Tarot is a practice that has existed for millenia. However, it is often preceded by its stereotype; a woman in flowing robes, leaning over a table, telling you all about how your life is shitty and that you can’t really do anything about it. That’s 100% not what tarot is all about; in fact, using it for your fortune or your future isn’t even one of the main uses. Tarot cards are a way to tap into the universe’s energy (or your deity’s energy) for guidance and help in how to reach your highest self, primarily.
Types of Readings
There’s typically two types of readings done:
- Question Readings: These readings are done with a question in mind. “How am I going to get that job?”, or “Am I going to marry my partner?” are typical questions asked. They’re more closed. In my personal opinion, these are hard readings (especially yes/no questions), because many people who ask them are looking for a specific answer or for the cards to make a decision for them; again, tarot should be used as a guide, not a gavel to sentence you to a decision in your life. It’s very important to stay open-minded and neutral when doing readings like this; you may not get the answer you want. Be positive; ask your deck for guidance if the answer troubles you.
- Open-ended readings: These readings span a longer time, and are typically used when entering a new stage of life, a new season, a new zodiac sign, or a new year. Choose the area of life you want to focus on (career, health, love), and let the ball roll from there.
Nowadays, there’s tarot decks for almost anything you can think of. There’s the standard Rider-Waite or Smith-Waite tarot decks, which are considered traditional, but you can choose from Gothic decks, animal decks, symbol decks, or even plain playing cards! The illustrations and art styles vary across the world of tarot; choose the one that speaks to you the most! Also, buy your own first deck; getting gifted your first deck is a nice novelty rule, but not necessary, in my opinion.
Most decks have 78 cards, comprising of the minor arcana and the major arcana. The major arcana are the archetypes of the deck. They are numbered 0-22, with 0 being The Fool (more on the names and definitions in another post!). They represent specific characteristics, strong events, or long-term energy, and are considered to be the strongest cards of the deck; if one shows up in your reading, pay attention to it!
The minor arcana is comprised four suits (similar to playing cards) wands, cups (or chalices), pentacles (or coins), and swords, with cards numbered 1-10, and 4 “court” cards (typically page, knight, queen, and king, although this varies across more modern decks). The court cards typically show up when there’s a person involved, or you may be neglecting (reversal of the card) or giving off the energy given off from the court card that appears.
Each suit stands for some characteristic.
- Wands: creative energy, imagination
- Cups: emotions
- Pentacles: Wealth, specifically material, but also can be spiritual
- Swords: conflict, choices
If a major arcana card comes up in your reading, and then a minor arcana card appears a few days later, it means that that subject is becoming less important in your life or that you’re healing the (possibly negative) energy from the major arcana card!
The Tarot Spread
I don’t know if any of you have gone on Pinterest lately, but there are THOUSANDS of tarot spreads, for pretty much any situation in your life. You can do daily one-card spreads to clarify the energy for the day; you can do seven-card spreads for each day of the week; you can do spreads based on seasons, conflict, decision-making, or anything else that suits your fancy! Anything goes here!
As for shuffling, many readers tend to cut the deck and shuffle them like playing cards. Many do the standard riffle shuffle, but you can pretty much shuffle however you want! Sift the cards together, play 52-card pick-up, or whatever suits your fancy. After the shuffling is done, the reader will lay out the cards in the layout specified in a spread. Each position has a meaning, and if you’re using a specific layout, consult the question at hand and use the card’s meanings to interpret what the spread is saying to you. You can also shuffle in between pulls (that’s what I do!), but it’s not really necessary.
Below is an example of a standard Celtic Cross tarot spread. This spread focuses on your life and the grand scheme of things, kind of like a life forecast if you’re concerned on where to go in general; there’s other, smaller spreads for specific focuses that you may want to tap into if you’re lost in a certain area of your life such as your career, love life, or health.
Interpreting the Spread
Now, this can be where it gets tricky. Reading the cards individually can be a struggle, so here is a loose idea of how to go about interpreting.
- Big Picture first: Look at the big picture. Do you see any Major Arcana cards? How much of each suit is there? Are there any court cards? Checking the cards before you dive into them can give you a good idea of the general energy of the spread. Major Arcana cards showing up in a spread means that that is a place where you need to focus your energy; court cards may be telling you that other people may be involved in the situation you’re dealing with, or that you’re blocking the qualities of what the court card represents; and depending on how many of each suit there are, you can see if it’s an emotional problem, or a lot of conflict and action.
- Dive into each card: Note down what each card means. You can consult websites if you are confused on the meanings still or don’t have them memorized; Labyrinthos has a fantastic archive of all the cards, their general meanings, and an explanation of them (however, this only really applies to Rider-Waite tarot deck meanings). I suggest only noting down the common themes rather than going into the explanations for this step. Often, your deck may come with a guidebook if it deviates from the standard Rider-Waite deck meanings; check that as well! Authors of decks may also put their guides up on the web; Carrie Mallon wrote up an entire page dedicated to the card meanings for The Wild Unknown tarot deck!
- Decipher each card: This is where the fun begins. This is when you dive deeper into the card, connecting it to events in your life. This step requires a lot of self-reflection, and you may get answers that you’ve been actively avoiding out of anxiety. This is the part where you really get smacked in the face sometimes, because most decks won’t hold back in telling you the truth, even if you’re not ready for it. Keep an open mind and know that not all hope is lost; pulling extra cards to help with what you should do now can help, however the spread may come with an “advice” or “outcome” card at the end!
Becoming a Tarot Reader
Obviously, you don’t need a certification to read tarot for yourself! Anyone can pick up a deck and start. However, if you want to read to others, your state/country/province may require you to have a certification before you read for others professionally. I tend to read over social media (Twitter and Reddit specifically), and you don’t need certifications to do that. However, there’s no harm in enrolling in courses to get certified! There’s always something more to learn from a more experienced tarot reader. Becoming a part of an online community or a Discord server can also help you learn!
That’s all for today; a brief rundown of tarot, spreads, and other tidbits! I’ll be out with another article on the card meanings soon, keep a look out for that! Feel free to share this with your family, friends, or any tarot readers you have in your life!