5 Things I learned about Tarot (so far)

19 April 2017

According to my journal, it's two months since I started using my first tarot deck. I'm not one to do things by halves, and once I was over my initial caution of the deck - and the 'scary' cards - I dived in at the deep end, with daily draws and regular study. During that short time I've started learning different things about tarot cards and their meanings, how to read them individually and as part of a spread, and so on. There are other things that I've learned from trial, error and observation. Here are the top five, which I hope might be useful to other beginners. 


1. It's really important to love your deck - Quite soon after getting The Wild Unknown - a deck with unique imagery and no people - I knew that I wanted to learn more about tarot, and as most of the recommended resources refer to the traditional Rider-Waite (Smith) aka 'RWS' deck, I got that too. Unfortunately, I can't relate to it. I'm a visual person and just don't like the images or the people - to me they feel very old fashioned and unrelatable. Had I started with a traditional deck, I doubt our relationship would have gone far beyond opening the box. (For the record, I can live with the Radiant Rider-Waite as a study deck, but that's about it.) 

On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE the Dreaming Way tarot. Despite the slightly grumpy faces of most people in the deck, I love them because the art resonates with me. So, while I'm now familiar with the RWS images for each of the 78 cards, it's the Dreaming Way that I am working with daily. I do think it's incredibly helpful to know the standard imagery, which has influenced the traditional interpretations of the cards, but I'd encourage anyone who is just starting and doesn't love their cards to also find a deck that you don't want to put down. Aeclectic Tarot is a great resource for looking at cards from many different decks. 

Cards from the Dreaming Way tarot in the Spring Fever Spread from Jessi Huntenburg

2. The importance of being in the right frame of mind - I learned this lesson by trying a spread when I was anxious, and I wrote about it in an earlier post which you can find here. People often advise to ground or 'centre' oneself before attempting to read the tarot (or oracle cards) and it's sage advice. Tarot is like a mirror - it reflects you in your current state - so when your emotions are all over the place, it's not only more difficult to make sense of the cards, but you are more likely to read all sorts of unhelpful things in them. If you've ever looked into an actual mirror while feeling upset or 'down', you'll understand why it's a bad idea - all sorts of self-doubt and unhelpful thoughts creep in. It's better to save the cards for a time when you're relaxed and open-minded. 

There is a lot of helpful advice online, and you'll need to do what works for you. I personally find these things to be the most important:
  • Setting aside a specific time to choose a card and connect with it (more about that here)
  • Having everything I'll need to hand (i.e. the cards and a way to record any immediate thoughts)
  • Being well rested, calm and taking a few deep breaths (or a quick meditation, if necessary)

3. Clear intentions / questions = clear(er) interpretations  - I use my cards for daily reflection and personal development and to get the most insightful readings find it's best to be really clear about my intention when drawing a card. There is a simple reason for this -  a clear question reduces room for doubt ('wriggle room') especially when a card brings up something which is easier to ignore than to face up to. Becoming familiar with 'good' questions, it's much easier to formulate your own effectively - there are some great examples online, like these from Biddy Tarot and these from Llewellyn.

4. Spreads don't have to be complicated - Working with oracle cards for a little while before coming to tarot, I became quite comfortable with small readings of between one and three cards. With three cards you can tell a story which offers enough insight to be useful, without being overwhelming. In the following example from my Instagram feed, I'd been woken up by the kids arguing and slamming doors and these cards reminded me that 'we set out to create a stable, happy and loving family, but the reality is that like anything worth building, it takes effort and endurance. Relationships are complex, especially when you're raising two very different individuals, but I think it will be worth the effort in the long run'. It was only three cards, but it made me smile and for the rest of the day I was able to reflect on the longer term, rather than losing my head in the moment and wondering why we bothered having a family! 

5. YOUR reading probably means what YOU think it means - I'm a member of several tarot learning groups (online) and it's really useful to be able to discuss interpretations of different spreads, especially when cards pop up in positions that make it more tricky to decipher the meaning. I love seeing other people's cards and how they have interpreted them, and what group members are able to add to the discussion. However, I believe that if you have a basic knowledge of tarot, and you've asked an effective question with the right intention (see point 3), the interpretation that you get is probably the right one for you. 

Other people might see something else, or be able to phrase it more eloquently - they might also be able to add layers of additional meaning based on the kabbalah, astrology or numerology - but at its most basic level the meaning is whatever you think it is. I suspect it might be natural to feel more confused about an interpretation when we either don't want to face up to the answer we get, or we wish for a 'better' card, or a 'do-over'. For the same reason, it appears common to keep pulling more and more cards to clarify the initial meaning (even when they keep reiterating it), but that is probably a topic for a separate post. 

So tell me, how long have you been reading tarot? What are the most important things you've learned so far?
UPDATE: There are lots of great responses on Instagram - find them using the following tag: #5thingsIlearnedabouttarot

4 comments

  1. The Dreaming Way Tarot is one of my new favorites!

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  2. I've been reading tarot for four years now, and I've learned that when I'm pulled between a traditional interpretation and an intuitive one, it's best to trust my gut! Thanks for this post, beauty, and keep cardslinging! (This is Jessi Huntenburg, btw--Clark is my maiden name!)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Jessi, that's great advice and I appreciate your encouragement too :)

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