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Learn For Free How To Read Tarot Cards

Updated on October 23, 2008

Understanding Tarot Cards

Talk to any practitioner of Tarot, and you'll discover quickly that learning Tarot is not something you can accomplish in an evening or a week, or even a month. Some might argue it takes years of practice and meditation on the cards to develop the understanding of an expert reader. But they all had to start learning their craft somewhere. Most, I believe, learned from books (mystics have been writing about the Tarot for decades). And most probably began conducting readings well before they became masters--how else does one become a master except by practicing, over and over?

This guide is by no means exhaustive. And, of course, I will likely inject much of my own interpretation into these pieces which might not appear anywhere else. I've been practicing Tarot and Astrology for nearly twenty years, so I figure it's only natural to develop my own thoughts on these sciences. But there are certainly plenty of other Tarot practitioners whose published interpretations you certainly ought to avail yourself of, if for no other reason than to decide for yourself what feels most comfortable. But for now, this free guide is a great place to start, and if you familiarize yourself with the salient points on each of the cards--and keep the guide handy for quick reference--there's no reason why you can't do a reading that is reasonably accurate, reasonably soon. But please be patient. There are a total of seventy-eight cards in the Tarot, comprised of twenty-two Major Arcana or "great mysteries" and fifty-six Minor Arcana or "lesser mysteries." My intent is to devote a single hub to each of the Major Arcana, and a single hub for each of the Minor Arcana to include all four suits (you'll understand more about this as we proceed). That's thirty-six hubs, not including the additional hubs I'll be writing on sample spreads for you to begin practicing. So, check back often. If you have questions, feel free to leave comments, and I will do my best to get an answer to you. Oh--and don't forget to go to your local bookstore to purchase a deck of Tarot cards, if you haven't already done so. My personal favorite is the Rider-Waite deck (available for order here), whose images I will refer to in the context of these hubs, but there are literally hundreds of others to choose from, and the meanings will be essentially the same.

Now. Settle in and get comfortable. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Before We Begin, Some Thoughts About Tarot

Hollywood and mass media have done legitimate Tarot a terrible disservice. In some murder mysteries, for example, a fortune-teller draws the Death card, and the audience is quickly manipulated into thinking something horrible is going to happen to the client. Fictional psychics will draw Tarot cards and perceive a warning. Or, more commonly, a character will seek a Tarot reading in order to predict the future. In any of these cases, the intent and usefulness of Tarot is at best exaggerated, and at worst completely misrepresented.

That is not to say, Tarot can't sometimes be used for these purposes, but more often than not, it is by virtue of the perceptive powers of the psychic that the future is often foretold, and not the cards. There are better uses of the Tarot, most notably to aid in understanding life issues and events, and to further aid in understanding ourselves as complex spiritual beings.

In fact, if you are wanting to learn Tarot for the purposes of fortune-telling, you'll need to go elsewhere, because that will not be addressed in these hubs.

That said, let us begin.

The Major Arcana

As mentioned above, Tarot decks are comprised of two groups: the Major Arcana, or "great mysteries," and the Minor Arcana, or "lesser mysteries." This first section of hubs will deal with each of the Major Arcana.

In traditional Tarot, the Major Arcana are usually regarded as archetypal, meaning they are representative of universal themes present in all of us, and related to (as defined in Wikipedia) "matters of higher purpose or deep significance." Generally speaking, they are the cards with the most symbolic content, depicting universal energies seeking expression either through, or to us. One interpretation, offered by authors of the book, Spiritual Tarot: Seventy-Eight Paths To Personal Development, is that "[our] higher self may be bringing them to our attention, as we progress in our spiritual journey toward wholeness." Finally, the Major Arcana is often viewed as our journey through life, while the Minor Arcana is our interactions and daily experiences as we make our way along the path.

The Fool--First Card of the Tarot Major Arcana
The Fool--First Card of the Tarot Major Arcana

The First Card Of The Major Arcana--The Fool

This is without a doubt one of my favorite cards in the whole Tarot deck. The Fool is the energy of optimism, the feeling of pure potential--but potential without substance yet (as symbolized by the card's numerical value of zero), and what might be called a "devil may care" attitude. There is an openness to all possibility, generally felt as an urge to begin something new or to take a different direction in the matter under consideration. The implicit message is this: don't be afraid to take a risk.

