So, what exactly is tarot? Chances are, you’ve probably heard about it in media (perhaps, most notably in TV shows like The X-Files) portrayed as some mysterious occult divination tool used by eccentric psychics with immense spiritual power. In reality however, it’s a bit less magical than that. I could go on for hours about the complexities of tarot, but for the sake of both my and your sanity, let’s try to keep things nice and simple. Basically, tarot are cards that represent specific aspects or points on a journey through life. Most standard decks consist of 78 cards, and many readers choose to read reversals as well, reversals just being cards that come out in reverse. That’s 156 different meanings to remember! On top of that, there are also specific spreads, or patterns in which you can place cards which require you to consider both the cards’ meanings individually and their relation to other cards in a spread. Understandably, learning tarot can be quite the monumental task, but hopefully by the end of this article the worst of the confusion will be gone.
First, let’s get some common misconceptions out of the way. Despite what popular media would have you believe, tarot is in no way connected with spirits or demons, unless the reader (i.e. the person reading the cards) chooses to incorporate them into their readings. Perhaps most importantly to keep in mind is that tarot isn’t some miracle tool. It can’t tell you when you will die (surprise! the Death card doesn’t actually connote death, for the most part at least), it can’t tell you who your soulmate is, or where you meet them, or anything specific like that. What it can do is give you perspective on a situation you might be dealing with. The main source of tarot’s power (at least in my opinion) is your own intuition. Your intuition is what guides you through problems and shines light on your successes, and tarot helps channel that. Everyone has intuition; reading tarot isn’t about whether you’re gifted enough to do it, it’s about whether you’re dedicated enough to learn and train yourself to listen to and not underestimate your intuition.
So, what do the cards mean? If I explained every single card in a deck this article would probably be ten miles long, so lets just look at the basic structure of an average deck. In general, most standard decks can be divided into two main categories: the major and minor arcana. The major arcana consist of 22 cards, and tend to represent important themes and changes in one’s life. When they show up, it’s usually a sign that there is some important life lesson to be learnt. As their name implies, these cards hold strong energies compared to the minor arcana.
Meanwhile, the minor arcana are more to do with the everyday situations that we face. They consist of 56 cards and can be split into four suits, similar to normal playing cards. Although different decks may have different names for them, almost all tarot decks have four suits, each representing a different element, and a different aspect of life. They are most commonly known as the pentacles (earth), cups (water), wands (fire), and swords (air). Pentacles tend to deal with earthly matters, like family, home, finances, the physical body, et cetera. Cups deal with emotional and intuitive matters. Wands deal with manifestation, willpower, and creativity; and lastly, swords represent intellectual and communicative matters.
Within these suits are the court cards: the pages, knights, queens, and kings. Each represent either aspects of our personalities or specific people in our lives, and all are attached to the qualities of their suit’s element. Pages are the youngest, usually representing children or people who are young at heart; they are the holders of their suit’s elemental energy – the new spark, the potential. Next, the knights are the carriers, bringing their energy out into the world; they represent young adults. The Queens are the influencers, working subtly but powerfully – they represent feminine power and usually come in the form of older women. Contrastingly, the Kings are the masculine, represented as older men; they are the controllers of their energy, and tend to master any actions done by it.
Now that the bare basics have been explained, how does one go about learning tarot? Luckily, we live in a time where information is very readily available to us, so gathering the resources needed for this endeavour aren’t as difficult as they may seem.
Tarot can be overwhelming initially, and it’s not uncommon to feel unsure about whether you are really willing to put the time and effort (and money) into it. Luckily, there are modern alternatives to physically buying books and decks. If you still want to test the tarot waters, there are many free apps and online resources available to get you used to tarot without having to sacrifice anything other than your own time. In my opinion, the best way to start out is to download a tarot app, and just use it casually. They’re useful for getting used to the different cards and their meanings, without the pressure of having to memorise them all in one go. Personally, I love using The Golden Thread, Luminous Spirit (which works according to moon cycles!), and Mystic Mondays. All have beautiful and unique art on the cards that are simple enough to understand but not so boring that you lose interest when reading them. Labyrinthos Academy is also great for studying the card meanings in a fun, game-like way. Beyond apps, there are also many websites available where you can learn about tarot for free. Arguably the most popular one beginners go to is Biddy Tarot, which offers in-depth descriptions for all the cards and their reversals, as well as how to use different spreads. Brigit (the woman behind Biddy Tarot) also offers classes and books on how to become a better reader and profit from it, as well as a large community of tarot readers from various backgrounds and levels of expertise, however those do come with a price tag. Otherwise, there really are a seemingly endless amount of good websites for you to learn from, just do some research and pick the ones you understand the best! My personal go-to when I can’t remember a card’s meaning is almost always The Tarot Guide.
If somehow you’re still not tired and want even more ways to immerse yourself in the world of tarot, YouTube has a surprisingly large (albeit hidden) tarot community. I have seen videos of people giving tarot lessons, however I personally tend to use YouTube less for studying and more for general exposure to tarot. ‘Pick-a-card’ readings are very popular (and often surprisingly accurate), and basically involves choosing one or more piles of cards that you feel drawn to which the reader will then interpret regarding a specific question or situation usually stated in the title of the video. Other channels do daily, weekly, and/or monthly readings, sometimes for the individual sun signs of astrology as well. My personal favourite go-to for daily and monthly readings is Gemstone Tarot. I love her readings because they tend to be more intuitive and relaxed, although there are definitely more traditional readers if that’s what you’re drawn to.
Now that you’ve thoroughly explored all your free digital explorations of tarot and you’re somehow still not burnt out, you may be considering taking your journey to the next level: buying a deck. Surprisingly, this is step is a lot easier than I initially thought it would be. I personally bought my deck at the Kinokuniya in KLCC (under the New Age section), however I’m sure there are other bookstores that stock them as well, you just have to find out where. To choose which deck you want to buy may seem daunting as there are so many to choose from, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important thing to look for is a deck that you can personally understand and be drawn to. Most beginners tend to start with the original Rider-Waite (otherwise known as Waite-Smith, especially in feminist circles) deck because it is the one most others have drawn inspiration from, and it’s illustrations are clear and easily understood. However, there is no rule saying you have to choose the Rider-Waite as your first deck. If you’ve seen another deck that you are strongly drawn to, then buy that one. If you have no idea which one to pick, or you haven’t found one you really feel drawn to, do some research on different decks available. Tarot.com and Aeclectic Tarot have expansive lists for you to explore. Look at ones you find interesting, and if possible try to find pictures of the cards online (sometimes YouTube also has videos of flip-throughs like this one where you can get a clear look of every card) and see if you like them. Once you’ve found a deck, you can either look for it in a store or buy it online at places like Amazon or Book Depository, as well as the deck’s own website, if they have one.
At this point all that’s left is to just continue your journey of learning and practicing tarot. I personally keep a tarot diary in which I write down all of the things I’ve learned so far, as well as the readings I do so that I can track my progress. The best way to learn is practice, so practice! Find friends that are interested in it and do casual readings for them, otherwise do readings for yourself. Lastly, remember that your intuition is your greatest strength in tarot, so use it! Although all the above resources are useful for learning the basics of tarot, be careful not to rely on them so much that they start to overpower your own intuition. If a card reminds you of something, or makes you feel a certain way, pay attention to it and use it to form your own interpretations. Although there is a generally constant structure to the cards, each reader has their own slightly unique interpretations.
If you’re somehow still not fed up with tarot, and are interested in learning it yourself, try and have a go at this simple two-week spread! Research the meanings, look at how the cards interact with each other, and try to form your own interpretations for practice. Have fun!