Reading Tarot Cards: A Beginner’s Guide

Last Updated on May 31, 2021

Tarot cards have been around since the 16th century, and originally started off as a card game in France. Though they started out as a game, they quickly found a new reputation as tools for fortune-telling, divination, and enhancing one’s psychic abilities. Today, these cards are more famous for their divining ability than they are for their game.

Reading tarot cards is one of the most common methods of divination in the world, and for many people, it’s also the easiest. If you are looking to learn how to read tarot cards, you’re in luck. This guide will help you understand the basics.

Understanding Tarot Cards: What They Can And Cannot Do

Tarot readings are rarely what people expect them to be, especially if one is new to the concept of a psychic reading. People who are new to the cards assume that a tarot prediction is written in stone or that they always tell the future.

Guys, this isn’t true.

Tarot cards are a tool to help you channel energies and get a better feeling for what is around you, what your putting out into the universe, and what you may need to focus on. They can do a lot of different things, including the following:

  • Though this is hotly debated, most psychics would tell you that cards can loosely predict the future. That being said, the future is not written in stone. You can change your fate by changing the direction you’re on. So, predictions done with cards are more like, “This is what will most likely happen if you continue as you’re going.”
  • Personality Readings. Is someone honest with you? Who’s the better lover? Cards are great for that.
  • Each tarot card has a way of advising people on what they should do to better their lives. These reading can be incredibly helpful for others.
  • Warn You. Many tragedies first show their face in cards. If your cards are ominous, it’s best to heed their warnings.
  • Act As A Communication Tool. Some psychics use the cards as a way to talk to spirits, though this is rare.
  • Inner Growth. Are you hiding something from yourself? Cards have a way of smacking sense into you.

That being said, cards still have their limitations. They are still a tool and like any other tool, they are not a cure-all for life. They cannot:

  • Give Crystal Clear Messages. Tarot readings are SUBJECTIVE. Each reader will have their own subtle meanings they develop for cards. Though you may have online guides to help you, it’s up to you to decide what the card is telling you.
  • Give You Infallible Predictions. Even the best readers are wrong from time to time.
  • Tell You When Something Is Happening. Though time spreads exist, they are very spotty in terms of accuracy.

So, it’s important to keep that in mind. Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to start talking about cards.

The Rules Of Tarot

In this world, there are a lot of skills you can learn that have solid, objective rules and techniques. Tarot is NOT one of them. Reading tarot cards is a deeply personal skill that often hinges on a person’s individual energy and relationship with their cards.

There are very few rules when it comes to tarot. So, what does that mean for beginners? You should start by remembering these guidelines:

  1. Tarot readings are about intuition. Your gut feelings are going to be what will help you become a good reader. Let your intuition tell you what you should do with the cards. If you feel like you should read cards like a story, then do that. If you feel better with a Celtic Cross spread, do that instead. Your deck, you practice.
  2. Each person interprets the card differently. While tarot guides can help you get a foundation or tip you off about some meanings, every person will see cards differently. Once again, your instinct will help you read.
  3. The artwork can help you interpret the card’s meaning. What does the art say to you? Is it a scary card, or a good one? Some card decks may have different symbolism, so pay attention and make sure your interpretation works with the art you’re seeing.
  4. Your interpretation will probably evolve with practice. The more you read cards, the more you’ll have a unique interpretation when it comes to each card.
  5. If you’re refusing to listen to the cards, the reading won’t work. Skeptics and people who block off their energy don’t have readings that are as accurate as believers in most cases. The reason why is because they are blocking their energy off from the reader!
  6. Context matters. A single card can have multiple meanings depending on the situation at hand. You need to keep context in mind.
  7. Respect the cards. If you don’t like what the cards say, don’t try to change the reading by continually trying the same question. If you need to make sure it’s legit, try it three times. If you pull a similar reading, the cards are trying to tell you something.

What Tarot Deck Should I Begin With?

Ooh, this is a toughie. There are three major schools of thought on this topic. It’s up to you to feel out which you are most comfortable with.


The Rider-Waite deck is the traditional tarot card deck and is considered to be the standard for most tarot art symbolism. The fact that it’s so well-known means interpretations are easy to find and that there are plenty of guides that can help you learn what the cards mean.

The guides you’ll find are excellent if you have a traditionalist vibe about you or if you need something “solid” to start interpreting. If you are a “by the books” person who wants to use guides to help you interpret your readings, then this is a great starter deck to pick.

