A Beginner's Guide to Reading Tarot Cards

tarot

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If you've scrolled through Instagram lately (and we know you have), there's a good chance that among your friends' and follower's posts, you've noticed more than a few tarot decks (or posts with captions nodding at tarot readings) popping up in your feed. While you may have at one point considered that to be super woo-woo (hi, guilty), as soon as you experience tarot for yourself, you'll likely change your mind. After all, pulling anywhere from one to 12 cards can shed light on your past, present, and future in a way that you never thought could.

Of course, in order to understand the cards you pull, you'll first have to learn how to read tarot cards. That's where we come in. Ahead, you'll find a deep dive into all things tarot courtesy of two deck creators. Grab your crystals and read along.

01 of 07

Select Your Deck

Tarot cards scattered around.

Tatâna Maramygina / EyeEm / Getty Images

While you might think that selecting the perfect deck comes down to a science, it's really all about what you gravitate towards. “When buying anything, I love to use what I call the ‘Oohh’ method,” says Goddess Provisions co-founder and CEO, Jill Pyle, noting that whenever she sees something and feels an overwhelming ‘YES,’ she typically gasps out loud. “If you feel excited when you see a deck—maybe synchronicity leads you to it, or you feel an indescribable pull towards it—it's calling to you as a tool that will help you along your path.”

Meet the Expert

Jill Pyle is the co-founder of Goddess Provisions, a well-known spiritual company with an impressive Instagram following.

Beyond hoping for an innate draw to a certain deck, consider what Rebecca Szymczak, aka Cardsy B of Bad Ass Bitches Tarot has to say. “If you're a visual learner, the artwork is usually what jumps out first,” says Cardsy. “Does it make sense to you? Do you prefer darker visuals (for example, The Wild Unknown deck) or connect more with light and whimsical imagery (such as the Hanson Roberts Tarot deck)?” If you're a more tangible person, she says that the size and weight of the cards will be very important, as each deck varies. “If you can, go to a metaphysical shop and handle several decks you like before deciding,” she suggests. “Similarly, if you're a verbal learner, how the title/name of each card is marked may be the most helpful factor when learning tarot.” After all, not all decks have labeled cards which can be challenging for some tarot newbies. “I tend to be a verbal and visual learner so when I created the Badass Bitches Tarot deck, I labeled each card first with the card's title on the base and the card's initials at the opposite corners like a playing card (ie: The High Priestess = HP),” she shares.

Meet the Expert

Rebecca Szymczak, aka Cardsy B, is the founder of Bad Ass Bitches Tarot and the creator of its namesake deck. She's based in New York City.

At the end of the day, oracle and tarot decks are sacred tools that Pyle says should definitely feel in total resonance with your mind, body, and spirit. “They will stay stuck in your mind, give you a positive sensation in your body (like butterflies in your belly), and feel like a gift to your spirit,” she says.

02 of 07

Determine a Focus for the Reading

Goddess Provisions CEO setting an intention for her tarot reading.

 Goddess Provisions

Some people think that tarot is supposed to divulge its own meaning, however, at the start of every reading, it’s important to set a focus or intention of the reading. “Like manifesting anything, the more specific you are with the focus of a reading, the closer you're going to get to the info you're seeking,” Cardsy explains.

If there isn't a topic or burning question that immediately comes to mind for your reading, Pyle says to take a moment to close your eyes, drop into full presence within your body, and take at least three deep breaths. “Then ask yourself, ‘What do I really need clarity on right now?’" she instructs. Whatever comes to mind fastest is what should be delved into that day. If, however, your mind goes blank after that internal cue, Pyle says to instead ask yourself, "What energies or themes do I need to tune in to right now?"

Since it can sometimes be intimidating to determine how to frame a question, Cardsy explains that, while you can get yes or no answers, it can be trickier to interpret as all cards have both light and shadow/positive and negative traits. “For that reason, I always find that you get more out of a reading when asking open-ended questions,” she says. “Tarot cards tell a story more than they give definite affirmative or negative answers.”

With that in mind, peruse Cardsy B's examples of strong questions for overall clarity in relation to life, love, and finances, below:

  • What do I need to know/change right now about myself or this situation?
  • What is the biggest obstacle that stands in my way right now?
  • What lesson do I need to learn to overcome my challenges?
  • What is the biggest influence on my life right now?
  • How can I attract a partner that will align with my highest self?
  • What stands in the way of me finding love?
  • How can I strengthen the relationship between me and my partner?
  • What is my biggest financial obstacle right now?
  • What is my attitude towards finances? Where does that come from?
  • How can I find financial abundance?
03 of 07

Shuffle

Once your focus is established it’s time to shuffle. Just like any card game, it's important to make sure the deck isn't stacked so that when you draw your cards they're at random.

04 of 07

Draw the Cards

Goddess Provisions CEO showcasing a 3-card tarot spread from bird's eye view.

Goddess Provisions

There’s no science to the way in which you draw your cards—nor is there a limit to how many you can pull. “To me, this should be a totally intuitive process and shouldn't feel limited in any way,” Pyle begins. “You can simply pull one card for a quick message from your higher self and a key message for the present moment, or you can do a spread.”  

If you opt for a spread, you can choose from a 3-card spread (which Pyle says is used to illuminate key information about the past, present, and future), a 10-card Celtic cross, a 9-card Magic X (which Cardsy created as a powerful all-encompassing overview spread), or a more elaborate 12-card spread (in which Pyle says one card represents a theme for each month in the year ahead). “There are lots of unique card spread ideas online or in books that are fun to try, but really the power is in your intention,” Pyle adds. “As you think of your intention or question during each card pull, you'll receive guidance under that theme.”

