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How To Read Tarot Cards: Beginner’s Guide

Tarot cards have been used as a divination tool for centuries. They make a wonderful addition to your spiritual toolbox by offering insights and clarity. Learning how to read tarot cards can seem overwhelming, and even a little scary at first. This simple, easy to understand guide boils tarot reading down to basics, so you can do your own readings.  

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Choosing Your Tarot Deck

If you have a tarot card deck you’re excited to use for your readings, skip to the next section. If you’re looking for a new deck, here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your tarot deck:  

  • Theme – What are you naturally drawn to: angels, ascended masters, animals, nature? There’s a tarot deck for just about every theme under the sun. Its important to use a deck that resonates with your core beliefs and values.
  • Imagery – Notice the artwork in the deck. Usually when you buy a deck on Amazon there will be sample photos of the cards. Often the imagery holds additional messages to support your reading, so choose a deck that you find soothing and interesting to look at.
  • Messaging Style– Traditional tarot doesn’t sugar coat anything, and yes, there are some ‘negative’ cards. Other decks offer more soothing messages and guidance. This is a matter of personal taste, so just keep it in mind while researching decks. 

The Rider Tarot deck is one of the most widely recognized tarot decks in the world. Its images were drawn in 1909. If you appreciate the classics, this deck is for you. Click to view more images.

Angel Tarot Cards deck by Radleigh Valentine is the one I use for readings with clients. Its messages are crystal clear, but less abrupt than traditional tarot. For example the Death card is referred to as ‘Release’. If you want loving, drama-free guidance, I strongly recommend this deck.  

Tarot Deck Basics

All tarot decks have three main concepts in common. It’s important to be aware of them so you can receive the full meaning of the cards you pull. The first three things to notice when you pull a card are: the card’s suit, whether it’s a major or minor card, and number of the card.  

Major and Minor Arcana

Your tarot deck should have 78 cards in total. At the highest level, these cards are divided into two types: major and minor arcana (arcana is the Latin word for mystery).

Major arcana cards represent important life events, like a wedding, birth, breakup, new job, or completion of a goal. They’re fairly easy to spot because they’re not typically numbered. The Sun is an example of a major arcana card. There are 22 major arcana cards in tarot and they are not associated to any suit.

Minor arcana cards offer insights into the details of daily life or a particular situation. They’ll have a number and a suit associated to them, like Four of Earth, for example. Minor arcana cards make up the remaining 56 cards of your 78 card tarot deck. There are 14 cards per suit, similar to a deck of playing cards, beginning with ace and ending with king.

4 Suits of Minor Arcana 

The 56 minor arcana cards in your deck are further divided into four suits. Depending on which deck you have, the four suits will have different names. In traditional tarot like the Rider Tarot deck, the suits are: wands, cups, swords and coins. Angel Tarot uses the four elements instead: fire, water, air, and earth. Their meanings however, are the same. Check your deck’s guidebook for suit names and meanings. In general, here are the basic themes of each suit using Rider/Angel Tarot terminology:

  • Wands/Fire – This suit represents people, causes, and projects that you’re passionate about. This often has to do with career and life purpose, but can also offer insights into relationships. Creativity, motivation, and energy are the feelings behind this suit.
  • Cups/Water – This suit is all about emotions and intuition. When you pull a cups/water card, it represents matters you hold dear to your heart.
  • Swords/Air – Intellect and practical knowledge. Cards of this suit invite us to tap into our logic and decision making skills to address the issue at hand. 
  • Coins/Earth – This suit addresses material things, finances, and physical comforts. These cards typically relate to money, tribe, career, and legal matters.

Numerology in Tarot

Every card in the tarot deck is associated to at least one number. Minor arcana will display a number right on the card, like Four of Earth, for example. But even major arcana cards are associated to the number; the deck is ordered. You can check the guidebook that comes with your deck to find the ordered number of your card. Every number can be reduced to a master number, which offers deeper insights into your reading. 