Drawing The Fool can be viewed as an invitation to adopt a new way of looking at our lives, one that isn't so concerned with a specific profit or loss, or whether we will succeed at all. Quoting again from Spiritual Tarot:

"The Fool takes life as an adventure to be enjoyed. He inspires us to be open with others and within ourselves. He is the trickster/clown archetype who is allowed to see and say what others, because of societal or peer pressure, will not. The Fool represents the psychological state we are in when we begin any new endeavor. He is the originating and animating principle, the suggestion of possibilities yet to come. His journey will take him from a state of innocense to one of personal spirituality and creative power, and so will ours as we confront and integrate the experiences and challenges of the other Major Arcana cards."

Early signs of Fool Energy might include a gnawing dissatisfaction with the way things are right now; an urge to move on, or to change something.

But there is a potential downside to the energy of the Fool. Fool energy is impulsive, meaning it is possible to have an urge to change when it is neither practical nor prudent to do so. Fool energy sometimes reacts to situations like a child who will not (or cannot) accept responsibility for his current circumstances. The impulse of the Fool needs directing (which is where the next card, the Magician, comes in). Without direction, staying too long in this stage can result in thoughtlessness about making decisions, or refusing to make a decision at all, expecting "the Universe" to make our decisions. The truth is, we are the Universe. We must make the decisions.

I close with this quote about The Fool from Arthur Edward Waite, the original designer of the Rider-Waite deck:

"With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world; he surveys the blue distance before him-its expanse of sky rather than the prospect below. His act of eager walking is still indicated, though he is stationary at the given moment; his dog is still bounding. The edge which opens on the depth has no terror; it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him, if it came about that he leaped from the height. His countenance is full of intelligence and expectant dream. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a wallet curiously embroidered. He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one-all amidst the morning glory, in the keen air. The sun, which shines behind him, knows whence he came, whither he is going, and how he will return by another path after many days. He is the spirit in search of experience. Many symbols of the Instituted Mysteries are summarized in this card, which reverses, under high warrants, all the confusions that have preceded it."

In the next hub, I will introduce The Magician, the first personality encountered by the Fool on his quest.


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    • Ritu Narang profile image

      Ritu Narang 

      9 years ago from New Delhi

      i love to know more about tarot cards, U know its a amazing world...

    • compu-smart profile image

      Tony T 

      10 years ago from London UK

      Thankyou Vicariously, Notes have been made;)

    • Vicariously Yours profile imageAUTHOR

      Vicariously Yours 

      10 years ago from Fort Collins, CO

      compu-smart: You might try locating a Theosophical Society bookstore and just browse around in it for awhile. Very interesting stuff, very non-threatening to someone just breaking into the metaphysical "plane." And the folks who work in that type of bookstore are generally very helpful in finding something you can resonate with.


    • compu-smart profile image

      Tony T 

      10 years ago from London UK

      Wow Bill,! a hundred varieties!! Now that has amazed me!

      I personally have never read any astrological star sign readings or had anything to do with these kind of medium thingmajigs, but i am more opened minded now and am moving towards more spiritual way of life as opposed to religion which i cant seem to or feel the want to know!

    • Vicariously Yours profile imageAUTHOR

      Vicariously Yours 

      10 years ago from Fort Collins, CO

      compu-smart: some of us were brought up to be "afraid" of things like tarot cards, ouija boards, astrology, and the like. Lots of church influence there, and I can't argue someone's beliefs in that area. Speaking for myself, however, I have a much broader view of God than the average Joe, I think, and believe He speaks to us through a variety of mediums. I also do not use the cards for traditional fortune-telling, but for getting in touch with my higher (inner) self, which is typically non-verbal, but which responds noticeably to the symbols on the cards. It comes as feelings, and you can use these feelings to more clearly understand your life situation (many of us aren't in touch with feelings, so this is helpful just from that standpoint alone).

      Thanks for the comment, compu-smart. BTW, there are literally hundreds of tarot decks out there to choose from. Find one that "speaks" to you, gives you a good feeling when you look at them.

      Bill Campbell

    • compu-smart profile image

      Tony T 

      10 years ago from London UK

      I have always been afraid of tarot cards for some reason! but am now less afraid and more interested in them! i am thinking of buying a pack of cards! if i dare!



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