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Understanding Tarot: A Comprehensive Guide to Tarot Reading

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Tarot uses archetypes. It is a picture book of the human condition, reflecting our states of mind and stages of life. Over the past 600 years, people have consulted the cards for religious instruction. They seek spiritual insight, self-knowledge, and prediction of the future. The ancient symbols we see on the cards are meant to stimulate our intuition. They connect us with our higher selves or our divine or spiritual aspects.

Table of Contents

History of Tarot

By comparison, the Tarot is a relatively new system of divination. It began to emerge in late 18th-century Europe and was more fully developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the Tarot’s roots go back much further regarding the deck’s structure, imagery, and esoteric wisdom.

In the 18th century, French scholars and aristocrats became interested in esoteric, or “occult,” subjects. These subjects include divination, magic, and alchemy. They did as others in Europe had done over many centuries. They rediscovered and built on older philosophical and mystical traditions. These included Jewish Kabbalah, Pythagorean theory, other Greek philosophy, and Hermetic teachings.

These are part of ancient and medieval spiritual exploration. They are called Western esotericism or the “Western Mystery Tradition.” It is still alive today. We will see. Many aspects of this tradition have influenced our understanding of the Tarot. They shaped its development. One such figure was Antoine Court de Gébelin. In 1781, he published an essay.

It was the first known work on the Tarot as a means of esoteric enlightenment. This inspired other “occultists,” as such seekers were known, to expand on de Gébelin’s ideas. A few years later, another Tarot fan, Jean-Baptiste Alliete (who went by “Etteilla”), published the first guide on using Tarot cards for divination. Several decades later, another influential occult scholar, Éliphas Lévi, joined them. Lévi’s teachings on the Tarot are widely credited as the most significant of his time. This is especially true for his ideas about its relationship to Kabbalah. His influence stretched into the 20th century and beyond.

Structure of a Tarot Deck

Major Arcana

  • The deck has 22 cards. They represent important life events, spiritual lessons, and major archetypes.
  • In this framework, the cards may reflect the major events we encounter as we move through our lives. They may also represent our psychological or spiritual journey, which is about the lessons our souls chose to learn during this present life. In practice, the Major Arcana addresses intangible aspects of our life experience.
  • Names:
    1. The Fool
    2. The Magician
    3. The High Priestess
    4. The Empress
    5. The Emperor
    6. The Hierophant
    7. The Lovers
    8. The Chariot
    9. Strength
    10. The Hermit
    11. Wheel of Fortune
    12. Justice
    13. The Hanged Man
    14. Death
    15. Temperance
    16. The Devil
    17. The Tower
    18. The Star
    19. The Moon
    20. The Sun
    21. Judgement
    22. The World

Minor Arcana

The other 56 cards are the minor arcana. They are in four suits: Wands, Pentacles, Cups, and Swords. Each suit has fourteen cards, from Ace to Ten, plus four court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, and King.

The four suits each have a ruling element, and each corresponds to specific areas of life:

Cups: the element of Water; emotions and relationships

Pentacles: the element of Earth; property, money, and achievement

Swords: the element of Air; the intellect and decisions

Wands: the element of Fire; instinct, travel, and communication

The Suit of Wands

  • Ace of Wands, Two of Wands, Three of Wands, Four of Wands, Five of Wands, Six of Wands, Seven of Wands, Eight of Wands, Nine of Wands, Ten of Wands, Page of wands, knight of wands, Queen of wands, King of wads

The Suit of Cups

  • Ace of Cups, Two of Cups, Three of Cups, Four of Cups, Five of Cups, Six of Cups, Seven of Cups, Eight of Cups, Nine of Cups, Ten of Cups, Page of Cups, knight of Cups, Queen of Cups, King of Cups

The Suit of Swords

  • Ace of Swords, Two of Swords, Three of Swords, Four of Swords, Five of Swords, Six of Swords, Seven of Swords, Eight of Swords, Nine of Swords, Ten of Swords, Page of Swords, knight of Swords, Queen of Swords, King of Swords

