How to Read Tarot Cards for Beginners
Beginners Guide to Reading Tarot Cards
Learning how to read tarot cards is something I did on my own when I was 13 years old. Back then, there weren't many online resources on the topic of reading tarot cards, and the only friends I had that were interested in tarot were forbidden to have their own tarot cards. Heck, I was too, but I hid them well. My mom said it was ‘witchcraft' and I was going to burn in Hell. Wasn't a great deterrent I guess, because here I am 20 years later teaching you how to read tarot cards.
A few important things to remember:
I'm NOT an expert. I want to share what I know, but tarot is a personal journey so don't feel like you have to do things the way I do them. If you want to learn more about something, look on YouTube or Google (or use the resources I have listed at the bottom of this post).
Everyone does things differently. While there's a “baseline” of some sort for many tarot card readers, some of us just kind of do our own thing and it works well. I love learning more and more every single day and plan to continue my journey for years to come.
Keep it fun!
How to Read Tarot Cards for Beginners
Learning how to read tarot cards has less to do with knowing the exact history and meaning of each card and more to do with you and how you connect with your tarot cards, but you still need to learn the meaning of each card. You also need to learn how each card relates to the other cards in your readings. There are 78 cards in a standard tarot card deck, so learning all of their meanings isn't something you can do overnight.
Where to Buy Tarot Cards
You can buy tarot cards almost anywhere, including Facebook! Here are some of my favorite groups:
Best Tarot Cards for Beginners
The Ultimate Guide to Tarot is a book I 110% recommend for anyone who wants to learn to read tarot cards. There are tons of books but this is one that has helped me the most on my tarot journey.
I have so many tarot decks, it's tough for me to decide which ones to recommend as your first deck! You can go to a book store that has tarot cards and choose from the decks there or you can shop online. You can get a feeling from cards from a photo so don't be afraid to go to Etsy or Amazon to pick out your first (or second, or third…) deck. I've gotten about half of my decks from Amazon and the other half from the used book store.
Sometimes I will buy decks from Kickstarter campaigns as well but they tend to be more expensive ($50ish) so I keep those to a minimum unless I'm REALLY in love with a deck (like the 8 Coins Tattoo Tarot, I'd pay $50 for it – MY FAVORITE DECK EVER).
Easy Tarot – Easy Tarot is one of the first decks I ever bought and I learned a lot from the simplistic set up of the cards and guidebook. These cards are great to take notes with. You may not feel as ‘inspired' as you will with other decks that have fun illustrations, but it's one of the best starter decks in my opinion. You can get Easy Tarot on Amazon for a low price.
8 Coin Tattoo Tarot – Like I said, this is my favorite deck so far. I always tell everyone to buy it! One of the reviews I read said this deck is “startlingly insightful” and I totally agree! I do about 90% of my readings with this deck, even though I have close to 50 others. Every time I try to stray, I'm pulled back. If you feel a connection with this deck like I did when I first saw it, GET IT! I paid about $30 for mine but have seen this deck for as low as $21 on Amazon (here).
The Wild Unknown Tarot – This deck is a close second on my list of favorites. “Inspiring” is the first word that came to mind when I first saw The Wild Unknown. The cards are black with bold colors and amazing illustrations of animals on each card. This deck is easy to read and gives me clear interpretations every time. The guidebook is one I use frequently. The cards are well made and they come in a keepsake box. Take a peek at the deck here.
A note about Rider Tarot Deck – This is the deck almost everyone will recommend to beginners. I don't own this deck (though I have in the past), nor do I buy it for new readers or tell everyone to go out and buy it. It's a good, basic tarot card deck so if you're looking for that, definitely try it out. However, the illustrations have never inspired me and there are SO many other decks that I absolutely love, it doesn't make the cut for me on the list of best tarot decks for beginners.
How to Choose the Right Tarot Deck
Much like the rest of your tarot journey, choosing the right deck is a personal decision and one you'll use your intuition for. You can order decks online or you can buy them at metaphysical stores, used book stores, or even big box stores like Barnes & Noble. Choosing your first deck is easier than you may think: look at a few decks, then choose the one that resonates most with you. Go with your gut. Don't put too much thought into it, as it isn't a permanent decision by any means!
Some people say you shouldn't buy your own decks, but that's just another tarot myth I don't necessarily believe. Someone else can't pick a deck out that's going to resonate with me as well as I can for myself, generally speaking. Take a look at the symbolism of each deck, hold them in your hands if possible, and see how they feel. If it feels good, then you have yourself a new deck.
How to Care for Your Tarot Cards
You can store your tarot cards in their original boxes, in silk scarves, in tarot bags, or in wooden boxes. My favorite decks are stored in wooden boxes, while new decks I haven't used yet or decks I rarely use will stay in their original boxes. I just ordered this box and am loving it.
You can cleanse your tarot cards whenever you'd like, but I like cleansing my cards and my space before each reading if I can. If you buy your cards from a used book store like I do, cleansing them before your first reading is a good idea as well. If you're feeling like you're in a rut with a certain deck, a cleansing can help.
