A guide on how to read tarot for yourself and others. Where to begin and how to develop your skills.
Learning how to read tarot can be overwhelming. 78 cards, plus reversed meanings can be a lot when you’re first starting out! Realistically, reading tarot for yourself just takes a bit of time, practice, and enthusiasm.
There are amazing books on tarot that can help you decipher the meanings of the cards when you do a reading. But if you want to learn to incorporate your intuition and eventually read for others confidently (i.e. without a book in hand), it requires commitment and practice.
What is Tarot?
Tarot cards have been used for centuries for fun, divination, and self actualization. With origins in the early Renaissance, the tarot has seen many iterations and makeovers. The tarot deck that’s become the standard that many decks today are based on is the Smith Rider Waite, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith in 1910.
Tarot is a deck of 78 cards, with a similar structure to a regular playing card deck. What sets a tarot deck apart from playing cards is the inclusion of 22 Major Arcana cards. The Majors represent shifts in the soul’s evolution. The 56 Minor Arcana represent universal feelings, actions, and situations from the human experience. When we ask the right questions, we can gain a new perspective on where we are in our lives, what energies we’re dealing with, and receive guidance on how to move forward.
How to read Tarot: Where to start
Learning how to read tarot is a process that brings together rote learning of cards’ meanings, developing deep understanding of the cards, and calling upon your intuition. What’s just as important as learning/knowing the traditional card meanings, is your own personal experiences and intuition that you incorporate into your readings. Magic comes from blending a deep knowledge and study of the cards with your personal spin.
Whether you’re reading tarot for yourself or others, as you grow as a human being, you’ll grow and evolve as a reader. You can bring more to your readings by learning more about others, yourself, and the world around you. It’s essential to acknowledge and question your own privilege and societal conditioning on a regular basis, so you can show up for others in a way that’s aware, responsible, and safe.
A reader’s training should involve studying the cards PLUS experiencing them through practicing, interacting, meditating, and applying them to different areas of life.
Here are my suggestions on how to get started:
Step 1: Choose a Tarot deck.
If you already have a deck that you’re excited to use, great! Skip to Step 2.
If you’ve heard the lore that you’re supposed to be given your first deck as a gift before you begin — chuck that out the window! Buy yourself a deck. One that feels special to you.
How to choose the right tarot deck for you: If you can look at decks in-person beforehand and hold them, that’s great. But you can also Google the decks you’re considering and try to find as many images of the cards as you can to get a feel for them. Go with your gut on this one. Don’t buy a deck just because it’s the one you think you “should” get, buy the one that lights you UP. You want to feel a big, full-body yes.
Having and trying out multiple decks is great, too. I own many decks and, while I have a main deck that I use, I love to pick up different decks all the time.
Step 2: Find the best Tarot books and resources for you.
I’ve learned how to read tarot from multiple teachers, courses, and books. My interpretations, and yours eventually, will likely be a combination of what you’ve learned from multiple sources and from your experiences and intuitive knowing. Start out with one or two books or resources and focus on those before moving on. Don’t take any one teacher or writer as the end-all be-all. Take the interpretations that resonate with you and add to them as you go.
Step 3: Get acquainted with your deck.
Learning the tarot involves building a relationship with your particular deck. Start out by cleansing your deck with sacred smoke, selenite, or putting it in a bowl of salt. Then hold the deck in your hands for a minute before giving it a good shuffle. Then do a spread to get acquainted, try the one below or create your own.
Getting to Know Your Tarot Deck Spread
- What do you want me to know about you?
- Your strengths?
- What kind of relationship can we have together?
- What work are we meant to do together?
- A card to be my teacher right now?
- How can I go deeper with this card?
Step 4: Find your ritual.
The tarot is a wonderful ritual on it’s own, but I often find that it’s nice to find a small ritual to help you get present before diving into a reading. The following are suggestions, pick what feels good to you and leave the rest.
Prepare your space – Light a candle, spray a cleansing room spray, set yourself up with a coffee or tea.
Grounding – Wash your hands well. Pick a comfortable place to sit and tune into your body by checking in with all your senses, take a few deep belly breaths, or listen to a song without distractions.
Connect to your guides – Whether you feel connected to the Universe, God, The Goddess, angels, spirit guides, or anything else, spend a moment inviting them to help you with your reading. If you don’t know what you feel connected to, take some time to explore that.
Set an intention for your reading. You can choose a word, phrase, or feeling.
Shuffle, pull your card, and journal on it. Begin to shuffle your deck, bringing your focus to the question you’re asking the tarot. Once you pull the card, write out your initial responses and how they apply to your question and life. Then consult any favorite tarot books and jot down anything that hits home for you. This can take up as little as 5 minutes or much more if you want it to.
Step 5: Create your own daily or weekly practice.
Set some time aside to pull a card a day (or each week) and journal about it. A card a day is my go-to recommendation for those serious about learning the cards and learning how to read. Simple and consistent is key.
You can ask a different question each day or the same one. Questions like: What do I need to know today? Or What card is showing up as my teacher today? are nice go-tos.
Journaling with the tarot is a great way to learn about the cards and how they show up in your life — and flex your intuitive muscle. Once you pull a card, first note any intuitive inklings you have about the card and write a little (or a lot if you want!) on that. Then consult your books, courses, or other tarot resources and jot down any meanings that resonate with you.
Some questions to ask yourself to dig deeper: How or why do you think this is showing up for you today? What area of life do you think this applies to?
Journaling on your tarot pulls helps you process them in a different way and serves as a record so you can check back later. More on tarot journaling here.
Step 6: Practice on friends (optional).
The tarot is a great self-reflection practice and one that you can just keep to yourself — no pressure. But it can be fun and enlightening to read for others if you feel pulled to. It helps you see things from another perspective, engage with the deck in a new way, find your voice as a reader, and get feedback on your interpretations.
If none of this feels right to you, do it your own way. This is the way that worked for me that I can speak to, but we’re all different. You can use these as suggestions and jumping off points to discover what feels good to you and what you’re drawn to. Maybe you feel comfortable never consulting a book. Perhaps journaling is all wrong for you and prefer to record yourself talking about the cards. And maybe you only want to read for others. Experiment with it and discover your own style.