People use tarot for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you want to gain insights into current obstacles or you’re seeking answers on what next steps to take during a major life event. Whether you’re asking about relationships, money, career choices, or simply how your past might impact your future, tarot readings can be powerful tools to reveal possibilities and explore paths available to you. Getting a tarot reading can be a wonderful opportunity to ask questions and receive a fresh perspective, no matter what you would like to know. Our Tarot Guide can help you learn the ways that tarot can bring you insight, clarity, and peace of mind.
Tarot uses a distinct set of 78 cards to provide a pictorial guide to your soul's journey on this plane of existence. Each card offers a snapshot of life and its possibilities. Filled with rich symbolism, these cards can help you tap into your subconscious and unlock the deep wisdom contained within.
The word Tarot came from an Italian card game called Tarocchi in the 1400s. In the early 1500s the Italian game of Tarocchi was translated to the French word Tarot. By the late 1700s mystics in England and France saw the symbolic pictures of the cards as having more meaning than as simple games. Mystics have been using Tarot cards as divination tools ever since.
Whether you’re interested in exploring tarot for beginners or want to learn more about tarot readings before reading with a professional, our Tarot Guide covers all the basics, and then some.
Learning to decipher the messages contained within the tarot takes time and study. Fundamentally, tarot is a practice of insight and introspection. Because the messages are often coded in symbols and imagery, it’s always helpful to validate the information by getting a reading with an experienced tarot reader. This gives you an opportunity to focus on a question or area of your life where your choices seem unclear. Drawing on psychic insight as well as experience understanding how individual tarot cards interact with one another when they appear within a spread, a professional tarot reader can quickly suggest patterns and possibilities for you to consider whether they make sense to you.
When I concentrate on a question, as I continue to shuffle the cards, I receive psychic messages about the issue at hand. Then once the cards are laid out, the messages I’ve received through psychic vision and the messages evidenced in the cards synch up together, resulting in an answer for the seeker. The cards, for me, amplify and expand on the psychic messages I received while shuffling.” - Psychic Therese
It's not uncommon for beginners to feel a little intimidated when they first hold a tarot deck in their hands—78 cards can seem like a lot! But remember, no one is born knowing how to read tarot cards. We are, however, all born with intuition. Your intuition is your strongest ally in choosing a tarot deck and learning tarot.
Deck designers purposefully utilize elements in each card's design to tap into our subconscious. Even if you don't understand all the symbolism, your deeper knowing makes a connection to the aspects of the cards you most need to see. Of course, time and practice will help you further refine your understanding of the cards' meaning so you can get the most out of a tarot reading.
A common way to begin learning tarot is to start each day with a daily card reading. While shuffling tarot cards, try to quiet your mind so that you can receive whatever messages your spirit guides want you to know. Some tarot experts suggest that while holding your deck of cards in your hand, you “knock” on the deck – tapping the deck several times to disperse your energy into the cards before shuffling.
Choose one card and examine the pictures to see if you can interpret any messages or meanings in the images before looking up their meaning. You can increase your understanding of the tarot by pairing this with some journaling. Simply jot down any random impressions or feelings from the card, and only then look up the traditional meaning, making note of anything that jumps out. If the message doesn’t make sense right away, do not choose another card. Instead, pay attention to what comes your way that day.
In the evening, look back on your notes. Somewhere along the line, something may make sense in some way. Over time, you may begin to see patterns and your intuition will grow stronger, along with your understanding of the cards. As your familiarity with the cards advances, you may begin to experiment with simple 3 and 5 card spreads.
