Tarot 101: How to Get Started with Tarot Cards

Tarot cards can be very intimidating to some and easy to others. Everyone has their own personal experience with tarot from beginning to advanced. I’ll disclaim this right now: I’m in my beginning to intermediate stages of tarot reading. I’ve learned that many of us who practice New Age have their form of witchcraft, and tarot happens to be mine. They’re the “spooky” thing that makes me squee and happy with each passing moment. I try my best to keep up with my readings and learn more and more every time I can get my hands on them. It’s still a very big learning process, but I welcome it with open arms.

Before I get into the Tarot 101, let me tell you something about my personal experience with the cards. My personal experience has always been both positive and negative within the tarot card world, but always a great experience overall. Tarot cards were absolutely terrifying to me at first. I wanted to learn them so badly, but immediately thought I would fail at them. I didn’t know what to do. I stumbled very badly at my first readings, and I didn’t dare do reading for my friends. I wanted to learn the process, but didn’t understand the first thing about what I wanted to do. Then, I took a step back, reexamined my approach to Tarot readings, and have loved it every since. I’ve heard of a lot of people taking this step towards Tarot at first, but as intimidating as they might be, they’re one of the best parts of my witchcraft.

Now that you know my story within tarot it’s time for you to make your own. Let’s start with some things you should immediately know about tarot and then basic things about the cards themselves.

About

Tarot cards are all about intuition and divination. What does that mean? The cards are used for predictions or outcome based things depending on what’s happening to the reader. They give you insight into the past, present, and future, but again, the predictions and outcomes are situational by situations currently surrounding you. Reading tarot is always open to interpretation, but keep in mind what you feel when laying out the cards. There are a couple of tricks and tips that you’ll develop in learning tarot and not everyone has the same method.

Please remember, there is no right or wrong method in using tarot, it’s all based on interpretation.

Two Types of Readings: Question and Open Readings

There are two types of readings: question readings and open readings. Questions readings are when you pose a question to the cards. The cards will not give you a yes or no answer, but they will give you some insight. The cards aren’t supposed to help you make decisions, but they are somewhat meant to guide you. Open readings pose a bigger picture that you’re looking for guidance in. If you’re starting something new, wanting to know about your health, relationship, or career, or you’re just looking for a direction to go into. Open readings are your best bet.

There are some things to keep in mind for open and question readings:

  • Focus. Always stay focused. Focus readings work in two ways. One: You should focus on your question or your open readings in the moment. Take a deep breath and go for it. Two: Focus the details of your reading, which brings us to our next and last one.
  • Keep your question focused. There’s nothing worse than doing a reading and then having the cards say something that you don’t understand. A way to keep focus is to make sure to give your question details. For example, if you’re asking where you should take your career, try to simplify and detail it. Instead of, “Is this the right career path for me?” Maybe try, “Should I continue writing?” “Would it be better to pick up this new project while working on this [project]?” or “Will I have more success in journalism then creative writing?” There’s a lot of ways to phrase different questions, but make sure you’re focusing on what you want out of these questions and open readings.
  • Keep good intentions. I cannot stress this enough. You’ll always want to keep your questions with the best of intentions. If you know the Wiccan Rede, “An ye harm none, do what ye will” or Law of Three, “Whatever you do will return to you threefold.” Keep these in the back of your mind when you’re doing them. You never want to harm anyone and yourself with these questions or wish any ill towards someone either.

Now that we’re through with that, let’s get into the juicy details of the cards themselves.

Card Basics

There are a total of 78 cards in a tarot card deck, divided into two types: Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana has 22 and the Minor Arcana has 56. You’ll know the difference between them very quickly, mostly due to the fact that they both have very different functions within Tarot, but they also have very different names to them.

Major and Minor Arcanas are two different things, but work together in harmony as you’re doing a reading. Major Arcanas represent significant life events both from your own life and influential figures and events that may happen. For example, these cards would come in handy when talking about career, relationships, and more. The Major Arcana are the first set of cards you’re met with within the deck. You’ll notice them right away, because they’ll have names like Temperance, The Devil, The High Priestess, or Justice.

The Minor Arcana has four suits, including pentacles, wands, cups, and swords and represent the day to day life. For example, these are the little events that may happen in your life inside of the big picture. The Minor Arcana consists of pentacles (representing earth and also wealth and/or the material world), wands (fire and also creative ideas and passion), cups (water, represents emotions, relationships, and love) and swords (air, representing the mind). They have court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King) within them as well as number, these are typically numbered from ace to ten.

Choosing A Deck

Choosing a deck varies. There’s no right or wrong way to choose a deck, because, again, it’s all about intuition. Sometimes you’ll gravitate to a deck and sometimes you won’t. The cards you obtain are bonded to you because of your feelings for it.

Here’s something that I’ve heard a lot since starting Tarot: People say the cards work better if they’re gifted to you. This is very open depending on how you see it, but getting the feeling that someone thought of you enough to give you tarot cards does make the love for the cards and the reading a bit better because of the sentiment, in my opinion. My first two decks I bought for myself to build up a trust within myself and the cards. My last three decks were gifted to me by my friends. (Thank you Priya for my Steven Universe deck!) I’ve build up trust within those cards, as well.

Choosing a deck is what is best for you. You can’t be confident in your readings unless the cards that you use are awesome and connected to you. It’s really important to choose a deck that you find cool, awesome, worthy, and you want to spend some time with. If you need more information and some helpful advice on how to choose a deck that’s best. Check out Brigit’s article on Biddy Tarot about some ways to choose a deck that’s awesome for you. 

Once you get a deck, beware of spending your money and searching for deck after deck after deck, I have about three right now and always on the lookout for more. Say goodbye to your money. Seriously, say goodbye to your money because this is a lifestyle. [Editor’s Note: I can totally vouch for this statement!]

