How To Read Tarot Cards for Beginners
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 read tarot cards for yourself and others.
Table of Contents
How To Pick a 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.
Rider Waite Tarot Deck
The Rider Waite 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
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. This deck is perfect for beginners, too.
Tarot Deck Basics & Breakdown
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.
Four 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.
Tarot and Numerology
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.
It’s also significant if numbers repeat within your tarot reading. Check for meanings in the Angel Number Index.
Before You Pull Tarot Cards
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.
Tarot Questions to Ask
You can ask tarot questions on love, career, health, finance, family, or any other situation that’s important to you. The subject isn’t as important as how you word your question. In other words, 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)
How To Shuffle Tarot Cards
My favorite way to shuffle tarot cards is the ‘hand over hand’ method. Hold the deck in your non-dominant hand, and pull chunks from the top of the deck and place them at the bottom – just like you’d shuffle a deck of playing cards.
Corgi or 'Scramble' Shuffle
For a free flowing, artistic shuffle, try placing all the cards face down in a pile, then slide them around, scrambling them up as you go. When you feel ready, bring the cards back together.
Tarot Spreads - How To Pick Tarot Cards
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:
One Card Tarot Reading
A simple 1-card tarot spread is perfect for yes or no questions. So if you’re looking for a straight, one word answer, a one card tarot reading is the way to go. Simply shuffle the deck while focusing on your question. Then either cut the deck and pull the top card, or pick one sticking out from the pile that grabs your attention.
One-card tarot readings are also a beautiful way to begin your day. Try asking “what do I need to know today?” Then notice what comes throughout your day.
Two Card Tarot Reading
2-card spreads 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. Then repeat for your second option, and compare results.
Three Card Tarot Reading
If the situation calls for a bit more detail, you may consider a 3-card tarot spread for past, present and future. You can shuffle once then pull three cards (that’s what I do). Or shuffle three times, pulling one card each time; sometimes this is the way to go if you’re feeling stuck or unsure about which card to pull. Remember, don’t overthink it!
Here’s an example of a 3-card spread. This client asked for validation about leaving her partner.
- 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.
- 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.
How To Understand Your Tarot Reading
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?
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.