For centuries humans have used tarot cards as a way to communicate with the universe, and to deepen their understanding of themselves. Tarot cards are widely available, and anyone can learn to use them. In this guide to tarot card reading for beginners you’ll learn to read tarot cards for yourself and for others.
I received my first tarot card deck when I was just 16 years old, and I’ve been reading tarot for the last 20 years. However, it was only in the last 5 years that I began to understand the real power of tarot cards- they are a tool that allows the universe to communicate with us clearly and directly.
How do tarot cards work?
No one knows the real answer to this question. Some people say that tarot cards activate our subconscious, and help us to see our life from a new angle. Spiritual individuals often believe that tarot cards allow us to receive communication from the universe.
I actually think both these possibilities may be true. I mean, what is our subconscious anyway? I believe it connects us to the bigger whole, the universe.
The good news is that tarot cards will work for you no matter what you believe (or don’t believe) in!
How tarot cards actually work is a bit of a mystery, but I can assure you that I’ve received numerous profound messages from my cards over the years.
How to Choose a Tarot Deck
Before you learn to read tarot cards you’ll need to get yourself a tarot deck! I recommend starting out with the traditional Rider Waite Tarot (pictured above).
It’s one of the most well known decks, and it is an excellent deck to learn on. The Rider Waite uses the traditional names and categories for it’s cards, and the cards have bright, detailed, colorful illustrations that give the tarot reader plenty of symbols to draw information from.
With that said, if you find yourself strongly drawn to another deck you can absolutely learn to read tarot cards with any deck!
Do what feels right for you- choosing a deck is a great first lesson in trusting your intuition.
Getting to Intuitively Know Your Tarot Deck
The biggest mistake that most beginner tarot readers make is trying to memorize what all of the cards in their deck mean. Tarot is an intuitive art, and there is nothing intuitive about memorizing someone else’s interpretation of the cards.
The key to successful tarot reading is to form your own relationship with your cards. YOU decide what each card means, and then when you lay the cards out they will speak to YOUR intuition.
If your tarot deck came with a book of card meanings don’t ditch it just yet! In the following section we’ll use that book to help you create your own personal connection with the cards.
What’s in a Tarot Deck?
Most tarot decks include 22 major arcana cards, and 56 minor arcana cards. There are, however, exceptions to this, as some decks only include the major arcana.
Major Arcana Cards
The major arcana are the most powerful of the tarot cards, and represent big, important life situations.
When several major arcana cards appear in a spread that is an indicator that this reading carries a big, important message for the subject (person receiving the reading).
Minor Arcana Cards
The minor arcana cards are divided into four suits: Wands, Cups, Pentacles, and Swords.
Each suit represents a different aspect of the life experience, and each number represents a certain point of progression on the life path.
Create a Tarot Journal
For this activity you’ll need a notebook with at least 78 pages in it, OR you can use a 3-ring binder with loose leaf paper.
- Pull the first of the major arcana cards, The Fool. Examine this card, write down what stands out to you in the card’s imagery. Write down the way the card makes you feel.
- Next, read the description of the card in your informational book. Write down the parts of the description that stand out to you or feel true to you.
- Finally, write down what you feel the card is trying to convey.
- Repeat this process for all the rest of the major arcana cards in order. Then, for all of the minor arcana cards in order.
Once you have completed this activity for every card, you will have your own personal tarot guide! And since this tarot guide will be absolutely personal to you, it won’t be long before you won’t need to reference it at all!
I spent years struggling to memorize the “correct” meanings for my first tarot deck before I decided to create my own tarot journal. The creation of my own tarot guide was the turning point in tarot for me, and my readings became so much more clear and concise than ever before.
NOTE: Set your own pace for creating your tarot journal. When I initially created my tarot journal I worked on just 2-3 cards per day, but if you have more free time you could certainly do more than that. Just be careful not to rush! You want to take some time with each card.
How to Form a Question for the Tarot
Once you’ve created your tarot journal it’s time to start reading the cards. Before you jump right into card spreads you’ll want to learn to shape a question that the tarot can answer.
The best tarot questions are NOT yes or no questions. When you ask a yes or no question you limit yourself to just two possible paths and outcomes, when in reality there may be a solution you have not considered that the tarot can show you! Try to create an open-ended question instead.