The Suit of Pentacles

  • Ace of Pentacles, Two of Pentacles, Three of Pentacles, Four of Pentacles, Five of Pentacles, Six of Pentacles, Seven of Pentacles, Eight of Pentacles, Nine of Pentacles, Ten of Pentacles, Page of Pentacles, knight of Pentacles, Queen of Pentacles, King of Pentacles

Card Attunement, Cleansing, and Protection

Tarot cards, like people, draw in energy. They absorb your energies and those of anyone else who touches them during readings. For this reason, it’s important not to let others casually touch your cards. The cards hold your energies and intentions and are personal. Here are proven ways to get used to your new deck. Cleanse the cards before a reading session. Also, protect them when you are not using them.

Attuning to a New Deck

The process of connecting with your cards is called attuning. Connecting to your cards makes your readings more accurate, insightful, and inspiring.

Before reading a new deck of tarot cards, attune to them for seven days. Do this by sleeping with your cards under your pillow. Also, please get to know them by looking at the cards daily. Touch them so your energy gets imprinted upon them. Some readers are attuned to their cards through visualization. Try this:

  1. Hold your cards in your right hand. This is known as the giving hand—and you are about to give the cards your energy.
  2. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Picture light flowing down your head, your third-eye chakra, throat, and heart . Then, it goes down your right arm, into your right hand, and the cards.
  3. Imagine your cards filling with pure light. If you work with spirit guides or angels, ask them to come close and help and protect you during the reading.
  4. Open your eyes when you are ready.

Cleansing Your Deck Before a Reading Session

When you take out your cards, clear away any old energy by blowing on and knocking on your cards as follows:

  1. Hold the cards in one hand and fan them out.
  2. Gently blow on the card edges. You can do this in one breath.
  3. Next, put the cards back in a neat pile, still holding them in one hand, and then knock firmly once on the top of the deck. Now, the deck is cleansed of old energy and ready to use.

Protecting Your Cards When You’re Not Using Them

Your cards hold your energy imprint. Like people, cards may gather extra or bad energy from people and spaces. This energy can affect your readings. So when you are not using your cards, keep them safe from the environment. This means both physically and energetically. Keep them wrapped in dark clothes, such as deep purple cotton or silk, and in a tarot bag or a box. You can also store them with a favourite crystal. For example, clear quartz is the master crystal, which keeps energies clear. Or, you can use amethyst for healing, insight, and protection. This will keep them energetically cleansed and safe.

Creating a Space for Your Readings

First, find a peaceful space where you feel relaxed and comfortable. Ensure your space has a flat, clean surface where you can lay your cards. Most readers put down a reading cloth first. It protects the cards from direct contact with the surface. The reading cloth is usually the silk cloth you wrap your cards in when not used, but any fabric you like will do.

You should perform a short ritual before laying out the cards. It will honour the ancient practice of Tarot reading that you are about to start. Our thoughts create reality. They help connect our cards, us, the person you are reading for, and your spiritual guides if you are aware of them.

Here’s a suggestion to get you started, and you can personalize your ritual as you read more:

  • 1. Light a candle in your reading space and place it on a safe surface.
  • 2. Close your eyes and take a few calming breaths.
  • 3. Visualize white light flowing from the crown of your head into your cards, as  described in the attuning exercise, or set the intention to enjoy the best Tarot reading you can.
  • 4. When you finish reading, say it’s over. Be grateful for the insights your cards and intuition gave you. Then, put your cards away.
  • 5. Blow out the candle.

Choosing Cards for Reading

  1. Shuffling the Deck

After cleaning the deck, shuffle the cards for a few moments. Relax and allow your feelings and questions to surface. You can choose the cards for a reading using either the fan method or cutting the deck. The fan method is best when you want just a few cards while cutting the deck. It suits complex layouts that need many cards, like the Celtic Cross or Tree of Life.


When reading for yourself, Spread all the cards in a fan shape. Use just your left hand, known as the hand of fate, to pick the cards one by one from anywhere in the fan. Please put them in front of you, still facedown, following your chosen spread layout.

