What is tarot? While tarot is often regarded as some ancient, other-worldly device, using tarot cards in modern life isn’t something reserved just for psychics and experienced readers, tarot is for everyone. Tarot cards are actually quite easy to use and totally accessible for beginners. All you need to get started is a basic understanding of what they represent and how you can apply them to your life.
At its core, tarot is a tool for the conscious inquisition into the self, providing us a guide by which to assess and reflect on our lives. A tarot deck tells a story: through 78 distinct archetypes, tarot cards illustrate myths and symbols that are allegorical of our life experiences and the situations faced by humanity.
By reading your own lived experiences in the cards, practicing tarot allows you to become part of the collective human experience. By working with the magic of tarot, you are no longer alone in an isolated struggle for meaning or clarity; you are part of a greater whole.
How Tarot Cards Work
Tarot cards aren’t prophetic or fortune-telling devices, rather they are simply our mirrors. With each card representing a tiny window into the collective consciousness, they don’t give yes or no responses or clear-cut answers but rather work in conjunction with your intuition and feelings. Through its own unique language of imagery and symbolism, tarot cards help bring order, structure, and healing to our lives.
To learn tarot’s language, you must sense your way through its various patterns and themes over time and let the messages simmer. Tarot isn’t something to be studied, it is something to be felt through the lens of your own life. A great way to do this is through a practice called Tarot Journaling.
Number of Cards in a Tarot Deck
A typical tarot deck has 78 cards. These 78 archetypes tell the story of all of the desires, struggles, wisdom, and mysteries that intrinsically bind us together as human beings. By working with the universal symbols of tarot, you are finding a direct connection to the diversity of life experiences. The simple act of holding a deck of tarot cards instantly links you to the collective consciousness – powerful stuff.
A tarot deck is broken up into three major categories: the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana, and the court cards. What type of deck you use isn’t as important as how connected to the deck you feel – to try a beginner-friendly deck with thought-provoking imagery, check out the Wild Unknown deck by Kimberly Krans.
The 22 tarot cards of the Major Arcana, the first cards of the deck, represent the individual path to self-discovery and mark a passage through the human experience. Sometimes referred to as “trump” cards, these cards represent the large, swirling patterns of human life: the inner journey that will hopefully bring us to true integration with all things. The journey from a Fool with a beginner’s mind to the realization of the unlimited beauty and abundance of the World (otherwise known as the Fool’s Journey).
The remaining 56 cards are made up of 16 court cards and 40 Minor Arcana cards. The 16 court cards rule the four elements: fire, water, earth, and air. These cards personify the deck, representing individual agencies. They allow us to see in human form the specific qualities associated with each of the four suits.
The 40 minor arcana cards are numbered ace to ten. They help us explore the day-to-day obstacles and opportunities present in everyday life.
Reading Your Own Cards
There is no right or wrong way to pull a tarot card – if you approach your deck intuition first, the card meant for you will always find you. However, picking tarot cards involves synchronicity and each tarot practitioner needs to find their own way with the cards.
To begin your tarot card reading, start by gently shuffling the deck image side down to infuse your spirit and energy into the reading. It is important to think about the questions you want to ask while you shuffle. Avoid yes or no questions and try to keep them broad: instead of asking “will X happen?”, instead try “what energies can I embody to bring me closer to X?”
Next, it’s time to cut your deck. Start by intuitively picking up the top two-thirds of the deck, leaving the bottom third of the cards face down. Now divide the cards in your hand into two more piles, placing them face down moving to the right. Now with the three piles in front of you, place the middle pile of cards on top of the first one-third pile (now two-thirds in size) and place it on the remaining pile on the far right.
Your deck is now cut and ready for reading – fan your tarot cards face down in a semi-circular crescent moon shape. Use your intuition to select your cards. If you are a beginner, stay with spreads of three cards or less to start out. Make sure to finish selecting all of your cards before flipping any over.
Before you rush to look up the card’s meaning, first spend a few minutes exploring the card’s imagery. What jumps out at you? What feelings does it provoke?
Letting the Cards Speak
To gain meaning from the cards, it is essential that you allow their stories to inform your own. Tarot cards can’t be interpreted without proper context. There must be a conversation between the cards and your higher self for the cards to carry tangible impact.
Any time a card from the Major Arcana shows up in a reading, you know you are at a specific point in the Fool’s journey- think about the big picture of your life.
A minor card indicates an element – figure out which and what specific meaning it has. A minor card is usually indicative of our choices rather than our destiny.
A court card indicates an element and a personality. They show us how aspects of ourselves engage the energies of tarot. Pay attention to who in your life that card could represent, whether it is someone you know or yourself.
As you start your tarot journey, it is important to remember that tarot is intentionally murky. The cards hold an inherent non-duality, incapable of giving straightforward yes or no answers. It is through embracing this murkiness where we encounter tarot’s magic. Not in worrying about doing it right, but in being totally open to any and all possibilities.