A word that basically summed up what I felt when I decided to learn how to read the tarot. Frankly, it was a fair assessment given that I grew up in a small Filipino Catholic household and have no one to teach me firsthand. When I thought of memorizing seventy-eight card meanings and piecing them together to form a coherent reading made me question why I even wanted to do it. However, I was able to push through those anxieties because I had a genuine interest and curiosity in this craft. With the Halloween Tarot, its guidebook, and the Predictions Library: Tarot by David Barrett on hand, I decided to forge my way into the fun and (sometimes) frustrating study of the cards.
If you feel that you can relate to what I described and/or you are just starting your own journey, then I think you might find something useful in what I have to share here. As with anything I write on this blog it is always important to remember to take what resonates with you and just leave the rest behind.
“The study of tarot should be done with genuine interest whether you want to pursue it as a hobby or a profession.”
This might sound so obvious for you guys, but I just wanted to reiterate that having a keen and enthusiastic interest in the tarot will help you in your lifelong study of the cards. I love that the tarot and other woo-woo practices are having a big moment right now in the masses and I am one of those people that promotes the normalization of these topics.
The tarot is truly a special tool to have at our disposal and I honestly believe that everyone should dabble into it with genuine intentions (as with everything in life). I say “genuine” because if you’re not genuinely interested in the craft, you might find the entire study of it daunting and you won’t be able to reap the wonderful benefits of it. Without this authentic driving force, you might feel like you’re wasting time studying, understanding, and connecting with the archetypes of the deck.
If you are just planning on doing this as a party trick then be irreverent with it as much as you wish (hopefully not to a point that you’re causing harm though, but you do you). Honestly, this was one of the main reasons why I wanted to learn how to read the cards! I wanted to wow my friends with my skills and getting to see the reactions of people when you hit something right on the nail is such a treat, if I say so myself. However, despite this light-hearted intention I really enjoyed learning the stories of the cards in itself that I knew it’ll be a lifelong passion of mine.
It took me years of reading books, listening to podcasts, watching video tutorials, and mustering the confidence to let go of my crutches before I realize that I have a heartfelt investment in continuously learning this amazing modality of healing and divination. I love the fact that there’s always something new to learn about each card; on how to interpret them, and having the ability to formulate my own personal connections with it. The tarot, like any other field that is rooted in passion and real interest, is an ongoing journey of practical study and education. You will learn something new with every reading that you do and every book or educational resources you consume. So if that sense of curiosity has led you to discover an honest interest in this field, then all I can wish for you is to enjoy every single moment of it.
“Choose a deck that speaks to you.”
This tip might sound too woo-woo for many, but I honestly believe that it is essential to use a deck that speaks to you. The age-old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” really applies to the tarot because reading the cards requires us to decipher the image’s core messages and apply it to the context of our (and/or our querent’s) questions.
This is why a lot of tarot books and/or teachers often ask newbies to get the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) tarot deck as a primer because every single card has some sort of story in it that one can read, regardless if they know the traditional interpretations or not. Even if you are clueless about the meanings of the cards, you will immediately get a general vibe off of it by simply looking at the illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith (this is the main reason why I am an advocate for this tarot deck).
Side Tangent: I can totally understand that the RWS will not suit everyone’s taste and that the images are very cist gendered, male-dominated, and all-caucasian. There are tons of other RWS alternatives out there that can suit your interests and aesthetic needs (i.e. Morgan-Greer Tarot and Modern Witch by Lisa Sterle).
Having way too many esoteric symbolism in an image can be confusing for beginners (heck, even I am still overwhelmed when I see decks that are drenched in occult symbolism). Unless if you want to immediately study the mystical nature of the tarot upfront, it might be best for you to stick to a simpler and easier tarot deck to read with. Different websites can let you preview the cards’ images, which will allow you to get to know the art style of a deck before you purchase it. Investigate your prospective tarot deck as much as you can and honestly evaluate if the art evokes certain emotions within you.
“Familiarize yourself with the core meanings of the cards first before working with pure intuition.”
Intuition is definitely one of the integral parts of any cartomancy practice and I am by no means belittling or dismissing it. However, I honestly believe that the most important step in learning about the tarot (especially if you are new) is knowing the basics of the system that you have chosen for yourself.
Side Tangent: There are many different schools of thought in tarot, but the most popular ones are the RWS system, the Thoth system, and the Tarot de Marseille system. Each of these methods (and the ones that I have not mentioned here) have their own distinct ways of interpreting and reading the cards. I, myself, have only worked with the RWS style because it is the most widely known out of the three and there are loads of resources available for us to consume (online and offline). It is considered by many the foundation of what the masses’ concept of the tarot, but I digress.
Anyway, as a beginner, the Little White Booklets (or LWB) of the decks I purchased and tarot books such as Predictions Library: Tarot Book by David Barrett and Secrets of Tarot by Annie Lionnett were my go-to resources. These were my constant companions when I was reading for myself, close friends and family members, and I wasn’t shy to blatantly reference these (and you shouldn’t either). Once, I tried to memorize the meanings in an “overnight” fashion to appear legit, but I ended up consulting my resources in fear that I wasn’t right. Although I’ve learned that there isn’t any right or wrong way to interpret these archetypes, I am still thankful that I took that time to be conscious of the core meanings because it allowed me to know the vocabulary of my system in a deep and connected way. That is why I chose the word “familiarize” over “memorize” because having that intimate understanding is much more powerful than simply remembering its textbook definition.
In time, reading these books and relating the information I have gathered to what I was going through helped me become adept in knowing the core values of each card. I also learned what definitions worked for me and what didn’t (i.e. ACE OF CUPS isn’t always about new love coming into our lives rather it can be about being more emotionally open and vulnerable towards the situation). This is when I began to use my intuition in conjunction with my knowledge. It came naturally because of my prior commitment to learning the language of the system. So please don’t rush the process, my friends.
Pro Tip: I suggest you choose one keyword that is associated with a card and only stick to that whenever you do your initial readings. Knowing only seventy-eight keywords by heart can make the learning process easier for you and when you are confident enough to distinguish each card on its own then you can begin to be as complex with it as you wish.
I hope that these tips prove to be helpful in your pursuit of the tarot. Studying this system can be intimidating for sure, but it is a fun, powerful, and transformative tool to understand yourself and your environment.