The Beginner's Overview of The Tarot:

I. Introduction to the Tarot
II. The Major Arcana
III. The Minor Arcana
IV. How to Read Tarot Cards
V. Bonding with the Cards
VI. Tarot Spreads
VII. Tarot Reference Works


IV. How to Read Tarot Cards:


Tarot cards are a very powerful tool that can help us to answer the questions we have as well as help us to learn more about ourselves. Some Tarot readers believe that you should never read for yourself-only for others. There is no reason that it should be, or needs to be this way, nor is there any proof that self-readings are false. Tarot cards are meant to answer questions, and it doesn't matter who asks them. In most cases, the person asking the question is called the "querent," which the book The Mystical Tarot calls a "curious term and a nonword." The correct term for the questioning part is the "querist." Another term sometimes used is the "seeker."

Ever since the Tarot was made popular as a way of fortune-telling, a variety of spreads has been created to pull the most meaning from the cards. Many modern practitioners of the Tarot have devised their own spreads, and almost every Tarot deck on the market today comes with instructions on how to perform that deck's own spread. Later on, some of the more familiar and basic spreads will be mentioned and explained.

What to Ask the Cards:

The cards can function best as an advisor, or a mirror. They can reflect forces in motion, reveal direction, and show possible/probable outcomes. The cards, when asked a question based on direction or outcomes that do not necessarily have a yes/no answer, can tell us if were are on the correct path or if we have strayed off the path that is best for us. The Tarot can advise what to do in situations, and can give us the best course of action. However, the outcome depends totally and completely on the person and the choices he or she makes in the future.

The Tarot can also be used to divine the future. These questions call for a spread designed to pull a yes or no answer from the cards, or one that is intended to give answers based on specific time frames, such as seasons, months, or years.

One must keep in mind that the Tarot is only a tool to help you see what is or may be going on around you. What the cards tell you is not what is definately going to happen, but what may happen depending on the paths you choose to take.

Working with Spreads:

For starters, you may want to keep a Tarot journal in which you record each reading you do. Include the date of the reading, the seeker's question, and a sketch of the spread. Make notes of things you notice. This will be interesting and insightful for you to go over again at later dates.

Though each spread differs from all of the rest, they all begin the same way; the seeker comes with a question. The question, if stated out loud, should be written down in your journal for later study, then the cards are shuffled.. If the question is asked inwardly, it should be concentrated to the cards mentally by the seeker as they shuffle the cards. The cards are shuffled first by the seeker until they feel that they are done, and then by the practitioner. The cards are then given back to the seeker, who cuts the deck into 3 piles, which are not necessarily uniform, from right to left. The practitioner then reforms the deck by taking the piles and placing them on top of each other, from right to left. After this, place the cards in the chosen spread. If you are reading for another, use only a spread that you are familiar with. Never try out a new spread on someone else.

Interpreting the Cards:

When you being to interpret the cards, keep in mind that the Tarot are designed for insight and not for dictation. Decisions should never be made on the Tarot alone-or on any other divination tool. Tarot readings should be conducted with the intent of helping the seeker look at their situation in a new way. If there are any obstacles, the reading should help the seeker get fresh, new ideas for a solution. When you read for others, you should counsel them that the reading is only for giving insight, and their outcome should be weighed along with many other factors before deciding.

How to Make the Most of a Reading:

When you begin giving readings for other people, you should be familiar enough with the cards that you don't need to read the descriptions for each card during the reading. However, if you are unsure of a card, it is best to consult the description, rather than guess at a card's meaning. Reading the Tarot cards in a spread is a mix of seeing and conveying the meanings of individual cards, as well as getting the whole picture they paint for you. Do not feel limited to the literal meanings of the cards. Instead, use your imagination and your intuition to delve deeper into their meanings to give a more personalized reading. Look at them individually and collectively, and try to get a feel for the syngergism of the spread.

If the reading seems ambiguous or indefinite, don't be put off as there are many reasons of why that is. These reasons will be discussed later.

After all the cards have been layed out in their proper positions, analyze the spread carefully. Whether the readitng is for yourself or someone else, look for patterns in the spread as well as similarities and differences in the suits and arcanas. Talk about what you see or feel. Does the reading come as a surprize? Does it reveal another path or choice you may have that you could have overlooked? What does the reading say about the seeker? By answering these questions, you can make the reading more personalized as well as help the seeker in their quest for answers.

When Problems Arise:

Every once in a while, a reading just won't go right. The cards will seem incomplete and you might wish that the spread has one or two more card positions to help make things clearer. In these circumstances, it is perfectly acceptable to turn over additional cards for a little more information, but do this only after the origional spread has been discussed with the seeker, and the problem seems unresolved or the seeker needs a little extra assurance. However, three cards seems to be the limit when it comes to extra help. After that, there is something wrong with the reading.

Possible Problems in Readings:

1) The seeker had not posed the question clearly.

Internal conflict or confusion may prevent the seeker from seeing the matter objectively. If this is the case, help the seeker reframe the question, and then do another reading.

