How to Read Tarot Cards -Step-by-Step Guide

We are delighted to embark on this mystical journey with you as we delve into the enchanting world of Tarot. Whether you are a seasoned Tarot practitioner or an enthusiastic novice, our step-by-step guide to performing a tarot reading is designed to be a comprehensive and easy-to-follow resource.

We aim to illuminate the path towards understanding and performing Tarot readings inclusively and comfortably. So, prepare yourself, open your mind, and let’s step into the charged and vibrant universe of Tarot together.

  • Tarot reading is a tool for self-discovery and introspection, not for predicting an unchangeable future. It’s crucial to develop a personal connection with the tarot cards, respect ethical boundaries, and practice regularly to hone your intuition.
  • After a reading, reflection is key to gaining deeper insights from the cards’ messages. Proper clearing and storing of the tarot deck are equally important to reset its energy and keep it in optimal condition for future readings.
  • Despite initial challenges, patience and persistence are important in this journey of self-exploration. It’s essential to avoid rushing readings and over-reliance on book meanings. All cards, even those perceived as ‘negative’, have various meanings and can signify transformation, change, or overcoming obstacles.

Selecting a Deck

The first step in performing a Tarot card reading is selecting the right deck for you. With so many options available, it may seem overwhelming at first. However, trust your intuition and choose a deck that speaks to you.

Major Arcana vs Minor Arcana

The Tarot deck is an amalgamation of potent symbols, stories, and wisdom, divided into two significant parts: the Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana, commonly called the ‘Soul’s Journey’, consists of 22 cards representing profound life events, crucial changes, and spiritual lessons.

Each card, from ‘The Fool’ initiating the journey at zero to ‘The World’ signifying the end of the cycle at twenty-one, traces an individual’s path of spiritual growth and personal development.

On the other hand, the Minor Arcana mirrors the intricacies of day-to-day life. These 56 tarot cards are divided into four suits: Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands, each encompassing particular elements and aspects of life.

Cups typically deal with emotions and relationships, Pentacles with material aspects and practical matters, Swords with thoughts and conflicts, and Wands with actions and creativity.

In a Tarot session, the Major Arcana cards spotlight significant shifts and turning points in your life. In contrast, the Minor Arcana cards provide detail and context, making the narrative more nuanced and complete. Hence, both Arcanas contribute to a Tarot reading’s depth, providing clarity and insights from different perspectives.

Variety of Tarot Decks and How to Choose One

A staggering variety of Tarot decks is available, each deck radiating its unique energy. There is a deck for every tarot reader, from traditional decks like the Rider-Waite Deck and Marseille Deck that adhere closely to classic Tarot symbolism to modern, thematic decks that incorporate diverse cultures, mythologies, and artistic styles.

Marseille Tarot Deck

Some decks may lean towards the abstract and artistic, while others might adopt a more literal and straightforward approach in depicting the Arcanas.

Selecting a Tarot deck is an intensely personal and intuitive process. Remember that you are not merely choosing a set of cards; you are inviting in a tool to tap into your subconscious to guide you through life’s intricate web. Hence, choosing a deck that resonates with you on a deep level is crucial.

Note the deck’s visual aspect: do the images and symbols align with your aesthetic sensibility and make you feel comfortable? Is there an emotional or spiritual connection when you hold the tarot cards? Do you feel that the deck’s energy complements yours?

Rider-Waite Deck

While understanding the difference between Major and Minor Arcana is crucial, and the deck structure is significant, don’t forget the importance of personal resonance. Tarot is a mirror to your soul, and the deck you choose should reflect that. Experiment with different decks and trust your intuition, for it will guide you to the deck that feels like an extension of yourself, enhancing your Tarot reading experiences.

Choose a Question, Topic, Theme and Spread

After selecting a deck, the next step is deciding on a question or topic and spread to focus on during the reading.

Simple Tarot Spreads for Beginners

Starting with simple spreads like the three or five-card layouts for new tarot readers can be immensely helpful. While simpler to interpret, these spreads can offer profound insights into your life. Let’s delve into their structure and usage.

Three-Card Spread

The Three-Card Spread is one of the most basic yet versatile Tarot spreads. It’s an ideal layout for a quick snapshot of a situation. The tarot cards are read from left to right, and each position corresponds to a specific aspect:

  1. Past: Represents the past events that have influenced your present situation.
  2. Present: Indicates your current state or the challenges you’re facing.
  3. Future: Offers a possible outcome based on your current path.
three card spread for reading tarot cards

However, the beauty of the Three-Card Spread is its adaptability. It can be tweaked to cater to your specific question or theme. For instance, for a relationship query, the positions could denote ‘You – The Relationship – Your Partner.’ In a decision-making scenario, it might represent ‘Option 1 – The Situation – Option 2’.