Basic Card Spreads

There are a couple of basic card spreads that I use that may help you out with your beginning Tarot journey. I’ll use my awesome Steven Universe Tarot to show you the way.

three-card-spreadThis simple card spread is a three card spread. This spread is the reading of your past, present, and future. The first card is your past, the second card is your present, and the third is your future. This is one of the simplest spreads, but with this spread make sure your question is very clear. This card spread is amazing for an in depth yes/no question. Let’s say you’re asking, “Will I obtain my crush?” This is a yes/no answer with a lot of outcomes; the three card spreads breaks down the simplicity of that question and shows you a possible outcome relating to your past and present to give you an outcome of the future.

five-card-spreadThis five card spread is used for determining a course of action. This just means that you’re trying to figure out which way to go. Five card spreads really work best when you focus on a single aspect of what you’re trying to go for instead of a wide ranging question. This card words with your first card in the middle, the second card to the left (of your first card), your third card to the right (of your first card). After this, place your fourth card underneath the first card and the fifth card over the first card. This is your five card spread. This card spread is meant to go into your present (1), the past and it’s influences (2), the future (3), the reason behind the question (4) and the potential results from the situations (5).

seven-card-spreadThis next spread is the seven card ellipse spread which is used to ask more direct questions. This card spreads starts from the top right to the top left. It basically forms a V with the fourth card smack in the middle. The spread is set up as: the past and its influences (1), the present and current influences, (2) the future and the influences happening now that have a bearing on the future (3), what to do (4) external influences (5), hopes and fears (6), and the final outcome (7).

celtricThe last and most complicated (yet awesomely interesting) spread is the ten card spread, but everyone knows it more as the Celtic Cross. You may see this spread a lot in movies, because it is one of the most popular spreads and can be done in a lot of different ways. This card spread is for answering specific questions. The card spread is laid out in a cross like way. The first card is laid down first and over that is the second. The third is to the right of the first and second, the fourth is below, the fifth is above and the sixth is on the left of the first and second. Cards 7, 8, 9, and 10 are on the side of these cards in a straight line. How these cards work is pretty complicated. Since these cards are meant to ask a specific question, each card holds a bigger meaning. Let’s break it down:

  1. The present
  2. The immediate obstacle or challenge that you have to overcome
  3. The distance past or foundation (indicates the root of the subject matter)
  4. The recent past
  5. The best potential that can be achieved
  6. The immediate future (few days or weeks, not months)
  7. Factors or inner feelings affecting the situation (compare card to card 1, if there is a conflict between the two cards, it might mean that you’re going in the wrong direction)
  8. The external influences (this can mean people, situations, events, etc. that will affect the question and are outside of your control)
  9. The hopes and fears (intertwined)
  10. The final outcome

Nine and Ten are the cards that can be unclear to a reader. If these cards are unclear after the whole reading, try to draw an additional card to get some clarity.

Upside Down Cards

In my years of doing Tarot, I try not to pay attention to upside down cards. Everyone’s tarot experience is their own. There is no right or wrong way to use reversed cards. Readers believe that the reserve cards can do two things: allow a wide range of possibilities (both positive and negative) within the cards or interrupt the flow of the reading. I am the second type of reader. My use of reverse cards always varies. It always interrupts the flow of any reading that I do, but I won’t say that I don’t use them all the way. I’m a complicated creature when it comes to upside down cards.

However complicated I am, your experience with them will be different. Now, let me say this, you don’t have to use them, but let me tell you what they mean. People immediately think that upside down cards are a negative thing. They’re not at all. It all depends on the reading that you’re doing and the questions that you answer. For example, if you pull The Devil or Death, it doesn’t mean immediate doom. You have to consider the meaning of the card and then think about the opposite of that meaning. I’ll give you a bigger example using a spread.

Say you have a three card spread. Your first card is Temperance (the past), your second card is Ace of Wands (the present), and your third card is Nine of Swords (the future). You take a look at the cards, but you notice that the Nine of Swords is turned upside down. What does this mean?

Well, first things first, look at what your Temperance and Ace of Wands mean. Once you figure that out, you’ll look at what your Nine of Swords means regularly, but then flip it. So Nine of Swords means anxiety, guilt, uncertainties, and inner fears. In this reading, these would be the opposite, meaning your anxieties might be calmed, you feel the opposite of guilt, etc., depending on what your card is and what the situation of the question or intentions are. These should not be looked at as good or bad right off the bat. If you want to know more about reading upside down/reversed cards, here’s an excellent link

That’s it for my tarot 101. There’s a lot more information on how to work with the cards and more about them in general. If you’d like to know more about Tarot as a beginner, here’s an amazing book that will teach you all of the ins and outs of Tarot, especially the cards and their meanings. If you’d like to get a set of Future Vision Gem tarot cards by RavennoWithTea, you can get them here from Gamecrafters.

Insha Fitzpatrick

Insha Fitzpatrick

Moving Image Columnist + Teacher of Cartoon Academy. Insha is a freelance + comic writer, film nerd and Crystal Gem from NJ. She enjoys cartoons, comics, b-movies and has very strong feelings about Kylo Ren. Stay Weird. ♡

One thought on “Tarot 101: How to Get Started with Tarot Cards

  1. Regarding tarot in media: have you ever watched season 2 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX? That season’s villain regularly used tarot cards (though not with nearly as complicated spreads), and the cards he actually dueled with represented both major and minor arcana, though the former were often given a rather alien look. I’d be curious to know what you think of how tarot tropes were expressed in the cards and how the gameplay was or wasn’t analogous to tarot symbology.

    http://yugioh.wikia.com/wiki/Arcana_Force

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