Once you’ve learned the basics of tarot, you may be excited to develop your expertise as a reader. You may find these suggestions helpful on your journey:
Get regular tarot readings from a variety of readers
Watch videos of tarot readings and readers
Take online classes
Practice, practice, practice – take your deck with you wherever you go
Master the meaning of the cards to the point that you no longer need to refer to guidebooks or external sources of information and can rely solely on your intuition
Constantly work on your observation, listening, and empathy skills
While most experts agree that the tarot is a wonderful tool for self-reflection, some professional readers avoid reading for themselves. It really depends on your situation and what you need from your reading. If you need to tap into your inner wisdom or seek information that has been eluding you, learning how to read tarot cards for yourself can be a powerful way to find answers to the questions you’re asking of the cards. On the other hand, if you really need insight into another person or situation, reading your own cards can simply confirm your own biases. In that case, reading your own cards is unlikely to offer new insights.
When you need an objective or expansive perspective that is not bound by the limitations of your own thinking, turning to a professional tarot reader whom you’ve gotten to know, and trust can be validating and empowering. The more complicated your situation, the more fraught with emotion or anxiety, and the higher the stakes, the more it helps to partner with an expert who can hold space for your emotions and simultaneously and gently peel back the layers of meaning contained in the cards. A professional tarot reading is a conversation, a partnership, between you and the reader, working together to understand the messages of the cards for your highest and best good.
“Tarot is infinite in its meanings and images. I use my own psychic vision and help from my spirit guides to show the different influences and concerns in your present life. There is never just one future, but tarot can help us make good decisions and move forward in the best possible way.” — Psychic Zee
While each of the cards has their own distinct meanings, a lot of the specific shades and nuances of the reading come together when you look at how they fit with other cards in the spread. Tarot spreads help organize the message the cards have for you. The interpretation of a card’s meaning is strongly affected by its position in the chosen spread. At a minimum, you will be juggling these two variables – card meaning, and positional meaning – at all times. Think of the cards in a spread like chapters or characters in a larger story and see how they fit together.
Beginner tarot spreads follow a simple linear pattern to simplify the variables and build confidence in the interpretation. Three card linear spreads are adaptable to many situations and can be expanded to 5 cards as you master tarot card meanings and begin to go deeper. After you’ve mastered these beginner spreads, we’ve introduced a modified Celtic Cross pattern to add a little more nuance to your readings.
Three card spreads are a terrific starting point for beginners to better understand how positions affect meanings, while still being powerful enough for seasoned tarot readers to use regularly. There are a variety of three-card tarot spreads for guidance out there, but let’s start by looking at one of the better-known ones, the past-present-future spread.
The first card represents an event from the past. Its energy directly shapes the energy of the second card, the present. That energy in turn will shape the energy of the future. It is up to you to decide how to work with or shift that energy.
Other linear 3 card spreads also follow this cause-and-effect pattern, tracing the energy through a sequence of events, from left to right. You can pick a three-card spread that relates to your specific question or situations such as:
Past, Present, Future
Situation, Action, Outcome
Where You Are Now, Your Path, Your Potential
Current Situation, Obstacle, Advice
Once you are comfortable with three card spreads, you can move to larger tarot spreads for guidance. Five card spreads are an excellent choice for extracting a deeper level of nuance from your reading while keeping things simple. You have more positions to work with and more relationships between the cards you have set out to glean information from.
One simple option for an expanded reading using 5 cards is to lay the cards in a line as with a 3-card reading, but now they represent:
Far Past, Past, Present, Future, Far Future
You as You Are, Are You on the Correct Path? What is the Main Obstacle? What is Helping me? How Can I Progress?
Past, Present, Hidden Influences, Advice, Possible Outcome
A good, all-purpose five card reading to start off with is an abbreviated form of the classic Celtic Cross. There are a few different ways to read this spread as well.
The first card represents you as you are now. The second card is the past and the third is the future. So far, this is not too different from the past-present-future spread we discussed earlier. The nuances come in with the next cards.
Card 4 represents the reason or influences you might not be aware of that are shaping the situation. It’s common to have this card shed light on things that might be blocking you. It can also help clarify card 2.
Card 5 represents potential ways you can grow from this situation. Compare it with card 3 to get a clearer picture of how to best use the upcoming energy to your benefit.