For example, if you want to know if you should quit your job, you could ask the tarot “What do I need to do to improve my career?” This open-ended question allows the tarot to give you any information the universe would like you to have.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to have a question for the tarot. You can simply do a reading that will tell you whatever the universe wants you to know at this time.
How to Draw Tarot Cards
There are many different ways to draw the cards for a reading, and there is no wrong way to choose cards. Keep this in mind anytime you work with the tarot.
To choose cards you can spread them out like a fan, and choose randomly, you can drop them on a table, and see which cards fall away from the deck, or any other method you come up with that feels right.
My preferred method is to clear my mind and move the cards around in my hands in whatever way feels natural (this often includes shuffling and shifting the position of cards in the deck). I continue moving and touching the cards until I feel a natural stopping point.
Now I use my non-dominant hand (I’m right-handed, so I use my left hand) to cut the deck. Then, once I’ve put the deck back together I draw the cards for my reading from the top of the deck.
Card Reversals (or not)
Reading reversals means applying different meanings to cards whether they appear upright or reversed in the spread. Generally, a reversed card represents the opposite of the upright card.
I no longer use card reversals in my spreads, and I certainly don’t recommend them for beginners, because they can be very complicated.
I used to use reversals in my readings, and over time I found that my readings didn’t feel as solid when I used them. However, there are plenty of tarot readers who use reversals.
Once you’ve become proficient in reading cards without reversals I recommend introducing them, and seeing if they resonate with you.
Beginner Tarot Spreads
Now that you’re ready to begin reading the cards, let’s talk about tarot spreads! I’ve listed my favorite beginner spreads below. Start with the 3 card spread, and work your way up to the celtic cross.
Remember that the tarot shows you the outcome for the path that you are currently on. You can always change your path if you don’t like the projected outcome!
With any spread you can feel free to ask the tarot for clarification on a specific card. In that case you can simply pull one more card to provide you with more information.
If you’d like to see sample readings (and enjoy a free general reading for yourself), visit my Instagram, where I post readings regularly!
3 Card Spread
1- The 9 of swords represents a time of worry, when you allowed your nightmares and fears spiral out of control and take over your mind. This card is a reminder not to allow your fears so much presence in your life.
2- The 8 of swords represents a time of believed bondage. The woman believes that she is in a cage in the darkness, when in reality she could simply walk out of the cage. This card is a reminder to remove the blindfold and see that you are actually only in a cage of your own creation.
In this reading, since the 8 of swords follows the 9 of swords, the 8 of swords represents the continuation of the 9 of swords- you allowed your fears to overcome you, and now you find yourself bound by those fears. Luckily, you can make the choice to walk away from the swords, and remove the loose ropes binding you.
3- The Sun is a time of joy, light, and beauty. You will manage to cast off the fears that currently bind you. You will find peace and joy once you learn not to give fear and worry so much attention.
What to Do 5 Card Spread
1- Present situation
2- Near future
3- What you should do
4- External influences affecting the outcome
5- Final outcome
1- The King of Pentacles has all of his material needs met. In fact, he has more than he needs. He manages his material existence easily, and knows how to keep abundance flowing to him. You are experiencing a period of abundance, security, and material comfort.
2- The 4 of wands predicts a period of stability and celebration of your spirit. Your inner world is strong and sure, and you are enjoying it. This ties directly to the material abundance that the King of Pentacles represents.
3- The 3 of Wands is a recommendation that you set out on a new adventure. This does not have to be a physical adventure like travel (though it certainly can be). It can be any new journey of your spirit/inner self. Allow your curiosity to take flight, and have the strength to follow it.
Following the abundance of the King of Pentacles, the stability of the 4 of wands, and taking into account the final outcome of the 8 of swords, this card is a warning that if you become too comfortable in your current (and near future) situation that you may stagnate without further growth, which eventually will lead to a state of boredom or even sorrow.
4- The Sun represents joy, play, and beauty. In this case you must be careful not to become over-attached to the ease of The Sun. While it is wonderful to experience The Sun in our lives, it is important not to lose ourselves in it, or become overly attached to the positive feelings associated with it.
Too much light can be just as destructive as too much dark. Try to find the balance between light and dark.
5- The 8 of swords predicts a period of self-imposed turmoil. Based on the rest of this spread, the turmoil is a result of over-attaching to ease and abundance. While it is important to celebrate our successes, we must still continue forward on our path. Material abundance is not the end of the journey.