Sage – While there are several ways to cleanse your tarot cards, my go-to way is sage! Pass your cards through the smoke from the burning sage a few times to cleanse them. If you don't have sage yet, you'll want to get some. I bought this sage kit on Amazon but you can buy sage from your local metaphysical store, too.
Moon Bath – During a full moon, set your tarot cards outside (or in a window) to bathe them in the moonlight. Read more about moon rituals with tarot.
Meditation – You can cleanse your cards by meditating no matter where you are in the world! Whether you have sage and crystals or not, it doesn't matter because you are the only thing you need to meditate on your cards!
If you want a more detailed outline on how to cleanse your cards, I've found some helpful articles from other sites that you can check out!
What Each Tarot Card Means
Learning what each tarot card means will take a while. Be patient. There are 78 cards, after all! Dividing the cards up into sections will make it easier to learn. I like to use a tarot journal and write down keywords to help me memorize each card and its meaning.
The Major Arcana cards reflect important influences. Each card can stand alone as a powerful message, notating the beginning or ending of stages or cycles in your life. You'll see these cards appear during distinctive transitions and transformations.
The Minor Arcana cards reflect every day influences. Each card has its own messages but they may not be as strong as the stand alone messages of the Major Arcana when read in a spread together.
The Minor Arcana cards are broken up into suits; each suit has ten numbered cards and four Court cards. Wands (Fire – passion, inspiration), Cups (Water – emotional), Swords (Air – intellect), and Pentacles (Earth – money) all represent different elements and properties.
To learn more about tarot card definitions (and tons of other stuff!), use Ultimate Guide to Tarot. You can also search on YouTube or your favorite tarot sites (mine are listed at the bottom of this post).
Numerology and Tarot
Without going too deep into Numerology, I just wanted to mention it because it can play a significant role in reading tarot cards. Each of your tarot cards is numbered, with the exception of the Court cards. Knowing the meaning of the number of your card (make it a base number – so 17 would be 1+7 and would actually be 8) will help you interpret the reading on a deeper level.
Number 1 (Aces, 1, 10, 19) – Beginnings, originality, independence, inspiration, isolation.
Number 2 (2, 11, 20) – Partnerships, duality, balance, cooperation, insight/intuition, imagination.
Number 3 (3, 12, 21) – Communication, expression, scattered energies, attraction, creativity, friendship.
Number 4 (4, 13, 22) – Practicality, foundations, structure, manifestation, building, planning, restrictions.
Number 5 (5, 14) – Intellectual pursuits, change, variety, freedom, attraction, spiritual poverty, sexuality.
Number 6 (6, 15) – Family, artistic endeavors, the home, responsibility, harmony, compassion, love.
Number 7 (7, 16) – Spirituality, faith, analysis, withdrawal, wisdom, meditation, lessons, solitude.
Number 8 (8, 17) – Power, authority, employment, ego, money, success, attainment, karma.
Number 9 (9, 18) – Completion, unconventional methods, fulfillment, idealism, judgment.
The Purpose of Tarot Card Readings
The purpose of a tarot card reading is always the same: to get answers. Whether those answers come from your subconscious or a divine being doesn't really matter. Reading cards can be intuitive, analytical, or a mix of both. Your experience with tarot will be different than mine. Different than your best friend's. Different than anyone else's. How you use tarot cards will reflect your personal beliefs; some say prayers before reading cards while others prefer other methods. Some tarot card readers use angel oracle cards, while others use tarot cards with skulls and bird skeletons. How you use tarot cards is completely up to you. Don't let anyone judge you for how you feel led to use them!
How to Shuffle Tarot Cards
The best answer to how to shuffle tarot cards is however the heck you want! Whatever feels good is what you should do. There is no “right” way to shuffle tarot cards, but if you're looking for some ideas, I have a few!
Playing Card Shuffle – Exactly what it sounds like, you shuffle your tarot cards the same way you shuffle playing cards. This is a good method because it's easy, but if you notice playing cards they're usually bent. I don't want my tarot cards bent! So, I don't use this method very often. Also, tarot cards are bigger than playing cards so shuffling this way can feel awkward, especially if your hands are small.
Cutting Shuffle – Cutting your cards into piles and stacking and re-stacking is another easy way to shuffle. Divide into two or three piles, stack the piles on top of each other, repeat (again and again until you feel ready to use them).
Overhand Shuffle – This is my favorite way to shuffle. Hold your tarot cards in one hand, then use the other hand to pull some out and put them back, shuffling overhand.
If you want to read reversed cards, you'll need to rotate some of the cards when you first get your deck. This is easy to do when shuffling using any of the methods above.
How to Interpret Tarot Cards
Interpreting tarot cards is a hot topic in some circles of tarot card readers, because there are so many opinions floating around. While each card does have its own meaning, how you interpret that meaning is up to you and your intuition. At some point, you will find the pictures in the cards speaking to you directly. Do not ignore your intuition; see how it can add to the reading. Your experiences are going to shape your perception of the base meanings in each card. Don’t be afraid to share your gift with others, even if your interpretations seem different than others.
