Tarot Reading Guide


Chapter 1 The Benefits of Reading Tarot

ⓘ This guide applies to Tarot Readings pages.

In This Chapter

  • What do most people know about tarot?
  • Why is tarot relevant today?
  • What will working with tarot do for you?

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.

What Tarot Has to Offer You

And that’s a shame because today, we need what tarot has to offer:

  • Given unlimited access to information, we need a flexible tool for discerning which facts are relevant, useful, and reliable.
  • Given virtually unlimited options, we need an efficient tool for evaluating and prioritizing choices.
  • Given more distraction than ever, we need a reliable tool for focusing thought.
  • Given more questions than ever, we need a dependable tool for answering those questions, including the big ones, like “Where am I going?” and “Why am I here?”

In search of such a tool, many turn to technology: digital assistants, apps on tablets and phones, and intelligent agents. Others seek help from a guru du jour, discovering, thousands of dollars later, that a one-size-fits-all solution fits no one very well for very long. Still others turn to religion, only to find that organized religion can all too often feel impersonal, rigid, or out of touch with the challenges of life in the modern world.

Tarot and Religion

Tarot isn’t a religion or belief system … it’s a tool. As such, tarot can be integrated into almost any spiritual path or practice without conflict.

Christians (especially those influenced by fundamentalism) often voice concerns about tarot’s association with the New Age movement. These fears, however, have more basis in fear and ignorance than fact.

After all, the tarot deck was created by Christians—Renaissance Italian Catholics, to be exact. The earliest cards are packed with Christian symbolism, including angels, devils, the Pope, the Christian Virtues, Judgment Day, and the New Jerusalem. (Because the Renaissance Christian mindset enthusiastically incorporated themes from a wide variety of cultures and traditions, it includes references to everything from astrology to mythology, as well.)

Today’s bewildering variety of spiritually-themed decks is a powerful testimony to tarot’s ability to reflect the tenets of any spiritual path. There are commercial decks based on angels, the life of Buddha, the life of Christ, Christian saints, Hindu spiritual traditions, Native American spirituality, pagan beliefs, Wicca, and the myths and legends of countless cultures.

If a spiritual path encourages meditation, mindfulness, prayer, a desire to be in personal contact with the Divine, or even just curiosity about how daily events fit into a larger and more meaningful pattern, consulting the tarot will enhance—but never conflict with—the practice of that faith.

What Are the Benefits of Working with Tarot?

An increasing number of people—business owners and therapists, artists and writers, CEOs and hourly workers—are turning to tarot. The price is right: Many decks cost less than a plate of pasta. The size is right: Many decks can fit in a pocket or purse. The time is right: Many readings take 5 minutes or less.

As you read this guide, you’ll discover what these people already know: used properly, the tarot is the most inexpensive, portable, and powerful problem-solving technology available today.

So what, exactly, will reading tarot do for you? Ask this question of people already enjoying the benefits of working with the deck, and they’ll say tarot helps them in a variety of surprising ways.

Know What’s Coming

Practically every movie and television script mentioning tarot obsesses on the deck’s ability to predict the future. In reality, the idea that tarot cards reveal an inescapable fate pretty much went out with powdered wigs.

These days, many tarot card readers don’t claim to “know all and see all.” A significant number of tarot readers don’t even believe tarot should be used for predictive readings. Some believe the cards suggest the general direction of events without revealing the specifics. Other readers, though, can and do use the deck to make remarkably accurate predictions.

Will tarot cards give you a glimpse of things to come? In the end, the benefit of performing a predictive reading might have nothing at all to do with revealing the future. By providing an occasion to consider your options, explore possibilities, and outline an action plan, tarot can help you feel better prepared for whatever the future may bring.

Know Yourself Better

Tarot cards bulge with symbolic content: bright moons, flaming wands, silver pools. On each card, dozens of elements compete for your attention. The images that catch your eye reveal a lot about your deepest thoughts.

While tarot readings are no substitute for professional psychological care, working with the cards can be a very effective (and inexpensive) form of do-it-yourself therapy. But the benefits don’t stop there. Drawing a card and relating it to a question allows us to make the transition from paralysis to analysis. Working with a spread of tarot cards gets a problem out of our heads and onto the table; as a result, we can see deeply emotional and complex issues with greater clarity and perspective.

Because of the deck’s ability to refocus attention, a tarot reading can bypass our tendency to see our own actions in the best possible light, helping us see ourselves and our actions more objectively.

Drawing a few cards can dispel illusions and remove rose-colored glasses. The cards will dare to share observations your own best friends would hesitate to mention. If self-knowledge is important to you, tarot will become a valued tool.

Can Tarot Answer Medical Questions?

Tarot is a system for generating insight, exploring motivation, and enhancing awareness. It is not (and was never intended to be) a diagnostic tool for mental or physical illnesses. For this reason, the American Tarot Association always urges its members to refer medical questions to qualified medical personnel.