A second way to read this spread is as follows:
The study of tarot starts with mastering tarot card meanings. Most decks come with booklets that describe the symbolism in each card. Supplement your reading with tarot podcasts that delve deeper into individual card meanings. Or use an online guide, such as a tarot card meaning list with pictures to help you recall the associations between the cards and their imagery. Once you feel confident in your interpretation, put away the guidebooks, and let the cards speak to you through your intuition. Remember their meaning is influenced as much by their position in the spread, and proximity to other cards, as well as the energy of the reading as the meaning of the card itself.
A tarot deck is comprised of 78 cards, of which 22 are part of the Major Arcana, and the remaining 56 are what are known as the Minor Arcana or Court Cards.
Expert opinions vary as to which is the most powerful tarot card. In part, the answer to this question depends on a personal and contextual understanding of power.
For some readers, the first card, also known as Card 0 or The Fool is the most powerful card, because it represents the power of possibility, an infinity of beginnings and endings. For other readers, there is powerful magic in the Magician (Card 1), as their power over themselves and their circumstances give them the power to change not only themselves but also the world. Still, others would point to the spiritual power of the High Priestess – who straddles the world of the living and the spirit, or the mind and the subconscious, or the power of the Hierophant, who represents worldly authority, as being the most powerful of the tarot cards.
How you personally relate to the idea of power, and how the cards show up in a reading, will be different for every individual.
The Major Arcana is composed of 22 cards. Each card is meant to represent a distinct point in life. All of us are somewhere on the Fool's journey from naivete to full understanding. And when one quest ends, a new one begins. Typically, when you pull a Major Arcana card in anything other than a daily spread, it is the Tarot's way of letting you know that the issue the reading is about is connected to one of the larger or reoccurring themes in your life. Click on each tarot card to reveal its hidden meanings.
The Minor Arcana is further divided up into four suits, usually called swords, wands, cups, and pentacles. The suits are representations of the elements, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. While the Major Arcana cards are meant to represent big life events, the Minors are meant to represent smaller more day-to-day events. For instance, the Chariot and the 8 of Wands are both associated with speed, but depending on the other cards in the reading, one might indicate going full speed ahead towards a life goal and the other might mean speedily getting a task at work done.
Each suit has its own areas of rulership. Swords rules over communication and the intellect. Wands rules over personal reputation and career. Earth rules over financial and physical matters. Cups rule over emotions and matters of the heart. There can be some overlap in areas individual cards touch, but if you do a reading where there are cards that overwhelmingly come from one particular suit, take a look at their area of rulership to see if you can fine-tune the cards’ meanings.
Each suit has cards that go from one (Aces) to ten. They also have a court associated with each of them, usually made up of a King, Queen, Knight, and Page. Traditionally, people see the appearance of a court card in reading as referring to one specific person who shares physical or personality traits associated with the cards (for instance the King of Swords could be a blond man or a man in a traditionally intellect-driven field, like a lawyer or scientist). But it can also refer to traits you need to develop or find in yourself to deal with the matter at hand. Click on each card to reveal its meaning.
Tarot cards are like a foreign language. Working with a skilled tarot reader is like hiring a native guide as you're traveling through a distant land. Not only does the tarot reader speak the native language, but they are familiar with the landscape around you. Alone, you might have a pleasant journey through this land and enjoy some of the sights, but you wouldn't find that hidden grove of treasures that the locals know about. A skilled psychic will take your reading beyond the surface insights that the cards may provide and into deeper, richer territory.
As your tarot reader reveals the cards, they will rely upon their connection with you to interpret them accurately as they relate to your individual situation. Expert tarot readers are psychics in their own right who can gain meaningful insights from the universe, spirit guides, and their own intuition about your cards to help inform your reading. In the hands of a knowledgeable reader, a tarot card spread can form an intricate and detailed map to help you navigate the future.
Tarot works best when you can establish a good relationship with the practitioner. Forming a connection with an expert tarot reader can help that reader gain deeper and more accurate insights about you. When you get a tarot reading, you're at the center of the story that's laid out across your spread.