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Tarot Basics Part One

Updated on March 20, 2007

You, the novice or aspiring tarot reader, are usually one overwhelmed person.

And I don't blame you.

After all, there are dozens, if not hundreds of decks out there - how do you choose one? Then there are 78 completely different cards that can be read either upright or upside down - which means having to memorize 156 different meanings that can change from reading to reading depending on where in the spread it is...It's a wonder anyone even wants to learn how to read tarot cards in the first place!

So, where do you start?

Well, how about right here?

I'm going to tell you how to choose a deck and interpret the cards. It sounds like a lot, but it isn't really.

Shop around for a bit and find a deck that reflects your interests. You can do this online. Do you like cats? Try Tarot of the Cat People (sadly, there is no equivalent for us dog-lovers, although there are a few decks out there that feature wolves). How about baseball? There's a baseball deck! Vampires? You're in luck! Lord of the Rings? Yup. Egyptian, Greek, Celtic, Native American or Norse? There is at least one deck out there that's solely about your favorite mythology.

I was a theater major in college, and my favorite deck is still The Shakespeare Deck. Not only does it depict scenes from the plays, it also quotes them, which often helps me determine the meaning of the card in that particular layout position.

Now, look at your hand. Is it big, with long fingers or small and pudgy like mine? Bear in mind before you fork over your hard-earned cash that your hands are going to have to shuffle 78 cards - half again as many as are in a deck of ordinary playing cards. And tarot decks tend to be larger than playing cards. If you have small hands, the Thoth deck is probably not for you. If you have large hands, The Hanson-Roberts deck may be too small. And no one can properly shuffle the circular decks (Motherpeace, Daughters of the Moon), so don't feel bad.

So you have your deck. Now what?

Now you learn how to read the cards.

All tarot decks I have ever seen come with a little booklet detailing what each card means. Some of the more recent ones even have lovely paperback or hardcover books that recreate the artwork and give a detailed description of how the artist wants you to interpret his or her work. But you're the reader, not the artist, and objects and ideas mean something different to you. We'll talk more about that in a few paragraphs.

Here's what you do: read the little booklet or fancy book once. Twice, if you have a lot of free time.

Next, and this is the most important piece of advice in this whole article: throw the booklet away. Seriously. In the garbage. Tear it up first so you're not tempted to fish it out before trash day. If your deck came with a fancy book and you just can't bring yourself to pitch it, give it to a friend with strict instructions that you are not to get it back, no matter how hard you beg, for at least a year. That's right. A year.

Now set your deck aside for a few hours, and spend some time looking at a newspaper or a magazine. You don't have to read it, just look at the photos. Pretend the photos are tarot cards.

Say the front page of your local paper features a picture of two cars that just smashed into each other. If this were a tarot card, what would it mean? Possibly two opposing forces clashing in a destructive way? What if there is also an ambulance in the picture? Could it represent a mutual friend trying to mend fences between two angry people? Here's the good part: whatever interpretation you come up with on your own is as correct as mine!

And you can do this with any photo. The cover of the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated symbolizes dreams come true. A smiling woman in the toothpaste ad symbolizes prosperity and happiness. See? Easy!

That's a very important word I just used up there: symbolize. Tarot cards are individual pages of a book written in symbols about symbols. And your personal symbols for love, prosperity, hard times or conflict are different from mine - and also different from your deck's artist.

Next: Tarot spreads, a.k.a. layouts.


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      Steve 10 years ago

      I find one of the best ways to learn<a href=""> how toread tarot cards</a> is to study the pictures of the actual tarotcards themselves.