Tarot basics for beginners. All you need to know to start reading the cards straight away, from tarot structure, simple spreads and question phrasing to how to connect with the cards on a deeper level.
When students approach me for personal tarot mentoring, they tell me about how hard they find it to remember all the card meanings.
They have been trying to develop their tarot skills and knowledge for ages with only little progress, and now they are wondering, if there is an easier way to learn card meanings than memorising keywords from books.
At this stage I advise them to put their tarot books back on a shelf and start from scratch.
During our first session I show them how to connect with the tarot on an intuitive level by exploring the details of each image.
We are looking at symbolism (less complicated than it sounds), the whole scene, feelings and emotions generated, and last but not least the student’s own life experiences reflected in the cards.
During the session I encourage the student to open their mind and tap into their unconscious and imagination.
It’s always fantastic to see, when a student suddenly ‘gets it’, like a switch being turned on in the brain.
Nothing is as difficult and frustrating as trying to memorise Tarot card meanings from a book.
Since 2006, Tarot students from all over the world have worked with me to discover a better – easier – method to connect with the cards.
If you are just starting to learn the Tarot or find it hard to remember card meanings, here are my tried and tested powerful ways to connect with the Tarot without ever having to look at a book again:
1. Choose a Tarot deck that speaks to you
The best beginner’s Tarot deck is one, where all cards are fully illustrated, each image tells you a story and you find the artwork appealing.
The most famous and popular Tarot deck of all, the Rider Waite Smith (RWS), is one I do recommend, but you may prefer the Sharman-Caselli deck, which has been specifically designed with the Tarot novice in mind.
On the image here on the right you can see both decks together with the Crystal Tarot, on which the Minor Arcana cards are illustrated with just the symbol of the suits.
Which images do you find easier to connect with? And what different stories do they tell?
2. Describe the images
Yes, this requires you to actually LOOK at the image carefully and explore the scene. Give me your first impression: is it positive, neutral or negative?
Then tell me why. What do you see? What is happening?
Go into more detail. Are there any people in the card? What are they doing? How do they look?
Notice their body language. What is the landscape like? Can you see buildings, plants, animals?
Some cards are easier to read than others. Don’t be disheartened, if you draw a blank with some of them. You will learn to read them in time. Build your confidence by focusing on the easy cards first.
3. Be the person in the card
This is a fun yet insightful way to connect with the cards. Imitate the posture of the person in a card.
Stand with open arms just like the Fool, sit like the High Priestess, kneel like the woman in the Star image – will you take it as far as being naked?
You can personify the Hanged Man by doing a headstand, perhaps against a tree, or if that is too strenuous for you, lie down and lean your legs upright against a wall or a tree.
Replicate as much of the image as you can.
For example, stand by a field and look at the crops just like in the Seven of Pentacles. What goes through your mind? Harvest? Hard work? Reaping rewards? Sowing new seeds and a new cycle?
How do these postures make you feel?
Close your eyes and imagine the landscape of the card surrounding you. How does it affect your mood, dreams, ideas or imagination?
4. Connect each card with your own life experiences
The archetypal images of the Tarot live in all of us. For example, we have all been a Fool more than once in our lives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean in a bad way
The Fool suggests amongst other things new beginnings. This is how some of my students associate the Fool with events in their lives:
“My first day at school. I can remember being so excited.”
“When I went backpacking to South America. I was naive when I started but so much wiser when I came back.”
“My first marriage. We were too young.”
“Starting my business. I didn’t have a clue, just jumped in, and it was quite a learning curve. But I loved it.”
All these statements are short, but they tell you so much more.
By linking the cards to your life, you will find it much easier to remember their meanings, because you connect them to feelings, lessons and advice you have experienced.
5. Start A Journal
When you start exploring your Tarot deck, make notes of your observations and new discoveries about the cards. Writing things down helps your memory, too.
Be a Fool today and start your Tarot Journal by downloading my Tarot freebies.
You can add your own pages as you continue to work with the cards, and over time you will create a unique Tarot reference book full of your personal wisdom and inspiration.
By signing up to my mailing list, you will also receive more freebies in the future and learn about exciting new journalling products available soon!
6. Play with the cards every day
Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, spending time with your cards every day will help you learn the cards more quickly.
Pull a card on an evening and make a note of it. How does it reflect the events of the day you’ve had? Or what message does it offer you for the following day?
Even if you cannot think of anything, at least you are looking at the card, begin to memorise its image and associate it with its name. Soon you can picture the images in your head without having to look at them, e.g. you will know by heart what the Six of Wands looks like.
7. Card meanings can be found in the Name
The names of the Major Arcana images all trigger some associations you have stored in your head. Quite often, Tarot novices are not aware of them. They see the name written on the card but don’t take it further.
One of my students couldn’t make sense of the Hermit. So I asked: “What is a Hermit? What does a Hermit do?”
Her answer: “It’s someone, who lives on his own. Far away from civilisation.”
We have then talked about the archetypal Hermit personality, and how it fits into our modern lives and in readings.
So, what does an Emperor do? Well, I suppose he rules and makes decisions. And what does Justice mean? It makes me think about the law, and how we associate it with objectivity, truth and fairness.
As you can see, the names of the cards already tell you a lot about their meanings, so they are worthwhile exploring further.
Find your own favourite inspirational quotes for each card and record them in your journal. I started doing that a few years ago, and in the process began creating my Tarot of Quotes.
Last but not least, if you still feel stuck connecting with the cards, consider booking a brainstorming session with me via Skype. It’s great to talk, and you will already notice the benefits after just one call.
Or check out my transformational Discovery Tarot course, with me as your personal guide and mentor along your tarot journey.
