I come into contact with, what seems like, more and more people who are wanting to learn and practice tarot. For a newbie, it can seem daunting. 78 cards (and 156 meanings if you factor reversals) is a lot for anyone to try to memorize, and even when you do manage to memorize each card, you have another huge challenge on your hands. One that asks you to effectively take the cards you’ve memorized and now apply them to a specific person or situation and uncover how multiple cards in a spread may relate. It’s an art and a skill, and I know first hand just how long it can take, how frustrating it can be but also, how rewarded you will feel the moment it does start to click; and it WILL start to click, if you stick with it.
Below, I have outlined my top 7 tips for beginners. Keep in mind, these are not the tools I immediately utilized to learn tarot for myself. These are things that I acknowledge, in retrospect, would have fast tracked my learning. The thing about learning something new without a mentor, is that you have to do a lot of trial and error. There are no short cuts and no way to know what will and won’t work. So, I’m taking what I know helped me, leaving out what wasted my time and I’m sharing it now with you.
1. Select a deck with strong, story-like visuals: If you ask me, I say start with Rider Waite Smith or a clone. You can move on to whatever deck that pleases you later, but I do find that for the purpose of recall, the images in the Rider Waite Smith truly come together like a nice storyboard. When I first started, I chose decks with unique visuals, and they were pretty and all, but I had a really hard time looking at the card and going “oh yes, of course, I know exactly what this is trying to tell me.” When you’re learning, the images should, in a way, speak for themselves.
2. Start with the basics: I don’t think you need to overwhelm yourself with all the various associations - astrology, kabbalah, numerology etc. however, one way to quickly grasp each card is to start with associations in a really basic way. The two associations that will help are numerology and the 4 elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Now, this won’t be as helpful for the Majors, but boy will this give you a nice overview of the 4 Suits. I didn’t invent this tip, but it definitely helped me when I stumbled into it.
How you would use the following charts is as follows: Take the card you've drawn, the 2 of Cups for example, and then look at the keywords associated with the element and the number. In this case, the 2 of Cups could quickly translate to "cooperation in relationships". Looking at the imagery of the card will help dictate which keyword might be most appropriate, but just having a base understanding of what the numbers and elements mean, can help you quickly come to a conclusion when your mind draws a blank.
3. Write it down: I know this seems tedious, but this was one of the most crucial aspects to memorizing the cards for me. Note I say memorizing the cards and not, for example, reading with confidence. The step of memorization precedes being able to read tarot well, and that's okay. With memorization, you're simply seeking a high level understanding of each and every card. You can approach this in a few different ways. For me, I type way faster than I write (you know, the old fashioned way) so I whipped up a spreadsheet (very metaphysical, I know). I made 6 tabs - Majors, Swords, Cups, Wands, Pentacles and Courts. In each tab, I created a simple table with 3 columns - "Card", "Keywords Upright" and "Keywords Reversed". That’s it. I didn’t write an essay about each card and I don’t recommend you do either, at least not at this stage. Keep it simple. You can read all the books you want, but for me, the memorization didn’t actually sink in until I wrote it all down myself, in more or less, my own words. You can use another book or website to help you with it, of course, but just choose a few words that will effectively prompt you to the rest of the card’s meaning.
4. Form a relationship with the court cards: After I had my excel document of meanings, I was doing great, with the exception of those damn court cards. I struggled to differentiate them from each other and see them as actual, living breathing people. It wasn’t until I completed an exercise to break down their attributes that I was able to flesh them out.
If you’d like to give that exercise a whirl, I wrote a blog post about it with a downloadable PDF. If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, check it out here! It's also available in the Freebies section!
5. Practice makes perfect: So you have your own reference sheet of meanings and you’re ready to start working with it! The next important aspect of learning tarot, like anything, is practicing every day. In my experience, reading on a whim, here and there, is not effective for being able to read the cards effectively. My advice would be to build it in like a habit, or ritual. Pick a time of day when you’re at your best (mornings work best for me), and take 30 minutes to sit down and do something even as simple as a card of a day. You can record your impressions in a journal if you want, or take a picture of the card so you have something to go back to. Personally, I never kept very good tarot journals. I practiced every morning, read a single card or a spread if I felt up to it, and just the sheer repetition of it really helped to solidify those card meanings.
6. Relate it back to life: You don't have to be constantly reading tarot in order to practice understanding it. As you move through the day, do a couple random check-ins. How does the office meeting you're in relate to a specific card? You're on a date with someone new, is there a court card character that they remind you of? The more you can relate the cards to real life situations, the better you'll be able to translate those same cards when they show up in a reading.
7. Pretend querents: Reading one card is...one thing, but how can you make sense of multiple cards? How do they relate? How do they differ? What does it all mean? Not just that, but there is the whole idea of a single card needing to flex to meet the situation. The Fool in a love inquiry is going to read differently than The Fool in a personal development inquiry. So, how can you make sense of it all? My favourite exercise was working with fake querents. By fake querents, I mean some imaginary person in my head who has a random inquiry. I’d decide ahead of time what their attributes were and what their question was. For example: 26 year old male asking about where his current relationship is headed. Once I knew who they were and what they wanted to know, I’d pull 3 cards and try to determine how I could translate that combination to suit the scenario. I basically did this over and over with different querents who had different needs and at some point, it became much easier to see how the cards bled into each other and told a story.
Well, that just about does it! It's not magic and it doesn't happen over night. With anything, it takes a degree or dedication and consistency, but I can assure you that if you apply both with passion, you will (quicker than you imagined) begin to internalize those cards. So these are some of my favourite tips, but I'd also love to hear what worked for you! Leave your feedback, comments or suggestions in the comments!