Tarot Reading Guide


ⓘ This guide applies to Tarot Card Meanings, Tarot Readings, Tarot Spreads and Tarot Decks pages.


While many people recognize tarot cards on sight, very few know where tarot came from, when tarot was created, or what tarot can do.

Thanks to melodramatic movies and bad television, Americans tend to associate this intriguing deck of cards with crystal balls, storefront psychics, and pronouncements of doom. Prompted by Hollywood, people often purchase tarot decks because they hope to achieve mystical insights, glimpse the future, or indulge in a bit of metaphysical eavesdropping on friends or lovers.

Do tarot cards have mysterious powers? Can they be used to tap into psychic ability, see tomorrow, or reveal an unfaithful husband’s secret trysts? Could tarot cards have applications beyond the ones we see in movies? Might those applications offer real benefits to everyday people … including the folks who think tarot cards are nothing more than New Age hocus pocus?

This guide will answer these questions … and many more.

Chapter 1 The Benefits of Reading Tarot

Hand someone a stack of 78 photos, and he will browse only a few before putting the stack aside. But if you hand the same person 78 tarot cards, he will likely go through the deck card by card, determined to see each one.

Why are tarot cards so intriguing? What inspired this pasteboard parade of popes and priestesses, emperors and empresses, angels and demons? Why, more than 600 years after the deck’s creation, does it continue to capture our attention and spark our imagination?

Especially in America, the cards are universally associated with mysterious gypsies, quirky psychics, and storefront fortunetellers. And, thanks to Hollywood, people who have never seen a deck in person know the tarot contains both a Death card and a Devil.

Still, few people know anything of substance about tarot. The philosophies that guided its creation? Ignored. The meanings of the symbols on each card? Forgotten. Applications beyond fortunetelling? Dismissed. Convinced the cards are little more than props for con artists, many people doubt tarot has anything of value to offer the sophisticated citizens of the twenty-first century.

Chapter 2 A (Very) Brief History of Tarot

The tarot didn’t just pop into existence, whole and complete. Someone (maybe several people!) created it. Over time, various deck designers reordered, renumbered, and renamed the cards. Artists, too, altered the tarot pack, preserving some traditional illustrations and dramatically updating others.

Thinking of adopting tarot as a personal tool for expanding awareness, enhancing insight, or streamlining the decision-making process? Knowing more about the cards—including who designed them, and when, and why—can dispel misconceptions and build confidence in the deck’s flexibility and power. For many students, studying the origin and evolution of the cards becomes an important gesture of their dedication to and respect for the tarot.

Chapter 3 Exploring Today’s Tarot

While almost everyone will claim to know what tarot is, very few people know anything of substance about the deck. What makes a tarot deck distinctive? How does it differ from a standard deck of cards? And wouldn’t a copy of The Lightning Bug Oracle generate just as many bright ideas as a tarot deck?

Reading this chapter will acquaint you with the structure and contents of today’s tarot … and help you understand the features of the deck that make it unique among other decks and oracles.

Chapter 4 Your Personal Tarot Deck

Henry Ford once told customers they could have any color car they wanted, as long as it was black.

Before the 1980s, tarot enthusiasts could have any kind of tarot deck they wanted, as long as it was the long-suffering Rider–Waite Tarot from U.S. Games. Other decks existed, but they were hard to find.

Today, with thousands of decks on the market, absolute beginners have an entirely different kind of challenge: finding the perfect first deck. Should you tackle the depth and complexity of the Thoth deck? Given your passion for unicorns, should your first deck be the Tarot of the Unicorns? If the face of the Devil card in a Rider–Waite–Smith deck frightens you, should you avoid that deck entirely?

For years, the standard advice given to anyone picking out a personal tarot deck has been, “Find a deck that speaks to you.” But what does that mean, exactly? What happens when a deck speaks to you? Will you actually hear a pack of cards ask, “Where have you been all my life?”

Telling beginners to find a talking deck abandons them to be guided by their own inexperience. As a result, many beginners buy decks that look good at first, but which prove unsuitable for long-term use and study. Frightened, confused, or disappointed, many of these eager beginners abandon tarot altogether.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative to finding a deck that “speaks to you.” In fact, if you’ll keep one simple principle in mind, you’ll greatly increase your chances of finding the perfect deck.

Chapter 5 Consulting the Tarot

Many beginners, eager for a reading, snatch the nearest deck, deal a few cards, and plunge right in. For some, this works. Others, though, end up staring at a line of cards with no idea how to proceed.

Chapter 6 Traditional Tarot Card Meanings

Many tarot readers work intuitively: as they look at an illustration, they get an impression of what that card means to them at that point in time.

On one day, the Ace of Wands is a good omen. On the next, it could be a warning. Neither interpretation is right or wrong, because all meanings assigned to the cards are strictly a matter of context.

But tarot cards also have traditional meanings—meanings other people have assigned to the cards over time. Some of these meanings are derived from complicated astrological or numerological computations. Some are based on obscure texts. Others are based on the insights of experienced readers, who have learned to associate certain cards with certain situations.

Chapter 7 Getting and Giving Readings

These days, tarot readers seem to be on almost every corner: in major cities and small towns, in tourist districts and carnivals, and at psychic fairs and metaphysical bookstores.

Who are these readers? What distinguishes the professional from the amateur? When you visit a professional reader, what should you expect?

If you prefer to read your own cards (or if you’re interested in reading the cards for others), in this chapter you’ll also find practical advice from experienced readers—everything you need to read the cards with objectivity and confidence.

Chapter 8 Thirteen Fun Things to Do with Tarot Cards

Your trusty tarot deck can be a powerful, flexible partner for all kinds of activities. In this chapter, you’ll find a treasure trove of applications for the cards, from slumber-party fortunetelling to brainstorming for business. Best of all, this baker’s dozen of “card tricks” is just the beginning—inspired by these creative uses for the cards, you’ll quickly come up with applications of your own.

Chapter 9 Where to Go to Learn More

What’s the biggest challenge associated with reading with any book for beginners? By the time you finish reading the book, you’re not an absolute beginner any more!

Having mastered the material in this guide, you’re ready to further enhance your knowledge and skills. If you start by working with the following resources, you’ll build a firm foundation for further study and growth.