Normally, Tarot decks on the market today come with only a small booklet providing a brief description or interpretation of each card. They may offer the Celtic Cross layout and perhaps two or three simple spreads at most. Even if you purchase a deck that comes with an accompanying book, you’ll get little guidance on how to begin reading the cards. As a result, most people give up and relegate their decks to the back of a dresser drawer or a remote shelf on the bookcase.
If you’re one of those people who has a deck stashed away, or you’ve just always been drawn to learn the Tarot, here are some guidelines to get you started.
Selecting the Right Deck
There are three basic criteria for selecting your deck: Its visual properties; its energetic qualities; and the level of connection you feel to the deck. You’ll want to opt for a deck that you are drawn to visually based on the characteristics of the images and the symbolic meanings they portray. For beginners, I recommend the Hanson Roberts and Robin Woods decks. They are smaller than most decks and easier to handle. If you are able to shuffle through a sample deck, you will get a sense of the energy the cards emit and if they will work for you. You may also be drawn to a theme deck. In any case, trust your instincts and try to pick a deck you can identify with.
Purifying and Storing Your Deck
Once you get your Tarot deck home (or pull it off that shelf), it’s important to cleanse and purify the deck before using it. There are a number of ways to purify the cards. One of the easiest methods is to smudge the deck using a sage smudge or incense stick. First, unwrap the deck and fan the cards out across your table or workspace. Then light the stick, allowing the smoke to waft over the cards. Next, turn the cards over and repeat the process.
Since Tarot cards are a magnet for energy, it’s very important that they be stored properly when not in use. Wrapping them in a silk or wool cloth or scarf is a great way to insulate them, or you can find a box or container with a lid in which to house them.
Preparing Your Space
Make sure you practice your reading sessions in a quiet, calm place, with no distractions. Use a flat surface with plenty of room to lay out the cards. Light some candles or incense and clear your head with some deep breathing or brief meditation. Then say a simple prayer that you be guided to receive the answers you are seeking from the highest source possible.
Formulating Your Question
The manner in which you phrase your question is one of the most important aspects when reading the Tarot. For example, by asking,
Am I going to get some money? you are leaving the timeframe and method that money will come to you wide open. Be as specific as possible with your questions. For example,
Will the money I am waiting for arrive this week? or
I need $300 before next Friday, will I receive it and in what form will it arrive?
Shuffling the Cards
There is no right or wrong way to shuffle the cards. You can pick a method that is comfortable for you, whether it involves traditional shuffling, cutting the cards repeatedly, or fanning them out on the table and shuffling them in a circular manner. As you shuffle, concentrate on your question, trusting your instincts to indicate when they have been shuffled long enough.
Laying Out the Cards
You can lay out the cards on the table either face up or face down. For beginners, it may be easier to pull the cards and lay them out face down, turning them over as you read each one. When you become more proficient, you may find that laying them out face up will give you a better overall picture of the reading. Either way is acceptable, so go with your instincts, or try both ways to see which one works best for you.
Reading the Cards
Pay close attention to the images on the cards whileyou are reading, as well as the number of Major and Minor Arcana that appear in a spread. The number of Major Arcana cards you draw will determine the number of prominent messages a reading will contain.
The minor suits of the Tarot – Rods, Cups, Swords and Pentacles – all correspond to different aspects of life, as well as different seasons:
Rods – Spiritual or Business Ventures/Spring
Cups – Emotions/Summer
Swords – Thoughts, Ideas and Communication/Autumn
Pentacles – Money, Objects, the Physical World/Winter
Using these guidelines will aid you in determining more clearly what dimensions of a situation or question the cards are addressing.
Here are a few simple readings you can practice each day to learn more about the different meanings of the cards and get some quick answers and insights:
Daily Overview Layout
This reading is best done first thing in the morning. Shuffle the cards and focus on this question,
What can I know to be true about this day? Next, pull three cards and leave them out on your table. At the end of the day, look up the meanings of the cards and see how you can tie them into the events of the day. For example, if you pull the Sun, the Page of Cups and the Ace of Pentacles, these cards would indicate an uplifting day (the Sun), a phone call with an important message (the Page of Cups) and money or a new gift coming to you (the Ace of Pentacles). Doing this reading each morning will expose you to more and more of the cards, and will also help you connect their meanings to actual events you’ve experienced.
Yes and No Reading
This is a great layout to obtain an instant answer, which can be expanded upon by returning to the meanings of the cards for more information. Focus on a question that can be answered with a yes or a no while you are shuffling, and then pull five cards. Count all Major Arcana and all even Minor Arcana cards as a yes. Count all court cards and all odd Minor Arcana cards as a no. Whichever you have more of is your answer. Once you’ve determined whether the answer is a yes or no, you can look up each card’s individual meaning for more information about the situation.
Once you feel more confident with your readings, it’s a great idea to ask friends or relatives to let you read for them in order to take your skills to the next level.
Susyn Blair-Hunt, Ms.D., is known internationally for her psychic readings, daily horoscope column here at Kajama, and her weekly radio show Insights. Along with her radio program, her bi-monthly newsletter StarNotes, private readings and advice column, Susyn also offers classes and private tutoring in astrology and Tarot. Susyn has been a professional metaphysical consultant for over 25 years and holds a Doctorate in Metaphysics along with certification by The American Association of Professional Psychics and the American Tarot Association. For a complete guide to reading the Tarot, check out Susyn’s new book, Tarot Prediction and Divination: Unveiling Three Layers of Meaning, which is available at llewellyn.com.