The tarot can help people explore concerns or focus attention on the healing process, but when medical opinions are needed, consult a doctor—not a tarot deck.

Know Others Better

Often the actions of others mystify us. How could someone possibly believe in UFOs? Who could possibly attend a church like that one? What could possibly motivate someone to vote for that candidate?

Each of us deals with the same limitation: We see the world through one pair of eyes. But the cards can represent the perspective of others, providing a remarkable opportunity to see the world as others see it.

A tarot reading can remind us to consider other points of view. If nothing else, the simple act of imagining how someone else might feel encourages empathy and improves relationships.

Make Better Decisions

Every day, the decisions we make have repercussions for our jobs, our families, and our lives. Adrift on a sea of conflicting values, we put off action for as long as possible. When we do move swiftly, we worry. Are we being decisive or impulsive? When we decide to wait and see, are we deliberating or procrastinating?

Frequently, the key to making better decisions is asking better questions. Working with tarot conditions us to define questions clearly. What’s more, allowing a line of cards to represent our problem enables us to be more objective. The fog of confusion lifts. We come up with better answers, faster than ever before.

Recapture a Sense of Spirit

One of the first casualties of a hectic world? Our spirituality. Wrapped up in the what and when of life, we lose touch with the why. Without a larger context, life becomes motion without direction.

A tarot reading provides an opportunity to be still. The evocative illustrations make perfect focal points for meditation. The symbols, drawn from the myths of many cultures, become waypoints on the path to greater peace.

Becoming more yourself and less a reflection of the chaos around you can be as simple as drawing a card.

Be More Creative

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as artists. Not everyone writes books, shoots photos, or molds sculptures. Even so, all of us are artists. Our lives, if nothing else, express how creatively we approach our daily challenges.

In art and life, falling back on familiar approaches is all too easy. Before long, the tried and true becomes the dull and daunting. The solution? Draw a card. A single card can suggest an army of characters for your short story, a dozen poetic themes, or a unifying element for a series of photos.

Spend more time in the boardroom than in the studio? Cards can suggest a new marketing slogan, a different take on last month’s sales figures, or an inexpensive way to improve customer service. Focused on your relationship? Let the cards suggest a weekend getaway or a thoughtful gift.

Used in this way, the tarot becomes your muse: an instant source of inexhaustible inspiration.

Make Contact

When you pick up a tarot deck, you hold in your hands a connection to a vast network of authors, artists, collectors, enthusiasts, hobbyists, professionals, and scholars. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you’re never more than a mouse click away from a vibrant community of people, all of whom use the cards in a variety of exciting ways.

Working with tarot will also help you forge connections with the people around you. The cards intrigue people. Pull out the cards in a coffee shop, and curious onlookers will strike up conversations. Barriers drop; ice breaks.

With time, you might eventually read for others. When you do, you’ll discover the surprising intimacy of a shared reading. Total strangers open up, sharing vulnerabilities and confiding concerns they hide from lifelong friends.

Be More Prosperous

People are all too often judged by what they accumulate, and it’s easy to get caught up in getting more “stuff.” As consumption becomes the order of the day, our possessions weigh us down. The more energy we pour into having what we want, the less likely we are to want what we have.

Drawing a card can help you focus on what really matters. Cards can represent values, reconnecting you with your moral compass. You can choose cards to represent goals; other cards can define the steps required to make your dreams a reality.

See the World More Clearly

Why is an upside-down Star so often associated with the Devil? Why is the number 13 considered unlucky? Why do we always hear about square meals and square deals—but never round or triangular ones? Our mythically illiterate culture is forgetting the elaborate system of symbols, stories, and myths that have helped people make sense of the world around them for centuries. Your study of tarot will reconnect you with those lessons, reacquainting you with a rich legacy of wisdom.

The 78 cards of the tarot represent 78 points of view: 78 lenses with the potential to transform the way you see the world. You will see how one situation gives rise to another. You will witness the magic in the apparently mundane.

In a Nutshell

Although most people associate tarot with fortunetelling, they know very little about the cards, their origins, or their use. And that’s unfortunate because, used properly, tarot is a practical, affordable, and flexible tool for problem-solving, goal-setting, and decision-making.

With just a little practice, you can learn to use the cards to:

  • reflect on your future, including where you want to go and why you want to go there.
  • see your own actions, intentions, and motives more objectively.
  • enhance your ability to communicate and empathize with others.
  • make well-informed decisions that support timely action.
  • rediscover a sense of purpose and maintain a centered, peaceful state of mind.
  • stoke your creative genius and apply it to challenges you face in your art, work, and life.
  • open yourself to greater intimacy with the people around you.
  • be more thankful for what you have and have a better grasp of what you really need.
  • reconnect with a sense of flow, design, and direction in your life.