If you are just beginning to get to know the Tarot, you may want to avoid the 10-card Celtic Cross spread and start off with simple yet effective one card readings.
Yes, pulling just one card from your deck can already tell you a hell of a lot about what is going on around you.
It can even tell you a bit about your personality, habits, strengths and weaknesses.
Here are five ways to read one Tarot card and get instant, meaningful messages:
1. Calculate your year card. It offers you some insight on the energies and overall theme that will be influencing you during the course of the year. Do the same for family and friends to get to know the cards and discover what might be in store for them over the year.
2. Calculate your personality card. This card will give you some ideas on your life lessons and purpose in this life; another great one-card reading to try on your family and friends.
3. Discover your persona card. Find out which court card is linked to your sun sign and explore your court card personality. This is a good way to acquaint yourself with the often tricky court cards, so make sure you also practice the persona card reading with plenty of people you know.
4. Do a daily one-card draw. You can either pull a card in the morning to see what may come up for you during the day, or you can pull one in the evening for the following day. Record them on a chart like this, and after a week analyse the cards drawn for more insight: Which suit has come up most? How many Major Arcana cards? How many court cards and which ones? How accurate have your interpretations been?
5. Do a weekly one-card draw. If you are too busy for a card-a-day, you can draw just one card for the week ahead to offer you some insight on the energies you can expect over the forthcoming days. Use this journalling sheet to record your interpretation and predictions you come up with.
For your daily and weekly draw you can also use my ebook Empowering Messages from the Tarot to help you with your readings until you are more confident with your interpretations. Also, check out the Tarot Study for more journalling sheets and Tarot lessons.
The more you practice, the more messages and insight you will receive from just one card. Take your time when you look at the image, and let its symbolism speak to you: what kind of landscape do you see? What colours? Any people? Are they happy, sad, angry, alone?
Learn to notice the little details, and over time you will find it easier to interpret the cards without the help of a book.
For a beginner, larger spreads can be confusing, and a one-card draw is the ideal starting point for simple yet insightful readings.
The prominent 19th century occultist and Golden Dawn Member S. L. MacGregor Mathers wrote about the significance of numbers in an ordinary card deck in his essay The Tarot, published in 1888:
“It has been long known that the ordinary 52 card pack was susceptible of some peculiar numerical significations, e.g.:
52 Cards in the pack, suggest 52 weeks in the year.
13 Cards in each suit, suggest 13 lunar months in the year, 13 weeks in the quarter.
4 suits in the pack, suggest 4 seasons in the year.
12 Picture Cards in the pack, suggest 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the Zodiac
Furthermore, if we add together:
The pips on the plain cards of the four suits = 220
The pips on the 12 Picture Cards = 12
Twelve Picture Cards reckoned as 10 each = 120
The number of cards in each suit = 13
We shall obtain the number of days in the year = 365
But concealed behind their apparently arbitrary and bizarre designs, the Tarot Cards contain a far more complicated system of recondite symbolism.
We find the number ten multiplied by the mystical number four, and combined with a primitive hieroglyphic alphabet of twenty-two letters.”
Before we look at the deeper meanings of numbers in Tarot, it is worthwhile noting that the esoteric science of numbers, arithmology, was first developed by the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 B.C.).
In the centuries that followed, his teachings were passed on over generations in Europe and the middle East, mainly within secret societies, which were formed due to political unrest and upheaval.
When occult groups such as the Freemasons, became interested in Tarot from the late 17th century onwards, it seems logical that arithmology would be gradually embedded into the Tarot.
Today, the meanings of numbers in the Tarot are still based on the teachings of Pythagoras.
However, you will find that changes have been made to the card sequences in various decks, which follow different traditions.
Here is an overview of the significance of numbers:
Numerology and Tarot
A mystical symbol, not a number. Mathematically and philosophically Zero represents nothing and everything, the two infinite ends of the finite, neither of which is physically attainable.
God force; the force before entering into manifestation.
In Tarot: The Fool. In some decks the Fool is numbered 22—see below.
Root of all numbers, unity, principle of all things, indivisible
Gender: male and female (containing the odd and even)
Time: The present now
Positive Attributes: Essence; beyond all knowledge
Each of the 78 scenic images of the RWS (Rider Waite Smith) Tarot deck contain a number of symbols. When familiar with their meanings and possible interpretations, it is easier to “read” and interpret the cards.
Major Arcana Symbols:
0 – The Fool
White rose in hand – the soul, the heart, love. White = purity, innocence
Bundle on stick – provisions, potential, possessions (not much = flexible, light, independent). Stick = wand
Sun/Sky – blue, sunny, warm; the right time to travel, make a move
Mountains – obstacles, problems, difficulties in the far distance
Cliff – pitfall
Dog – instinct, spirit guide, warning from the intellect or playfulness
Radical changes; shock; break-up of habits and structures; humiliation; unexpected change or shock; mental breakdown; erupting emotions; damage.
Hope; healing; inspiration; regeneration; cleansing; serenity; insight and truth.
Insecurities; doubts; illusion; fluctuation; mood; instability; confusion; disillusionment; depression; feeling alone; swamped with feelings and emotions; imagination; fantasies.
Joy; happiness; clarity; enlightenment; creativity and personal growth; optimism; good health; confidence; full of energy; enthusiasm.
A review of past actions; coming to a crossroads; self-evaluation; conscience; repentance; apology; atonement; guilt; forgiveness.
Arrival; achievement; the end of a cycle; success; aware of your limitations; contentment; living comfortably; being established.
If you like a printable PDF version of the complete chart of Tarot card meanings (including Minor Arcana and the Court cards), pop over to thefreebies section, where you can get a folder full of Tarot goodies.