Tips for Learning To Read the Cards

Here are some ways that were helpful for me:

Books. It was books that got me started. See the Books category of this blog for recommendations. It was also helpful for me to make a binder with tabs for each card and notes, which I compiled from the books I read.

Internet. There’s a vast tarot community out there, and no matter where you live, you’ve got access to it! I have found following sites very helpful:

  • Learning the Tarot: An On-line Course, A great free course for beginners.
  • The Tarot School, A Tarot community offering courses in New York and correspondence courses and telecourses for those of us far away. Also home of the popular e-newsletter, Tarot Tips.
  • Tarot Passages, Wonderful source for Tarot book and deck reviews as well as interesting articles.
  • TarotL, A very popular Yahoo! group.
  • Aeclectic Tarot: Tarot Cards, Readings & Community, Dedicated to the diversity & beauty of Tarot. See images of Tarot cards, read reviews of Tarot decks and Tarot books, learn about Tarot, receive Tarot readings, visit Tarot links, or join their Tarot community.
  • American Tarot Association, A membership organization that offers courses and sends newsletters to members. See information below about their free reading sites that provide mentors for volunteer readers.

Look at the cards! Play with them! When I first got started, I thought if I just got a hold of the authoritative book and memorized each of the card interpretations, I’d be set. Well, there is no one such book, nor is there a definitive key for each card. Tarot truly is an interpretive art. When I do a reading for someone, I turn over each card and ask them to describe it and tell me how it makes them feel. The querent may never have looked at a deck before but often what they have to say about the cards could come right out of a book. When we look at the images and consider the emotions they evoke and the stories they tell, we can’t help but see the possibilities for interpretation. The archetypal nature of the cards make universal interpretations inevitable. So put the books away for a while and look at the cards. Pick a card a day and leave it out on your dresser, choose a card that reflects your mood or a situation, a hope or a fear, or someone you know. Every time you go hunting through the deck for a card that symbolizes your experience, you will learn more about the cards. The Reflections on Cards section of this blog includes exercises that I hope will help.

Write a personal interpretation for each card. I originally developed the Magician’s Table website to sell my craft items and jewelry featuring cards from the Rider-Waite deck. It occurred to me fairly quickly that no one would buy a tarot candle or pendant if they didn’t know what the cards meant! Writing a brief interpretation of each card was a great exercise. Later I made myself a list of key words for each card, which was also helpful.

Find a mentor. I was very lucky to have a friend offer to meet with me once a week to get me familiar with the structure of the deck and each of the cards. If you don’t have a friend who reads the cards, you might ask around at your local new age bookstore and see if someone is available. If you can’t afford to pay for coaching, you might see if you can work out some sort of exchange.

Volunteer as a reader for the American Tarot Association and get a mentor. Once you have a good understanding of each card, you can volunteer to do free one-card email readings on the ATA’s Free Tarot Network. The FTN will assign a mentor to you. Your mentor may ask you to do some exercises and sample readings before getting started. For a while, he or she will review your readings before you send them. After completing 50 one-card readings, you can ask your mentor to recommend you to the ATA’s Free Reading Network, which offers free three-card email readings. There you will be assigned a new mentor.

My experience as a reader for the FTN and the FRN has been so valuable. My mentors were fabulous, and it is neat to have written so extensively about the cards.

If you are considering joining the FTN, it will be very helpful to have written key words and a brief interpretation of each card before you get started. I also recommend that you get James Ricklef’s book, Tarot Tells the Tale, a compilation of his three-card readings for famous literary and historical characters. It is so much fun and has a wonderful key to the tarot in its appendix. I learned a great deal about how to write a reading from this book.

Find a class, workshop, group, or conference. Check with your local new age bookstore to see if they offer any classes on tarot. is another good source. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to attend the Bay Area Tarot Symposium (BATS), which is usually scheduled in October and April. In Los Angeles there is the Los Angeles Tarot Symposium (LATS), and in New York, the Tarot School has the Readers Studio each spring. All of these events include great speakers and workshops. You might also see if Meetup has a listing for a tarot group meeting in your area. If not, why not start one?

Practice! Practice on friends and family members and coworkers. Mention that you are studying tarot and you will probably get some requests for readings. Don’t feel shy about having notes with you or a book.

It took me a long time before I found my reading voice, and I remember when it happened. One evening I did a three-card reading for my husband Jared. I expressed frustration at my lack of confidence and said that I wished I had a long line of people to read for. He pretended to be that long line of people. He had me do one reading after the next, and he pretended to be a different querent each time—an enthusiastic querent, a skeptical querent, a bored querent, a silent querent, a garrulous querent. Boy did he keep me on my toes! As he high-fived me after each reading, my confidence grew. I was on my way!

I’d love to see folks out there post other ideas for learning to read the cards!


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