Well, I was even more confused the first time I witnessed a tarot card reading. Needless to say that I was at a queer get-together. It animated the party, as several people were sharing symbolic understandings of various cards. I was even more confused during my two first tarot readings. The person was instructing me on how to handle and infuse my energy into the card deck, and upon a careful explanation on a spread, I was very lost at the revelations that the cards had for me.
What is a priestess, a magician or a fool? And why does it matter if that card is reversed? It felt like assisting a mystical fortune-teller. I didn’t feel particularly enlightened or guided in any way.
Since that experience, I’ve learned a lot about tarot card readings and how it functions. I am still far away from a tarot reader, but my new understanding of the practice has helped me adjust my intentions and expectations. That’s why I’m
here to share it with you!
An introduction to tarot card reading
Tarot reading is a practice of spiritual guidance, based on a card system. Practitioners use it to self-reflect and connect with the spiritual self regarding specific life questions or general personal growth. The readings, nor cards themselves, do not hold any predictive power; this isn’t about telling the future.
They open consciousness, refine intuitive processes and inner wisdom into new opportunities of interpretation. In other words, a tarot reading around starting a new position in your career is best understood as exploring “What should I be aware of when entering this new job?” rather than a finite “This new job will be
good/bad for me”.
Because of the subjectivity of the tarot card readings, acute interpretation is a key element. The ability to know yourself well enough, and be in touch with your intuition, that you can use the meanings of the card readings in your own life is ultimately what tarot can create. This is why it is a practice that takes time. It is good to know that tarot does not require any spiritual background, acknowledgement of the occult or psychic forces in order to be able to enjoy and/or benefit from it. In fact, some card readers aren’t spiritual at all: it is a means to be in touch with your intuition, based on the belief that cards come out randomly. But, if you are faith-driven in any way, you can interpret readings with spiritual guidance. A common theme throughout tarot practice is that it is a personal journey first and foremost; there are no correct ways to bond with tarot.
What are tarot cards? How do tarot cards work?
The discipline revolves around the mighty tarot card deck: you may have seen one before, and may have noticed that it is very vivid in its imagery! All decks have the same “characters” that allow for a common understanding of tarot as a practice. That said, the imagery can be quite varied from one illustrator to
another. The classic Rider Waite tarot deck has a vintage sketched feel, compared to some more modern decks like XXX. This matters: since intuition is so powerful in tarot, your gut reaction to the illustration is valued, even if you’re not quite sure
of the card’s meaning yet. Finding a deck with imagery that speaks to you, means that it is already appealing to your intuitive senses.
If you pick up a tarot card, you’ll notice that the illustrations can have a lot of details, and very intentional colouring. That’s because cards have stories. Their entire visual presentation is representative of the story the card embodies. Understanding the meaning of the cards in your deck is how your reading can
become more refined. Remembering all 78 cards might be challenging though, so know that there are many ressources online (and usually a guide is given with the deck) in order to learn the symbolism. Among the 78 cards, there are two distinct categories: some are considered major arcana and others, minor arcana. Major arcana cards are the first 21 of the set and signify a bigger, more global type of guidance. They help to seize the bigger picture, or a main theme in your life. Minor arcana cards come in four suits, just like playing cards, but each have a common motif in their meanings: wands (action, initiative energy), cups (emotions, relationships), swords (challenges, conflict) and pentacles (work, goals). The numbers of the cards also have specific meanings. Minor arcana cards are a bit more specific and detailed in their revelations. They focus more on a smaller theme or goal in your life, not an overarching one.
How to read tarot cards
Setting an intention for a tarot card reading is a really important first step into it. Are you looking for guidance on a specific question, about your career, love life, a decision? Is this a general reading for the day? This changes vastly how you will
be able to interpret what the cards give you, and in the spiritual realm, setting this intention beforehand influences the guiding cards you may reach for. The location of your reading matters a lot to some, and a lot less to others. The way that you personally connect and interact with your deck is unique to you. Some are able to get in touch with their deck anywhere, while others need a specific place as a part of their ritual. Try it out, and see what places make you feel most focused and in tuned with your deck.
To begin a reading, the deck is shuffled by the subject of the reading. If it’s to answer a question for yourself, you will be the one mixing cards. This is because the way that you choose to blend the deck together and ultimately pick out the cards revolves around your intuition. You can shuffle them as many times as you wish -- whatever feels right. This may come with other rituals: some like to take deep breaths, to clear their mind, to switch between several shuffling techniques, some take this time to really focus into their intention. A personal ritual will
eventually reveal itself to you, with practice and ease with the cards. Next, you must draw the cards out onto your surface. This can be done by many different spreads, a word to describe the way you pick cards out and how you place them on the surface. Spreads may require a different number of cards, and
each placement has a context for the meaning. Once again, there is no right or wrong spread.
A simple tarot spread is the one-card spread, which can be good for a daily tarot reading “What should I be aware of today?”. You pull one card of your choice from your deck, flip it over and interpret it. Another common one is a three-card
spread. The left represents your past, the middle your present, and the right one your future. This spread allows you look at growth, or to put your present discovery in a context.
Now, look at your cards. Some will be upright, and others will be upside down. These have different readings, usually opposite or contrasting at the very least. With the your initial intention for your reading in mind, how you feel/your intuition,
your knowledge of the spread and that of the cards’ meaning and direction, you may interpret all of these symbols to the best of your abilities. This is what takes practice, as it demands that you get sharper and sharper in your interpretation over time, avoiding biases and being as clear-headed as possible. Know that there are plenty of free tarot ressources available to you, and that there’s nothing wrong with getting in contact with a professional tarot card reader for even better results.
And that’s your beginner’s guide to tarot card reading! With some time and dedication, tarot reading can be anything from a fun party trick to a deeply spiritual experience that can guide you through difficult decisions. So grab a tarot deck you like, and try it out.
For and inclusive and colourful deck, our personal favourite is the Queer tarot from ash and chess's shop !