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Five-Card Spread

The Five-Card Spread provides a more detailed analysis and is excellent for understanding more complex situations. The card positions usually represent:

  1. Past: Shows past influences that might be affecting the present.
  2. Present: Depicts the current situation.
  3. Future: Indicates a possible future outcome if you follow the advice card’s guidance.
  4. Obstacles: Reveals challenges that are holding the querent back.
  5. Overcoming: Offers help and guidance on how to move on.

Like the Three-Card Spread, the Five-Card layout can be customized to fit your question. For a career-related query, positions might reflect ‘Your Current Position – Your Ambitions – Challenges – Path Forward – Potential Outcome.’

For both spreads, remember that the ‘Future’ or ‘Potential Outcome’ cards don’t predict a fixed, unchangeable future. Instead, they show the possible result if you continue your current trajectory. Tarot is a tool for guidance and self-reflection, empowering you to make informed choices and navigate life’s twists and turns with greater clarity and confidence.

If you’re looking for a more advanced spread, the Celtic Cross spread might be for you! This is a 10-card layout that can be used to gain greater insight into complex questions.

Formulating Clear Questions for Your Tarot Reading

When seeking guidance from the Tarot, you must formulate your questions clearly and specifically. A well-structured question can lead to more insightful readings, allowing the tarot cards to address your concerns more directly. Here are some tips for creating effective questions:

  • Open-ended: Avoid yes/no questions. Instead, phrase your question in a way that invites the cards to provide in-depth insights. For example, instead of asking, “Will I find love this year?” ask, “What can I do to attract love into my life?”
  • Focused: Make sure your question is specific and not too broad. Instead of asking, “What does my future hold?” ask, “What is the next step in my career?” or “What can I do to improve my relationship with my partner?”
  • Personal: Frame your questions around yourself, not others. Remember, Tarot is about self-reflection and personal growth. Instead of asking, “How does my partner feel about me?” ask, “What can I do to enhance my emotional connection with my partner?”
  • Positive: Phrase your questions positively. Instead of asking, “Why can’t I find a job?” ask, “What steps can I take to improve my job search?”
how to read tarot cards meaning

Types of Tarot Readings

Different areas of everyday life call for different types of readings. Here are a few areas where Tarot can provide guidance:

An illustration of a Tarot reading focused on Love and Relationships, featuring a table with a tarot spread. The scene is adorned with romantic symbols like hearts, and a faint silhouette of a couple in the background. Prominent cards, such as The Lovers and Two of Cups, are displayed, symbolizing love and partnership. The setting exudes a warm, cozy atmosphere, ideal for a personal tarot reading session.
  • Love and Relationships: Love readings can help you understand your love life and relationships. Questions include: “What can I do to attract my soulmate?” or “How can I improve my relationship with my partner?”
  • Career: Career readings can provide insights into your professional life. You might ask, “What steps should I take to advance my career?” or “What can I do to achieve work-life balance?”
  • Personal Growth: If you’re working on personal development or spiritual growth, ask questions like, “What should I focus on for personal growth?” or “How can I nurture my spiritual side?”
  • Health and Wellness: While Tarot should never replace medical advice, it can guide your overall well-being. Questions could include, “How can I better care for my physical health?” or “What can I do to manage stress?”

Remember, the purpose of Tarot is to empower you to make choices that align with your highest good. Approach each tarot card reading with an open mind and heart, ready to receive the wisdom the tarot cards offer.

Shuffle The Cards

Shuffling your Tarot cards is more than a random act; it is a deliberate and mindful process that aids in infusing your energy into the deck and aligning it with the question. There are numerous methods to do this, and you should choose one that resonates most with you.

Overhand Shuffling

This method is similar to the shuffling technique used in many card games. Hold a portion of the deck in one hand and use the other hand to take batches of cards from the deck. As you do this, visualize your question and let your energy flow into the cards.

A professional tarot reader shuffling the cards

Riffle Shuffling

The riffle or bridge shuffle is another effective method if you’re comfortable with it. It’s the same technique in casinos: split the deck into two, hold the halves in each hand, and let the tarot cards fall interweaving. Remember to focus on your question or the issue you seek insight into while shuffling.

Washing the Deck

In this technique, spread all the cards out on a table, face down. Move them around with your hands, essentially ‘washing’ them in your energy. Once done, gather them together and stack them into a deck again.

Pile Shuffling

In the pile shuffling method, you create several small piles of cards and then combine them back into one deck. This method ensures every card moves position and the deck is thoroughly mixed.

Regardless of your method, the key is to imbue your energy into the tarot cards while considering your question. Once you feel the cards are adequately shuffled, it’s time to proceed with the reading. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to shuffle your Tarot deck; what matters most is that it feels right to you.

Drawing the Cards and Placing Them in the Chosen Spread

After infusing your personal energy into the deck through shuffling, your next step is to draw cards for your reading. Drawing cards is an intuitive process — trust your instincts and allow your unconscious mind to guide your hand.

  1. Focus on Your Question: Remember your question as you hover over your shuffled deck. Visualize, feel, and let it infuse the space around you.
  2. Draw the Cards: Allow your hand to be drawn to the cards that call to it. You may feel a warmth, a pull, or an inexplicable urge towards one card over another. Trust this feeling and draw the card, placing it before you.
  3. Repeat the Process: Continue drawing cards in this manner until you have the number required for your chosen spread. Remember to draw each card individually, concentrating on your question each time.
  4. Arrange the Cards in Your Chosen Spread: Once you’ve drawn all the cards, it’s time to lay them out in the pattern of your chosen spread. Each position in the spread has a unique meaning, so place each card in the correct spot.
  5. Reveal the Cards: After all the tarot cards are placed, you should flip them over to reveal their faces only now. Start from the first card you drew and proceed in the same order, taking the time to absorb each card’s image and initial impressions before moving to the next.

The process of drawing cards is deeply personal and filled with intention. It’s not about choosing what you want to see but about being open to what the cards want. Stay focused, calm, and receptive, and you’ll find the most resonant and insightful guidance in your Tarot reading.

Understanding the Tarot Cards

Symbols and imagery are the soul and language of the tarot deck, each card teeming with signs, creatures, objects, colors, and scenes contributing to its meaning. Even minute details, from the direction a character faces to the number of birds in the sky, hold significance.

a tarot reader pulling cards

These symbols provide a visual language through which the subconscious communicates, often revealing hidden insights that words might overlook. For example, a rose on a card might symbolize passion, love, or sacrifice, depending on its color and context.

Similarly, a sword might denote action, power, or conflict, while a body of water might suggest emotion, intuition, or the unconscious. By studying and understanding these symbols, you can delve deeper into the card’s messages and apply their wisdom.

How to Interpret the Drawn Cards

Study Traditional Meanings: Each tarot card has traditional tarot card meanings passed down through generations. These interpretations can provide a solid foundation for understanding the card’s message. Refer to tarot guidebooks or trusted online sources to familiarize yourself with these symbolic meanings. However, remember that these are just a starting point.

Listen to Your Intuition: Your instincts play a crucial role in interpreting tarot cards. As you gaze at the card, pay attention to any feelings, thoughts, or images that come to you spontaneously. Your subconscious could communicate with you, providing insights beyond traditional meanings.

Artistic depiction of a woman in contemplative pose, eyes closed, during a tarot card reading. A faint tarot card in front of her and ethereal forms around her symbolize her intuitive thoughts. The serene, introspective setting emphasizes inner guidance and subconscious communication.

Consider the Imagery: The symbols and images on a tarot card aren’t just for decoration. They carry deep, metaphoric meanings. Pay attention to every detail – the characters, colors, numbers, animals, landscape, and even the direction objects face. Notice how these elements interact and what they represent for you.

Context Matters: The meaning of a card can change depending on the surrounding cards in a spread. Look at how the cards relate to one another and the overall theme of the reading. This can provide additional layers of meaning.

Journal Your Impressions: Keep a tarot journal to note your initial reactions and feelings towards the drawn cards. Over time, you will see patterns and develop your unique understanding of the tarot cards.

Practice, Practice, Practice: The more you practice tarot reading, the more attuned you will become to the cards’ energy and messages. Practice different spreads, ask different questions, and, most importantly, be patient with yourself. With time, you will deepen your skills and confidence in your interpretations.

Remember, interpreting tarot cards is a personal, intuitive process. There’s no right or wrong interpretation, only what resonates with you and aids your growth and understanding. Trust in your abilities and the wisdom of the cards, and you’ll uncover the insights you seek.

Interpreting the Spread

Understanding the meaning of each card in relation to your question or theme is key for a tarot reader. Each card’s position signifies a different aspect – past influences, present circumstances, future possibilities, advice, or potential outcomes. For instance, in a three-card spread, the first card represents the past, the second the present, and the third the future.

To interpret the cards, read each individually and consider its traditional meanings, intuitive tarot insights, and imagery. Then, view the cards as a whole to form an overarching narrative. Consider the context of your question or theme as you interpret.

Analyzing card positions gives you a nuanced understanding of your reading, providing context-specific insights relevant to your situation. The final step is synthesizing the individual card readings into a coherent message. Look for common themes, symbols, or colors across the cards. Analyze the progression of the cards in relation to their positions.

Weave all these insights together to form a complete narrative, capturing the overall message of the spread. Remember, this process relies on your intuition and emotional intelligence, so take your time to engage with the cards and listen to your inner wisdom.

Post-Reading Practices

Reflecting on the tarot reading is crucial in gaining deeper insights and understanding the cards’ messages. This reflection process allows you to connect the dots between the cards, your intuition, and your current life situation.

Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and impressions can help you decipher the symbolic language of the deck, decode its wisdom, and apply it meaningfully.

Over time, these reflective notes act as a rich resource, enabling you to trace your progress, recognize patterns, and deepen your connection with the tarot.

Whether you contemplate the reading immediately or revisit it after some time, reflection aids in internalizing the guidance offered and enhances your tarot reading experience. Remember, the tarot is a tool for self-discovery, and reflection is key to unlocking its potential.

Clearing and Storing the Tarot Deck

Once you have finished your reading and reflection, it is important to clear and store your tarot deck properly. This process ensures the removal of previous energies and keeps your deck in optimal condition for future readings.

Clearing Your Tarot Deck: Clearing your deck is about resetting its energy. This can be done in several ways:

  1. Visualize Light: Hold the deck in your hands and imagine a bright, cleansing light enveloping it. This light carries away residual energy, leaving your cards refreshed and ready for the next reading.
  2. Smoke Cleansing: Pass your deck through sage or palo santo smoke. The smoke is believed to cleanse and purify, making this method ideal for resetting your deck’s energy.
  3. Knock or Tap the Deck: Give the deck a few firm knocks or taps. This is thought to shake off and disperse stagnant energies.
A tarot deck laid out near gently wafting smoke from sage or palo santo burning in a separate bowl, symbolizing safe and spiritual energy cleansing of the cards.

Storing Your Tarot Deck: Proper storage helps protect your cards physically and energetically. Here are a few tips:

  1. Tarot Bag or Cloth: Store your cards in a special bag or wrap them in a cloth. This shields them from dust and light and provides an extra layer of energetic protection.
  2. Box or Wooden Chest: A box or chest can also be an excellent storage option. Choose something that resonates with you and is large enough to hold your cards comfortably.
  3. Designate a Safe Spot: When not in use, keep your deck in a safe, quiet place where they won’t be disturbed.

It’s important to treat your tarot deck with respect and care, as it is a personal tool for introspection and guidance. With proper care, it can serve you well for many years to come.

Tips and Common Mistakes

As you embark on your journey into tarot reading, remember that patience and persistence are your allies. It’s okay if meanings don’t come instantly; learning tarot is a self-discovery journey that unfolds over time. Be open to learning, and do not get disheartened by initial challenges.

A common misconception is that tarot tells the future — in reality, the tarot is more about providing guidance and insight into your current circumstances and potential outcomes based on your actions. It’s not meant to predict an unchangeable future.

One common reading mistake beginners often make is over-relying on the book meanings of the cards. While the book meanings provide a useful starting point, developing your personal relationship with the cards is essential. Listen to your intuition and notice what feelings, thoughts, and insights arise when you look at the cards.

Also, remember not to rush your readings. It can be tempting to read for yourself every day or ask the same question repeatedly, hoping for a different outcome, but giving yourself, as a tarot reader, the time and space you need to take a few deep breaths is essential. Allow the insights from one reading to percolate before moving on to the next.

Lastly, do not fear the traditionally ‘negative’ cards. Cards like Death, The Tower, or The Devil often trigger fear in beginners. Still, it’s important to remember that every card has a spectrum of meanings, which can often signify transformation, change, or overcoming obstacles.

Tarot is a tool of empowerment, introspection, and transformation. Approach it with an open heart and mind, and you’ll uncover the wisdom it holds for you.

Final Thoughts

Embracing tarot is a journey of self-exploration and growth. It’s a personal, intuitive process that demands respect, patience, and continual learning. As you navigate this path, remember that the tarot serves as a mirror, reflecting your inner world and offering insights to guide your actions and decisions.

It’s not about predicting a fixed future or providing definitive answers but rather about empowering you to make conscious choices and cultivate personal wisdom. May your exploration of tarot be a rewarding and enlightening journey, bringing you closer to understanding yourself and the universe around you.

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Christina Johnson

About the Author

My name is Christina, and I am the founder of centerspirited. Being a physiotherapist for several years I have found that many people, including myself, don’t achieve well-being only from a physical point of view. I’ve always viewed a person’s body, soul, and emotions as a whole construct of beauty. Always being a yoga enthusiast, I finally became an instructor myself. On a secret mission to capture spirituality in all of her beautiful shapes, I found myself being guided on a way through ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle. Through this platform, I will hopefully be able to help other beautiful souls out there find their inner peace and bond with their spiritual selves.

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