2) The real question has not been posed.

The cards may be saying that something in the seeker's life, other than the question asked, is more pressing and needs attention. Perhaps it is something the seeker had been trying to avoid. Probe with gentle questions like, "Is there another matter concerning you?" and "Is your question part of a larger issue?" This may help the seeker to open up and the larger problem may be dealt with. If the seeker insists that there is nothing else, use your intuition on whether or not to do another reading.

3) The question cannot be resolved in one reading.

The reading may have multiple layers to it that must be assessed one by one. Do not try to tackle all of the layers in one sitting. Discuss the situation and decide how to best approach the situation over several sittings.

4) Your ability to tune into the seeker is impaired.

Everyone has their "off" days, and this could apply to either you or the seeker. There could be any number of reasons this occurs, but in summary, the ideal reading environment is not present. If this happens, the best thing to do is ask the seeker to come back another time, as any reading you do may not be valid.

5) You are projecting expectations.

Based upon the question and what your intuition has told you about the seeker, you may begin with a reading on what you think or believe the cards will or should say. You've allowed yourself to become attached to the outcome. In this situation, take a moment to re-center yourself and release the attachment. Look at the spread again, and let it speak for itself.

6) The reading is beyond your present ability.

This can happen to anyone who reads the cards. It means that the message the reading is trying to convey is too advanced for you to understand, yet. Be gracious about it and do not try to fake the reading. tell the seeker that for reasons beyond your control, you are not able to continue the reading. At this point, you can decide to try again with the seeker, hoping that the cards will present themselves in such a way that you can understand, or you can ask the seeker to come again at a later date.

ClockworkGrue's Quick 'n' Dirty, Utterly Non-Magickal Meta-Guide to Tarot Reading

With all respect to MizerieRose.

This is a meta-guide. The purpose here is to get you to understand How to Read Tarot Cards, not to actually give you a method for doing so. Methods for doing so are almost universally packaged with tarot decks, so if you have a deck, you have a method.

I've spent about five years with my deck, and most of this stuff I had to happen upon over time, by either intuiting it, or chancing upon bits and pieces scattered around in books and websites.

The Very First Thing You Should Know

Assuming you have a tarot deck, it seems more than likely that you probably have some sort of little booklet entitled "TAROT READING" or something similar. These vary in quality, but most of them aren't terribly useful, especially when you're first starting out. Now, you're not going to like this, but say it with me anyways:

"The first rule of tarot reading is that there are no rules."

Yeah. I know. You're thinking, Well, crap, man. Now what the hell am I supposed to do? At least that's what I thought when I first started out. Trust me, though, this is a Good Thing.

For starters, it means that like eating a Reeses, there's no wrong way to read the Tarot. The important thing is that you, the reader, feel like you're doing it right. This means that you can go ahead and use the method described in your dinky little mini-book thingummy. Maybe you always shuffle exactly three times, or you let the person you're reading for cut the deck. Whatever. It's all good. I still use the same Celtic Cross spread described in the Rider-Waite Tarot book.

The First Myth of Tarot Reading

Some people seem to think that if you have to look up a card in a book of readings, it makes you less of a reader. Poppycock. In the Olde Dayes, it was expected that a tarot reader would reference card meanings in a big old book of readings, much like the I Ching. As you learn more about the cards and how to tease meanings from them you'll move off-book, but that's the sign of somebody who's spent many an afternoon alone with a deck of cards. Don't be that devoted unless you really want to. Reading off-book inspires confidence in others, which is nice, but not essential.

This means that, if you look up a card, don't just look at the meanings. Find a book that talks about the symbolism that conveys those meanings. Maybe the book that came with your deck does a good job, but maybe it doesn't. If your deck uses modern imagery, you may be able to intuit meanings more easily. If it makes use of Ancient Egyptian and Medieval Christian mythology (such as the Rider-Waite Tarot), you probably aren't terribly familiar with the symbols the deck is talking to you with. Have faith. You can learn.

You Are Your Cards

We are all human. It would be nice if we could give objective readings to all people in all situations. If you don't feel comfortable with the question, be honest enough to say so. This might be because your negative energy will carry over to your reading, but it might just be that you'll use the indefinite nature of the cards to twist their meanings just enough to say what you want to say, or what the person wants to hear.

Ambiguous Questions Give Ambiguous Answers

Simple enough. If they want to know what "somebody" thinks of them, their answer will be about as murky. Remember, this is you talking here. If you don't know what they're talking about, you're not going to be a lot of help. Try to get the people you do readings for to be as open with you as they feel comfortable being. Also, during the reading, ask questions.

People will open up to you once you start describing what you see going on. Most likely, they came to you because they want to know something. Once they decide you're not a charlatan, they'll probably tell you much more than you ever wanted to know about their personal lives.

Remember that tarot cards only see the future about as well as you do. At their most mundane level, they provide a random sampling of possibilities to consider, a smattering of alternative points of view. The tarot is a tool to open your mind, and an open mind is what takes you into the best of all possible futures.

