of it.

If you’ve ever made sacrifices in order to achieve important life changing gains then that’s the Hanged Man energy. Such as doing night classes to gain important qualifications. Or going to the gym to improve your fitness. Receiving this card in a spread position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take’ is a message that you should make personal sacrifices to gain some benefit in the longer term.

The TdM version of the card has an interesting feature given that the TdM is not an esoteric deck. The ground disappears where the head is giving the impression that the figure is hanging in some sort of hole or abyss. This could be interpreted to mean that the material world has given way to the world of the intellect through the experience of suspension. Well, criminals hanged upside down will certainly have time to reflect on their sins!


We move from the mental realm into that of the spiritual as we move from Death through to The Tower..

Major Arcana Meanings Part 2: Hierophant To Strength

Major Arcana Meanings Hierophant to Strength
The Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

Continuing the major arcana meanings with a look at the Hierophant to Strength. You can find Part 1: Fool to Emperor here as well as links to other major arcana meanings. As before, I am not including reversed meanings as I demonstrate a technique for reading any reversed card in the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With W.I.N.D.’

In this section, when we move from the Chariot to Strength, we move from the physical aspects of our life journey to the mental realm.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Hierophant

Major Arcana Meanings The Hierophant
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Eternal Gods
Zodiac Attribution: Taurus
Keywords: Teacher, Learning, Institution, Dogma

The Hierophant represents learning the lessons and morals necessary to live a worthy life. These lessons were originally safeguarded by the Church so the Hierophant can represent secret knowledge (different from the hidden inner knowledge of the High Priestess). In the more secular world we live in today, the Hierophant can signify any teacher or teaching.

This card also represents the Church so can indicate rigid dogma. I have found the Hierophant could also mean any large institution you need to deal with.

In my personal experience as a therapist, I have embodied the energy of the Hierophant as I often have to provide education, training and information as part of my role. Any teacher or educator uses this same energy. If you are learning a new skill or acquiring knowledge you are also feeling the energy of the Hierophant as the pupil receiving the knowledge.

Both the RWS and Tarot de Marseille (TdM) images of the card are very similar. The TdM version, Le Pape, is the Pope so represents the entire Church (he has the Cross on both hands) and is the source, and gatekeeper, of all the knowledge needed to live a moral and worthwhile life.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Lovers

Major Arcana Meanings The Lovers
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Children of the Voice Divine
Zodiac Attribution: Gemini
Keywords: Choice, Lasting Consequences, Motivation, Love, Action

The iconic RWS image of The Lovers represents the Christian view of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve is making the choice between eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and giving some of the fruit to Adam or remaining in bliss in the Garden. This card is all about being motivated to make life altering decisions with major long term consequences.

We all make these choices. Any time you have made a decision with major implications (choosing a career, going to university, getting married, buying a house for example) you are employing the energy of the Lovers.

The TdM version of the card is very different. Le Amoureux (the Lover), along with Cupid overhead, is a more direct representation of love. Here, the Lover is choosing between his (possibly pregnant) partner, who represents a new path, and his mother which represents the past. Love and motivation are the key aspects here with each decision creating lasting consequences.

When the Lovers, or Lover, card appears it is a message that you must carefully decide where you go from here because each option will have a major, lasting impact on your life.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Chariot

Major Arcana Meanings The Chariot
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Triumph of Light
Zodiac Attribution: Cancer
Keywords: Victory, Willpower, Determination, Focus

The Chariot is the last step of the physical aspect of life’s journey and represents accomplishment through willpower. When you are working towards something and there are many things you need to pull together and rein in to achieve success, that’s the energy of the Chariot. Unlike the Emperor, who represents conquering through a combination of physical effort and sheer energy, the Chariot represents the sustained willpower you need to achieve victory.

Organising a large event with many aspects requiring your attention? That’s the Chariot (combined with the Emperor). Trying to meet a work deadline but there are a variety of distractions? Call on the willpower and focus of the Chariot.

This focus and sustained effort is something we frequently have to accomplish in the physical world.

The RWS Chariot is a superb representation of this concept. The Charioteer is embedded in a solid block of stone with no physical control over the two sphinx except for his sceptre. And the two sphinx are opposites; the white (Yin) energy and black (Yang) energy. How does the Charioteer move his chariot? He can only use the strength of his sustained willpower and personal charisma to cajole both the stone to lift up and the Sphinx to use their supernatural powers to work together and pull the chariot.

The TdM Chariot is similar and only differs in that it lacks the occult symbolism of the RWS version.

If you practice Magick – the changing of reality in accordance with your Will – then you are using the energy of The Chariot as much or even more than that of The Magician.

From the Chariot we then move into the mental realm of life’s journey

Strength: The Beginning of the Mental Journey

Strength card. The suppression of the Ego.
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Flaming Sword
Zodiac Attribution: Leo
Keywords: Self-Control, The ID, The Will

With Strength we enter the mental phase of life’s journey. This stage represents the challenges we face in the mind as we move towards our eventual destination. With Strength we have the suppression of our primal instincts and appetites to meet the needs of our higher self. ID suppressing ego.

Exerting self control over our basic instincts and desires is a vital aspect of living in our modern society. Without this control we give into temptations that distract us from our purpose (procrastination is a good example of what happens here). Worse, failing to control our basic instincts and giving into ego could cause serious harm to ourselves and to others.

I’m sure you can mentally picture any number of situations where failing to exert self control over your ego has led you to distraction in order to satisfy basic appetites. That craving for chocolate? Wanting to do anything except get down to work? Distraction due to sexual energy?

The RWS image of Strength shows a rather loving suppression of our energetic, primitive, ego. After all, we try to suppress our ego to achieve higher purpose and prevent harm but our ego is part of us.

The TdM Strength is very similar and demonstrates the same concept.

Why is the RWS Strength numbered 8 (VIII) and the TdM version numbered 11 (XI)? This is because A.E. Waite wanted the RWS Strength to fit in with his esoteric model of how the major arcana should be arranged. So he moved the card from 11 to 8. At position 11, the TdM Strength is still in the mental aspect of the major arcana. In practice, the change in numbering has absolutely no effect on tarot readings.

Next Time…

In part 3 i’ll look at The Hermit through to The Hanged Man

Major Arcana Meanings Part 1: Fool To Emperor

Major Arcana Card Meanings: Fool to Emperor
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions

This post will cover the major arcana meanings for the Fool through to the Emperor. Throughout this blog I have stated that learning to read the tarot intuitively is more important than learning the card meanings. But card meanings do have a place and add richness to the process of conceptual blending (the process that explains how tarot actually works.) I go into tarot and conceptual blending in depth here.

So this post is the first in a series where I detail the card meanings I have learned and discovered over the years. These meanings include those provided by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (the basis for the RWS and Thoth tarot decks) as well as meanings I use with historical and pip decks.

  • Major Arcana Meanings Part 2: Hierophant to Strength is here.

The major arcana card meanings here work for me but do not treat them as ‘gospel.’ Many readers develop their own meanings and you should not be afraid to do the same if that works for you. I include esoteric elementary, planetary, and zodiac attributions but do not cover them in detail. They are included so you can explore them in depth if you want. I occasionally use the esoteric attributions (especially the elemental attributions) in reading but they are not necessary. In all honesty, consider them optional extras – the icing on the cake – but not needed to read tarot well.

Take what resonates for you and leave the rest.

I illustrate the cards using various editions of the RWS tarot along with the same card in the Tarot de Marseille (TdM). This helps show the origin of the RWS card and how I sometimes use different meanings with the TdM and other historical decks.