Re-touching on endless spread options, Cardsy acknowledges that it might feel overwhelming at first. “I recommend pulling one card a day to begin learning,” she says. “Start by asking a question for the day such as "What does the universe want me to be aware of today?" and then look for the energies that card is indicating throughout your day.”

05 of 07

Use the Included Pamphlet or a Tarot Database to Determine Meanings

Goddess Provisions founder learning the meanings of each card in her tarot deck.

Goddess Provisions 

Most decks come with a little pamphlet included that briefly describes what each card means; however, if you'd like to get deeper with your readings, you can use one of the world's many tarot databases.

“I really love the Mystic Mondays phone app," Pyle shares, "which allows you to easily look up the meaning of any card."

06 of 07

The Meanings of the 5 Most-Misunderstood Tarot Cards

The Hermit Tarot CArd

bigjom / Getty Images

Cardsy explains that there are five cards (if not more) in every deck that are often met with uncertainty. "These are the five cards you might be scared of but shouldn’t be," she starts.

Death: "This one gets a bad rap and is actually one of my favorite cards in the deck," she says. "The death card, ruled by Scorpio, is all about change and transformation. Just as a scorpion sheds its shell to up-level into a bigger, better-fitting one, being in Death card energy indicates you are evolving into a more authentic, aligned version of yourself."

The Fool: This card doesn't actually make you a fool, contradictory to popular opinion. Instead, Cardsy B says that this card is actually about taking risks and moving into a brand new chapter sans baggage. "The traditional Fool card shows an enthusiastic traveler preparing to leap off a cliff with a dog by his side, representing loyalty and protection (ie: Leap and the net will appear; When you take risks that feel intuitively aligned for you, the universe will have your back)," Cardsy explains. "To me, this is one of the most optimistic cards in the deck indicating a fresh start and movement in a positive direction."

The Devil: Let's be real, drawing the devil can be challenging, but it's not as bad as you might think. "The classic artwork shows a demonic figure with a man and woman shackled to the demon," Cardsy verbally illustrates. "While this card does indicate temptations of self-sabotage, when we look closely, the shackles around the two individuals tied to the Devil are extremely loose." She says that this translates to the ideas that you can untie yourself and walk away from self-sabotaging patterns anytime you choose.

The Emperor: "This traditional version of this card shows a stoic pope-like figure on a thrown indicating leadership and setting up a new foundation," Cardsy explains. "The traditional patriarchal imagery of this card can be polarizing as it can be seen as patriarchal energy asserting domineering rules and regulations." That's not how she sees it though. Instead, she believes that this card is all about how you choose to set up the foundation for your life in order to set yourself up for the most authentic alignment and success moving forward according to your playbook—no one else's.

The Hermit: Contrary to the traditional meaning of the word “hermit,” pulling this card doesn't indicate that you're a social recluse. "The traditional card shows an old man on top of a mountain holding a lantern out in front of him," Cardsy explains. "This card reminds us to go within and filter out any outside noises—even if they are opinions from loved ones with well-meaning intentions—as we move toward self-actualization. The lantern reminds us that we don't need to know the entire future, but rather just trust our intuition to light the next few steps of our journey."

07 of 07

Tarot Decks to Consider

Goddess Provisions Sacred Self Care Oracle

Goddess Provisions

Now that you know how to read your own (or your BFF's) cards, you might feel inclined to buy your own deck. While there are hundreds to choose from, we asked Pyle and Cardsy B for their faves. Check them out below.

Mystic Mondays Tarot Deck with cards spread out.
Mystic Mondays Tarot: A Deck for the Modern Mystic $16
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"My current go-to tarot deck is the Mystic Mondays Tarot Deck ($16) but I often combine multiple decks during a reading, pulling one or more cards from each," Pyle says. "When I channeled [read: designed] The Sacred Self-Care Oracle Deck, it was first and foremost to help me create a self-care practice and recover from burn out. Now, this oracle deck is my go-to for any reading regardless of the topic because it helps illuminate what self-care practices will support the desired outcome."

Badass Bitches Tarot Deck
Bad Ass Bitches Tarot Deck $40
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"I obviously am partial to Badass Bitches Tarot ($40), a deck which I illustrated and created in 2018 consisting of 78 iconic, powerful women as each of the cards," Cardsy B says. "I wanted to create a modern deck that helped new readers to learn. In addition to using renowned women of our time, core elements of the traditional Rider-Waite (the most well-known tarot deck) are fused into each card, as well as helpful verbal and visual cues like the titles and initials on each card."

Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot Deck
Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot Deck $17
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"I am also a big fan of the OG Smith Rider-Waite deck," Cardsy B adds. "I recommend the Smith-Waite Centennial Deck ($17)—which is said to be one of the closest reproductions of the original deck. I love how they finally put Pamela Coleman Smith's (the deck's designer and illustrator) name first."

Hanson-Roberts Tarot Deck
Hanson-Roberts Tarot Deck $22
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"The other deck I love is the Hanson Roberts Deck ($22), which is kind of a fairytale style version of Smith Rider-Waite," Cardsy B says. "It is the first deck I got when I was a kid and I personally find that the small size (standard playing card size) and artwork make it a great starter deck for kids and those brand new to tarot. I have a glass case on my living room table that holds all three: the Badass Bitches Tarot Deck, the Smith Rider-Waite Centennial Tarot and the Hanson Roberts Tarot deck. I've purchased and been gifted many, many others over the years but those are my absolute star decks."

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