How to Read Tarot Cards, an Experiment.

Introduction: I finally plucked up the courage to try out a theory of mine concerning Tarot Cards and other "cold reading accessories". The theory is as follows:

Accessories are very useful in cold reading because they allow very controversial gambits to be made, increasing the hit rate at no cost to the reader's credibility.

To give an example of a controversial gambit, saying to someone at a party "You have an experience with infidelity, don't you?" is likely to earn one no more than a punch on the nose or a slap to the face. However, put into a "reading" situation one can, apropos of a message from the spirits, say "Hmmm, the Queen of Swords card is telling me you've had an experience with infidelity." And people usually react in a way that is a goldmine for the cold reader. Likely results from an infidelity type gambit are either strong denials, or strong associations. Examples:

  • Denial: "No I never have, I think people who cheat are filth" Think: moralistic. Bring up "private person" or "right and wrong" later.
  • Association: "Well, I've always been very jealous" or "My mother had an affair when I was 12" Think: jackpot! Follow these giveaways up later.
No offence can be taken because of course it's not "me" that's saying these things, it's the cards.

So how did the experiment go? I can only answer frighteningly well. Frightening that some people, even after it being explained to them exactly what I am doing, still maintain to this day that I must have some kind of "power" that works without my conscious knowledge and certainly without me wanting it to. Nothing beats wanting to believe I guess.

Experimental Method: I bought a pack of "standard" Rider-Waite Tarot cards. I made very sure that I wasn't "contaminated" by any instruction manuals or "how to read Tarot" books. I have never read one. The little booklet that came with the deck describing each card I never read or even opened until much later. Then, by observing street-corner fortune tellers, I noticed the way they laid out the cards and had a couple of "readings" done so I could mimic the "standard phrases" used if I was lost for words. By the way, according to the readings I had, I am either going to die young or very old in a state of wealth or poverty, surrounded by my friends and loved ones at home or alone in a foreign land. So forewarned is forearmed, I guess.

Then, having realized that most people who read Tarot are actually not very "good" at showmanship, I threw out everything I had seen and developed my own spiel from scratch. Here's a portion:

Me: "First we place your RIGHT hand above the deck and your LEFT hand below it to charge the cards with your energy. Close your eyes and whisper to yourself the object of your questions tonight." (Handy Hint Arbitrary instructions seem to increase the sense in the subject that you "know what you're doing")

Subject: "mumble mumble mumble." (Handy Hint Most people when requested to whisper something to themselves in a theatrical setting like a Tarot reading will move their lips, and often many intelligible key words can be gleaned simply by listening closely.)

Me: "Now I lay out the cards in the ancient Druidic (Roman, Kabbalah, insert anachronism here) formation, reflecting the WORLD ABOVE and the WORLD BELOW." (Handy Hint Despite the temptation of an appeal to tradition, I find using a well-known card configuration decreases your chance of "success". People regard you as more of a "visionary" if you show them something they haven't seen.)

And so on.

Results: It was utterly amazing the effect on people of a simple cold read, coupled with a little showmanship, a dollop of pop psychology, and my "controversial statements" technique outlined above. "Best reading ever" "Really felt I got something out of that" "You really have a gift" All these and more! Not that I want to boast. Of course always at the end and sometimes at the beginning I made sure to explain what I had done or was going to do, including explaining how I "knew" what I knew, what they had told me inadvertently (usually a lot) and what I had told them (usually nothing).

Conclusion: As I said in my introduction I was quite disturbed at the credulity of many folk. And of course once you start doing these things, even with the explanation, you get a reputation for being a "great tarot reader" and people approach you offering money. Did I ever take any? No, of course not. The most disquieting aspect was folk who really "needed" something, anything, from someone. Turning them down, quite bluntly, by saying that it had all been an experiment, begging them to go look at James Randi's website, and telling them I thought Tarot a load of hookum and that they should probably see a real professional was difficult. People want to believe, they really really do.

Disclosure: I am a well-known debunker for my friends. If anyone who knows me wants to know how a magic trick is done or some such, they usually come ask me, which is flattering in one sense I guess. I have never seen a magic trick I cannot immediately see through. I have (rightly, some would say) been eternally banned from accompanying almost everyone I know to things like David Copperfield performances. As this writeup contains debunking terms like cold reading and hit, I apologise to any believers for offence caused.

Disclosure Example: I once convinced some friends that their Ouija board (sometimes called a weegie board) would stop working if I joined the circle, because of my sceptical aura. That and strong downward pressure, but I didn't explain that bit. I have strong, long fingers and it's easy for me to appear to be applying just fingertip pressure whilst actually pressing very hard. Needless to say, the more credulous in the group were "amazed" that my prediction proved true. All I had to do was take my hand away and it would start "working" again! Also, if you are not concentrating on "lightly placing your finger in the indentation" and "allowing the spirit to take control", you can easily feel who is steering the cup. Make that person take their hand off, and it stops working again. It's a kind of magic.

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