I do not discuss reversed meanings. I cover a method of reading reversed meanings here which you can apply to any card. I also do not cover the symbology in depth as different decks use different symbology. But they all work. I explore the relative unimportance of symbology in the conceptual blending post linked to above.

The Three Sections of the Major Arcana

Major arcana cards represent the path through life and each card represents major forces and influences we must deal with on our journey. It helps to think of the major arcana in three sections. The first seven cards, Fool to Chariot, represent the challenges we face in the physical, material realm. The next seven, Strength (or Justice) to Temperance, relate to the mental hurdles on life’s journey. The final seven, The Devil to The World, are the spiritual lessons we need to learn.

This post covers the major arcana meanings for the first five cards in the physical realm.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Fool

Major Arcana Meanings: The Fool
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: The Spirit of Ether
Elemental Attribution: Air
Planetary Attribution: Pluto
Keywords: Beginning, Naivety, Recklessness, Optimism

The Fool is a strange card. It is both the beginning of the journey through life and the end which is why it can be both numbered 0 and 22. The Fool represents the beginning of all endeavours and our passage through life. After card 21 The World, which represents ultimate completion and culmination of the present cycle, we start again at the beginning of a new cycle which is why the Fool can follow the World.

He or she is the hopeless, naive, but enthusiastic optimist who doesn’t know what they are letting themselves in for. This is represented in the RWS tarot by the Fool with his mind in the clouds happily walking along about to step off a cliff. The dog can represent commonsense which the Fool completely ignores.

The TdM version of the Fool is a court jester who blindly continues on his way ignoring risk. This Fool is more obviously an idiot who ignores danger even when it is blatantly harming them.

The major arcana meanings of this card are that you are setting off on a new journey (literal, metaphorical, spiritual) and that the way ahead is completely unknown. When you draw this card you should be alert to possible pitfalls and dangers ahead.

A typical Fool situation would be starting a brand new career, something many people are getting used to in the current pandemic. Retraining and starting a completely new role to what you did before is a Fool situation. In fact, the attitude of several countries entering the pandemic in 2020 is another example of a Fool attitude (reckless, ignorant).

The Fool is one of only three cards in the major arcana with an elemental attribution. I cover how to use elemental correspondences in a reading here.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Magician

Major Arcana Card Meanings: The Magician
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: The Magus of Power
Planetary Attribution: Mercury
Keywords: Awareness, Self-confidence, Skill, Communication, Mastery, Trickery,

The Magician represents conscious awareness of their abilities, knowledge and skill. He/She has the confidence, skill, and the tools to manifest their ideas and thoughts into reality. The RWS Magician has one arm raised to the cosmos and the other pointing to the earth representing the axiom ‘As above, so below.’ This refers to the idea that what applies in one dimension can apply to another. Your thoughts and ideas exist in one realm, the Magician can manifest them in the physical realm.

If you are starting a new project or need to get something done well then this is the card you hope to see in a reading. Working as a therapist, I often feel I must embody the qualities of the Magician in my role. When you have an idea of how something is supposed to go and consciously work to make that happen, overcoming all the resulting obstacles, you are being the Magician

The TdM Basteleur is more of a street performer than a magick wielding magician. The TdM version embodies the qualities of being a great communicator, having amazing social skills and the knowledge to apply them well. He/She is also a bit of a trickster so if the Magician appears in a reading and you interpret the card as representing someone else, beware of mischief and misdirection as a possible negative issue. Or, perhaps you need to apply a little trickery yourself!

Major Arcana Meanings: The High Priestess

RWS tarot and Tarot de Marseille High Priestess and Papesse cards
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: The Priestess of the Silver Star
Planetary Attribution: The Moon
Keywords: Subconscious, Hidden Knowledge, Psychic, Wisdom, Intuition

The High Priestess is the partner and opposite to the Magician. She represents the subconscious wisdom hidden from conscious awareness. When you rely on intuition and gut instinct in a situation, you are embodying the qualities of the High Priestess. Intuition is a combination of knowledge and experience; something we are not always consciously aware of but it is there, hidden away but accessible.

The B and J on the pillars behind the High Priestess represent Boaz and Jachin, the copper or bronze pillars that stood at the main entrance to the Temple of Solomon. They support the veil that hides away the knowledge from view. Thus, you have to reach into the subconscious to access that knowledge. The Moon represents psychic ability as well, another way of representing those intuitive flashes we sometimes get.

The High Priestess is sometimes thought of as representing spiritual wisdom. However, as one of the seven cards in the physical realm I usually consider her to represent intuition and wisdom in the everyday world we live in.

The TdM Papesse represents the mythical female pope and can represent a mature woman full of wisdom. A grandmother telling her grandchildren stories from her past would be a perfect example.

When you draw the High Priestess it can be an indicator to either follow your intuition, draw on acquired wisdom in a situation or seek out wisdom and knowledge from someone else. Essentially, if you don’t know what to do in a situation and your experience doesn’t help, go get help from someone else. A mentor is a good example of someone who is represented by the High Priestess.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Empress

Major Arcana Meanings: The Empress
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Mighty Ones
Planetary Attribution: Venus
Keywords: Abundance, Nurture, Creation, Protection

Just as the Magician and High Priestess form a partnership, so does the Empress and the Emperor. The Empress is the archetypal Earth Mother. She is fertility, nurture, abundance and creation. And, of course, love. The Empress also represents the natural world with all the wildness and chaos that implies.

When you draw the Empress you know that what is required are those nurturing, supportive, loving qualities needed to make anything grow. Whether that is an actual child, your academic progress, a relationship with a partner, or even a business or career. All of which require love and devotion as well as ambition and drive (that’s where the Emperor comes in).

As an actual person, the RWS Empress can represent a mother or other maternal relative. And of course, the Empress is very much the pregnancy card.

The TdM Empress suggests different qualities. Here she is a woman with authority and power but she uses this power to protect and defend the Emperor (holding the shield). The positioning of the sceptre is suggestive of fertility. So, the TdM Empress can represent the need to be authoritative yet also protective, nurturing, and encouraging of growth – the ideal boss actually! As a person, the TdM Empress also suggests a mother, perhaps even the matriarch of a family.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Emperor

The RWS and Tarot de Marseille Emperor cards
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: Son of the Morning
Zodiac Attribution: Ares
Keywords: Builder, Authority, Conqueror, Control

The Emperor forms the Yang to the Yin of the Empress. Embodying authority, the Emperor establishes order from chaos, builds foundations, and squashes opposition. Where the Empress represents nurture and nature, the Emperor represents conquering and civilisation. This is really clear in the RWS Emperor who has imposed his huge sculpted stone throne on the natural landscape.

The Emperor is an interesting card. Many people view the Emperor in a negative light as representing patriarchy. While this is certainly true, we wouldn’t have civilisation and our modern society without being able to conquer strife and adversity. We need the energy of the Emperor to build institutions, society and have effective government. The Empress keeps the power of the Emperor in check and the Emperor prevents The Empress’ wild natural tendencies from running out of control.

In an everyday sense, you can feel the energy of the Emperor every time you need to deal with government institutions. Or dealing with senior management in a large organisation. An entrepreneur starting a business has to employ the energy of the Emperor, as well as the Empress, to overcome obstacles and create the foundation of the new business. Do you have problems you need to get on top of? Time to call on the qualities of the Emperor (impose order, tackle problems methodically in order of priority, deal with obstacles as they appear rather than let them fester.)

The TdM Emperor demonstrates power even more clearly, wielding his sceptre in an aggressive manner. He looks like he’s about to hit someone!

As a person, the Emperor represents anyone in a position of authority. He also clearly can represent a father or father figure with an aura of authority.

