Learning Tarot

Denton CUUPS had our first Introduction to Tarot class last night. We have quite a few true beginners and this was the first time I’ve been in a Tarot class in five years – it was a good reminder of what it takes to truly learn Tarot. Or perhaps I should say, what it took for me to learn Tarot.

All of the experts I’ve consulted have told me the same thing: messages come through the cards, not from the cards. They talk about paying attention to your intuition, being open to guidance from Spirit, and listening with more than ears. But when you’re staring at these beautifully complex pictures it’s hard to do anything beyond wondering “now what does that mean?”

I struggled with Tarot for many years before I finally learned enough to read effectively. I would start a reading, try to interpret the cards intuitively, hit a roadblock and go running back to the little white book… which would break the flow of the reading. I read books and I practiced and I still couldn’t get it.

When I took Dolores’ Tarot class in 2007 two things happened. First, I had a knowledgeable, experienced Tarot reader explaining things and when I hit something I didn’t understand I could ask questions. But I also finally spent enough time with the cards that I learned their standard meanings. I didn’t have to go running back to a book to look up something any more. I could look at a card, remember its basic meaning, put it into the context of this reading (its position and interactions with other cards and with the querent) and be open to messages coming through the cards.

It’s like learning to drive a car. When you’re 16 and just starting out, you’re constantly thinking “speed up” “slow down” “am I in my lane?” “check the mirrors” “where’s my turn?” “there it is – signal, slow down, get over” and so on. At some point all these operations become automatic – you don’t have to think about them any more. Assuming you learned good driving habits, you become a much safer driver because you don’t have to think about all the steps involved in driving. That lets you spend your time looking out for the morons who should be thinking about safe driving steps but aren’t.

So, how do you learn the basic meanings of the cards? The little white books that come with most Tarot decks are worse than useless – they give you a few interpretations with no explanation of how they were developed. They don’t teach you the connection betweens the pictures and the meanings.

Dolores teaches primarily from two books: Numerology and the Divine Triangle by Faith Javane and Dusty Bunker (1979) and Tarot: A New Handbook for the Apprentice by Eileen Connolly (1986). Both of these are good, but – along with the classic Rider-Waite deck – they are steeped in Jewish and Christian mysticism. If that works for you, great. It doesn’t work for me, probably because I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church and those connections haven’t been completely severed.

My favorite Tarot reference is Learning the Tarot by Joan Bunning (1998). It approaches Tarot from a non-religious standpoint. And it has the best explanation of card pairs and combinations I’ve come across. I worked through that book just like it was a textbook: read the chapter, do the exercises, review the material, then move on to the next chapter.

For me, it took reading good books AND practicing on my own AND taking Dolores’ class before I finally “got it.” Your mileage may vary.

Another thing we discussed last night was ethics. When you’re reading for someone else, you’re in a position of power – and in a position to learn very sensitive things. This calls for a strong commitment to ethics.

The American Tarot Association has a very good Code of Ethics, while the Tarot Certification Board of America has a Client Bill of Rights that is also good. Even if you never read for money – even if you never read for anyone other than yourself – it will be helpful to familiarize yourself with these codes and think about the reasoning behind them.

The most obvious ethical consideration is confidence. Whatever you learn in a reading – whether it’s something you see in the cards or something the querent tells you – must be held in strictest confidence.

Respect the people who aren’t there. Some readers will not answer any questions dealing with anyone other than the querent. If someone wants to know if their spouse is cheating on them, you can dig into why the querent suspects cheating, what various signs might mean, and what core issues are at the heart of the matter, but it is grossly unfair to both parties to say “yes s/he is” or “no s/he isn’t” – even if your trusted spirit guide is screaming in your ear.

Which brings us to another ethical consideration – know your limits. You’re a Tarot reader, not Google, not a fortune teller and not a spy satellite. You can guide the querent with intuition and wisdom, but you can’t provide hard facts – divination doesn’t work that way. Also know that you aren’t a doctor, lawyer, or psychologist (unless you are, in which case you’d better be segregating your services). If people need help you’re not qualified to give, refer them to appropriate professionals.

But the most important ethical consideration is to remember that what you read and hear and see is a reflection of what will be, not what must be. If you don’t like the outcome of a reading, take action to create a different outcome. Too often predictions become reality not because of fate or divine preordination but because we order our lives as though what is predicted (or more frequently, what we fear) must come to pass. And so it does.

Revelation is not sealed and we have free will. The Tarot tells us where we’re going, but if we understand its purposes and processes, it will also point us in directions that will bring more favorable outcomes.

I’m happy to be diving into the Tarot again. I’m more than a bit out of practice and I’m looking forward to getting comfortable with reading and with exploring the mysteries expressed in the cards.

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  • I so love the tarot. I'm still at a functioning beginner's level, I feel. Because learning to step away from the books can be a challenge! I know some cards very very well, others hardly at all.

    My favorite books are Mary Greer's 'Tarot for Yourself' workbooks. Those are amazing for going deeper, learning use the cards in more than a Celtic cross fashion. Her book on reversals is also worth every cent it costs.

    My husband also loves the tarot. His favorite books are 78 Degrees of Wisdom and Robert Place's The Tarot. Place's work is pretty incredible.

    Adam's also creating his own deck! You can check it out here: http://chibitarot.com/

  • Great article about ethics on Tarot. I'm currently wrapping up a class in tarot. It's been 11 weeks of a great learning experience. I wanted to a few recommendations for books. Best Tarot Practices by Marcia Masino. In this book there are some great meditations. For me, it's a great way to learn a deeper meaning into the cards. The other one is 21 Ways to read the Tarot by Mary Greer. I think she's a good teacher with wonderful experiences. But, this book is one I'm truly fond of.
    Enjoy your journey back into Tarot. I hope it's filled with much more interesting articles for you to share. 🙂