Intro to Tarot: a 6 Step Study Guide

Tarot cards
Image by Patti Wigington 2008

There's a lot of information out there if you're interested in reading the Tarot, and it can be a little overwhelming to sort through it all. This study guide will help you build a basic framework for your studies in the future. Topics include the history of Tarot, how to choose and care for a deck, the meanings of the cards themselves, and some basic spreads to try.

While there's no substitute for hands-on learning, this study guide is designed to give you many of the basic working concepts that you'll need to continue studying in earnest later on. Think of this as the foundation you can build onto in the future. Each lesson will feature four or five topics that you should read and study. Don't just skim over them -- read them thoroughly, and make notes on the points that jump out at you. Take your time when you're going through them, and if you need to, bookmark them to read later. In addition, each step has a simple "homework" assignment to try, so you can take the concepts you've read about, and see how they work in practice.

A final note: learning is a uniquely personal thing. Some people will blaze through all every single step in a weekend, others make take much longer. The amount of time you spend on this is going to vary according to your own needs. Take as much time as you need so you can get the most out of this collection of lessons. You may want to bookmark this page so you can find it easily when you're ready to move on to the next step. Again, I encourage you to take your time. Read over these and -- even more importantly -- THINK about what you've read. If there's something you disagree with, or that doesn't make sense to you, that's okay, because it gives you something else to research and learn about later on.

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Step 1: Getting Started in Tarot

Tarot deck
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Welcome to the step in your Intro to Tarot study guide - let's go ahead and get started! We're going to begin with a look at the basics of Tarot -- and even if you think you know Tarot, you should go ahead and read this anyway. We'll also discuss how to select and care for a deck of cards.

A Brief History of Tarot 

Tarot cards have been around for several centuries, but they were originally an entertaining parlor game, rather than a tool of divination. Find out what changed, and why Tarot became one of our most popular divination methods.

Tarot 101: A Basic Overview

What, exactly, is Tarot? To people unfamiliar with divination, it may seem that someone who reads Tarot cards is "predicting the future." However, most Tarot card readers will tell you that the cards offer a guideline, and the reader is simply interpreting the probable outcome based on the forces presently at work.

Selecting Your Tarot Deck

For a beginning Tarot reader, few tasks are as daunting as actually choosing that first deck. There are hundreds of different Tarot decks available. Really, it can be a little overwhelming. Here are some tips on selecting the deck that works best for you.

Keeping Your Cards Safe

So you've finally found the deck of Tarot cards that speaks to you -- congratulations! You've brought them home... but now what do you do with them? Learn how to "charge" your cards, and protect them from both physical damage and negative energy.

Exercise: Explore Different Decks

So are you ready for your first homework assignment? We'll have one at the end of each step, and this first one is a fun one. Your exercise for today - or however long you want to spend on it - is to go out and look at different Tarot decks. Ask friends if you can see theirs, go to bookstores and peek at the boxes, dig around at the local Wiccan Shoppe if you have one nearby. Get a feel for all the different decks that are available to you. If you find one you like enough to buy, that's great, but if you don't, that's okay too - your deck will come to you when you're ready.

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Step 2: Get Ready to Read the Cards

Card And Candle
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So how, exactly, do you do a Tarot reading? Well, for starters, you'll want to prepare your deck -- and yourself -- before you get going. We'll also look at different things you'll need to know about interpreting the cards themselves. Finally, we'll dig right into the first group of cards in the Major Arcana!

How to Prepare for a Tarot Reading

So you've got your Tarot deck, you've figured out how to keep it safe from negativity, and now you're ready to read for someone else. Let's talk about the things you should do before you take on the responsibility of reading cards for another person.

Interpreting the Cards

Now that you've laid down your Tarot cards, this is where the real fun begins. If someone has come to you as a Querent, it's because they want to know what's going on -- but they also want it to be interesting. After all, anyone can flip open a book and read that the Ten of Cups means contentment and happiness. What they really want to know is how does it apply to them, specifically?

The Major Arcana, Part 1

Cards 0 - 7: The Material World

Within the Major Arcana, there are three distinct groups of cards, each representing a different aspect of the human experience. The first set, Cards 0 - 7, reflect issues pertaining to the material world - situations related to job success, education, finances, and marriage. The 0 Card, the Fool, begins his journey through life and travels the road throughout the cards. As he does, he learns and grows as a person.

