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.
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:
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:
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.
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?
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:
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:
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?
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.
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 W.I.N.D.‘ here. If you want to know about elemental dignities – an alternative to tarot reversals – see the post ‘Using Tarot Elemental Correspondences In Your Readings‘ here.
And above all, enjoy yourself as you explore the tarot.