How to learn tarot for beginners

Animation of hands holding tarot cards with stars twinkling

As interest in spiritualism rises, it’s clear that people are searching for meaning outside of the norm.

One way to get there is through taking up tarot, but learning tarot takes time and it can be hard to know where to start.

Begin by understanding what purpose tarot cards can serve and use that as your motivation.

The aim of a reading varies depending on who it’s for but ultimately ‘the cards themselves are talking points. They are tools in which to bring up subjects,’ says Tree Carr. Those subjects might speak to issues you need guidance on.

Tree is a tarot reader, dream guide and psychic healer, who runs a Learn The Tarot class in London’s spiritual shop and studio She’s Lost Control.

Getting the right deck

Tree believes the first step to take if you want to learn tarot is to determine what deck you want to learn from.

‘I always recommend the Rider Waite deck as a good starting point as a lot of decks that came after that are based upon its structure of the archetypes and suits,’ she tells us.

‘The Rider Waite deck was conceived in the early 1900s and it’s pulled a lot of its structures from medieval decks and decks that were coming out of Italy, so it’s got a long history.

Whichever deck you go for, it’ll come with 78 cards, so there’s a lot to absorb – especially as ‘there’s so much going on in each card’.

Embrace that tarot is cryptic

Tree says you shouldn’t be deterred if it feels like a big task.

She notes: ‘Tarot is quite cryptic by nature so that’s why tarot seems like a big thing to learn.

‘I would recommend a teacher or guide to help [you] through it because you can develop some bad habits in the beginning or you can skim the surface and not get everything you can out of all 78 cards.’

Some bad habits she notices come from stereotypical and superstitious concepts we see perpetuated in film and TV.

‘Some cards can be seen through the lens of superstition. The Death card for example, people get very alarmed when they see it and it doesn’t help when there’s films that solidify that concept where people think “Oh no, death is going to come upon you because you pulled the death card.”‘

It’s actually a positive card of transformation and change, so it’s important to be open minded when learning the cards.

Tree believes it helps to learn tarot if you have ‘patience, curiosity, and a love of symbiology and cryptic meanings.’

Avoid overcomplicating tarot

Tarot cards are multi-layered in the ways they can communicate messages.

Tree says: ‘It’s not just the cards, it’s a whole system too: there’s astrology in there, there’s also numerology that’s part of the deck as well, the elements. There’s so many layers to it.’

Approach the deck in simple terms at first. In Tree’s class, she says: ‘First we learn the tarot cognitively, so we learn it from a memorisation point of view – what all the symbols, numbers and astrological lineage mean.’

Only then do you look beyond the guide book that comes with the cards that explains their basic meaning.

‘Then we move a bit deeper into the intuitive realms. So once you’ve mastered the meanings of the cards, that’s when you start working with your intuitive hits.’

The other thing to avoid looking at immediately is reversal readings, as Tree says it can ‘overcomplicating things too soon’.

Rather, see it as ‘the next phase of study’. When teaching, Tree will ‘mention that every single card has their shadow aspect and it’s good to be mindful of [this as it can] indicate the reversal.’

The key is to approach each aspect of tarot step by step.

What to do when you first get a tarot deck

Before diving in and using a new deck, Tree says it’s important to ‘connect with the cards and claim them’.

Emily, 24, started learning tarot after a bad breakup while at university when her disposable income was limited.

‘I wanted a more personal reading without buying one from a tarot reader because it was expensive. So I ordered my own cards a taught myself,’ she says.

Emily turned to tarot at a time when she wanted to know what the future held for her and so started watching tarot reader videos online, such as Saltwater Heals Tarot and began with oracle cards as she found them more intuitive at first.

These are other methods Tree says can help people learn tarot as there is a wealth of free materials online to watch and read, and oracle cards are ‘what they say on the tin’ in terms of giving you the information you need.

Tarot on the other hand is ‘less intuitive’.

Emily believes tarot reading has helped her deal with tricky and emotional situations, having now been using cards since 2017. She also loves giving readings to her friends when they too feel they need guidance.

‘I’ve personally always felt a sense of clarity when I’ve needed it most and guidance. You can sometimes get a real sense of relief,’ she says.

She advises people that are drawn to tarot to ‘take what resonates with you’ and to ‘always listen to your intuition when giving yourself and others readings, as sometimes you may feel the cards have a different meaning to what’s in the guide book.

‘But, most importantly just have fun and take everything with a pinch of salt.’

Learning tarot can be rewarding both spiritually and personally, but it’s good to not get stuck on what you think the cards mean.

As most tarot readers will tell you: energy is fluid and ever-changing.

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