In On Tarot, Tarot 101

I thought it might be useful to provide some pointers for people who are intrigued about the idea of reading cards for themselves, but who might not be totally sure about how to get started.

First things first: Thou shalt get thy hands on a deck of cards! Here’s an article with tips on how to do that right here. 

So, now hopefully you are armed with a new deck or 3. What the hell do you do with them?

Well, don’t be afraid of them for one thing!

You might wonder if you’re supposed to treat this special object with a particularly mystical reverence.

To wrap it in silk or pass it through sage smoke.

When it comes to “cleansing” your deck and storing it safely, you’ll probably find a lot of ideas out there about what you should be doing.

But as with many aspects of tarot: There really are no concrete rules.

I personally feel like readers should come up with whatever rituals help them to feel like they are engaging in something significant rather than to mindlessly accept or adopt superstitions.

I invite you to try to explain to me how blindly following superstition will empower you!

I’m not saying don’t have any rituals.

If you don’t want any, then don’t.

If you want a little extra theatre and that helps make it more epic for you: go for it.

Before you decide though. Please just THINK about what you are doing, and why.

 Make up your own mind!

It’s time to get to grips with some basic symbolism and meanings

Divination systems are visual (which is what helps to make them so accessible) and so you should be willing to increase your symbolic vocabulary.

This will happen over time anyway, but if you do put some effort in then that will help to speed up the process.  

If you’ve picked an Oracle deck then investigate the culture or tradition that it’s based on.

Learn about what colours, numbers and shapes are supposed to represent. Read any literature that the deck comes with and then read more widely.

Tarot is somewhat of a different animal, but similar rules apply.

It’s more complex as a tarot deck is actually a synthesis of two different systems in one.

Which makes it sound intimidating, but in terms of learning it’s great because you can break it down into more manageable chunks.

The two systems are called the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana.

The Minor Arcana will look familiar because it’s so similar to a regular set of playing cards.

The four suits usually represent the four elements – Water, Fire, Air and Earth.

So start with the four elements and their correspondence to aspects of personality.

It’s a very common motif that runs through the Western esoteric traditions (such as Paganism and other more occult traditions) as well as increasingly less fringey psychological models.

Again, you can’t go wrong with studying colours and numbers.

The combination of these things will get your foot in the door.

Also you should at least read through the meanings of the Major Arcana. This information is widely available, either in books or online.

I also wrote a piece for Refinery29 where I outline the meanings – check it out here.

You will still have a lot to learn… and honestly.. it’s endless!

But these are the foundations which will help you begin to grasp the meanings of the cards and the system as a whole.

Symbols are cultural so read widely. Looking at multiple resources will enrich your understanding and your readings.

There are some brilliant websites and books out there that outline the meanings of symbols, and resources dedicated to interpreting dreams are often great too.

The broader your knowledge, the more you can mine from a card when it falls on the table.

Pro-tip: You’ll have an initial head-start if you’ve picked a deck with symbolism that you already resonate with or know something about. But picking something slightly outside of your interests can expand your horizons…

“I can’t be bothered learning about all that other stuff! I just want to play.”

You know what? That’s fine too.

There’s this way of reading cards called the intuitive approach, which is where you don’t give any fucks about the rule book, look at the picture and let the meaning arise from your imagination.

This is as valid as any other way of reading cards. And it works really well for some people. Maybe it will for you.

The reason that I have emphasized studying a bit of symbolism beforehand is that helps you to unlock the knowledge of human cultural history and use it to better understand your own consciousness.

If you do take a totally intuitive approach then you risk having huge blindspots in your knowledge.

And if you don’t ever allow your intuition a chance to play around with associations and stick to closely to meanings out of a book then your readings will be lacking something else just as important.

Better overall in my opinion, to try and have a bit of both.

But as I’ve been trying to impress upon you…  the way you do things is entirely up to you.

Practice on yourself (and keep a record!)

Now, some people say you should never ever read your own cards.

Personally I am not a fan of any statements that make some kind of ultimate claim about what you should and shouldn’t be doing  especially when it comes to self-development.

However, I do recommend that you try and stay away from anything really prediction heavy (ie Demanding Information from the Oracle) in the early stages.

First get to know yourself and the deck by contemplating more reflective issues.

Rather that seeing cards as some way to control your destiny, consider the cards as mirrors for contemplation that can enable you to create your fate. 

You have a lot to learn in the beginning.

Getting stressed out and demanding answers from your cards (and yourself) is not a great way to go about things.

It can be a fast track spiral into disempowerment, confusion and suffering.

Which is big part of the reason why people say don’t read your own cards I guess!

So, at least initially, tread lightly.  The goal should be the development of deeper self-awareness that empowers the graceful navigation of your life.

For example, you can use the cards as journal prompts and ask yourself questions such as “What was the most important lesson of my day today?”.

Or you could pick a card in the morning for advice for that day; the week; month; etc.

Unless you get a deck that is totally 100% love and light biased, then “negative” cards are going to come up. This shouldn’t freak you out and make you fear the worst is about to happen.

Go lightly, and look for the wisdom.

This is a tool that can be incredibly empowering – and enlightening – with the right approach.

Take notes of all your readings somewhere safe. You’ll want to look back on them, trust me.

Relax, play regularly and stay curious

Please don’t ever be afraid of your cards.

Look at them a lot and really get to know the imagery. Spend time with them. You need to get to know them and their language. This is part of the “bonding process”.

Keep journalling your insights.

Always be open to continuing to learn (there will always be more!). Continuing to explore will deepen your understanding and over time your readings will become more and more meaningful.

I hope this was helpful for anyone relatively new to tarot and that you are inspired to keep researching this fun and useful psychological tool. Let me know what you think and if there’s something important that you think would be helpful for people beginning their journey with card reading.

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