I recently watched a video by the ever fascinating Kelly Ann Maddox around the ways in which people approach their learning of tarot. There has been some contention in the community, which I've opted not to comment on, regarding certification and whether or not it's necessary or whatever. I'm not here to tell you how to learn tarot. But if you're asking me, no, I don't think certification is necessary. No, I don't plan on ever being certified to read cards. But, I also don't care what other people do with their money and am happy for those who chose this route and those who chose to supply it as an option. It's not necessary, but it may be the right thing for some and there is nothing wrong with that.
And this all made me think back to my own journey with the cards. How did I come into it? What were my struggles? And how did I ultimately come to understand them in the way I do today? The truth is, I don't remember how tarot specifically landed on my radar, but I grew up in a home that was very open to these sorts of things and so when I requested a deck, around the age of 10, it was met with a swift visit to the book store to peruse what was available.
Even though my father was a practitioner of magick and astrology, I can't say he was really a mentor or guide in my tarot study. When I took my first deck home, I had it, its booklet, and a second resource - a book titled "Tarot In 10 Minutes". I knew nothing about the cards, their structure, history or potential. What I did have was an open mind and a willing heart and so I sort of just took the plunge into this strange and wonderful world with not so much of an idea as to where it would take me.
In the beginning, as a child, I admittedly didn't get far. There was no residential internet at that time so all I had were a few books and a deck of cards with images that confused, more than inspired. It probably wasn't until I was in my teens that I better equipped to begin forging a more meaningful relationship with the cards, and so I did that by simply learning the meanings. I used online resources such as the Aeclectic Tarot Forums, and again, more books! I read cards for myself and for friends, but the references were never far from hand. It was a good foundation I was building, but I really wasn't able to do much more with the cards other than flip them over, pull out the book, and read the passage to interpret its meaning. At this stage, reading cards in tandem or seeing the bigger picture was not a concept I was aware of and so, this is really as far as I got at that time.
Fast forward to my early 30s. Life took over and while I still had all my decks and books, I rarely touched them. During this period, I had a lot going on. I'd recently take an 8 month leave from work to care for my son who had his own issues, and in that time, I began to consciously change my life in many ways and with that, came a reconnection to my spirituality, my core and my relationship with the cards. So here I was, basically 10 years later, picking up where I'd left off. But, this time it was going to be different.
Even though I'd struggled in the past to assimilate the meanings, I came to understand that knowing Tarot had less to do with applying the given meanings, and more to do with understanding my own life experiences and applying them back to the cards. As a child, The Hierophant meant nothing to me. As a child, the 2 of Pentacles was a mind boggle. Part of reading the cards aloud, to other people, is dispensing valuable life advice - and a life not lived can hardly speak the proper language. So, years on me made the process easier...by far.
Secondly, I made it a point to use the cards every single day. It didn't have to be a massive spread, but just drawing one card and reading it for myself was good enough to establish that consistent connection. And in terms of memorizing the meanings, I quickly learned that the cards themselves could tell me what they meant as I was working with Rider Wait Smith decks and those that closely followed that structure. But, it wasn't all visual. One thing that really worked for me was writing every single card meaning down in my own words. I actually did this with an excel spreadsheet (tres magickal) because I hate writing - and I can honestly type more than 100 words per minutes, so it didn't take too much time. I focused just on key words for every card, upright and reversed, plus additional correspondences. I also spent a lot of time relating cards back to one another and back to actual aspects of my life or life in general. It helped to find all these random correspondences and I still do things like this to this day, for example, my Soundtrack Through the Arcana Series.
This whole process took place over the course of a couple of months and it really feels like a blur now looking back. I was so deeply immersed in the act of assimilating the meanings and understanding the undercurrent, that I literally began receiving messages about it directly from spirit and my higher self. In fact, there was a solid week where the only dreams I remember were those where I was learning, or being taught the cards. In this dream, I would sit in front of this council of alienish figures, while they would flash cards at me quickly as I either spat out meanings or downloaded information. Honestly, it's as weird as it sounds.
All in all, it's been a lot of consistency, with applied practical learning, and some intervention from spirit - I'd say that's more or less the formula that brought me to where I am today.
From a practical leaning perspective, below I will summarize a few simple things you can do today to learn tarot - whether you're just starting or have been at it some time.
1. Put the cards in your own words and apply them back to your own experiences. To learn the court characters, I made this chart that I filled in, applying different attributes, occupations, astrological signs and even celebrity doppelgangers. There is a PDF that mimics this exercise in my Feebies section if you want to check it out!
2. Handle the cards every day. Either a card of the day reading, or leafing through the cards, or meditating with one or just shuffling the deck. Build that connection and commit to some sense of consistency. The more you do it, the better you will be.
3. Do things that make sense for you. Some people swear by journals, others find them tedious. Some people read reversals, some don't see the point. There is no one right way to approach this craft. Tarot, though rich in history and symbolism and depth, can also be an entirely unique tool. Learn from others, but then also know when you've come far enough in your learning do things your own way. Basically, if you feel bound to a set of rules or predefined methods, you'll quickly lose motivation. Tarot should be inspiring, not boring.
4. Read for people you don't know. The internet is a wonderful place to connect with total and complete strangers! I found reading for my friends and family was difficult - I still don't prefer to do this. For me, I'd rather read for someone who I have no real sense of. Better yet if I can't see them and only know a few key details such as their birth date and first name. If you're beginning, do this for free in exchange for the experience. Not being able to call on what you know of someone, or "read" body language, is a wonderful way to ensure your intuition - and the cards - are running the show. It's also a great confidence booster when you hear back just how spot or helpful you were!
So, learning tarot can be done through any number of means. Books, mentors, free content online, paid courses - whatever. It took me a long time to learn tarot and I'm in the camp that thinks resources, free or paid, are an incredible tool. I wish I had access to more of this growing up so I didn't have to meander for so long around the topic. I use my past experience to inform the way I craft my offerings now, always asking myself, "is this what I would have wanted to learn when I was starting out?" - if the answer is "yes", and the topic excites me, I know I'm on to something.
But basically, there is no right or wrong way. Everyone is unique and the process of learning is personal. My ultimate advice is to find a way that works for you, or explore the options, and most of all - enjoy the journey!