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Before You Begin

Okay! So you’ve selected your tarot deck with care, and familiarized yourself with the tarot structure. Now it’s time to do a tarot reading. Sit comfortably with the deck in your hands and take a few cleansing breaths. Tarot reading is all about intention. So before you even ask a question, set your intention to pull cards that will offer you clarity and a clear path forward. Don’t be nervous! In fact, if you’re feeling anxious it’s not a good time to pull cards because it’ll affect the results of your reading. If you’re experiencing strong emotions of any kind, you’ll likely pull a card to match what you’re feeling in the moment, just by law of attraction. It’s important to read tarot when you’re feeling grounded and neutral. Always go into your readings with a relaxed body, curious mind, and open heart.

Ask Your Question

When you form your question:

  • be specific – make sure your question is crystal clear because the clarity of your response depends on it 
  • only ask one question per reading
  • choose a spread that matches your question (more below on that)
A word on privacy  It’s important to follow your moral compass while doing tarot readings. I personally never ask what other people are thinking, feeling, or doing, if I (or my client) wouldn’t ask them directly. Trying to read someone’s diary through tarot doesn’t work! So just keep this in mind when you’re phrasing your question. Trust your spirit team to offer guidance and clarity without compromising the privacy of others.

Tarot Spreads

Some tarot spreads are super elaborate and dive deep into the history, fears, hopes, dreams, and outside factors of a situation. This can be very intimidating to beginners. But not to worry! A full 10+ card spread isn’t necessary to gain the clarity you’re seeking. Since this is a beginner’s guide, we’ll start with three easy spreads that cover all bases:

  • 1 card pull – This is perfect for yes/no questions. It’s also a beautiful ritual to begin your day by asking “what do I need to know?”  
  • 2 card spread – Two cards spreads are great for ‘this or that’ questions. So if you’re trying to make a decision, ask how the energy is around your first choice, and pull a card. Repeat for your second option, and compare results. 
  • 3 card spread – If the situation calls for a bit more detail, you may consider a three card pull for past, present and future. 
3 tarot cards on a while table labelled past, present, and future

3 Card Spread Example – this client asked for validation about leaving her partner. We did a 3 card pull. The first card illuminates the complexity of the relationship, and affirms this decision has been a long time coming. The second card, a major arcana, invites her to rise up and trust her intuition, even thought it’s scary. And finally, the future card shows The Star; another major arcana card that assures her a major upgrade in the romance department awaits her. Notice she has two major arcana cards in this reading – this is a a sign that we’re approaching a life changing experience; the numbers are even sequential, 17 and 18. We can take this as confirmation that her timing is perfect, and  everything will fall right into place.  

Interpreting Tarot Card Messages

Every deck comes with a guidebook, and I can tell you the one that comes with Angel Tarot is exceptional. Here’s how to interpret your cards: 

  • How does the card make you feel? Notice your first reaction.  
  • Is it a major or minor arcana card? 
  • What suit is it?
  • What does the card say? Angel Tarot offers a message right on the card (see image above), which is not the case for all decks. That’s what makes this deck an especially good choice for beginners.
  • What’s the number on the card? If there isn’t one, check your guidebook for the card’s number in the order of the deck (1-78). You can reduce that number to a master number for more information.
  • Check out the images – what catches your eye?
  • Use your own intuition to pull additional meaning. What does the card bring to mind? How does it relate to your situation?
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How To Use Your New Insights

You should always come away from your tarot readings feeling hopeful, inspired, or comforted. If you don’t,  you probably need a new deck!

Tarot is a beautiful tool to shine light on areas of yourself that need more loving care, and reveal insights into fears that hold you back.  So while skeptics might chalk tarot up to new age ‘woo-woo’, it really takes a mature soul to read tarot properly. If you’ve read this guide to the end, you’re clearly interested in more than just pulling cards until you get a card that satisfies your ego. It takes a brave soul to ask for guidance and recognize the truth when she sees it. Bravo to you for embarking on this chapter of your spiritual journey. 

And remember, if you’re ever feeling stuck, or can’t neutralize your emotions enough to get a good reading for yourself, you can always order an email reading from me.  Or, if this all feels overwhelming, start with oracle cards instead, then come back to your tarot deck once you’re more comfortable working with those. 

XO,  Andrea

About The Author

Andrea has been practicing aromatherapy and reiki in Central NY since 2016. She's been featured in publications such as Energy Magazine.
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Andrea Scalisi
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To read more about Andrea, click here. Feel free to reach out with questions or feedback on the Contact form.

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