People are often drawn to tarot cards and are excited to purchase their own deck. Then they realize it’s not so easy, that there are so many books written about tarot that it would take years of studying and thousands of readings before they can call themselves a tarot reader.
Fear not, we have put together a one-page guide to tarot reading. Assimilate these straightforward tarot facts and you’ll be able to read for yourself and your friends within hours.
78 cards comprising:
- 21 Major Arcana – soul cards
- 16 Court Cards – people cards
- 56 Minor Arcana – daily life cards.
The Major Arcana comprise of archetypes that reflect stages in personal and spiritual development. When a Major Arcana appears in a tarot reading, it points to a life lesson, a staging post, or perhaps a turning point.
Imagine that the Fool is the subject of the reading, and each Major Arcana is a path that must be negotiated. For example: if Death turns up in a reading then the Fool has to learn to accept the end or death of something big in his life. At the same time, any death/ending indicates a new beginning.
The Major Arcana are self-explanatory. Become familiar with them and you won’t be at a loss when one or more appear in a reading.
Minor Arcana – Learn the Numbers
- One or Ace = Beginnings, new ventures
- Two = Making connections, decisions
- Three = Growth, expansion, groups
- Four = Stability, security, stasis
- Five = Challenge, difficulty
- Six = Recovery, achievement
- Seven = Assessment, change of direction, reclamation
- Eight = Movement or lack of it
- Nine = Completion, attainment, nearing the end
- Ten = Culmination, beginning again.
Minor Arcana – Learn the Suits and their Elements
- Wands/Staves = Fire (action, inspiration)
- Cups/Chalices = Water (feelings, emotions)
- Swords = Air (intellect, communication)
- Pentacles/Coins = Earth (stability, material world)
Connect the numbers with the elements and you can make a pretty good guess at the meaning of each Minor Arcana card.
Take an example: Eight of Swords. A traditional depiction is of a woman, trapped in a circle of swords. Eights mean movement or lack of it, so it seems as though she isn’t going anywhere. Swords are connected to thoughts (intellect). Look at the card. This woman only thinks she is unable to move forward. Her feet are unbound, her hands are loosely tied. If she’s cautious, she can get herself out of the situation she’s in.
The Court Cards – Combine Numbers and Elements
Court cards are the people cards. When they show up, they may be referring to an actual person who is important to the one asking the question, or they may reflect aspects of someone’s personality. To read them accurately, you need to combine their numbers, their element, and their suit.
- Pages = One and Earth
- Knights = Two and Air
- Queens = Three and Water
- Kings = Four and Fire
Using this straightforward system, the Court cards become apparent. Let’s take the Page of Swords. We have the number one, earth and swords. So the Page of Swords indicates a person at the beginning of adult life (one), with his feet on the ground (earth) and a sharp intellect (swords/air). Using your intuition, you can expand on this in relation to the question.
Try another. The Queen of Pentacles: number three, water, earth. The Queen of Pentacles is usually a motherly type (three – growth, expansion), kindly and loving (water, emotions) and practical (earth).
How to Read Tarot Cards – Putting it Together
Now that you’ve got the basics, it’s time to practice. It’s a good idea to get yourself into a receptive and relaxed frame of mind before starting to read. Deep breathing with eyes closed for a few minutes will enable you to let go of any nagging thoughts.
Shuffle your cards well. It clears their energies as well as being quite meditative. There are various methods of shuffling cards. Use the one that feels most natural to you. As you do this, allow your eyes to relax and your gaze to soften. Try to keep your mind empty of nothing but the question you would like answered.
Asking the right question is important. Think about how you would prefer your answer. For instance, if you ask, “What are my chances of getting the job I applied for last week? Then the cards will address your ‘chances’, which might be confusing. Better would be, “What do I need to know about my job application for bartender at Dante’s?”
One and Two Card Tarot Readings
First of all, try some one-card readings for yourself. Remember to take the card number and the element into consideration. Look at the image and see how they connect. Are there any details in the card that stand out for you? What meaning can you draw from the card? Do you feel any emotion when looking at the image? Does it promote any memories? It’s a good idea to record your impressions or write them down. Don’t worry one bit if your interpretation seems far fetched or even completely mundane.
Next, try a two-card reading. This time lay two cards down. Are there figures on both cards? How do they present to each other? Facing? Back to back? Could they be having a conversation? Again take the card numbers and elements – this time you have a combination. Can you construct a meaningful story from them? Tune into your emotions, memories and intuition. What message are the cards giving you?
Reading Tarot Cards for Others
Some people find it hard to read for themselves and have better accuracy when reading for other people. The best way to do this is to keep it light-hearted. Tell people you are just practicing. If any ‘negative’ cards show up, have a ready response – don’t be left floundering, wondering how to deliver bad news. Here are the most problematic cards:
- Death 13. Death usually means transformation; the ending of something and a new beginning.
- The Devil 15. The Devil often refers to addiction, obsession or something we just can’t seem to let go.
- The Tower 16. The Tower is a clearing out of old, ‘dirty’ energy; renewal. Things may get worse before they get better.
- Three of Swords. Communication mix-up, misunderstandings. Think three (growth), swords (thought, communication) and combine with the image (a pierced heart – pain). It does not automatically mean a broken heart.
- Nine of Swords. Insomnia, recurring thoughts, a seemingly unsolvable problem. Remember that Nines mean a life-cycle is almost at an end and that Swords show that the biggest problems are ‘all in the mind’. Look at the image – those swords in the background could almost be a ladder leading to a way out of the nightmare.
- Ten of Swords. Tens: endings/new beginnings. Swords: intellect and thought. Look at the card. There is often a sunrise on the horizon. It looks bad, but it really isn’t. Pick yourself up and start again.
We hope this short guide is of useful to you and provides a stepping off point to explore the tarot further. Although you don’t have to study the cards in depth, we hope you will take the path to a deeper understanding.
All images from the copyright-free Pamela A. version of the Rider Waite Smith deck.