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Learning to Read Tarot Cards

Some Basic Advice about Reading Tarot

Rider Waite Tarot Spread
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of reading tarot cards is how subjective it is. It's both positive and negative that there is no simple formula for interpreting the tarot. Reading tarot cards is an art that combines skill and practice with intuition and emotion, making it as rewarding as it is challenging.

Tarot Card Meanings

Tarot cards must be read "in context." The same card can have different meanings depending upon its location in a spread, its location relative to other cards, and the question asked. Combined with the fact that there are 78 cards in tarot deck, infinite spreads (card layouts), and hundreds (if not thousands) of different decks, itís understandable that some people spend their entire life honing their tarot reading skills.

The good news is that itís totally doable ó and totally fun! Reading tarot cards can be incredibly satisfying, not to mention useful. Along the way, you will learn more about yourself than you thought possible and you will gain a sense of accomplishment and ďinsideĒ knowledge.

Learning Tarot is Like Learning a Language

You can compare the tarot to a language. Can anyone ever know every meaning of every single word in any language? Of course not. So with Tarot. It is a language in itself ó a language of symbols.

Just as an individual word can have multiple meanings, so can every individual card. Beyond simple definitions, every word can have multiple connotations that vary with the context in which its used, the setting, and the tone of the speaker. Have you ever heard, ďItís not what you said, itís how you said itĒ? This applies to every language and no less to the tarot.

Can anyone read tarot cards? Sure they can. But just like learning a foreign language, some will have a natural talent for it, while others may struggle. And just like a foreign language, there's more to it than just memorizing lists of vocabulary and verb conjugations. To be fluent in tarot, to be able to pull poetry from a spread, it takes an appreciation for the finer nuances of the symbolic language. And it takes practice, practice, practice. Even Shakespeare worked at his art, and so must the tarot reader.

The key to successfully reading tarot is found in honest study and honing your natural intuition. You know that feeling you get ďin your gutĒ sometimes that no one can really explain? To be able to effectively interpret a tarot spread, you have to trust your gut. Doing so will probably take some practice. When looked at this way we see that tarot is more than just rote memorization of card meanings. It also involves confidence, trust, and dedication. Most Tarot enthusiasts meditate regularly to become more adept at hearing and understanding their subconscious minds.

Learn the Symbols, Listen to Your Heart

There are essentially only two parts to learning to read tarot cards: studying the common symbols of tarot and learning to tap into that special part of you that is connected to the whole of the universe. Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification of the process, but it is the framework upon which successful tarot reading is built.

Learn the Symbols

In the basic tarot deck, the symbols draw upon magical traditions, Christian mysticism, Paganism, world mythology, astrology, numerology, and alchemy. One could spend an entire lifetime studying these traditions, but a comprehensive understanding is not necessary to a successful tarot reading. A basic understanding however, is helpful.

Listen to Your Heart

Learning to listen to your subconscious is crucial. There are countless exercises and guided meditations designed to help you learn to listen, and more importantly, to hear your inner voice. Because meditation is an art itself, and can be very frustrating to beginners, a good place to begin is to think of each card as a piece of art. Most of us have stood in front of a painting and just looked at it. You donít have to understand color theory and composition to appreciate beautiful art. It certainly helps, but itís not a prerequisite. Go ahead and try it now:

Listening Exercise

  • Get a pencil and piece of paper. Youíre about to start your tarot journal.
  • Pull a card from your tarot deck. Any card will do.
  • Now look at it. Donít worry about its divinatory meaning or understanding its symbolism. Just look at it. Let the cardís imagery draw you in.
  • What do you feel? Can you describe the colors? Does the image remind of you something ó a feeling, a dream, a person, a memory? Whatís the first thing that pops into your mind?
  • Before you forget the sensation, write down which card you pulled and your initial reactions to it.

Youíre done! Itís that simple. You may want to look up the meaning of that card and compare it with what you felt. Though every cardís meaning is somewhat standardized, your own interpretation will color and highlight how you read the card. Thatís whatís so beautiful about tarot ó every reader and every reading is unique and personal.

Without your own spin on it, a card is just a piece of paper with some pretty pictures.

During your ďLearning the TarotĒ journey itís always a good idea to journal. Since youíre essentially learning a new language Ė a symbolic language Ė taking notes is never a bad idea. Years from now youíll be able to look back a see how far you've come. Itís a journey that will change you forever.

by Shana Leslie-Diamond

Last Updated: 23 October 2015

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