Up Next

In part 2 I will look at the major arcana meanings for The Hierophant through to The Hermit, moving from the physical realm of life’s journey to the mental realm.

Conceptual Blending: How Tarot Really Works?

Tarot Conceptual Blending
Melanated Classic Tarot 2nd Edition copyright Julia Goolsby & Oubria Tronshaw

There are many theories about how tarot works and why messages from the cards seem to appear out of nowhere. In this post I am going to cover one of the most plausible explanations – Conceptual Blending.

Theories on how tarot works range from the supernatural and mystical – spiritual guides, higher self – to the psychological and just simple intuition. No one really knows the true answer. Conceptual blending seems to be one of the most likely explanations and is one I personally believe provides most of the rationale as to how tarot actually works.

So, What exactly is conceptual Blending?

Creativity expert Michael Michalko’s book ‘Creative Thinkering’ explains conceptual blending from a creative thinking perspective. Michalko states that conceptual blending is widely used in the business world, the arts, the sciences and several other sectors to solve problems.

Conceptual Blending:

  • Is a cognitive process
  • Involves taking a random stimulus which could be any object that is not associated with your problem in any way.
  • You think of all the characteristics and attributes of this random stimulus in combination with your problem.
  • The blending of the random stimulus and the problem causes the mind to try to find links between the two in your conscious and subconscious.
  • When a link is found this results in a new idea that could not have been obtained from logical thinking. This is creative thinking.
Conceptual Blending

Example of Conceptual Blending in Action

Before diving into conceptual blending in tarot, it is probably a good idea to demonstrate how conceptual blending has actually worked for me rather than read examples in books.

I very recently broke my little toe in a act of idle minded clumsiness. Not the most serious of injuries but very painful and I was advised to rest and elevate my foot. I also like to drink coffee and live in a maisonette (a flat with different levels). I discovered I would make my coffee and then sometimes forget to take it upstairs and going up and down the stairs was a painful chore.

The obvious answer would be to put a visual prompt somewhere I could see that said ‘Remember to take your coffee upstairs!’ But I don’t like sticking things up so I wanted another solution. Using the idea of conceptual blending I chose a random stimulus by closing my eyes, turning around slowly to the count of 10 and then pointing before I opened my eyes. I ended up pointing at some pandemic appropriate hand sanitiser gel.

Conceptual Blending in practice

Thinking about all the attributes of this hand gel combined with the problem of how I could remember to take my coffee upstairs I realised that the container is easy to carry and you can get the gel whenever you want. I could do the same thing if I put my coffee in a thermos flask! Bingo! I didn’t own a thermos flask so this wasn’t something I would have immediately thought of.

After buying a thermos flask I then kept it upstairs to I could have hot coffee throughout the afternoon without having to go the kitchen downstairs. Result.

Would I have thought of using a thermos flask without the conceptual blending? Maybe, but I wasn’t used to using a flask myself so it wasn’t immediately obvious. Conceptual blending helped me solve this issue in a way that I may not have considered for awhile.

Conceptual Blending & Tarot

If you Google ‘Tarot conceptual blending’ you will realise that there is a growing understanding that conceptual blending is being understood as the means by which tarot provides seemingly mystical answers out of thin air. Longtime tarot reader and author Vincent Pitisci has also explored conceptual blending and tarot in several of his books, namely ‘Radical Tarot‘ and ‘Bare Bones Tarot.’

Pitisci argues that the tarot card acts as the random stimulus and that the tarot spread position it’s placed in – the spread being the question separated into all the aspects you need answered – results in conceptual blending. When you read a tarot card you are blending all the meanings of the card and the picture with the question. Your mind will find a link between the two and an answer appears. It is a higher order cognitive process, not a supernatural or mystical phenomena.

Implications For Tarot Reading

So, if we assume that conceptual blending is how tarot works, there are some implications for tarot that it’s worth bearing in mind.

Astrology, Qabalah and other Esoteric elements are not necessary

Esoteric elements of tarot such as astrology and the Qabalah do contribute to the reading. But only in so much that they provide meanings that you can blend with the question. Some people, myself included, read historical tarot decks without using esoteric elements and some people do not use meanings at all. But the tarot still works. It is the meaning added that is important, not the astrology or Qabalah itself. You could use anything to add meaning to the tarot such as the qualities of plants and the tarot still works.

The Tarot Spread is as important as the cards

In many tarot books there is an overabundance of emphasis on the symbology in tarot cards. For example, the red feather in the Fool card in the RWS tarot. There is actually relatively little emphasis on the importance of the tarot spread.

The tarot spread acts as the question. If we assume that conceptual blending is the reason that tarot works then it’s important that the spread positions cover the various aspects required to answer our question. The symbology on the cards is only important in that it adds meanings we can blend with spread positions. But different decks have different symbology yet most tarot decks still work. Therefore, the symbology on the cards is not actually very important.

The upshot of all of this is that we should actually spend as much time designing or carefully choosing our tarot spreads as we do on looking at the cards.

With conceptual blending, the tarot spread is equally as important as the cards.

I talk about how to create your own tarot spread here.

There is no such thing as a ‘Correct’ Card Meaning

Because any meanings we attach to the cards work, it is not necessary to learn the ‘appropriate’ card meanings. Buy any two tarot books, each from a different author, and you will find they have different meanings for any particular card. Yet those different meanings will still help you read the card. And some people don’t even use meanings. Whatever meaning you attach to a card will work for you.

Tarot is not a supernatural, mystical process

With conceptual blending, we have no need for a supernatural explanation for why answers seem to spring out of thin air. Now we know it is due to a cognitive process occurring in the conscious and subconscious. Conceptual blending also puts paid to the Catholic Church’s view that tarot is a gateway to demons and other evil spirits.

Tarot is not nonsense

Many tarot sceptics deride tarot as being complete nonsense. Well, we can say that tarot definitely works because we now have a better understanding of how the mind works.

Putting the Theory into practice

Here’s an example of conceptual blending using tarot that I used to solve another issue around my broken toe.

I broke my toe because I banged it off a chest of drawers while walking barefoot. I do not normally wear footwear indoors although I do own a pair of slippers. I needed to protect my toe from further stubbing but trying to break a habit of a lifetime and wear slippers was challenging. I would start to wear slippers but then forget to put them on when leaving my bedroom or living room so I needed a reminder (not a visual cue stuck to the wall).

So, here’s the tarot to the rescue:

Tarot at work
Melanated Classic Tarot 2nd Edition copyright Julia Goolsby & Oubria Tronshaw

I randomly drew the Queen of Wands from the Melanated Classic Tarot and asked the question:

How can I remember to put on my slippers before leaving a room so at to protect my toe?

So, I looked at the Queen of Wands above in combination with this question. I thought about everything I knew about the Queen of Wands and the artwork. What eventually stood out to me was the cat.

I own a cat and one thing he does – like most cats – is wait and scratch at a closed door wanting to be let in. If I closed a door, he would be there. And that’s how I found a link between the card and my problem. I needed a reminder when I reached the door of the room to put my slippers on. My answer was to place an old slipper or a shoe at each door so that when I reached the door I would see the footwear and be reminded to wear my slippers! It worked amazingly well. Without the reminders I might have banged my toe again (I did bang my foot wearing slippers but my toe was protected. Yes, I am accident prone!)

Conceptual blending resulting in a spark of intuition.

I have used other random objects (a dressing gown and a decorative candle holder!) to find solutions to problems and they have all resulted in answers I would not have thought of otherwise. This conceptual blending stuff really works!

So that’s it then? Conceptual Blending has all the answers?

Well, perhaps.

