Absolute tarot beginner? Start here.
More and more spiritual souls are seeking out the tarot as a tool of psycho-spiritual development, but though they start their journey with tremendous excitement, many newbies quickly get discouraged. And this discouragement does not come from the task being difficult, so much as it comes from it being overwhelming. Because we all want to master the cards, but we don’t realize the true depth of the effort, one that requires commitment, thoughtfulness, and most of all patience.
So while my advice on my blog and YouTube is generally geared toward the developing tarotist, I want to offer five basic but extremely essential tips for the brand new tarot student who’s not quite sure where to start and what they need to know.
Becoming a good tarotist requires fluency, which requires flexibility, which requires confidence. And these tips are all about helping you get there.
1. Stick to one guidebook at first.
We start off with a tip that may sound obvious, but is actually something that throws off many newbie tarotists: this book said this, this book said that, which one’s right?
Eventually what you’ll learn is that the tarot is never an “either / or” but a “both / and”. The expert tarotist accumulates as much information as possible to alchemize it into their own individual understanding of the cards. I’ve read the 4 of Cups hundreds of times, and every time it’s a little bit different.
But when you are just beginning, developing that nuance, flow, and interpretative adaptability with the cards is simply not available yet. When one source tells you that the 7 of Wands is about losing impossible battles, and another tells you that it’s about fighting for what matters, rather than finding a synthesized reading, we become fixated on which is “right”.
Therefore it’s best to use one resource that you can master. Once you become confident in one reading of a card, it will be much easier to consider a new one. For the beginner, each new deck comes with a new guidebook and a new interpretation, which leads to confusion. Instead, for the first few weeks or months use one resource to reference while reading. In my opinion, the best one out there is still Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack. But whichever works for you, stick with it.
And just as a side note, I recommend getting your books secondhand from a site like Thriftbooks. It’s a little cheaper and a little better for the world.
2. Don’t believe everyone online.
One of the things we love to do when we begin learning the tarot is stuff our social media feeds full of popular cartomancers. And absolutely, this is a great way to keep learning and developing your skill. But just like when we get stuck over which guidebook is “right”, we get stuck over which TikTok reader is “right”, and this only leads to frustration.
Now I’m going to offer a couple hot takes, and this is coming directly from a professional online-based reader.
First, not everyone is qualified to be teaching or reading the cards. It’s a natural instinct to share the knowledge we accumulate, but the tarot is a tool that takes a lot of time and practice. Many readers online have only just taken their guidebook training wheels off and jump immediately into the role of “expert”. I was guilty of this to a degree in my own tarot work. I learned the cards, got good at reading for friends, and then quickly began dreaming up my professional career. It took several bad readings for strangers for me to realized I needed a bit more time and development.
Second, there’s a lot of readers on TikTok and IG who will offer 30-second readings or card explanations that will leave you scratching your head. And that’s not because they’re wrong, but because they had their own *particular* way of understanding that card. And when we see them as the expert, we feel pressured to change our understanding to match it.
So go ahead and follow everyone, but take everything with a grain of salt.
3. Reading for yourself is hard.
I know, this is not what anyone wants to hear, but it’s true. I get asked all the time how to make reading for yourself easier, and the unfortunate answer is it will likely never be “easy”. And honestly, I don’t think it’s meant to be. Reading the tarot is engaging in symbol and depth, engaging with unconscious wisdom, and our conscious ego-minds will always struggle with surrendering control to those mysteries truths.
But I don’t mean this to be discouraging! You can and will get better and reading for yourself, you simply have to accept that the cards will never act as a magical swish of the wand telling you when all your problems will resolve and what thing you can do to make your life perfect. You will never pull the 6 of Pentacles and think, “Of course! If I let go of that side job and prioritize rebalancing my financial responsibility supporting my family I will resolve the resentment I have for them which will encourage my husband to be kinder to me which will make me happier and thus more productive, allowing me to take on a different job I’m better suited for and then everything will be great!”
This is never how it works.
Instead, pulling the 10 of Swords when you’re stressed will slowly shift from inciting panic, to curiosity, to reflection. Rather than begging it to tell you if it means you’re doomed or being overdramatic, you might allow it to inspire questions like, “Is my anxiety drawn from my own repeating stories of failure? Am I saying I feel stressed but deep down I feel totally defeated?”
This is how reading for yourself gets easier, but allowing the cards to evoke questions rather than demanding they provide answers.
4. Get a straightforward deck.
This tip is a must, and yet the most ignored. When we pick out our first decks, we’re drawn to what’s beautiful, mesmerizing, intriguing, but in the beginning, those decks usually they make for lousy readings. And don’t get me wrong, I have a dozen flowy, dreamy, abstract decks. I love looking at them, but hate reading with them, and this is why.
Being a tool of interpretation, the symbols in the cards matter. When we pull the Hierophant and our guidebook tells us he’s a man of spiritual authority, but our deck shows us a red swirl and a key, or a cat with a strange hat on, we’re really going to struggle recognizing and remembering those important reflections.
Instead, stick to decks that use clear and straightforward symbolism at the start of your learning journey. The Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) is the go-to, so I highly recommend that one. The deck I personally love is the Golden Art Nouveau, which is a replica of the RWS, but with a slightly shinier aesthetic.
If you get a deck with some weird wonderful art and are desperate to use it, then I recommend using only the guidebook that comes with it in the beginning. Then it will make sense of the symbolism, and you’ll be able to develop that deeper understanding.
But keep it simple for now. Then, as you grow in confidence, you’ll be able to be inspired by the imagery, not confused by it.
5. It’s not about memorization, it’s about relationship.
I saved the most important tip for last. Many tarot newbies are very fixated on memorization, and for good reason. They want to do a spread without needing to check the guidebook for each card, which can be really annoying and tiring. But drilling keywords is a fairly unsuccessful approach. The tarot should not be treated like learning your French verbs.
The real way to learn the cards is not by memorizing them, but forging a relationship with them. Some do this by keeping a tarot journal and reflecting more deeply on the cards they pull, and this can be a great technique. But what I generally recommend to my tarot students is to go slower and pull less cards.
Yes, less cards.
The reason for this is that when we pull a daily 3-card spread, we may learn their meanings simply by forced repetition, but we have no room to move more slowly and intimately with the card. In the Archetypal Tarot School, students are encouraged to only pull 2 cards a week. Then they are asked to return to those 2 cards every day, asking new questions, touching in with how their feelings have changed, just sensing the subtle shifts in their experience with the card.
Notice how the card wants to come up for you, rather than how the guidebook tells you it should. Notice what symbols catch your eye. Notice the feelings and associations that arise.
Let your reading of the cards be interpretive, intuitive, and intimate, and you will master them much more quickly and deeply.