21 Tarot Card Basics For Anyone Who Wants To Learn How To Read Their Own

Posted 9 minutes ago

It’s all about that intuition.

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Have you ever experienced a tarot reading? They’re super insightful, sensitive, and kinda reassuring all at once. And they make you think, “Hey, I wanna read my own tarot!”

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Maybe you’ve gotten a one-on-one reading, tried doing tarot with your friends, or watched YouTube Pick-A-Cards!

Then, you make your spread and cross-reference each card meaning from the booklet, but you still can’t — for the life of you — make sense of it. Seriously, how do tarot readers effortlessly interpret every little detail in a way that tells your story?

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It can seem intimidating and overwhelming to enter the world of tarot. But remember, tarot is an *intuitive* tool. It’s more approachable than we think!

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And FWIW, tarot never claims to show you some future set in stone. So don’t be afraid of “finding out something” that you don’t want to know. At best, tarot can interpret your present circumstances and base a probable outcome. Then, the rest is up to you to create your future.

To help you get started, here are 21 basics of reading your own tarot cards:


Choose a deck with imagery that resonates with you — gifting superstitions be damned — because when you’re reading the cards, there’s a lot of symbolism involved.

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It’s more than just a style aesthetic: you need to connect with your deck and make sure your deck connects with you. If you’re not picking much info up from a deck (maybe the style is too minimalistic or too busy for you), it’s best to keep looking.


The Rider-Waite deck is a classic deck that’s great for beginners (most tarot decks are actually based on it), but there are so many other options out there.

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The Rider-Waite tarot deck ($12.53 on Amazon; pictured) was published in 1910 and is probably the most popular deck. There’s also the Thoth tarot deck ($21.12), another classic, created by occultist Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris.

But there are so many other beautiful decks out there, too: the Ghetto deck ($63.99) by photographer Alice Smeets, who interpreted the Rider-Waite deck using styed photos of people in Haiti; the Shining Tribe deck ($26.99) by Rachel Pollack, which incorporates culturally diverse symbolism; and the Antique Anatomy deck ($22.06) by Claire Goodchild, which draws on vintage anatomical and botanical drawings — to name an incredibly small few. Take some time and look around, you may end up with more than one!


Once you’ve chosen your deck, get familiar with each card. As in literally spend some one-on-one time with them.

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I mean, c’mon, there are 78 cards in a deck. It’ll take some time to really explore the symbolism, details, and energy of each card. So definitely don’t stress, and take your time.


An easy way to do this? Daily card pulls! Basically, you shuffle, pull one card a day for some guidance, and reflect on that card’s meaning throughout the day.

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This is perfect practice for beginners because it lets you think about each card individually. If you want to take it a step further, Biddy Tarot suggests jotting down whatever came up or you’ve figured out about the card at the end of the day.


And don’t just try to memorize the traditional meanings of the cards or think of each card as having a strict definition.

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You probably clicked this and thought it’d be, like, a list of 78 cards and their basic meanings. No. If you just read each card’s textbook definition, you won’t be able to understand the message. It’s kinda like being able to read single letters and sound them out without understanding the actual word.

(Btw, if you’re impressed by this pictured beautiful Antique Anatomy deck, it’s $22.06 on Amazon.)


Remember, tarot is a tool to access higher intuition — so use yours to interpret the cards!

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Tarot is fluid and personal and intuitive. And the way to personalize your readings is by paying attention to the details on each card. Interpreting these symbols allows you to truly access and apply the insight.


But it’s still good to understand some of the basic traditional symbolism. BC unlike movies suggest, the Death card doesn’t mean you’re gonna die — it usually signifies a transformation.

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If you’re completely new to tarot, it’s probably smart to have some idea of the symbols. Plus, each card has an overall theme that will offer some direction to your readings.


So, first things first, the tarot deck is divided into two groups: Major and Minor Arcana. (Fun fact: ‘Arcana’ means secrets or mysteries.)

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If you understand how the cards are grouped, it’ll be easier to interpret the cards and connect them — without relying on their individual meanings!


In the Minor Arcana, there are four suits — totaling 56 cards — numbered from ace to 10 and four face cards. Each suit corresponds to an element and its ruling area of life. Typically, these cards point to day-to-day or short-term events.

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Here’s what each suit represents:

• Swords represent the element of air and deal with the mind or thoughts.

• Cups represent the element of water and deal with emotions or feelings.

• Wands represent the element of fire and deal with energies or passions.

