As a professional tarot reader I often get asked how I learned to read the cards. And, I’ll tell you a secret. It just takes practice. I’ve taught classes on the tarot, I’ve had one-on-one tarot students, and the one thing that twenty-five years of readings and teaching has shown me is that it is just like any new skill you want to develop, you have to practice. Here are a few tips on learning to read tarot cards.
I’ve got two streams of tarot training that I rely on in my readings. One set of training comes from what I call professional “fortune tellers”. I consider this my “old school” training. This system of reading is more cut and dry, each card has its own specific interpretation and that’s it, bing, bang, boom. For example with my “old school” teaching the Six of Swords is a sign that you will be taking a trip or going on a journey, leaving home. Done.
My other training is what I call my “woo” training. This comes from a more modern witchcraft perspective and is much more esoteric. Through this system the meaning of the cards is more fluid and could even change from reading to reading. From this system the cards interact with each other, influencing each meaning. The Six of Swords is a sign of a personal journey, an exploration, however, only by looking at the other cards in the layout will we be able to figure out what that journey might be.
This two-fold approach is how I encourage my students to learn. I break it into two levels and these two ways of learning happen best in tandem with each other.
- Step #1: Read the little book that came with your cards. Read other books about the tarot. Read websites that break down tarot symbolism. Take time to fully understand the “traditional” meaning behind the cards. There are layers of symbolism in each of the cards, that’s not done by mistake. Yes, this is a process of memorization.
- Step #2: Let your intuition guide you. Look at the artwork or imagery on the cards. How do the different cards speak to you. Take one card and listen to what is has to say. What is the story of this card? What seems hidden or special? What stands out? Allow yourself to explore each of the cards as if they are picture stories and you are the teller of the tale.
- Step #1 & #2 Together: Read about the card and then look at the imagery. Does it fit? Does it make sense to you? Then, look at a card, dig into its story, and then read about it in the book. Were you on the right track? Do these steps without judgment or trying to be “right”, just get a feel for how you understand the symbolism.
Ultimately, the tarot is a platform for you to explore your own intuition and ‘sight’. The meaning that is most important is the meaning that you feel from the cards. However, just like any spiritual pursuit, you need to know the history and roots of a tradition. Be intuitive AND be a good student.
Most importantly, practice! Read the cards for yourself. Read the tarot for others. Play! Make it fun. Create a learning group and learn together, read for each other. Get readings from professionals. Allow your understanding to unfold and blossom, without feeling a need to rush.