I believe that conceptual blending is very likely the main reason tarot works but i’m keeping an open mind. I do believe in meaningful coincidences and conceptual blending does not manage to explain to me meaningful synchronicity in tarot. Example, while you are shuffling the deck and a card jumps out. Then that same card is the one drawn or the card in the prominent position. Even more suspicious when that same card appears in single card draws and small spreads repeatedly over a short period of time.

I’m also not suggesting that people who hold a supernatural or mystical view of the tarot are wrong. All beliefs are valid. But when a tarot sceptic comes up to you and says that tarot is BS, you can turn around and say ‘It’s all in the mind.’

Using Tarot Card Pairs In Readings

Reading Tarot Card Pairs
Influence of the Angels Tarot copyright US Games Systems

Reading tarot card pairs can bring much more nuance and detail to a reading than just using a single card in a spread position. I am going to discuss why you should try reading card pairs and give some examples of the extra depth paired cards can bring.

Using card pairs in a tarot reading is something I feel used to be more common but has fallen out of favour. In the many, many tarot readings available on YouTube over several years I have not once seen anyone use card pairs. And that’s a real shame.

O.K, so why use Card Pairs in a Tarot reading?

For a start, you can gain much more detail in a small card spread if you use 2 cards per spread position than just 1. Imagine a 3 position spread, you are automatically going to get more information if you have 6 cards (2 per position) instead of one.

But if you want more information why not just do a 6 card spread?

Well, if you use 2 cards per spread position you can gain a similar amount of intuitive stimulation and depth as if you use the ‘Awake Dream’ method I describe here. You can use the direction people are facing; the direction of gazes and hand gestures etc to add extra dimension to your readings.

However, the advantage card pairs have over the Awake Dream method is that you can use larger spreads using tarot card pairs than with the Awake Dream approach. Using 2 cards per spread position is far more manageable than using 3.

Card pairs can suggest ideas and messages that single cards can’t. Two cards combined create a richer, more complex, picture than a single card. From this richer imagery we obtain more detail and we can actually get some very specific messages.

Examples of New Meanings from Card Pairs

Using card pairs was much more popular in the 1970s than it is now. The 1970s edition of the Grimaud Tarot de Marseille came with a booklet that described meanings derived by combining various Major Arcana. Here’s an example I briefly mentioned in the post, ‘Is Tarot Evil?’:

Tarot Card Pair indicating global disease epidemic
Grimaud Tarot de Marseille copyright B.P. Grimaud

The booklet shown above tells us that Death followed by The World indicates a global disease epidemic. Just like we are experiencing right now as I write this post in 2021. Look at that picture! We have Death gazing at the smaller figure in The World card who is seemingly protected from the scythe by the wreath around her. And the figure in The World card looking at Death’s scythe, the bringer of destruction.

I don’t know about you but looking at this picture gives me the shivers. It’s as if the woman in The World is isolating herself from the devastation that Death brings. And that’s something a lot of us can relate to.

This card pairing essentially creates a new meaning: global death; and perhaps isolation from disease.

That was a bit grim.

Here are some more cheerful meanings gained from using card pairs.

Tarot Card Pair indicating birth
The Druidcraft Tarot copyright Eddison Books Ltd

There are several ways to look at card pairs. In the first example with the Grimaud tarot we looked at the direction of gaze (Death looking at the World, the figure in the World looking at the scythe.) In this card pair using the Druidcraft tarot we have another method. Here we can think of the two images as being a single image and then read the cards left to right. Although, to be honest, it is actually pretty clear what the message is.

Imagine this card pair in a spread position called Situation or Outcome; if your querent (or yourself!) is pregnant then this will signify the message is on track. If you or your querent are female and are not aware you are pregnant then it might be a good idea to check! Of course, this imagery doesn’t have to relate to actual pregnancy or birth. If the question was about some business venture or other enterprise, it could indicate that the business is still in the early stages but may be close to fruition.

This card pair could simply be called pregnancy and/or birth, If you see this card pair or something very similar (perhaps Queen of Wands or Pentacles and Sun for instance), know that this is suggesting the possible beginnings of a new actual life or enterprise.

Here’s another example of a card pair indicating an important event:

Tarot Card Pair indicating marriage
Vintage Rider Tarot copyright US Games Systems

As if it wasn’t obvious (it might not be), this is the ‘marriage’ card pair. The 4 of Wands in the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot is often thought as the wedding card. A combined Hierophant and 4 of Wands seals the deal. Imagine if you were using card pairs and reading for a querent when this card pair turns up in a position suggesting an outcome. Even more interesting, what if this card pair was in a position called ‘Advice’?

Importance of intuition and the Right deck

The examples above provide a good demonstration of just how card pairs can deliver a detailed and specific message. Of course there’s no way I can list every possible tarot card pair combination because that’s around 6006 different combinations!

So, if you want to use card pairs there are two things you will need to have:

  1. A good sense of intuition and
  2. The right tarot deck(s)

What Kind of Tarot Decks?

Back in the 70s (and maybe the early 80s) there were relatively few tarot decks available compared to now. Using card pairs in a reading works great when using the RWS tarot which was certainly the most popular deck available back in the day amongst a small pool of options.

These days I would still recommend the RWS tarot because of the clarity of the images. Decks that follow the RWS very closely, such as the Druidcraft tarot, are also great options. What you need to avoid are the decks that stray from the RWS blue print: decks that re-interpret the RWS meanings; decks that have abstract art; ‘pip’ based decks; the Thoth tarot. In essence, what you need are RWS ‘clones’ which are decks that follow the RWS imagery very closely.

I’m the first to admit this may limit the appeal of using card pairs; there are many, many fine tarot decks around which don’t follow the RWS. However, if you use the RWS or a deck that is very close to it in terms of imagery depiction then give card pairs a go.

My readings reached a new level of insight when I started using card pairs. See if it can do the same for you.

Some practice!

And now the interactive bit!

If you go to the top of the post, look at the spread using the Influence of the Angels Tarot. Use any 3 card spread you like (or use Situation, Challenge, Advice) and see what messages you get from the card pairs!

Major Arcana Only Reading For Extra Impact

Three Major Arcana from the Tarot of Prague 3rd Edition
Tarot of Prague 3rd Edition copyright Alex Ukolov and Karen Mahony

Tarot major arcana only readings can be especially powerful. I will look at using only the major arcana cards in a tarot reading; why you would want to do this; how to prepare for a major arcana only reading; and cover some major arcana only spreads.

What are the Major Arcana?

It was the 19th century French occultist Paul Christian who named the 22 trump cards as the ‘Major Arcana’, the word ‘arcana’ meaning ‘secrets.’ Christian believed that the trump cards contained secret spiritual knowledge in their centuries old images.

Tarot historians believe the 22 trump cards were added to a playing card deck to create the earliest known tarot decks. These decks were used for playing a trick taking game and the trump cards would of course ‘trump’ any lower rank cards.

The Visconti Sforza Tarot - one of the earliest known tarot decks.
The Visconti Tarot created by Bonifacio Bembo around 1450 is one of the earliest tarot decks

Since the late 18th century when tarot decks were beginning to be used for divination, the trumps/major arcana have held greater significance than the other cards of the deck. The major arcana now are usually regarded as representing important life and karmic lessons. Each of these lessons must be learnt for progression towards fulfilment of one’s path in life.

Why use only the Major Arcana in a reading?

Due to the extra significance normally given to the major arcana in a reading using the full 78 card deck, using just the major arcana can really give a tarot reading increased impact.