0 - The Fool
1 - The Magician
2 - The High Priestess
3 - The Empress
4 - The Emperor
5 - The Hierophant
6 - The Lovers
7 - The Chariot

Exercise: A Single Card

For this exercise, we're going to keep things very basic. Set aside the eight cards referenced above. Take some time to get to know their meanings, both forward and reversed. Each day, before you do anything else, draw one of these cards at random. As your day progresses, take some time to reflect on how the day's events connect and relate to the card you drew in the morning. You may want to keep a journal of which cards you draw, and what happens throughout the day. Also, at the end of a week, look back and see if one card has appeared more often than others. What do you think it's trying to tell you?

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Step 3: The Major Arcana, Part 2

Tarot cards
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In the previous lesson, your exercise was to draw one card each day out of the first eight cards of the Major Arcana. How did you do? Did you notice any patterns, or were all your results random? Was there a particular card that stood out to you?

Today, we're going to delve a bit further into the Major Arcana, and we're also going to look at the suits of Pentacles/Coins and Wands. We'll also expand on the previous step's daily card exercise.

The Major Arcana, Part 2:

Cards 8 - 14: The Intuitive Mind

While the first section of the Major Arcana deal with our interactions in the material world, the second group of cards focuses more on the individual being, rather than societal issues. Cards 8 - 14 are based on how we feel, instead of what we do or think. These cards are attuned to the needs of our hearts, as well as our search for faith and truth. It should be noted that in some decks, Card 8, Strength, and Card 11, Justice, are in opposite positions.

8 - Strength
9 - The Hermit
10 - The Wheel of Fortune
11 - Justice
12 - The Hanged Man
13 - Death
14 - Temperance

The Suit of Pentacles/Coins

In the Tarot, the suit of Pentacles (often portrayed as Coins) is associated with matters of security, stability and wealth. It's also connected to the element of earth, and subsequently, the direction of North. This suit is where you'll find cards that relate to job security, educational growth, investments, home, money and wealth.

The Suit of Wands

In the Tarot, the suit of Wands is associated with matters of intuition, wit, and thought processes. It's also connected to the element of fire, and subsequently, the direction of South. This suit is where you'll find cards that relate to creativity, communication with others, and physical activity.

Exercise: A Three Card Layout

Last time, you drew a single card each day. You may have noticed some trends and patterns. Now, add the second batch of Major Arcana cards into your pile, as well as the Wands and Pentacles. Shuffle them every morning, and repeat the previous exercise -- only this time, you'll draw three cards each morning, rather than just one. Look at all three as not just individual cards, but as parts of a whole. How do they fit together? Do two of them seem closely related while the third seems unconnected? Write down each card that you've drawn, and as the day goes on, see if events bring the cards to mind. You may be surprised when you look back ​on your day!

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Step 4: The Major Arcana, Part 3

Tarot Cards
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In the previous step, you drew three cards each day, using the first two-thirds of the Major Arcana, and the suits of Wands and Pentacles. By now, you should be getting a good feel for the symbolism behind the different cards. Are you seeing trends in the cards you pull every morning? Be sure to keep track of what cards you get, and note whether they reveal anything to you throughout the day.

This time, we'll finish up the Major Arcana, and we'll look at the two other suits, Cups and Swords.

The Major Arcana, Part 3:

Cards 15 - 21: The Realm of Change

Within the Major Arcana, so far we've talked about the first third of the cards which deal with our interactions in the material world. The next group involves our intuitive mind and our feelings. This final group of cards in the Major Arcana, cards 15 - 21, deal with universal laws and issues. They go far beyond the feelings of the individual and the needs of society. These cards address circumstances that can forever alter our lives and the path upon which we travel.

15 - The Devil
16 - The Tower
17 - The Star
18 - The Moon
19 - The Sun
20 - Judgment
21 - The World

The Suit of Swords

The suit of Swords is associated with matters of conflict, both physical and moral. It's also connected to the element of air, and subsequently, the direction of East. This suit is where you'll find cards that relate to conflict and discord, moral choices and ethical quandaries.

The Suit of Cups

The suit of Cups is associated with matters of relationships and emotions. As you may expect, it's also connected to the element of water, and subsequently, the direction of West. It's where you'll find cards that relate to love and heartbreak, choices and decisions related to emotion, family situations, and anything else that connects to how we interact with the people in our lives.

