This beginner tarot article will give an overview of the basic principles of tarot and how to get started reading. If you’re interested in how to choose beginner-friendly tarot decks, check out my article on that.
You can also check out my more advanced article on the 9-card tarot spread.
There are no shortcuts in life. Tarot is no exception.
There’s no fast way to develop the skill. It will develop and mature over time. Every person will have their own personal styles and techniques.
Many people want to just memorize the meanings and be done. This is a reasonable way to start your journey into tarot, but as you’ll see below, meanings change based on context and intuition.
Sticking to a set of memorized meanings is the surest way to produce incorrect readings.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
You will need a deck and a flat surface. I personally like my reading area to be distraction-free. I want lots of space with nothing extra around.
Some people like to do a purification ritual, light candles or incense, say a prayer, or other preparatory rituals. I’ll probably write a whole different article about this.
Anything that helps you get in the right frame of mind is great.
You don’t want to be distracted and thinking about other things. You should be calm and positive.
If you need to do a reading, and you know you’re in a bad mood or you sense negative energy, then you’ll want to do more preparation. This is probably the number one beginner tarot mistake.
Beginner Tarot Spreads
A spread refers to the layout of the cards on the table. This will be determined before beginning a reading. Each card position will determine its function in the reading.
There are more spreads than you could ever imagine, and as you grow as a reader, you’ll probably develop your own that no one else uses.
The more you work with a particular spread, the more experience and intuition you’ll develop for how the cards in various positions relate to each other and what their meanings are.
The key thing about a spread is to have a firm intention behind each position.
There are two spreads that will use in this article that
They are simple and once you see them, you’ll never forget them. No memorization or complicated patterns required!
These will serve you well for the rest of your life, but I do urge you to seek out new ones that speak to you or even develop your own as soon as you feel comfortable.
Simple One-Card Spread
This is exactly what it sounds like. You’ll pull a single card for this reading. This spread works nicely any time you want to answer a question as directly and simply as possible.
Do not underestimate this one just because it’s so simple. An experienced reader can see a lot from just one card, but a beginner tarot reader can learn a lot from it as well.
This is also a common spread for people who use the tarot daily for personal reflection or journaling.
Basic Three-Card Spread
The other one we’ll use is a basic three-card spread. The first card represents the past; the second represents the present; the third represents the future.
You’ll place the cards one after another just like that.
What do the Cards Mean?
The cards have standard classical meanings. It is good to learn these first. This can seem like a daunting task, but use the cards to your advantage in this process.
When I was first learning the cards, I kept a notebook. I’d focus on a
The act of writing these things down into my notebook solidified these into my memory.
I’d also keep notes on other things I saw on the card.
For quite a long time, you’re going to keep seeing new things you didn’t notice before, especially if you’ve picked a deck with detailed artwork.
Many decks actually have whole books associated with them to help you see and understand the cards, the art, and intended meanings of the card.
I strongly urge you to spend time with these books and not just the “original” meanings associated with each card that you might find on a webpage. This is another beginner tarot mistake: sticking to firmly to predetermined meanings.
Not all decks will read the same, so general purpose meanings won’t give you the best readings.
Make it Your Own
Once you have these meanings down, you’ve only just begun the process. As I pointed out in my article on choosing a deck, you’re going to want a deck that speaks to you.
You can’t stick to the meanings you’ve memorized.
There is an important role for intuition in tarot.
When the cards are in the spread, you need to take into account what they are saying: the context of the spread and the surrounding cards will matter.
Sometimes cards will even pull you far away from your memorized meaning.
You should go with the flow of this.
Keep your energy positive and your mind open. Let the cards speak for themselves. This is why tarot takes a long time to develop.
Experience will help you stay open and centered during the reading.
It’s a difficult skill to keep the positioning, meanings, questions, and relationships in your head all at once while letting meanings and symbols flow and speak to you.
Let’s Do a Sample Reading
I’ll just reiterate that there’s no substitute for setting the right tone and frame of mind. There’s also something about the tactile nature of feeling the cards and looking at them in person.
This is all to say that looking at pictures on your computer screen isn’t the best way to get a good reading.
I’ll do this reading for myself. I felt some anxiety when I woke up this morning. I want to explore this, so I’ll use the one card spread to answer the question of what this is about.
I’ve pulled the six of swords. If you need help interpreting this card, check out this guide on the Minor Arcana. I’m drawn to the turbulent water more than usual, probably because I’m keeping the anxiety in mind. But the boat is traveling toward the calmer water.
There’s a family in the boat, and it strongly resonates with me that I feel like I’m often doing all the work carrying the family forward.
This is certainly the source of my anxiety, but I also understand the calmer water ahead.
It isn’t the case that I’m actually doing all the work.
I should let go of this feeling and travel forward into the calmer water. My anxiety will decrease by letting go of what’s passed.
This is all pretty standard in the symbolism of the card, so you see I didn’t need to stray too far. I let the card guide me the whole time.
Notice how different the reading would have been if I had just memorized “travel” as the main meaning of the card.
This is why you can’t just learn a single association for each one.
I won’t do a focus question, though you certainly can with the past/present/future spread.
Some people do this spread by flipping one over at a time. I used to do it this way, too, but I’ve recently liked flipping them all over before beginning. This way I can associate with the meanings.
This time I’ll read it as if it’s
Past: Seven of Wands
Future: King of Wands
My eye is drawn to Judgement, as it’s the only Major Arcana card. Plus, it’s right in the middle. I strongly feel this reading is about the past, present, and future of your ability to forgive and ask for forgiveness.
In your past, you were a high achiever. The Seven of Wands is about conquering. I’m noticing he’s off balance, though.
This together with the present Judgement leads me to believe you might have burned some bridges as you climbed to success in the past, probably in your career.
The future has the King of Wands. He’s kind and honest.
I’m getting that you probably have some guilt about someone in particular you hurt or left behind.
The king can be fatherly or even a mentor.
If you can manage to ask forgiveness and atone for whatever wrong you committed, you’ll come out the other side a mentor and friend to this person. They will give you their forgiveness. Enough time has passed.
The time for this is now. The Judgement card being in the present position means you could miss this opportunity if you wait.
Let’s go over the key points for learning tarot as a beginner.
- Choose a deck that speaks to you.
- Learn the standard meanings.
- Stay open and positive for alternate meanings.
- Build a narrative between the cards based on their positions in the spread.
- Give it time. Your understanding of the cards and their positions will deepen with experience.
Hopefully, the sample readings help you see how to put all these pieces into practice. You’ll soon move on from beginner tarot to more advanced spreads!
Click here for the cheapest Rider-Waite tarot deck I’ve seen.
Keeping a Tarot journal can be very beneficial to beginners.