As long as you live and breathe you must continue to grow or you risk finding yourself caged by the abundance you once celebrated.
How often do we hear of wealthy people making destructive choices just to get MORE wealth, or to maintain an excessive level of abundance? This is the warning of the 8 of swords in this spread.
The woman in this card is not truly caged, and her bindings are loose- they could easily be removed. The problem is she BELIEVES that she is caged, and because she is blindfolded it is easy for her to remain in her current predicament.
Follow the advice of the 3 of wands, and set out on a new journey of growth in order to avoid the turmoil of the 8 of swords.
Celtic Cross 10 Card Spread
1- Where you find yourself now
2- Cross card– the opposing force to where you find yourself. This card does not have to be negative, it is just the thing that is pushing back against where you currently find yourself
3- Crown– what is at the top or front of your mind
4- Below– what is under the surface of your mind, something deeper you may be unaware of
5- Recent past– within the past 6 months, but could be VERY recent
6- Near future– within the next 6 months or sooner
7- How you see yourself– This is a pair to card #1 (where you find yourself), but this card goes deeper, showing you how you perceive yourself in this situation
8- External influences/how others see you– this card shows the external forces that are playing into this situation. Often those influences come in the form of people you know, and their opinions. However, occasionally external influences can refer to something non-human (a force of nature, object, etc)
9- Hopes and fears– every tarot card has a light and shadow side to it. This card’s light side is your hopes, and its shadow is your fears. This is one of the trickiest card placements for beginners. Take your time with the card that appears here, and above all else, trust your gut reaction to it!
10- Final Outcome
1- The Knight of Swords delivers truth swiftly and without allowing emotions to get in the way. You have been communicating clearly and without allowing emotions to impede your message.
2- The Devil is the opposing force to your clear and swift communication. The Devil represents an addiction of some type. This addiction can come in many forms- substances, food, sex, even anger. While these things have their place in life, it is when we overindulge that The Devil appears.
What is getting in the way of your clarity? What is stopping you from communicating clearly and without unnecessary emotion?
Notice that the people at The Devil’s feet wear loose chains that they could easily remove from their own necks. You have the power to remove The Devil from your life- his power is an illusion.
3- The 8 of pentacles indicates a period of hard work to insure future material success. You are putting in the time and effort now so that you can collect the fruits of your labor in the near future.
4- The 6 of swords shows a period of grief at something you are leaving behind. Since this is a swords card, you have made the choice to leave based on logic rather than emotions, but that does not mean that you do not grieve the loss.
Allow yourself to feel your sadness, even while you know you made the logical decision.
5- The 7 of wands depicts a time of hard inner work that tested your spirit. Perhaps you experienced conflict that you had to overcome, or something in your life did not go as planned, and you felt your courage tested.
6- The Ace of Cups predicts the beginning of a beautiful relationship or relationships in your life. This does not have to mean romantic relationships, or even a new relationship (although that is certainly possible).
It could indicate a new beginning for a relationship that already exists in your life, or a new friendship that you will have plenty of time and energy for.
7- Death indicates finality, a true ending to something. In this case you deeply believe that you have dramatically changed, and will never be the same.
You mourn this change, but realize that Death always indicates a powerful new beginning. Do not allow The Devil to cloud the possibilities of this new beginning. Over-indulgence and addiction may feel good in the moment by easing your pain, but realize that you MUST face this ending head on, it cannot be avoided. Addiction will only postpone the grief that you must face.
8- The 9 of swords represents fears that you are giving too much authority to. These fears are just nightmares, but you are allowing yourself to believe they are real.
Take some deep breaths, center yourself, stop the overindulgence you are engaged in, and face the grief that you are working so hard to avoid. Once you face your sorrow, it will move through you, and you will be free to move forward on your path.
9- The Queen of Wands represents calm, effortless courage. It is effortless because this queen understands that fear and pain are natural parts of human existence. When fear and pain appear she faces them head on, feels them fully, and then lets them go so she can move forward.
Your hope is to become The Queen of Wands, to find your true courage. However, you also fear facing the pain, and so you also fear becoming the queen.
Face your fears, and you will find joy.
10- The 3 of cups shows a time of celebration and cooperation in several of your relationships. Once you have faced your fears, you will find yourself full of love to share, as is indicated in both this card, and your near future card, the ace of cups.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide! Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments below, I check them regularly!
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