Beginning Tarot: What You Need to Know.
Choosing your first tarot deck can be pretty daunting. There’s hundreds of options from the traditional Rider Waite to the more recent RuPaul’s Drag Race deck. If you’ve decided to learn how to read Tarot, you need a deck. It can be difficult to choose without taking all the cards out and looking at all the art, but you should get an idea from the packaging. There’s usually a couple of cards printed on the outside, or the main art on the front of the box will be from one of the cards. If all else fails, check Instagram for pictures from people who already have that deck. The artwork is important - you don’t want to spend time with something you think is ugly. Even if it’s the “proper” first deck to buy, if you don’t like it you will not use it. Get something you think is pretty and you enjoy looking at.
In the older decks (look at the Rider Waite) the artwork often has symbols that explain the meaning of the card. This can be a useful aid to memory when you come to learn the meanings and the depictions (especially of people) can give you an idea as to the spirit of the character - especially in the Major Arcana. Characters like The Fool or The High Priestess are archetypes you’ll need to contend with when you start reading and it can be useful to have an image of that person to refer to. However, you don’t necessarily need this kind of artwork on your cards. There are decks based around animals (The Wild Unknown - pictured above) or plants (Herbcrafter’s Tarot) or even triangles and geometry (The Minimalist Tarot). Aesthetics aside, what you really need to be looking out for is that feeling of familiarity with a deck. Find one that feels like it fits in with you. Find one you want to spend time with, because if all goes well you’ll be spending a lot of time with it.
Decks generally come with some kind of insert that lists the meanings of the cards. Some decks will list meanings for reversed or inverted cards, others won’t. It is entirely up to you whether you want to read reverse (upside-down) meanings or not. This is your practice, you can do what you want. Some of these inserts will be more like guidebooks with detailed entries on every card, others will be a folded piece of paper with a few key words. There are dozens of resources on reading Tarot - from apps like Mystic Mondays to long-established websites like Biddy Tarot. Find one that suits your learning style and devour it. Maybe make your own tarot cheat sheet with a blend of information from multiple sources. Don’t forget that you can look up meanings as and when the cards show up in your readings, you don’t have to learn everything before doing your first spread.
So you’ve got a deck, and you’ve got a list of card meanings. You are ready to do some readings! Make sure your deck is thoroughly shuffled before you begin - otherwise your reading may be off. If you find you’re pulling consecutive cards frequently, you need to shuffle some more. While you shuffle, have a question in mind. Say it out loud if you need to, the cards won’t think you’re silly for talking to them. But make sure your question is clearly worded. The hardest thing about reading tarot is figuring out what information you actually want. “Does he still love me?” Is vague. Who is “he”? Make sure you name the people you’re referring to. What do you consider to be “love” and does it differ from his definition of love? Does it matter if he thinks he loves you but doesn’t act that way? Many people have reported cases of their decks giving stupid answers to stupid questions - make sure you know what you want to know, then ask.
Tarot spreads generally work by taking a question and then breaking it down into smaller elements. We’ll stick with “Does he still love me?” Since we’ve gone through the pitfalls of this question. Try pulling a card to inform you of his intentions. Then another card to tell you how he feels. Another card to tell you what his doubts might be. You’ll soon end up with a few cards that will give a more complete picture of the whole situation. Start thinking of questions in their broken-down form and the readings will flow a lot easier for you.
Other than that, it’s just practise.
Our thanks to Lu Egan of The Left Hand Tarot for writing this article. You can find Lu at https://www.facebook.com/thelefthandtarot/