When reading for another person:

  1. Have the person shuffle the deck.
  2. Take the deck from the recipient and fan out the cards for them.
  3. Ask the recipient to choose the cards from the fan with their left hand. Then, have them pass the cards to you so you can lay them out. Keep the cards facedown.

Cutting the Deck

When reading for yourself:

  1. Cut the deck twice with your left hand so you have three piles facedown on the table.
  2. Choose one pile to become the top of the deck and gather up the other two piles underneath it.
  3. Lay out the cards according to your chosen spread (see pages 20–28). Deal the cards from the top of the deck and put them facedown in front of you.

When reading for another person, Ask the recipient to shuffle the cards. Have the recipient split the deck into three piles using their left hand and then choose one pile. Gather the remaining two piles for the person and place their chosen pile on

top. Then, you lay out the cards.

2. Turning Over the Cards

When turning over the cards, flip them sideways—from left to right. Don’t flip them from top to bottom or vice versa. You may also turn the card upside down, which can give it a different meaning.

Using the card interpretations

As you will see, the cards have many symbols and meanings. This is especially true for the major arcana cards. Consider the cards before you look up their meaning; think about what aspect of a card you are drawn to first. This internal guidance directs you to the most relevant meaning of the card for your reading. This also means the cards can offer varying significance each time you look at them. Similarly, when you read for others, you find that you give a card a different meaning for every person who gets it. You are personalizing the reading using your intuition.

Sometimes, you’ll begin reading and can’t understand what the cards tell you. If this happens, here’s what to do:

Shuffle and lay out the cards again. If the same or similar cards arise this time, go with the reading. Relax and look at the card images. Don’t worry about reading the traditional meanings. Say what comes into your head immediately, and the words will flow.

Did the Ten of Wands come up? If so, this often means there’s too much going on just

now, and it’s not the right time to read your cards. Wait a day or two and try again.

Feeling blocked can show the recipient’s state of mind. This is if you’re reading for someone else. For example, During a recent beginners’ workshop, one of my students said, “My mind is blank. I’ve laid out the cards for Rosa, but I don’t know what’s happening here—can you help me?” Before I could respond, Rosa said, “But that’s just how I feel—totally confused. I can’t think.” If this happens to you, acknowledge the recipient’s feelings. Then, repeat the reading and ask them to let go of expectations.

Six Easy Ways to Begin Your Tarot Reading

These six techniques helped me learn the Tarot over the years, and I wish I’d known them all when I first began. Tarot is a journey, and you learn as you go. Try starting with just one or two tips and see which ones fire your intuition.

Get Intuitive: Work with Images First

You will be guided to notice certain symbols on the cards. Each card is full of symbols —but you will see one or two features that stand out in each picture. These are what I call your intuition hooks. Once you hone in on these, go deeper and connect with how they make you feel. Don’t worry about the meaning of the written card in this book just yet. Say whatever comes to your mind first. Do this before you think about what the symbols mean. Imagine yourself telling a story.

To develop the reading, look at the quick-reference meanings only (see pages 29 and 118). Then, return to the card images. Staying with the image as long as you can boosts your intuition, which is essential for reading. Reading the words engages your left brain, which is often the judge and questions whether you’ve got it “right.”

There’s no right or wrong—just your interpretation. To develop knowledge, you can read the detailed card meanings when you’re not given a reading. But first, look at the pictures. This skill can help you read any deck of cards, not just the Rider-Waite Tarot.

Use Just the Major Arcana First

Start with the major arcana cards. Then, when you’re more confident, move on to the full seventy-eight-card deck. The major arcana are the prime energies. The minors are more minor influences. Many minor cards dilute the majors. Start with majors-only readings. They ensure you see all vital info. The majors will give you or the person you are reading the essential messages.

Ignore Reversed Card Meanings

As you’re learning, use the upright card meanings. If you get reversed cards, turn them upright. Then, focus on your responses to the card in this position. Some tarot readers use reversals religiously. Others do not. This is true no matter how much experience and knowledge they have. It’s a matter of preference; go with what feels right.