The major arcana, used by itself as a 22 card deck, will give you a very direct, clear and quite unambiguous reading. There are some tarot readers who argue that, by not using the full deck, a reading will not be as deep or detailed. But there are no rules when it comes to tarot reading. If you want a no nonsense reading that won’t have you scratching your head, a majors only reading is the way to go.

If there is a really important, potentially life changing issue, where you want to gain clarity and insight, a majors only reading could be the way to go. Or maybe you just want a really clear answer without needing to spent too much time deciphering the card’s meanings. Again, the major arcana by themselves can help you.

The Minor Arcana By Themselves?

Alternatively, if you are dealing with everyday issues and you don’t want to confuse things with major karmic influences, you could just take out the major arcana and use the 56 minor arcana which deal more with ‘normal’ life issues and behaviour. This isn’t sacrilege and there will not be any decrease in the effectiveness of your reading. Remember, there are no rules in tarot reading.

Preparing for a majors only reading

To complete a majors only reading all you have to do is take out the 22 major arcana cards from whatever deck you are using. Then simply shuffle the majors and use them as a 22 card deck. Simple.

There are some majors only decks available but you don’t really need to use these. I just like to use a 78 card deck and take out the majors if I want a majors only reading. Then, if I want to use the full 78 card deck, I just put the majors back in. A majors only deck will not give you that flexibility.

Major Arcana Only Spreads

There are some tarot spreads that are meant to be used only with the major arcana. Of course you could use the major arcana in any tarot spread you want (so long as it has 22 or fewer positions!) The following are some spreads that I have found particularly useful which are only for use with the majors.

Four Winds Major Arcana Spread

This spread can be found in the book ‘Genius of the Tarot‘ by Vincent Pitisci. This is a good spread for really helping you think about an issue in a rounded manner.

Four Winds Major Arcana Spread using the Balbi Tarot
Four Winds spread with the Balbi Tarot copyright Heraclio Fournier

Spread Positions

  1. North: What are your thoughts and ideas on this issue?
  2. South: What are your feelings on the issue?
  3. East: What inspires you or drives you regarding this issue?
  4. West: What practical steps do you need to think about/do regarding the issue?

The centre card is known as the Quintessence card, the overall message of the reading. It’s found by adding all the numerical values of the other four cards and continue adding until you reach 22 or less. I tend to treat the Fool as 22. In the above example that means adding 3+11+19+1=34. 3+4=7.

7 is the Chariot so the overall message of the above reading would be to focus your willpower and pull all your strengths and assets together to succeed.

Path & Goal Major Arcana Spread

I found this spread in the book ‘Complete Book of Tarot Spreads‘ by Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig. It’s unusual in that you don’t randomly choose the cards from the deck. Instead, you choose the card that represents where you are now and the card that represents where you want to be. The third card, The Path, is then found by counting the steps to go from card 1 to card 2.

Follow the Path Major Arcana Spread using the Alchemical Tarot Renewed 5th Edition
Path & Goal spread with the Alchemical Tarot Renewed 5th Edition copyright Robert M. Place

Spread Positions (from left to right)

  1. Where you stand now
  2. Where you want to be
  3. Your Path

In the above example, we count from Strength, Card 11 of the major arcana in this deck, to The Sun, Card 19. That’s 8 steps. That gives us Justice, Card 8 in the Alchemical Tarot.

The Witches’ Pentagram

Witches Pentagram Major Arcana Spread
Witches’ Pentagram spread with the Tarot of A.E. Waite (Premium Edition) copyright AGM Urania

This major arcana only tarot spread goes by several different names but I first learnt it as the Witches’ Pentagram. It serves as a good general overview spread to look at different aspects of your situation. As an option you can find the Quintessence card in the same manner as in the Four Winds spread to give you the overall message of the reading.

Spread Positions (anti clockwise from top)

  1. Top: Spirit – what is your goal?
  2. Left: What do you think about the situation?
  3. Bottom Left: What practical steps do you need to take?
  4. Bottom Right: Where do you need to focus your energy?
  5. Right: How do you feel about the situation?

The Tarot de Marseille Cross

The Tarot de Marseille (TdM) is a centuries old historical tarot deck that predates the Rider Waite Smith tarot. It is a non-esoteric deck meaning that it does not include occult symbolism. The deck was originally intended for playing card games but is now more commonly used for divination. I talk about the TdM in the post ‘Choosing And Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which is here.

The TdM is most commonly used in France and, traditionally, only the major arcana are used in a reading. The following spread is the Cross which is a good 4 card overview spread that can help with problem solving.

Tarot de Marseille Cross Spread using the Playing Marseille Tarot
The Cross Spread using the Playing Marseille Tarot copyright US Games Systems

Spread Positions (Starting left to right then top to bottom)

  1. Left: What is in your favour?
  2. Right: What is not in your favour/what opposes you?
  3. Top: Overall synthesis/analysis of the situation described in cards 1 & 2.
  4. Bottom: Outcome/Advice (choose ‘advice’ if you want to think about practical steps to take)

The Open Reading

This last major arcana only spread actually isn’t really a spread at all. The Open Reading is a method of reading the TdM which uses 3 cards but the spread positions are not determined in advance. This reading style is similar to the ‘The Awake Dream’ method I discussed in the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which is here. The Open Reading is discussed in the book ‘The Marseille Tarot Revealed‘ by Yoav Ben-Dov.

In the Open Reading, you place the 3 cards down (reversals are not used) and then determine if there are any positions that seem likely such as Passive Thought, Situation, Action. There may not be any spread positions at all and, instead, you look at the direction of gazes, hand gestures, and the direction people are facing as in the Awake Dream method. Card meanings can be used in the reading.

Tarot de Marseille Open Reading using the Hadar Tarot de Marseille
An Open Reading using the Hadar TdM copyright Editions De Mortagne

If you want to use the TdM then I highly recommend the Open Reading technique; it takes a bit of getting used to but it is a powerful tarot major arcana only reading style.

Other Spreads

The spreads above are all ones i’ve used quite often but i’m certain there are many more. And remember, you don’t need to use a specific spread – just use any spread you like. The type of spread that would work best with just the major arcana would be ones that have general positions rather than narrowly defined positions. The next time you want to do a tarot reading, try using only the major arcana and see what impact this has on the message you receive from the cards.

Happy tarot reading!

Using Tarot Elemental Correspondences In Your Readings

Tarot Suit Elemental Correspondences

You can gain so much more from your readings by using the tarot elemental correspondences than by just using intuition alone. The 4 tarot suits plus some of the major arcana are associated with the 4 elements of Earth, Water, Wind and Fire. In this post I discuss which suits are associated with which element; what this elemental correspondence means for each suits’ area of influence; and which of the major arcana are associated with the elements. Finally, I discuss and demonstrate how to use these tarot elemental correspondences in a reading.

I have described how to easily do an intuitive reading using the Awake Dream method in the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which you can find here. Even if you never go on to learn the meanings of the cards you can add greater depth to your tarot readings by learning how the elemental energies affect each other.

This post is intended as a next step to using the Awake Dream approach with greater depth by using the tarot elemental correspondences.

What Are the Tarot Suit Elemental Correspondences?

Elemental correspondence just means that each tarot suit corresponds with one elemental energy which gives that suit its particular characteristics. This really only applies to tarot decks based either on the Rider Waite Smith or Thoth tarot systems.

You can read more on the various tarot systems in the post ‘Choosing and Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which can be found here.

So, what are the correspondences?

Wands and Fire (Or Air)

Tarot Wands correspond with the element of Fire
Crowley Thoth Tarot copyright OTO International/AGM, Switzerland

The element of fire commonly corresponds with the suit of Wands. Fire is energetic and provides heat to move you forwards. Wands therefore represents enterprise; drive; ambition; inspiration; spirit; and career. In fact wands covers anything that could be associated with the spark that drives us forward in life to achieve goals.