Exercise: A Five Card Layout

Last time we used about half of the deck to draw three cards. For this step, your assignment is to use the entire deck, and pull five cards each day before you do anything else. Figure out how they apply to the events of the day, your needs and desires, and the environment surrounding you. Do you notice a certain suit appearing more often than others? Is there a trend towards Major Arcana cards?

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Step 5: Tarot Spreads

Tarot spread
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By now you should be feeling pretty comfortable with the idea of looking at a card and figuring out not only its meaning but how it applies to you. After all, you've been pulling cards each day, right? Have you noticed that one card keeps appearing more than others? Is there a trend towards a certain number or suit?

Now we're going to work on three very simple spreads that you can try, which are perfect for beginners, and will help you look at different aspects of a question. If we look at Tarot cards as a tool of guidance, rather than just "fortune telling," we can use them to evaluate a situation to decide on the right course of action.

The Pentagram Spread

The pentagram is a five-pointed star sacred to many Pagans and Wiccans, and within this magical symbol, you'll find a number of different meanings. Within the pentagram, each of the five points has a meaning. They symbolize the four classical elements -- Earth, Air, Fire, and Water -- as well as Spirit, which is sometimes referred to as the fifth element. Each of these aspects is incorporated into this Tarot card layout.

The Romany Spread

The Romany Tarot spread is a simple one, and yet it reveals a surprising amount of information. This is a good spread to use if you are just looking for a general overview of a situation, or if you have several different interconnected issues that you're trying to resolve. This is a fairly free-form spread, which leaves a lot of room for flexibility in your interpretations.

The Seven Card Horseshoe

One of the most popular spreads in use today is the Seven Card Horseshoe spread. Although it utilizes seven different cards, it’s actually a fairly basic spread. Each card is positioned in a way that connects to different aspects of the problem or situation at hand.

Exercise: Practice a Layout

Your homework assignment is to practice these three layouts - try each of them at least once. Use them to read for yourself every day -- and if possible, try to read for someone else. If you're worried that you'll get things "wrong," don't panic. Ask a good friend or trusted family member to let you read for them, using one of the above spreads. Let them know you need some practice, and ask them to give you honest feedback about how you're doing.

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Step 6: More About the Tarot

Tarot cards
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After the previous lesson, you should have spent some time working with the Pentagram layout, the Seven Card Horseshoe, and the Romany spread. How did you do? Did you get a chance to read for someone else? Are you feeling more comfortable with the interpretations of the cards?

In this step, we'll wrap things up with the fairly detailed Celtic Cross spread. We'll also talk about those rare occasions where a Tarot reading just doesn't work - and what to do when it happens - as well as the question of whether the moon phase matters in Tarot and finally, how you can use Tarot cards in spellwork.

The Celtic Cross

The Tarot layout known as the Celtic Cross is one of the most detailed and complex spreads used. It's a good one to use when you have a specific question that needs to be answered, because it takes you, step by step, through all the different aspects of the situation.

When Tarot Readings Fail

Believe it or not, sometimes -- no matter how hard you try -- it's just impossible to get a good reading for someone. There are a variety of reasons for this, and it's not as unusual as you may expect. Here's what to do if it happens to you. 

Make Your Own Tarot Cards

So maybe you're someone who doesn't want to buy a deck - perhaps you haven't found one you like, or nothing you see really resonates with you. No worries! Many people get crafty and creative and make their own Tarot cards. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind if you're making your own deck.

Tarot Readings and Moon Phases

Do you have to wait for a specific phase of the moon to do your Tarot reading? While you don't necessarily have to wait - especially if you've got an urgent matter at hand - let's look at some reasons why people choose particular lunar phases to do different types of readings.

Using Tarot Cards in Spellwork

Ever wonder if you can use Tarot cards to cast a spell? You sure can - it just takes some familiarity with the cards and their meanings. Here's a guide to get you started.

Congratulations!

You've finished your six-step Introduction to Tarot study guide! By now, you should have a good grip on not only the cards and their meanings but also how you can read them. Take some time each day to work with your Tarot deck, even if you only have time to pull one card in the morning. Try to read not only for yourself but for other people.

If you've found this study guide useful, be sure to check out our Introduction to Paganism Study Guide, which includes thirteen steps to help you build a foundation of basic Pagan knowledge.

Remember, Tarot reading is not "fortune telling" or "predicting the future." It is a tool for introspection, self-awareness, and guidance. Use your cards each day, and you'll be surprised at the depth of information they will reveal to you!