ⓘ This guide applies to Tarot Readings 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.
The Purpose of This Guide
Not so long ago, tarot books were extremely rare. Even in esoteric bookstores, options were frequently limited to a handful of classics, including Arthur Edward Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth, Eden Gray’s The Complete Guide to the Tarot, Mary K. Greer’s Tarot for Your Self, and Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom.
Today, bookstore shelves are packed with books for tarot beginners. Some assert you can master the tarot in 10 minutes or less. Some claim the cards are infused with centuries of mystery and magic and insist they must be handled in very specific ways. Others position the tarot as little more than a psychological tool—more elaborate, perhaps, than inkblot cards, but not necessarily more useful.
This guide is designed to be a simple, comprehensive, and approachable guide to working with tarot cards. In a nutshell, here’s what makes this guide different:
It tells the truth.
Without dismissing the mystical and spiritual dimensions of tarot, this guide tells the truth, so far as we know it, about the origins and history of the deck.
It gives you options.
Rather than prescribing one approach to reading cards, this guide presents a range of methods, empowering you to choose the one you think works best.
It honors mystical and practical approaches.
Instead of asserting one conclusion about how or why the cards work, this guide explores the question from many points of view, allowing you to make up your own mind.
It can be used with any deck.
Many books are tied to one particular deck, but the insights in this guide will work with any of the thousands of decks available today.
It goes beyond fortunetelling.
Unlike books that focus exclusively on fortunetelling, this guide introduces a broad range of applications, from divination and meditation to brainstorming and creative writing.
It empowers you.
This guide reveals insider secrets you can use to protect yourself from scammers and con artists—information you won’t find in any other beginner-level guide.
As you read, you’ll:
- explore personal, practical, and spiritual reasons for working with the cards
- trace tarot’s evolution from the plaything of kings into a sophisticated tool for enlightened insight
- receive wise advice on choosing your personal deck
- learn how to read the cards for yourself
- discover the Major Arcana—the 22 most important and powerful cards in the deck
- uncover the secrets of the Minor Arcana—the 56 remaining cards usually associated with the potentials and promises of everyday life
In addition, you’ll find the answer to questions like these:
- What’s involved in reading cards for others?
- What can you do with tarot cards, other than fortunetelling and divination?
- What resources can you turn to when your journey with this guide comes to an end?
Where Should You Begin?
Remember the last time you bought a new television? When you brought that 90-inch flat screen home, you probably had no intention of learning anything about the history of the technology behind it. You just wanted to watch The Lord of the Rings in all its ultra-high-definition glory.
Along the same lines, most people who buy tarot decks aren’t particularly interested in learning about tarot. Instead, they have very specific things they want to do. They want to know how to use tarot to tell fortunes, predict the future, brainstorm new ideas, analyze dreams, or find an answer to a deeply personal question.
Fortunately, this is a comprehensive guide. Whatever you want to do with the cards, the clear, concise information in this guide will help you do it. After you discover answers to your most pressing questions, this guide can also suggest applications and recommend resources that will support your interest in tarot for years to come.
Where should you begin? Although you can read this guide from cover to cover, you should feel free to jump directly to the chapter or section that interests you most:
I’m curious about tarot but want to know more about it before using it.
Chapter 1: The Benefits of Reading Tarot, covers the advantages of working with tarot. Chapter 2: A (Very) Brief History of Tarot, explores what tarot was, summarizing the origins and history of the cards: how and why the deck was created, how its use has changed over the centuries, and how people are using it today. Chapter 3: Exploring Today’s Tarot, focuses on modern tarot, with an emphasis on the practical and metaphysical applications for the deck.
I want to find the tarot deck that’s best for me.
These days, tarot decks are easy to find and, with thousands of decks on the market, at least one is bound to work well for you. Chapter 4: Your Personal Tarot Deck, will help you understand the range of options and find the deck of your dreams.
I need a reading—now!
If you’re facing a personal dilemma and need insights right away, go directly to Chapter 5: Consulting the Tarot. There, you’ll discover how to prepare for a reading and apply the deck’s insights to your concerns. If you’re interested in getting a professional tarot reading, check out Going to a Tarot Reader in Chapter 7: Getting and Giving Readings.
I want to know more about what the cards mean.
Reading tarot cards is both an art and a science; with practice and patience, the cards will speak to you with amazing clarity. If you prefer to learn a hands-on method for decoding the meaning of a card, read Chapter 5. If you’re curious about meanings that others have assigned to the cards, Chapter 6 offers traditional meanings for every card in the deck.
For more a more comprehensive guide to traditional card meanings, including their astrological, numerological, and mythological meanings, plus applications to romance, work, spirituality, and personal growth, please refer to Tarot Card Meanings page.
I want to read the cards without having to refer to a book.
If you want to avoid flipping through a “tarot card dictionary” while reading the cards, you have at least two options. The intuitive approach (see the section Intuitive Methods in Chapter 5) emphasizes drawing your own useful, insightful meanings from the symbols and illustrations on every card. If you prefer to work with the traditional meanings of the cards (or if you enjoy memorization!), you can study the detailed card definitions provided in Chapter 6.
I want to read the cards for other people.
Providing basic readings for friends or family is a great way to learn about tarot. Never forget, though, that the act of reading for others (in addition to being harder than it looks!) brings with it tremendous responsibility. When you’re comfortable and confident with the symbolic language of the cards, Chapter 7 explores nine popular types of readings and provides great tips on delivering them effectively—and ethically.
I want to take tarot to the next level.
You’ll find a baker’s dozen of creative tarot applications in Chapter 8: Thirteen Fun Things to Do with Tarot Cards. In addition, Chapter 9: Where to Go to Learn More, points the way to useful books, decks, websites, schools, and courses for further study.
Whatever your level of interest, whatever your goals, you’ll quickly discover that this is both a reliable reference work and a practical hands-on guide to all things tarot. If you approach this guide as you should the tarot—with common sense and wisdom—it will become a resource you’ll treasure for years to come.