You have the tarot ‘purists' who have learned the exact meanings of each card using a traditional deck like the Rider-Waite. In fact, some will only use the Rider-Waite deck because it's considered traditional/original. Some folks (like me!) hoard all the tarot decks, even if they don't match up with the traditional cards or even traditional meanings of each card. I love decks that come with their own books and meanings, because they mix things up. Others are horrified at that idea! Do what feels comfortable to you. Do you want to read tarot cards using the exact definitions from the Rider-Waite deck? DO IT! Do you want to read from a new deck and learn new meanings? DO IT! Interpret tarot cards how you feel led to. (Yes, I realize some will disagree with me on this but tarot is very personal and this is how I've always done it.)
Reading Tarot Cards for Others
If you plan on reading cards for other people, set boundaries early. Love, money, and health are the most popular topics for tarot card readings. Usually when people come to me wanting their cards read, it's about love or health. Some tarot card readers choose not to read about health, for personal reasons. Others don't touch the relationship subject. Still others will read about anything and everything. The line you draw is very personal, so as long as you're in tune with yourself to know what that line should be, you're good. Beware of personal biases that may prevent you from being objective on certain topics.
Myths About Tarot
There are many myths about tarot, from “tarot cards are evil” to “tarot readers do the devil's work”. Those are obviously silly and hopefully you won't believe them, but here are some others that you may have heard and wondered if they're actually true.
You shouldn't buy your own deck. This is the myth that drives me crazy. My boyfriend and I were at the used book store a few weeks ago and I was buying (another) tarot deck. The woman who was opening the lock case for us said “you know you aren't supposed to buy your own deck, right?” and started talking about how her aunt is “into tarot”. When I see a deck, if I connect with it, I buy it (which is probably why I have like 50 decks… but still). If I waited for someone to buy me a deck, I'd have like… 2. Do what makes YOU happy. If you see a deck you like, freakin' buy it.
The Death card means actual death. If this were true, everyone I know would be dead. Kidding, kind of. But seriously, people freak out about the Death card and they shouldn't. The Death card can mean many things, depending on the situation: it could mean you're leaving a job and starting a new one, that you're ending a relationship, or even that you're ending a certain stage in your life. I like to keep my readings positive, so I always think of the card as a symbol for new beginnings.
Don't let people touch your cards. When I do a reading, I let the person shuffle my cards if they want; they can choose their own card, look through them, whatever they feel led to do. Before you do your next reading, you'll cleanse your cards (and your space), so I don't think others touching my cards is a big deal. HOWEVER, if you don't feel comfortable letting someone touch your tarot cards, don't. There's no set-in-stone rule about other people touching your tarot card deck so just go with your gut.
Reversed cards are bad. I personally do not read reversed cards, mostly because of this myth and how people perceive reversed cards. I only do positive tarot card readings, so there's no need for me to throw in reverse meanings and try to reassure my friend or client that everything is going to be okay. It's life. Everything is going to be okay, because even when bad things happen, we handle them. If you choose to read reversed meanings (most people do!), that's perfectly fine – still doesn't mean the meanings are “bad”. Challenge yourself to stay positive while reading your tarot cards.
You need to memorize all 78 cards and their meanings. While I feel like your goal should be to have a good handle on the meaning of all 78 tarot cards, you don't have to wait until you have them memorized to start reading! Most decks come with guidebooks that have summarized meanings of each card, so while you're practicing you can open the book and get a quick interpretation. I like to pull a card and think about how it looks, how it makes me feel, etc before opening the guidebook for reference.
You'll rely on your intuition a lot while reading tarot cards, so it's good to get in the habit of using your gut from the get go. Even when you have all of the meanings memorized, you'll still have more to learn – tarot is one of those things you can do a thousand times and find something new every single time! Using guidebooks, taking notes, and studying the meaning of each card is going to help you be a better tarot card reader, but don't let the fear of forgetting what some of the cards mean stop you from reading!
You shouldn't read your own cards. If you're like me, you're going to get curious and want to read your own tarot cards rather quickly after discovering tarot. Some people say you shouldn't or can't read your own, but as long as you work on separating your own desires from what the cards are saying, you'll be well on your way to accurate readings for yourself. Sometimes you will pull cards that don't give you the best feeling. Don't allow them to give you anxiety. Instead, take a step back and figure out how to interpret the cards in a more positive way.
My Favorite Tarot Resources
While I plan to continue to add to this post and write more posts about tarot cards in the future, I want to leave you with some of my favorite resources for learning about tarot because you can never have too much information when you want to really learn something inside and out. Your best learning will come from hands on practice, so don't be shy… grab that deck you've been eyeballing and do your first reading!
Tarot groups I'm in:
Tarot Tarot Tarot
Tokes and Tarot
Tarot Readers Academy
Tarot With Scissors
Next Level Tarot
For Love of Cards
Wonderful World of Tarot
The Tarot Club
Tarot and Palm Reading Advice
Tarot for Beginners
Websites to learn tarot: