How To Read Tarot As A Beginner Seems Intimidating, But Here's What You Need To Know

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I've been practicing tarot almost daily as part of my self-care routine for years. My favorite part of the day is putting on a face mask, pouring myself a blushing mimosa or some coffee, busting out a few crystals, and sitting down to spend a little time with a tarot deck. I'm pretty comfortable with the cards and their many meanings by now, but getting to this point was no easy feat. After all, there are 78 cards in a standard Rider-Waite deck, and each card can have multiple meanings. Not only that, but their orientation changes their meanings, so, really, there are hundreds of ways to interpret tarot cards. How to tarot read for beginners can seem intimidating at first, but it totally doesn't have to be.

There are a lot of resources available to learn about tarot, but I've found that a lot of them are overly sensational, full of limiting rules and restrictions, or the card meanings they offer are too linear and literal for me. I discovered Biddy Tarot a couple of years ago, and I'm so glad I did. It's a modern, fresh brand that takes the headache out of learning tarot. It has courses and books, and has made the meanings of each card available on its site, which I reference pretty often. I love this post Biddy Tarot made about its top tarot "rules."

When I sit down for a reading, I like to get myself in the mood for it by burning candles, putting on a record (usually Edith Piaf, Django Reinhardt, or some other sort of old French jazz), and burning sage. I have tarot reading friends who aren’t nearly as ceremonious with their tarot practices as I am, though, and that’s OK! Prepare for your reading (or don’t!) in whatever way that feels right to you. If you're beginning to get into tarot, there are just a few basics you should know. The rest is entirely up to you, my dear.

There Is No "Right" Or "Wrong" Way To Use Tarot

Photo by Minerva Siegel

A lot of people follow really strict rules when reading tarot, but I recommend doing whatever rings true to you. The art of tarot is ambiguous and intuitive, and I take a more go-with-your-gut approach to it than some people. For example, if I'm sitting down to do a simple conflict resolution spread (I pull one card to represent the problem, one card to represent advice, and a final card that tells me about the lesson I should be learning from the conflict), and I feel spiritually compelled to pull a fourth card, I'll pull it. Even though the intuitively pulled card doesn't fit into my set spread, its meaning usually becomes clear to me based on the context of the reading.

I know other tarot readers who limit how often they read tarot, who only practice tarot on certain days or during certain lunar phases, and who strictly follow a set of spreads and never deviate from them. And that's OK! For me, the beauty in tarot lies in how customizable it is. If you're new to the art, try out different spreads, create your own, or maybe even forgo using spreads at all. Sometimes, I sit down with a deck and spiritually feel like it has something to say. I pull cards and lay them out, and they often shock me by telling a hard truth I need to hear.

Go With Your Gut

Photo by Minerva Siegel

I practice tarot in a very self-guided, intuitive way. I like to let the cards speak to me, rather than trying to pull specific information out of them all the time. In the beginning of my tarot life, I tried following conventional tarot spreads, but they never really seemed to click with me. I quickly started making up my own. More often than not, though, I pull cards from throughout the deck (no, you don't have to pull from the top of the deck!) and lay them out intuitively. I like to read the cards in a way that lets them tell me their story. I make connections between the cards by knowing all their possible meanings and relating them to my life, which brings me to the heart of it all:

The Devil's In The Details

Photo of Grimoire pages by Minerva Siegel

A standard Rider-Waite tarot deck has 78 cards. Twenty-two of them are called Major Arcana. Those are cards that represent archetypes, lessons, and overall themes in situations or your life in general. The rest of the cards are called Minor Arcana. They're divided into four suits: wands, swords, cups, and pentacles. Each suit represents different overall aspects of our lives. Wands represent inspiration, ideas, and behavior. Sword cards represent power, intellect, and rationality. Cups are all about emotions and relationships. Pentacles have to do with materialism, money, and our careers. The numbered cards in each suit represent everyday situations and aspects of daily life, whereas the court cards reflect actual personalities and people. Whew.

So Many Meanings, So Little Time

Photo by Minerva Siegel

Each card can have several interpretations, and they all have different, related meanings when reversed. So, how the heck are we supposed to memorize all those possible ways to interpret the cards? It can seem daunting. Luckily, there's a little trick to learning the themes of the 40 numbered Minor Arcana. It's called tarot numerology. Ready for this?

All the Minor Arcana cards with the numeral I on them represent potential and new beginnings. The cards with II on them represent partnerships and balance. Numerical III cards have to do with creativity and groups, and IV cards are about manifestation and laying groundwork. Cards with the numeral V represent conflicts and change, and VI cards have to do with harmony, communication, and collaboration. The VII cards represent assessment and reflecting on situations, followed by VIII cards, which stand for mastery and accomplishments. Cards that have IX are all about fulfillment, and, finally, X cards represent completion and the end of cycles.

Once you understand tarot numerology, and know what the different suits stand for, it becomes easy to make educated guesses about what all the numbered minor arcana mean. For example, I just pulled II of Cups. I know that the numeral II represents partnerships and balance, and that Cup cards have to do with relationships and emotions. So, I can infer that II of Cups is a card can herald a harmonious partnership. Ta-da!

Minerva Siegel

There are so many different ways to practice tarot, and none of them are correct or incorrect. Do whatever feels right to you. Try out different spreads, or let the cards speak to you by pulling a few intuitively without a spread in mind. Sync up your tarot practice with the lunar cycle, or pull cards daily like I do. Prepare for tarot by getting yourself in a witchy mood with magical candles, crystals, palo santo or sage, or keep a travel deck on hand so you can whip ‘em out whenever the mood strikes you. Practicing tarot has made me a more mindful, reflective person, and I'm so glad I discovered it and made it part of my self-care routine. I hope it has a similarly positive effect on you, too, my darling. Happy reading!