I put Air in brackets above because in some decks Wands are associated with Air. Likewise, the suit normally associated with Air, Swords, is then associated with fire. These decks are less common but there are a few currently in publication.

If you have a deck where Wands = Air then know that the qualities of the suit remain the same. Simply think of Wands as needing Air to grow rather than creating fire. Associating Wands with Air does mean that in those decks the imagery will be different from the more common Wands = Fire. This can put some people off.

If you are looking to buy a new tarot deck, make sure you know which suit is associated with which element so you don’t confuse yourself when reading.

Cups and Water

Tarot Cups are associated with the element of water
Crowley Thoth Tarot copyright OTO International/AGM, Switzerland

The suit of Cups corresponds with water. Water flows slowly or quickly and can be calm and still or stormy and tempestuous. Therefore, Cups is associated with moods and feelings as well as with intuition and psychic ability. Cups represents both the positive moods – such as love and happiness – but also the negative ones as well such as loss and laziness.

Coins/Pentacles and Earth

Tarot Suit of Coins/Pentacles corresponds with the element of Earth
Crowley Thoth Tarot copyright OTO International/AGM, Switzerland

The Earth element usually corresponds with the suit of Coins/Pentacles. Earth is stability and enables growth and productivity. This means that Coins/Pentacles is associated with abundance; consistency; reliability; wealth; production; work; the material world; money; health. In negative terms this also means that Coins/Pentacles also represents worry; lack of resources; failure in the material realm; focus on the material to the detriment of the spiritual.

Swords and Air (Or Fire)

Swords corresponds with the element of Air
Crowley Thoth Tarot copyright OTO International/AGM, Switzerland

Swords is normally associated with Air although, as I mentioned earlier, it sometimes corresponds with Fire depending on the deck creator’s design. Air is rationality, ideas, thinking and can be calm but also turbulent and clouded. Air represents the intellect, rational thought, ideas, communication. It also represents peace, sorrow, conflict, aggression, defeat, anxiety and catastrophic thinking. The suit of Swords has a reputation as the painful suit.

Elemental Correspondences in the Major Arcana

Only 3 of the 22 Major Arcana, or Trumps, are associated with the elements. These are:

  • The Fool
    Associated with Air.
  • The Hanged Man
    Associated with Water
  • Judgement/The Aeon (Thoth Tarot)
    Associated with Fire
Tarot Elemental Correspondences in the Major Arcana
Crowley Thoth Tarot copyright OTO International/AGM, Switzerland

What about Earth? Well, you, the reader, represents the earth element so the element does not appear in the Trumps.

If you are wondering why the elements have been distributed like this here is a brief explanation.

The Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn

The Rosy Cross of the Golden Dawn
Hermetic Rosy Cross adopted by Adepts of the Golden Dawn

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a late 19th century magical order, open to both men and women, whose aim was to help man become more. Notable members included W.B Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Tarot formed an important element of the occult practices within the order. Amongst other esoteric knowledge attributed to the major arcana, the 12 signs of the zodiac; the 7 planets of horary astrology; and the 3 elements mentioned above were associated with the cards. There are only 22 Trumps which means one element, Earth, was left out.

The creator of the RWS Tarot, A.E. Waite, and Aleister Crowley, intellectual mind behind the Thoth Tarot, were both members of the Golden Dawn. These two tarot decks are responsible for the mass popular appeal of tarot to this day and so many of the decks available today incorporate the elemental, zodiac and planetary associations of the Golden Dawn.

Yep, tarot today is hugely popular because of 19th century occultists. It is worth briefly pointing out that A.E. Waite was a practicing Christian so any idea that the most popular tarot deck in the world is a work of evil and attracts demons is complete nonsense.

Using Elemental Correspondences in Tarot Readings

We can use the elemental correspondences for more than just giving the suits their characteristics.

Crowley’s Thoth tarot was not designed to be used with tarot reversals. Instead, the Thoth uses the idea of elemental dignities to determine the strength or weakness of certain cards. However, you don’t need to use the Thoth to make use of elemental dignities. If you don’t like using tarot reversals, elemental dignities could be a good alternative to add depth to your reading.

What Are Elemental Dignities?

The basic idea is that when two cards are close together, their elements may either oppose, strengthen or simply support the other card. Cards of the same suit will strengthen each other, cards of the opposing suits weaken each other and cards, neither of opposing suits nor of the same suit, will support the meaning of the other.

This is more easily explained like this:

The Tarot Suit Elemental Correspondences
Tarot Elemental Correspondences and Elemental Dignities

So, for example, if the 6 of Wands and the Page of Wands were close to each other, the meanings of both cards would be strengthened. If the 6 of Cups and the Page of Wands were together, the meanings of both would be weakened. If the 6 of Pentacles or 6 of Swords were close to the Page of Wands then each card would simply support the other.

All you have to do is remember the opposing elements: Fire and Water are opposites; Air and Earth are opposites.

Cards of the same suit strengthen each other, cards neither of the same or opposing suits support each other

Examples of Elemental Dignities in Readings

To demonstrate how to add depth to an intuitive reading I am going to use tarot elemental dignities in an intuitive reading using the Awake Dream method. Elemental dignities work best in spreads or readings where the cards are close together, such as the 3 card approach used in the Awake Dream way of reading.

The question I am asking is: What do I need to know about protecting my health during the current coronavirus pandemic?

Reading 1

Example of Tarot Elemental Dignities in a reading
Miniature Albano Waite Tarot copyright 1987 Tarot Productions and copyright US Games Systems

Intuitively, reading left to right, suggests that moving from close contact with others to social distancing will allow me to continue to work and be productive in safety.

Adding in tarot elemental dignities can allow more nuance to this reading. Here we have Cups and Wands next to each other. These are opposing suits thus weakening each other. This could be interpreted as the need to work closely together (6 of Cups) makes working in isolation challenging (3 of Wands). Similarly, the need to work in isolation (3 of Wands) means it will be difficult to provide the service needed to other people (6 of Cups).

However, Wands and Pentacles neither strengthen nor weaken each other; the cards support each other. So, even though working alone will make the work more challenging (3 of Wands), it will still support my productivity and keep me safe (King of Pentacles). Also, being safe and productive (King of Pentacles) means I can continue to be successful (figure on 3 of Wands well dressed and standing proud). Therefore, I may need to find a way to alter my work practice to enable remote working.

Reading 2

Example of Supportive Elemental Dignities in a reading
Miniature Albano Waite Tarot copyright 1987 Tarot Productions and copyright US Games Systems

Here, the High Priestess is notably larger than the figures in the other two cards suggesting this card is of the most importance. The High Priestess it telling me to listen to my gut instinct in this case.

Pentacles and Wands are next to each other and are supportive suits. The 8 of Pentacles is letting me know that working and being productive in isolation (note the town is in the far distance) will support me in remaining safe (figure standing proud in 3 of Wands). Likewise, the 3 of Wands is saying to me that remaining remote from other people (figure is standing high on a cliff) will allow me to continue my work (figure hard at work in 8 of Pentacles). Thus, the messages of the 8 of Pentacles and of the 3 of Wands support each other.

Note that the figures seem to get progressively larger moving from left to right. This is telling me that working alone is the wisest thing I can do.

See how intuition works? It’s amazing!

Reading 3

Strengthening Elemental Dignities in a reading
Miniature Albano Waite Tarot copyright 1987 Tarot Productions and copyright US Games Systems

This is an interesting reading. Here we have 2 Wands cards next to each other which strengthen each other. We also have the 3 of Wands and 2 of Cups next to each other; opposing suits so both these cards weaken each other.