A Gifted Deck

Many psychics believe you should only read a tarot deck that was gifted to you. It’s believed to improve the energy of the cards. If you were gifted a deck and want to believe this tradition, this is the deck you should start with.

The problems with this are dual. First, you might not vibe well with the deck and that can make readings awkward. Second, you might have a harder time interpreting the cards since they may use different artwork that can change the cards’ meanings.

A Handpicked Deck

Like with most other forms of divination and psychic readings, your intuition and energy will play a huge role in your ability to read well. Knowing that, many tarot teachers suggest picking a deck that really stands out to you and feels good in your hands. That’s a sign it will work with your energy.

With handpicked decks, you might not have as good luck as you want to have when it comes to looking at interpretation guides. This is because the artwork on the card might be drastically different from a Rider-Waite card.

Getting Your Mind And Energy Ready

Tarot cards aren’t magical in and of themselves. They are just pieces of paper in a deck. You are going to be the one who will be using them as a tool to do something relatively magical. You are going to be using your energy through the cards to get answers. So, the magic here is YOU!

Since it’s your energy that will be working through the cards, you need to make sure you’re in the right state of mind. If you are not in the right mindset, your readings won’t come accurate. Here’s how to make your mind and energy work its best:

  • Set the mood. You want your surroundings to be calm, clean, and easy to focus in. So, dim the lights, light a scented candle, clear your table, and make yourself cozy.
  • Burn some sage. If you recently had a lot of bad vibes in your home, you should clear the energy by smudging your home. Bad residual energy can influence readers and readings.
  • Don’t read cards when you’re anxious, stressed, angry, tired, or under the influence. A calm, clear mind is crucial to a good read.
  • Don’t bring expectations to the table. Let the cards talk to you. Don’t try to make them say what you want them to say. That defeats the purpose of a reading.

Should You Pray Before You Read Tarot?

A lot of psychics choose to ask their spirit guides, angels, or positive beings to guide them through the cards. If you want to do this, by all means, do it. There’s no harm in it.

Shuffling Your Cards

Before any reading, you will need to shuffle your cards. Shuffling the cards releases energy that’s stale from the cards, improves your bond with them, and also ensures you don’t end up with a repeat reading.

There are multiple methods you can use to shuffle your cards, and it’s up to you to decide which you want to use. There are no real rules to shuffling, but it’s often best to avoid bending the cards since it can damage them.

Most psychics will shuffle them (or have their asker shuffle them) until it just “feels right” to stop. This is called intuitive shuffling and generally seems to have the best results. That being said, if you want to shuffle them using different rules, you should.

Choosing A Spread

Now that you’ve prepped your area, it’s time to actually start laying the cards. To do this, you’re going to have to ask a question and pick a way to spread the cards in a reading. In a spread, the card’s position will carry meaning and influence what you learn from the reading.

Though there are popular spreads available, nothing is ever set in stone. You can always make your own spread if you feel like it. That being said, these spreads are the most popular ones used in readings:

  • The Celtic Cross. This is a great spread if you want to learn more about a situation, get a predicted outcome in both long and short term futures, and maybe get some guidance. It takes 10 cards and can be used in almost any reading.
  • Single Card. If you have a question that can be given a succinct answer, you might only need to draw a single card.
  • Past-Present-Future. This is a three card spread that uses one card for each time period. It’s great for general predictive readings.
  • Storytime Spreads. This is a nickname for a series of cards (more than three) that are read from left to right, with each card offering a look further into the future. The first couple of cards are about the past, the center cards are the present, and the final bunch are in the future.

Understanding Your Reading

Once you pull the cards and do a spread, the real challenge arises: interpreting them. Newbies often can get a good start on interpretations by checking guides online for each card’s individual meanings. If you got a booklet with your deck, checking what the deck maker says can also help.

It’s important to remember that the reading’s meaning will change based on the question surrounding it. So, if you’re asking about finance readings, don’t interpret cards as love interests.

Your Tarot Card Deck: Minor Arcana

The tarot deck has two major card categories: major and minor arcana. Most cards are in the minor arcana, which has four major suits. These suits each have their own themes associated with them and have cards similar to a standard playing deck.