Read the Suit Cards by Their Element

Try this minor arcana shortcut: Learn just the meaning of the element of each of the four suits. For example, Pentacles is the Earth element. It tells you the focus is security (home and finances, structure and planning). Wands, for Fire, reveals talking, creating, and action. Cups are of the element Water. They ask us to tend to our emotions and relationships. Swords are of the element Air. They ask for mental clarity and the need for resolution and decisions.

Read the Suit Cards by Their Numbers

Numerology is the ancient art of mystical number interpretation. Numbers have meanings, which correspond to the suit cards.

Ones (Aces) are about beginnings and new energy. Twos are about partnerships, balance, and division. Threes are about acknowledgement. Fours are about stability and boundaries. Fives are about instability and challenges. Sixes are about harmony and improvement. Sevens are about potential and ambitions.

Eights: Rewards and progress

Nines: Intensity

Tens: Culmination; endings, but also beginnings; and completion

The suit element changes the numbers. So, in the sharp suit of Swords, the Three of Swords means sorrow or betrayal (three Swords compete against one another). In the loving suit of Cups, the Three of Cups means celebration (three people make a happy crowd). Try putting together the suit element and the number and devise your interpretations.

Read Any Card by Its Colors

When interpreting it, you may be drawn to one or more colours on a card. Here’s a general guide to colour meanings:


Red: Energy, passion, and the material world

Yellow: Consciousness, illumination, and self-expression. Blue: Truth and clarity

Green: Nature and growth

Gray: Neutral; unknown outcomes

Purple: Intuition and spirituality

Black: Protection; oppression

White: Purity and innocence

Orange: Creativity and impulse

Different Uses and Benefits of Tarot

Self-Reflection and Awareness

Personal Insight: Tarot helps people understand their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. It fosters self-awareness.

Self-discovery helps explore one’s inner self. It uncovers hidden parts of personality and motivations.

Clarity and Guidance

Tarot provides insights. They can help with decisions by showing different views and potential outcomes.

Problem Solving helps find the root causes of problems. It also helps find effective solutions.

Emotional Healing and Well-being

Tarot can help people process emotions. It can also help them release pent-up feelings. This can lead to emotional healing.

It reduces stress. It offers a way to understand and manage it. This promotes emotional balance and well-being.

Personal Empowerment

Insight and understanding empower people. They feel more able to control their lives and make positive changes.

Tarot readings can boost confidence. They do this by providing reassurance and clarity in uncertain situations.

Spiritual Growth and Development

Tarot connects to one’s higher self, spirit guides, or the divine. It fosters spiritual growth.

It promotes inner peace. It offers guidance and insights that align with one’s spiritual path.

Enhanced Intuition

Using Tarot regularly can strengthen intuition. It makes people more attuned to their inner guidance.

Trusting Instincts: It encourages trusting one’s instincts and gut feelings daily.

Relationship Insights

Improved Relationships: Tarot can offer insights into how relationships work. It helps people understand and improve their interactions.

Conflict Resolution: It guides resolving conflicts and enhancing communication in relationships.

Goal Setting and Achievement

Tarot clarifies goals and dreams. It makes setting realistic and achievable objectives easier.

It offers motivation. It inspires us to stay focused and committed to our goals.

Creative Inspiration

Tarot can inspire creativity. It helps people beat creative blocks and make new ideas.

Tarot’s symbolism and imagery can inspire art. They can inspire artists to make things.

Mindfulness and Focus

Tarot encourages mindfulness. It helps people focus on the present and their current experiences.

It aids in developing concentration. You do this through meditation and contemplation with the cards.

Cultural and Historical Appreciation

Learning about Tarot gives insight into its rich history and cultural meaning. It fosters an appreciation for different traditions and beliefs.

Symbolism in tarot cards shows archetypes and universal themes. Understanding it enhances knowledge.

Entertainment and Enjoyment

Tarot readings can be fun. They provide entertainment and engaging chats with friends and family.

It can create a sense of community and connection. This happens when shared with others, as in tarot reading groups or online forums.


In conclusion, understanding the Tarot and learning to read the cards can be powerful. They can aid in personal growth and spiritual insight. By studying the rich symbols and practicing often, you can unlock the mysteries of the Tarot and integrate its wisdom into your daily life.

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