Noting that the figures in the 2 of Cups are larger than the others I take that as meaning being able to work face to face is really important However, this weakens my ability to be able to work remotely (3 of Wands). On the other hand working remotely will make it very difficult to fully dedicate myself to my work as this requires face to face working (weakened 2 of Cups).

Intuitively, in the context of the question, the 5 of Wands appears to show a group of figures struggling to keep away from each other and expending energy to do it. This reinforces the need to work remotely (3 of Wands). However, being successful in my work (3 of Wands splendidly dressed standing proud) means I may need to work with others face to face. This reinforces the need to make sure precautions are taken to maintain social distancing at work (5 of Wands). Overall, the message of the reading is that I need to work face to face with people but with appropriate safety precautions in place.

Elemental Dignities Deepen Intuitive Tarot Reading

I hope in these example readings I have shown you how you can add depth to your intuitive readings by using elemental dignities. I have barely used the actual card meanings in these readings yet the readings, using tarot elemental dignities, have more nuance and provide a richer message than with intuition alone.

If you want to use larger spreads, I provide an example of how to use the Awake Dream method with larger card spreads in the post ‘Tarot for Self-Reflection and Action‘ which is here.

Try elemental dignities out and see if they work for you – you may be surprised how much of an impact using the tarot elemental correspondences have on your readings.

Tarot For Self-Reflection And Action

Tarot is a tool for self reflection

By reading tarot you can gain the agency needed to follow the path in life you want or need through self-reflection. This self-reflection in turn suggests the course of action most likely to help you. In this post, I will demonstrate how to use the tarot as a practical tool for self-reflection and initiating action when you need guidance.

As with all things I write in this blog take what works for you and leave the rest.

Although many people use tarot as a spiritual tool, it also serves as a very practical tool for self-reflection that really resonates. This means you can reflect deeply on all the aspects of a situation; the insight you gain points the way to what you need to do next.

For much more information on reading tarot for yourself effectively, see the posts ‘Reading Tarot For Yourself – 7 Things to Avoid‘ – which you can read here – and ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which is here.

Two Parts to Self-Reflection Using Tarot

The first part to using tarot as a form of regular everyday guidance is reading for yourself and spending the time to reflect on the message the cards are giving you. This seems pretty self-explanatory. However, the second part is to think about how you are going to move forwards by taking action.

Action is crucial because nothing will change if you do not act. You have free will to change what is likely to happen if you do nothing, the future is not set in stone.

Let’s take an example situation which can be stressful and lead to feelings of loss of agency and see how a tarot reading can help us think about how to respond to it.

An Example Tarot Reading

I have chosen a realistic example situation which is very current. During the Coronavirus Pandemic, many people are losing, or have lost, their jobs and even their entire careers. This is certainly true here in the UK. It is a difficult time to find new work as job opportunities are greatly reduced.

Being out of work has many disadvantages. As well as loss of income there are some serious health implications, particularly for mental health. Continual job application rejections can leave a person feeling demoralised and helpless.

So, I did the following reading with this issue in mind. The question I asked is ‘What can the cards tell me about how to deal with being out of work and not finding work?’

Intuitive tarot reading for self-reflection
Rider Tarot Deck copyright US Games Systems

The above reading uses the ‘Awake Dream’ method I described in the post ‘How to do an Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which you can read here.

In short, this is a 3 card spread, the positions being Situation; What I Need To Know; Advice working from the bottom up.

Instead of using just 1 card in each position, I used 3 to create a picture – or painting – which tells a story. I then describe what each picture is saying. With this reading I did not use intuition alone, I also used card meanings to add depth to the reading.


The bottom row is Situation. Here the Knight of Cups is leaving the Ace of Pentacles behind – this Ace symbolises new opportunities for work and earning money – in search of this opportunity. Being in the desert with his empty cup he is seeking work and a sense of well being that comes from being able to work and earn. However, his path has been blocked by the Page of Swords who looks like he is actively ready to chop the Knight’s head off.

The Page in the Situation position represents potential employers rejecting you. The Page of Swords represents a new path in terms of ideas and mental clarity. It seems to suggest that you, as the Knight of Cups, need to think again about how you are approaching this – to think rather than to act on your need/strong feeling to find work.

It is worth bearing in mind that the tarot court cards can either literally represent people or, figuratively speaking, behaviours and attitudes to adopt. Here, the Knight of Cups represents the actual querent and the Page of Swords represents both the employer(s) and the attitude the querent needs to adopt moving forward.

What I Need To Know

In the middle row, the King of Cups is the largest figure and appears very isolated. The figures in both the 8 of Cups and the 7 of Swords are moving away from him. The King appears to represent the querent and their need to remain calm amidst the chaos surrounding him.

The retreating figure in the 8 of Cups can represent the feeling of isolation and abandonment that can come from continual application rejections. Note, the King appears to be looking directly at the Moon in the 8 of Cups. This can represent the feeling of anxiety that comes from an uncertain path ahead.

The figure in the 7 of Swords is also sneaking away from the King. He is slightly larger than the figure in the 8 of Cups so may be more important. The 7 of Swords figure could represent the diminishing of potential courses of action or the lack of ideas of how to proceed.

In essence, what you need to know is that you need to remain calm and watch your mental health in the face of receding options and feelings of isolation.


So, we have an understanding of the situation facing the querent and what they need to understand about their situation. What course of action does the cards suggest?

We have the 9 of Swords which shows the effects of extreme stress and anxiety keeping the figure in the bed awake at night. However, notice that the figure is facing away from the Hierophant and the Ace of Cups. These cards represent what the querent should be considering; ignoring them will result in the anxiety and fear shown.

The Hierophant suggests the need to seek help and guidance as to how to proceed and the Ace of Cups, with the water flowing out of the cup and filling up the lake, suggests the need to find a source of emotional well being.

If the querent was religious the obvious message here is to seek guidance through your faith and the church. More practically, perhaps the church could actually help you in some manner directly or point you in the direction of someone or somewhere that can provide you practical help. Seeking guidance through your faith can bring a feeling of well being; the Ace of Cups clearly symbolising the Holy Grail.

What if the querent is not religious? The Hierophant still clearly suggests a need for guidance and information on how to proceed.

The Hierophant card traditionally represents religious institution but it could represent an organisation that could help you or provide you with information on how to proceed. Here in the UK, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau can provide guidance and information. However, if your mental health is suffering, perhaps the Hierophant could suggest speaking to your doctor or seeking help from mental health services.

The Ace of Cups can still represent the need for emotional well being. If your mental health is suffering, it is important that you do something about it. This could mean focusing your attention on something that improves your self esteem, such as a hobby. Or remaining in contact with friends. Anything in fact that makes you feel a sense of self worth and makes you happy.

The overall advice is to seek help and look after your mental health to avoid unbearable stress and worry.

Gaining Control through tarot Self-Reflection

The above example reading demonstrates how, when faced with a situation, you can use the tarot for self-reflection on what is going on and figure out a course of action to help you gain some control over what is happening.

The example is based on a serious situation but this use of tarot can be applied to most situations you can think of.

Having done the reading, you then need to put the advice into action. I strongly recommend keeping a tarot journal so you can record your readings. Write an entry in the journal about your reflection and what you are going to do. Keep referring back to this entry to remind you to act.

Then act. In the above example, perhaps start a search online for local organisations or services that could help you in this situation. Here in the UK, your first port of call when it comes to mental health would be your GP (doctor) but there are charities you could also contact such as MIND, or the Samaritans if your mental health is in a serious state.