It’s good to keep the overall themes of suits in mind while reading. The suits in the minor arcana are:

  • This is a suit that is usually associated with mental or physical pain, as well as arguments. The most morose of all suits, drawing a lot of swords in a reading is usually a sign of trouble ahead.
  • Wand cards are often associated with business, travel, and messages from others. It’s a commerce and exploration-heavy suit that also comes up frequently in arguments.
  • Cup cards are most commonly associated with romance, feelings, and relationships.
  • This is known as the “money suit” and tends to be personal finance-focused. Anything lavish or decadent tends to be a pentacle theme.

Your Tarot Card Deck: Major Arcana

Major arcana cards are unique and do not have a suit of their own. Rather, they tend to be viewed as “dramatic” cards that illustrate major life changes ahead or powerful messages. These cards often grab attention in a reading and should be paid special attention to.

Worried About Ominous Cards?

A common rookie mistake is panicking when pulling the Death card, assuming it foretells a person’s Death. For the most part, this isn’t the truth. Tarot cards are metaphorical in nature, so before you start to freak out, think about what the metaphor may be telling you.

Tarot cards absolutely can warn of bad times to come, but there’s a good side to every card. Whether it’s an opportunity to rebuild something better (Tower) or a change necessary to help you live your best life (Death), it’s important to see the upside of things when reading.

Troubleshooting Your Reading

You are in a good state of mind. You’re open. You did a spread that felt right. You did everything normal. But, your reading made zero sense. What gives? It’s time to troubleshoot common issues newbie readers have.

What If My Reading Has Cards That Make No Sense To Me?

This is an issue that both veterans and newbies run into, especially when it comes to complex readings. Once in a while, a card or card combination just pops up that makes absolutely no sense. So, what can you do?

Simple — ask for clarification.

Many readers choose to pull a small number of cards (usually one to three) to get a better understanding of what the cards might be trying to say. You’d be surprised at how quickly things can clear up.

What If The Reading’s Overall Suit Theme Doesn’t Seem Right?

Tarot cards are never just relegated to a theme they are most commonly associated with. They are extremely multifaceted. That being said, noticing a recurring theme in your card spreads’ suits can mean a number of different things, including the following:

  • Your question may have a deep connection to the theme presented. For example, a person asking about their love life that keeps drawing pentacle cards may end up meeting a wealthy lover at work.
  • You might not be focused on your question. Hey, it happens!
  • The cards have a different message for you. Sometimes, what you focus on isn’t what you should be focusing on. In many cases, tarot cards will tell you what you need to know rather than what you want to know.

My Readings Are Never Right!

Believe it or not, this happens a lot more than you would think it does. It happens to both veterans and newbies alike, too. Here’s what you need to know about “botched readings…”

It could be inexperience at play.

If you’re new to reading, it’s often because you might not be interpreting the cards right or because you’re still getting used to using the cards in your own way. Tarot reading is a learning process, after all. It may take time to get the accuracy and understanding you need.

Your cards’ energy is all off.

Believe it or not, your cards can get worn out and energy-clogged. Clearing them by placing them near quartz crystals or burning sage near them can help reduce this. If you’ve been reading cards and asking the same question repeatedly, this may be a sign that you need to take a break.

You may not be allowed to get the answers you’re seeking.

Sometimes, the universe doesn’t want us to know what will happen. It may be too much for us to handle, or it may just throw things off course for us if we know. If this is the case, your card readings won’t make sense and your readings will be botched until things pass.

Oddly enough, this doesn’t impact any readings you do for other people. Go figure.

You might be too emotionally invested to get an honest reading.

It’s often said that you should never read your own cards because you will be too invested to get a clear reading. To a point, it’s true. If you are too hopeful or too scared, your card readings for yourself will come out warped.

You’ve been abusing the cards.

Karma is a thing, and so is intention. If you’ve got a natural knack for tarot readings that suddenly died out, ask yourself if you did any of the following:

  • Read cards strictly for money
  • Read cards with hope of seeing disaster for others
  • Insulted the cards

This kind of behavior is often considered abuse or misuse. It can actually cause your connection to tarot to fade out for a while.

Your cards are worn out.

No one knows why, but tarot cards can actually lose their accuracy over time. If you’ve been using your deck for a while, it may be a sign that you need to retire your deck and replace it with a new one.

About Brandon Hall

Hi! I am Brandon. Writer and content creator for PA, specializing in phenomena that is sometimes beyond normal scientific understanding. My mission is to help guide people seeking answers in a positive and enlightening way.

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