• Pentacles represent the element of earth and deal with the material, like money, career, or education.

The numbered cards tend to show situations and solutions, while court cards can also represent people you know — even you.


In the Major Arcana, there are 22 cards. When a Major Arcana card appears, it usually represents a life or thematic lesson you’re experiencing.

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Major Arcana cards can stand independently. But if you lay them out in order — they’re numbered 0 to 21 — they show the Fool’s (the Fool card is 0) journey through life (the World card is 21).


Of course, every deck is different. So different decks have their own take on imagery and suits, though they generally are variations of the typical symbols.

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For instance, this Antique Anatomy deck uses Elixirs (Cups), Rods (Wands), Coins (Pentacles), and Blades (Swords). And while all of the cards are based off of medical and botanical journals, they have the same overall meanings.


You may have noticed that most of the cards are numbered — and, yeah, they mean something. Tarot has numerological associations, which will help you read the cards.

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Numbers one through nine are the most useful to know. One represents new beginnings and opportunities, while nine represents fruition and near completion. When you hit double digits, just add each digit together.

To use an example from Biddy Tarot, seven represents reflection and assessment. So the Tower, Card 16, breaks down into a seven, because one plus six equals seven. And an important part of the Tower card is assessment, reflection, and evaluation.


Onto spreads! They add structure and guidance to your readings by laying out the cards in a way that better organizes the information.

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You’ve probably heard of the Celtic cross spread (above). But what the heck does it mean!? As you start reading tarot spreads, you’ll see how the cards interact with each other to tell a story. Maybe a certain detail appears in more than one card in your spread. Or maybe you pull a knight who faces the card on the left. By really familiarizing yourself with each card, it’ll be easier to see how they connect in your spreads.


Some spreads are better suited for different purposes than others. So try to pick one that fits your question!

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For example, a simple three-card spread could indicate that, from left to right, the cards represent the past, present, and future. This could help you understand what is affecting you from the past, what you’re facing in the present, and how this energy could direct your future. Then, you can draw connections between the cards and how they interact for more detailed insight and advice.


Of course, you can find decks that come with their own guidebooks and break down how to interpret the decks!

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Most guidebooks cover the basics — like this stuff — and specifically explain all the associations and symbolism as it pertains to its deck.


When you’re ready, ask thoughtful questions that can offer constructive responses beyond just “yes” or “no.”

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At the end of the day, tarot is a tool to help you access higher intuition — not about reading the future. So while “yes” or “no” questions are valid, make sure you’re actively seeking guidance in the cards.


For instance, beyond asking if something will happen, also consider how you can make it happen.

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Asking if you’ll find love or get your dream job isn’t going to serve you — especially if you get a card that you interpret as negative or unlikely. But asking how you can find love or land your dream job will allow you to interpret the cards constructively. Even the things you may think of as negative can point you in the right direction.


Then, focus on your question, shuffle the deck, and pick the cards you feel drawn to — and the ones that fly out at ya, too!

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Just like with any deck of cards (or like a casino dealer would tell you), there are a bunch of ways to shuffle your deck. It’s a matter of preference. You can overhand shuffle them, cut the deck, or mix ’em up. And sometimes, cards pop out at you! Don’t think you’re a bad shuffler (even if you’re practicing new techniques) — that card might just be meant to tell you something.


Make sure your space has good vibes before you begin. You can create an altar or just shut your bedroom door!

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You don’t need to spend a bunch of money, but you should make an effort to have a somewhat dedicated space where the (good) energy can flow — even just sitting on your bed or spreading out a scarf. If you’re into altars, Sarah Starrs talks about how to set up your own and recommends to using one to help keep you anchored!


Speaking of focus, you’ll want those good vibes internally, too, so you can be mindful when you’re reading your cards.

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While you don’t need a ton of crystals, you do need to be able to focus while you’re asking your questions, drawing, and reading your cards. Otherwise, you can negatively impact and or be distracted from your readings.


Lastly, make sure to show your tarot deck some TLC! Bless it, charge it, and cleanse it — energetically or physically — as needed.

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Pro-tip: Keep your deck away in a cloth or box when you’re not using it. You don’t want to wear them out faster than you have to. Also, keep your deck’s energy balanced. Whether you charge your deck in the moonlight, smudge it with sage, lay a crystal on it, or meditate with it, be sure to care for it however and whenever you’re compelled to.

And there you have it! So now go on and trust yourself and your intuition to begin doing your own tarot card readings!

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