Two Basic Steps to Learning Tarot

I wrote this article to accompany my Tarot page on Facebook. You can also visit the new and improved Readings and Lessons page, including my new schedule doing public tarot readings at the Lighthouse Bookstore in Boulder! The photo does credit to some of my favorite props to share with clients during a reading.

Tarot doesn’t have to be esoteric or difficult all the time. Through the thick cloud of symbolism and ‘authorities’, the truth of Tarot is that it is firstly a deck of cards with pictures on it – all the symbolism is helpful, but not necessary to have your own read on a card. Your gut reaction to a card carries validity and meaning to your interpretations, even if they seem very different from what the cards ‘meaning’ is.

The visual nature of the cards can evoke a very rich response from anybody at all. Paying attention to that response is the basis of many interpretations of tarot cards. Studying numerology, alchemy, and astrology can help the interested Taroist – but many eschew these esoteric systems altogether in favor of their inner responsiveness, their intuition.

Since this is aimed at the beginner who may not own a deck, a good resource is a completely online version of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck found at http://www.learntarot.com.

Step One: Look Closely

However you enjoy looking through your deck, relax and take time with each card as you familiarize yourself with the cards. Grounding myself with something normal helps me orient to the images with a clear perspective.

Before drawing a card, take account of your body: Where are you relaxed, tensed, think about how you’re feeling. This is like taking a control before an experiment, this is where you can observe yourself with the least interference.

Once you feel ready, pull a card to look at and see how you change and how you stay the same – Emotionally and even physically. You may smile, relax, tense up, or begin thinking about a person. Pay attention to the feelings that just watch your reactions to the images – Discomfort, enjoyment, curiosity, anything is worth noting to yourself and being curious about.

This is where details become fun. What emotions did the thoughts and sensations bring up for you? How do details in the image alter and embellish the meaning? If you put words to how you respond to the image, how does that look?

That is all it takes to interpret a Tarot card for yourself. When you want to interpret cards for other people, try putting yourself into the other persons shoes and then reinterpret the card – That simple! Well, not all the time, but its a start.

Step Two: Keep an Open Mind

In response to the Hermit one person may say, “I feel scared and abandoned, like nobody wants me.” Another might say “I feel independent, peaceful, relaxed.” These are both important parts of the Hermit card, and both can be right. In fact, with Tarot, everybody can be right! Pay attention to other interpretations, and watch your responses to them similarly to how you feel yourself respond to the images themselves – With this thoughtfulness, resistance and confusion to new and often contradictory interpretations will loosen. Allow the possibility and just ask, ‘Why?”

You can even do this with yourself. Look at a card and then challenge yourself on your first reactions. When I look at cards, especially with friends, I like to ask “What If” a lot. One helpful idea is that each card has a light, powerful side, and a dark counterpoint. At its highest point, the Hermit might bring an inner peace in solitude; When its not, it may emphasis feelings of loneliness or alienation – both have their place in the context of a reading, but they’re very different.

The more open you can be, and the more you challenge yourself to think through a difficult interpretation you feel resistance or ambivalence towards, the better you will understand the cards. A good rule of thumb is, a card only means what someone sees in it, the inherent meaning is pieced together through all of our different perspectives. You could say that each card has as many interpretations as people in the world!

These are simple ideas well applied to many things beyond tarot, but I truly believe that Tarot is made to seem esoteric and inaccessible by many. Each time any of us become more comfortable with any tarot card which challenges us, it improves our openness to ourselves and others as a benefit.

By no means can study of the symbol systems usually associated with Tarot be replaced by the stories we experience and imagine while looking at the images on the cards, but for many people contemplating this intuition is the core of their understanding and always will be. For me, the unique texture a wholly personal interpretation greatly enriches my readings and study.

I’ll see you in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Two Basic Steps to Learning Tarot

  1. Very self-empowering perspective here!-
    To me both is valuable – the influx of spontaneous knowing in response to the imagery of the Tarot AND the diligent study of those who have gone this path before us. .Often the study of comments on the Tarot (e.g. the classic ‘Meditations on the Tarot’) can enrich and deepen our own understanding, but without the living connection to the wells of our own gnosis (knowing of the heart) this remains theory. Only the fermentation and purification of these thoughts through our own experience and life path transforms this theoretical knowledge into shining intuitive wisdom!
    Thanks for your free-spirit encouragement! 🙂

    1. I think I understand the term gnosis better now just from your comment 🙂

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and words, they are so enriching!

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