A Beginners Guide to Reading Tarot
by Eva Barnsley
You may have seen beautiful decadent tarot cards while scrolling through your Instagram feed, you may have seen tarot in your favourite witchy films (one of mine is The Love Witch) or you may have been drawn to the tarot decks in your local bookstore. It is, however, common that some may fear tarot (I have had my fair share of this feeling) with an image of the death card in mind. Please do not fear, as your beginner’s guide to tarot is finally here!
Let me briefly explain my tarot experience; a couple of years ago I was in a store with my mum when a red box caught my eye. Within this box, contained what would soon become my first tarot deck. The illustrations and mystical allure drew me to the cards and my mum kindly bought them for me. I really didn’t know anything about tarot when I received the deck but nonetheless was excited to learn. Fortunately, my deck came with a tiny stapled tarot guide, explaining the uses of tarot, different spreads and their uses, as well as the meanings of each individual card. For the first few months I read myself 1-3 card spreads and eventually started utilizing the Celtic-Cross spread. I was loving card reading, until one day during a particularly tough time in my life, I sat watching my friends swim in a public pool and sat in the sun and for a full Celtic reading. The reading was scaringly specific and brought tears to my eyes. After that reading the cards sat in their box for a year. I was too afraid to do another reading.
It is important to remind yourself that tarot cannot exactly “predict your future”. Look upon your interpretations as if they are a mirror. The power is not so much in the cards, but in the magic of your own mind. If you have your tarot read, no new path is created in your life, but rather simply brought to your attention. A possible path or prospect for you to interpret.
Though you may be seeing more of Tarot recently with the rise of spirituality on social media platforms, Tarot has existed for centuries and is an ancient mindfulness practice. There is much dispute over the true single origin of Tarot, from Ancient Egyptian traditions, to fourteenth century European playing cards. With Tarot existing for such a long period, there are hundreds of decks, spreads, ways of interpretation and ironically, ‘rules’. Do not care too much for researching and sticking to these rules, as I have mentioned; the magic is in your mind. Please know that I am by no means a professional, or even an advanced Tarot reader and that this guide is just my little take on Tarot, just some food for thought. Now let’s get Tarot reading!
You may have been gifted a tarot deck, but it is also perfectly acceptable to buy your own! If you cannot get an “official” deck, you can also get crafty and make your own or use a deck of playing cards. What is most important, is that you connect with your deck and that you trust the cards. Be intuitive. Fill the deck with your energy, meditate with your cards, speak to them.
With trust in your deck, comes trust in the space around you that you will be reading in. When I read my own Tarot, my favourite place to do it is in my bedroom with low light. I will light my favourite incense, which lately has been Cendana, light some candles, and sit with crystals that I am drawn to for this reading. Most often these crystals include Amethyst and Agate. This is my personal practice, and creating your own comfortable space is important. Some people may lay out a designated Tarot cloth, cleanse themselves and their deck with sage, and listen to their favourite music and other will do nothing. Do whatever you want.
Equally as important as your physical space, you should be focused and have a comfortable mental and emotional space. Take deep breaths before your reading, maybe try a short meditation, clear yourself of current drama and open your mind to new interpretations. Some people will speak to their cards with a short mantra or set an intention for the reading.
If you have just bought a Tarot deck, readings that pull 1-3 cards is a perfect introduction. You can find different Tarot spreads in the booklet that came with your deck (although not all decks have one), online, or on apps such as Golden Thread (thank you to Liv Harwood who told me about this beauty). Daily pulls either in the beginning or end of your day are an idyllic way to get to know your cards. Then there are three card spreads such as:
Past / Present / Future
Situation / Action / Outcome
Option A / Option B / How to choose
Trust your intuition. Remove any judgement or fear that you have and begin to shuffle your cards. Though some readers are strict with shuffling techniques, I like to listen to the cards and shuffle until I am ready to read. Sometimes a card will fall out of the deck while shuffling and I will set this card aside as its own reading.
It can be overwhelming to want to instantly memorize the meanings of all 78 cards. Daily single card pulls will help with this, but before immediately reading the literal meaning of the card, observe the visuals of the card and connect with them. Understand the story that the card is telling. Learning 2-5 keywords that are associated with the cards is an easy way to begin memorizing the meanings, but be patient with yourself. If your deck did not come with a booklet with card meanings, Golden Thread can come into play again as you can log your readings and the app will go into depth with the meaning of the card specific to the spread that you are reading. Within the deck you will find 22 Major Arcana cards such as The Fool, The Magician, The Sun, The Moon, and so on. You will also find 56 Minor Arcana cards, or ‘The Four Suits’.
Wands represent the element of fire, focusing on creativity, desire and will.
Pentacles (coins) represent the element of earth, focusing on material possessions and body.
Swords represent the element of air, focusing on reason and logic.
Cups represent the element of water, focusing on emotions and relationships.
Once I have done a reading, I like to log it in my journal and do some sort of reflection whether it be short and brief or detailed. I will write down the cards that appeared in my spread, the relations between the cards and the specific question that I asked the cards, or if it is a general reading, the current situation of my life. I also like to reflect on how the cards and overall reading made me feel. Sometimes the cards will make me hopeful, and excited for the future and other times they will ground me and make me feel uneasy with a new awareness or interpretation of my reality. No matter how the specific reading makes me feel, I always feel accomplished when I read my Tarot and know not to fear readings like I had in the past.
In closing, Tarot is an exciting and amazing practice that we have used for centuries in different cultures. They allow us to practice self love, mindfulness, spirituality and growth. Keep a positive mindset in your readings, and do not be too strict with your readings. Some may say that rules are made to be broken. Be intuitive and trusting, and have fun!