Tarot self-reflection can put you in the driving seat. You don’t have to be buffeted about by the currents of life. You can use tarot to help you steer the path you want or need.

Use tarot to gain control and steer the path you want through life
Tarot lets you steer your own path through life

So, the next time you are facing a situation and you feel the need for guidance, take your tarot deck, do some reflecting and take the wheel!

Happy driving!

How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading

Intuitive Tarot Reading

In this post I will show you an easy technique which will enable you to do a powerful intuitive tarot reading – the ‘Awake Dream’ method. Being able to read tarot intuitively is important for many types of tarot readings and will make it easier to start using tarot quickly and to help you work through everyday situations.

There is a common myth that in order to be able to read tarot you need to learn Qabalah (Jewish mysticism), astrology, numerology, elemental dignities, various card meanings etc. While knowledge of these things can certainly help you read the cards many people read tarot without ever doing any formal study. You can read more on this myth – and other tarot myths – in the post ‘9 Tarot Myths – False…Or True?‘ which you can read here.

You also don’t need to be psychic. But, intuitive tarot reading will strengthen those intuitive muscles generally. The more you use tarot intuitively, the better your intuition will become.

Which decks to use?

The technique I am going to describe was first presented by tarot author and deck creator Robert M. Place in his book ‘The Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism.’ Place used one of his own decks to illustrate the method but the technique works well with the ever popular Rider Waite Smith Tarot (RWS). Other classic tarot decks that can be used include the Morgan Greer Tarot and the Aquarian Tarot.

Place’s own decks, The Alchemical Tarot and the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, will also work very well if you can get hold of them.

The main features that determine if the deck will be right for this technique are:

The deck should have human figures and/or animals which face mainly straight ahead, to the left, and to the right.
The art work should not be too ‘busy’ or cluttered which will make interpreting the pictures less effortful.

This means some decks, including the esoteric Thoth Tarot and pip decks, are completely unsuitable. However, the Tarot de Marseille Major Arcana work very well. For more information on choosing a tarot deck and the different tarot systems see the post ‘Choosing and Buying a Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which you can read here.

The Awake Dream Tarot Reading

This type of reading uses 3 cards and does not use reversed tarot cards. When you lay out the 3 cards, put them close together and view all 3 cards as forming one picture, or painting, which tells a story. Essentially, the picture will form the sort of image you may get in a dream, hence ‘Awake Dream.’

Forget any card meanings you may know for now. But, you do need to have a clear question in mind to get any benefit from the reading. For more on the importance of a clear question see the post ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which you can read here.

What is important to look for are where people are looking or gesturing. For instance, is one person turning their back on another person so it looks like they are ignoring the second person? Then that’s what they are doing. If someone is gesturing with their hands or gazing, look to see where the gesture or gaze is focused on. Are two people looking at each other? This could signify a meeting.

Here is an example to illustrate the Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading. The question I asked was ‘What do I need to know about work?’

Intuitive Tarot Reading
Rider Tarot Deck copyright US Games Systems

The 3 cards have formed one ‘picture’ and there is definitely a story here. All you really have to do is describe what is happening in the context of the question. There are several ways I interpreted the reading:

I have to put being comfortable at home behind me and focus on finding work that pays well.’
‘I need to search thoroughly online for roles that will pay me enough so that I have no financial worries at home.’
‘When it comes to work, I want to have a good balance between providing for the family and having a great home life – finding a work life balance.’

I didn’t draw on my knowledge of card meanings or suit elemental energies to do this reading – I just interpreted the cards with my question in mind. If you want, you can use the card meanings to help deepen the reading but do this after the intuitive part.

One example of using the meanings in this reading is:

‘To have a very satisfying home life I really need to be in full control of looking for good paying roles, so I need to put enjoying time at home behind me for now.’

3 cards are all you really need to gain insight into many situations. But, if you want a more detailed tarot reading, you can use this method in a tarot spread.

Using the Awake Dream with a spread

If you want to use this method of intuitive tarot reading with a (small) tarot spread, you can. Instead of using 1 card in each spread position, you use 3 cards in each position to create the picture.

Here is the same reading as above but I have made it a ‘3’ card spread with 3 cards in each spread position. This is essentially a 3 card ‘Situation, What do I need to know, Advice‘ spread with 3 cards in each position instead of 1. So now we have 9 cards!

Intuitive tarot reading using a tarot spread
Rider Tarot Deck copyright US Games Systems

The bottom row is the ‘Situation‘ position and is the same as my first Awake Dream reading. The second row is the ‘What do I need to know‘ position and the top row is ‘Advice.’

For ‘Situation’ I kept the interpretations I described above. For ‘What do I need to know‘ my intuitive reading told me that the soul destroying nature of looking for work plus dealing with the strictures and regulations in organisations is going to lead to disappointment.

My advice to myself for the top ‘Advice’ position? To find fulfilling and rewarding work, I need to network with other people and then really act vigorously on what results from that.

For another, more detailed, example of an Awake Dream intuitive reading, see the post ‘Tarot For Self-Reflection And Action‘ which you can find here.

More tips on the Awake Dream intuitive reading

With the ‘3 card as one picture’ method of the Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading, don’t simply start reading the cards from left to right. Instead look at the picture as a whole.

In the example I gave above, the top ‘Advice’ row looked as though the reading progressed from right to left with the gardener in the 3 of Wands looking to his left. Same for the middle row.

Sometimes, the direction someone is facing can indicate whether the past or the future is involved. If a figure is looking to the left that could indicate the past; if they are looking to the right that could mean looking forward to the future. Looking straight ahead may mean ‘right now.’ This may not apply for every reading.

If you have one person on one card smaller than a person on another card, the larger person may indicate greater importance. For instance, in the middle row of the reading above, the Emperor is much larger than the figure in the 5 of Cups. This told me that the structures and regulations in the organisations may be overbearing and too much to handle. At least in the context of this reading about work!

Sometimes the people may represent actual people, other times they may represent behaviours to adopt.

A good way of practising this style of reading is to do a daily ‘Awake Dream’ reading in the morning or evening instead of the normally recommended 1 card draw.

I do this myself and I usually ask the question ‘What do I need to know about today?’

Practice regularly, daily if possible. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Using the Tarot de Marseille (TdM)

Traditionally only the major arcana of the TdM are used in readings. The Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading style is also known as the Open Reading method when it comes to using the TdM. The Open Reading normally only uses 3 cards which is often more than you need.

Here is an example of a majors only TdM Awake Dream/Open Reading on the same ‘What do I need to know about work?’ question.

The same things apply: look which direction people are facing; look where the people are gazing or gesturing to; are the people looking straight ahead; etc.

Intuitive Tarot reading using the Tarot de Marseille
Hadar Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Again, the 3 cards form one picture. Think of it as a painting with 3 panels which tells a story. Don’t read the cards individually and don’ t use meanings – treat the cards as if they do not have meanings. Just let the pictures on the cards describe themselves.

For this reading I interpreted the answer as:

Setting out to look for work I really need to weigh up and be critical about what is going to give me the best chance of improving my circumstances. Don’t necessarily take the first role that comes along.

That in a nutshell is how you can easily read the Tarot de Marseille!

Exercise your Intuition

It’s worth repeating what I wrote earlier, the more you practice this way of intuitively reading the tarot the easier it becomes and the more intuitive you will become.

You may already naturally be very intuitive but if you are not you can improve. Think of your intuition as a primitive, instinctive ‘muscle’ that needs regular exercise to make stronger. Our modern society has dulled our intuition to a great degree but we are all capable of developing this instinct further.

Happy Tarot Reading!