How To Read Tarot Cards—for Beginners and the Curious!

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Learn How to Do a Tarot Reading

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You’ve probably heard of tarot cards, and there are many myths about this deck of cards. So, what is tarot? What’s in the deck? How do you read the cards? Even if you’re tarot-curious, I’ll give you a beginner’s introduction to this fun and inspirational ancient art.

I’ll never forget my first encounter with the tarot. At the time, I was interested in astrology after a chart reading from a friend’s mother. On a rare trip to the mall, I headed straight to the tiny metaphysical section of the store. I was determined to get a good book on astrology. However, my eyes locked with a Tarot deck, so I grabbed that instead.

Once I got home, I opened the box and was instantly enchanted. What were these symbols? How do I read them? And what the heck is a Hierophant? My curiosity turned into an obsession as I spent countless hours shuffling and poring over the little white book in an attempt to decode my future.

My persistence paid off, and I’ve had a tarot deck in my hands ever since. In fact, today, I have a small business, The Tarot Lady.

Maybe you’re tarot-curious and not sure what it’s all about. Perhaps you have a deck of your own or want to purchase one. You may have dabbled, but don’t think you’ll ever get it. Here’s what you need to know to begin reading tarot cards today.

What is Tarot?

Tarot is a deck of 78 cards that can be used for games or divination. Although playing cards predated tarot by half a century, the earliest tarot decks can be traced back to Italy in the 1400s. This was before the printing press era, so there are few surviving decks from that time.

Tarot cards were hand-painted back then, meaning only the wealthy could afford them. Once the printing press was invented, tarot cards were mass-produced, which meant anyone could acquire a deck. Originally, they were played as a game called trionfi or “trumps.” This trick-taking game is similar to bridge, and it’s still played in many parts of the world.

Tarot became associated with fortune-telling much later when Jean-Baptiste Alliette wrote books on using tarot for divination. Since then, most people will think of tarot for divining the future rather than playing a game.

Today, tarot isn’t solely for fun or fortune. Modern readers use it for creative inspiration, shadow work, therapy, and journaling.

Tarot cards on a table, Russia. Credit: n_defender

5 Myths of Tarot

There are plenty of myths around tarot. Perhaps you’ve heard a few. Let’s dispel them.

  • You must be gifted your first tarot deck.

This is untrue. You don’t have to wait around for anyone to purchase a deck. Instead, you can choose one that speaks to you. There are many options, from cards with cats to houseplants and even popular television shows, which means you have lots to choose from.

  • Tarot is evil or scary.

Tarot is not evil. Some world religions may say otherwise, but tarot has nothing to do with evil powers. Instead, tarot is simply a tool that can be used for introspection, clarity, and connecting with your intuition.

  • You must be psychic to read tarot.

Big news: everyone is intuitive. For example, have you ever had a hunch that turned out to be accurate? We’ve all had that experience at one time or another. That’s intuition. However, it’s not always easy to trust your instincts. Tarot can help you develop a stronger connection to your intuition.

  • You cannot read tarot for yourself.

You can read the cards for yourself—in fact, it’s one of the best ways to learn tarot! However, you can run into trouble if you’re emotionally invested in the outcome. In that case, you might lose your objectivity and skew the interpretation. It’s wise to approach tarot with an open, neutral mind.

  • Tarot cards can predict the future.

Yes and no. The future is malleable. If you don’t like the way the cards look, your fate is not sealed. You can always make different decisions. You’re always in the driver’s seat of your life. Tarot simply shows what is possible. The rest is up to you.

Which Deck Should I Get?

Pick a deck that appeals to you. You can find images online, which makes it easy to determine what you might like. However, if you’re stumped, try the Rider Waite Smith. It’s the most popular tarot deck in the world, and many modern decks are based on the imagery.

What’s in the Deck?

The tarot deck is divided into two sections, called the Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards. It depicts life lessons, the bigger picture, and the soul’s journey. The Minors are associated with day-to-day events and things we can control.

The Minors are divided into four suits, similar to playing cards. Those suits are wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. Each is associated with a different facet of life:

  1. Wands: work, creativity, passion
  2. Cups: emotions, relationships
  3. Swords: thoughts, conflicts, challenges
  4. Pentacles: values, money

Within each suit are also four court cards: pages, knights, queens, and kings. These cards can represent people or different parts of ourselves, but they can also symbolize events or messages. The interpretation will depend on the question.

How to Read Tarot

In a way, it’s actually quite simple: you think of a question, shuffle the cards, and choose one or a few from the deck. From there, you can examine the imagery and see what story they are trying to tell. In a way, it’s similar to reading a picture book or storyboard. However, there are also traditional meanings which are good to learn. They provide a strong foundation, which builds confidence with interpretation.

How To Shuffle

You can shuffle in any way that feels comfortable for you. There is no right or wrong way. If you cannot mix the cards, you can ask someone else to do it for you.

How to Ask a Great Question

Your interpretation is only as good as your question. It’s best to avoid yes/no questions and “will I.” These rarely lead to helpful answers because the future isn’t black and white. Instead, frame your question with “What do I need to know about” or “How can I?” This will lead to empowering information.

For example, instead of asking, “Will I meet someone?” you might ask, “How can I find a new partner?” As you can see, this type of questioning puts the future squarely in your hands, where it belongs.


Once you’re done shuffling, it’s time to read the cards! You can choose a card randomly or off the top of the deck. One-card readings are simple and effective. You might also decide to pull a few cards and lay them out in a pattern. Tarot readers call this a “spread.” There are many good books with spreads, but we’ll focus on a one-card draw for this article.


Now that you’ve shuffled your deck and pulled a card, it’s time to interpret! Each tarot card has many meanings, so you’ll want to consider what makes the most sense for your question.

For example, the Two of Cups can indicate a genuine connection if you ask about a romantic relationship. But when it comes to a question about a new job, it becomes an offer.

Two of Cups of Tarot Card. Credit: Anna Mente

The images give clues to the meanings. Each card is richly illustrated and filled with universal symbols that are easy to recognize. You can follow my advice above and read it like a picture book, or you can refer to the little white book that came with your cards. Another technique is to describe what’s going on in the card. This will often spur interpretations!

Most importantly, trust your gut. It knows more than you think!

Enjoy learning about astrology. Now, learn more about Numerology and see my other articles about astrology.

About The Author

Theresa Reed

Theresa Reed, aka The Tarot Lady, is a tarot reader, author, and educator. Read More from Theresa Reed

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