Because I’m a published Tarot author, reviewer, blogger, teacher and reader, I often get emails asking about prevalent superstitions surrounding the cards, as well as questions on the best books, decks, techniques and modes of learning.Here are twenty of my top suggestions for those new to Tarot, those struggling to learn the cards and gain confidence, and those wondering if they’re “doing it all wrong” or confused by all the advice swirling around:
1. Your first deck, or any subsequent decks, does not have to be given to you as a present. That’s just ridiculous (and probably an old control tactic by “those in the know” to keep the cards out of the hands of the masses).
2. Tarot does not conflict with any religion, nor does it advocate any spiritual path. If the Christian-looking images of the Rider-Waite Tarot decks (and its clones) offend your sensibilities, you can view such depictions as symbolic (after all, we all have “moments of judgment” or karma, in case of Judgement, or must confront “spiritual leaders” or traditions represented by the Catholic-looking Hierophant—to use two examples). Alternatively, you can pick a deck that does support your spiritual path (Wicca, Paganism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Elementals, Sufism, Buddhism, Mayan, Druidism, Norse, Native American, etc.)—or a deck without any spiritual connection.
3. There’s no wrong way to read Tarot. I don’t care what anyone tells you, there is no wrong way. You imbue the cards with meaning, which you then absorb for your own edification or for the benefit of those you read for. Yes, there may be archetypal patterns, symbols and motifs that may be mined for extra information, but using those for interpretation doesn’t make a method any more “right” (or wrong) than just “saying what you see”.
4. Studying esoteric subjects like Astrology, Numerology, Kabbalah, Hermeticism or Crowley’s writings are not necessary to learn, understand and use the Tarot effectively and accurately. They may supplement and enrich your understanding, but they are not required.
5. Each person has different learning styles. What works for someone else, or is touted as the “best way”, may not be suitable for your own style. For example, learning rote keywords never made sense to me, nor did they enhance my way of experiencing the cards. However, making the Tarot “mine” by associating real-world examples and pop culture with the cards helped me make friends with any deck (this approach turned into my BIT Tarot Method, the subject of my book Back in Time Tarot).
Find out your preferred learning style, and approach Tarot from that strength. For example, when talking to someone you may say, “I see what you mean” (Visual learner), “I’m not following you” (Kinesthetic learner), “Let me think about it” (Analytical learner) or “How does that sound?” (Auditory learner). When learning, you may prefer hands-on exercises (Kinesthetic), reading text (Visual) or studying with music, surrounded by noise, or by listening to audio classes or podcasts (Auditory).
6. You are not required to meditate, say a prayer, do a ritual or invoke anyone/anything before doing a Tarot reading. If one of these helps you create a sacred space or center your energy, do it. However, it is not necessary. Some people, consider their life a “living prayer”, so doing something special just isn’t relevant most times.
7. You do not need to store your cards in a special cloth, box or bag. Nor do you need to “cleanse” it with crystals, moonlight, sage or any other accoutrement. Again, you may if want to, but it’s not a requirement and will not affect the cards or its messages.
8. Shuffle the deck, and cut it, any damn way you please. “Shuffle with your non-dominant hand, cut into thirds and do the hokey pokey” is nonsense. Do what you feel is best—hand over hand, poker style or “finger painting”. Know, though, that some shuffling methods are harder on the card stock, which may shorten the life of the deck.
9. Choose a deck with an animated Minor Arcana. That is, for the number cards (Ace-10s), make sure the images show people or animals doing things. This will help you come up with meanings and cement card associations. A deck that just shows “pips” alone—four swords, three cups, ten coins, etc.—will be more difficult for you to pair with relevant associations and meanings.
10. Becoming familiar with the cards takes time. Be patient with yourself and the learning process. Play with your cards every day, even if it’s just looking at them. Soak up information on Tarot (as long as it doesn’t overwhelm you). But whatever you do, do not measure your progress against others nor become discouraged if you don’t “get it” within a few weeks…or months. We’re talking 78 cards here! Cards filled with wisdom and symbols and hidden meanings! Just as you can’t truly know a person within super-short time, it will take awhile to comfortably devise, and remember, what each card means for you.
11. Tarot is not just for fortunetelling. The cards can be used for creative writing, meditation, visualization, affirmations, conscious creation, dialoguing with others, brainstorming, journaling prompts, talismans, art and so much more.
12. If the idea of learning 78 cards overwhelms you, start with your memories, history, favorite movie, a book, fairytale, songs, news headline, etc.—and work outwards towards the cards. (Click here for an introduction to this technique, known as the BIT Tarot Method).
13. Spreads are not necessary. In fact, they can often be cumbersome, and give you a whole bunch of extraneous stuff that only distracts and confuses. You’d be surprised at how much information you can glean from just one card, or even three, for any given situation.
14. Acquire decks that appeal to you, not what others say are the “best” decks to use. If you love fairies and those types of decks “speak” to you, then by all means get them. Likewise, vampires, angels, flowers, constellations, herbs, gummy bears, dragons, snowmen and so on. As long as there is movement in the images, “stories” that seem to be playing out in the scenes, then pick whatever looks attractive and feels right for you.
15. Consider keeping a journal of your Tarot card associations and impressions. Many Tarot enthusiasts regret not having done so. When you start using one from the ground up, you’ll eventually have a comprehensive and illuminating personal cache of associations that you’ll be able to draw upon and, perhaps, one day share with others new to the cards.
16. Get to know one or two decks intimately before acquiring new decks. Not only will this be easier on your wallet, but you’ll also have a better idea of what kind of decks resonate with you…or will likely expand your experience in a different direction when the time comes for new ones.
17. Keep your Tarot library small…at first. If you feel you must have a few beginner or intermediate books on hand, I recommend The Back in Time Tarot Book (my first first book); Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Tarot by Mark McElroy; What’s in the Cards for You? by Mark McElroy; 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary K. Greer and The 2-Hour Tarot Tutor by Wilma Carroll. In all honesty, if you follow the methods and suggestions in these five books, you’ll never need another Tarot book. (Note: I said need, not necessarily want!)
18. Hold off learning and using reversals (upside down Tarot cards) until you have a strong grip on upright associations and meanings. You can always add them to your practice later, should you choose to do so. (My book Tarot in Reverse is the first book to provide extensive key phrases and pop culture anecdotes specifically for reversals, which will aid many trying to understand those cards that fall upside down in a reading).
19. If you come across a Tarot card meaning that makes no sense to you, toss it out. Remember, what matters most is the associations you come up with for the cards—meanings that make sense to you.
20. A brilliant researcher and personality system pioneer once told me “Trust Self first, last and only”. Not only was this one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received about life in general, but also for learning the cards. Lack of self-confidence is the biggest obstacle to sticking with the Tarot and using it effectively. Trust that the meanings you create, and the answers you receive, are valuable and appropriate. This confidence will translate into greater self-reliance, accuracy and insight when reading the cards.