An Introduction To Tarot Card Reading

Tarot is having a major moment. What originated as a card game in Italy around the fifteenth century has become one of pop culture’s latest obsessions, ranging from beauty products to artists putting their own spin on the deck and tarot-inspired fashion (including this Topshop blouse). But what is it exactly and how can we use the cards to infuse our own lives with some ‘magick’? We asked Gabriela Herstik, author of Craft, How to Be a Modern Witch, to give us a quick introduction…

Breaking down the deck

  • The tarot consists of a 78-card deck that’s divided into two parts, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The word ‘arcana’ derives from the Latin arcanum, meaning “secret” or “mystery.”
  • The 22 cards of the Major Arcana represent major changes and events, as well as the evolution of humanity itself from the material and physical planes to the spiritual realm. The cards in it, such as Death, the Tower and the Moon, hold more significance in a reading than those in the Minor Arcana because they represent greater transformations.
  • The Minor Arcana represents our day-to-day life and those situations we might face multiple times. This Arcana includes four suits: Cups, Pentacles, Wands and Swords, with four court cards in each suit. Classically, these are the Page, Knight, Queen and King. The court cards represent specific people or archetypal energies.

Nothing is set in stone

The tarot doesn’t tell our fortune in the way that we might be accustomed to thinking. While the cards can predict a certain outcome, the idea of free will still holds true. Instead of telling us a binding fate, the cards act as a map to parts of our unconscious selves that we may be unaware of. They’re like mirrors, picking up our energy in a reading and reflecting it back to us.

Choosing a deck

Although there’s a myth that you have to be gifted your first tarot deck, there are many – myself included – who would dispute this. Having a connection with your deck is vital; there’s nothing wrong with choosing your own deck to ensure that you work with cards that you feel connected to.

The most important thing when shopping for a deck is to find one that speaks to you. It should spark your soul! Search online or go into your local metaphysical store to and something that feels right. The most common tarot deck is the Rider-Waite deck, but there are plenty of variations of this, as well as a whole slew of original and indie decks.

Learning the cards

Although many decks will include short guidebooks, a majority of these don’t have very detailed descriptions of the cards. Spend time in your local bookstore or online looking through tarot books to find one that resonates with you. Learning the symbolism and archetypes of the cards is really valuable as you move through your journey with the tarot. And if you’re into astrology, knowing the astrological correspondences will also deepen your practice with the cards.

For books, The Book of Tarot and WTF Is Tarot are both great places to start. I also highly recommend The Tarot Lady and Lindsay Mack as online resources.

Reading the cards

  • First things first, keep in mind that there’s no “right” way to read. As you start reading for yourself and your friends, you’ll find a style that works for you. My biggest piece of advice is to trust your intuition. See how the cards affect you and make you feel in the moment. Be present! And remember that this is a skill like any other that takes practice.
  • Making an effort to pull a card, or few cards, every morning will help you learn the cards, and how the energies present themselves in your day-to-day life. Keep a journal of your pulls and findings, and add to this as you read for yourself and others.
  1. Cleanse the cards using palo santo, sage, mugwort or another sacred herb. Light the dried herb and move the cards through the smoke; this will help clear the cards of any energies, like from previous reading. You can also leave a piece of selenite (a self-cleansing stone) on top of your deck to cleanse it.
  2. Before any tarot reading, the querant (the person whose cards are being read) will ask a question. If you’re reading for yourself then you’ll ask a question. Try something broad like ‘what does the future hold for my love life?’ or ‘what do I need to know about this job offer?’ You can also focus on a specific topic like love or money. Sometimes you have to ask a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, and that’s okay, but the cards aren’t always that cut and dried!
  3. Once you pick a question, it’s time to pick a spread! Tarot spreads are a way to gain information from the deck. A spread is created when you physically lay out the cards in a particular sequence. Besides addressing an overarching question, each card in the spread will address specific issues, like a specific question, depending on where it is positioned. (I also like to see which card is lying at the bottom of the deck: this card represents the underlying message of the reading and often adds some unexpected insight.) You can try a three card spread to represent past / present / future or mind / body / spirit, or something else that resonates with you. You can also try Celtic cross, or scourge the internet or books for other spreads.
  4. Have the querent shuffle the cards as they focus on their question. The querent should take this time to breathe and centre. When you’re first beginning to read the cards, it will probably work to your advantage to have the querent tell you what they’re asking, though they may not always feel comfortable doing this. Just do the best you can regardless, and trust yourself and the process.
  5. Now comes the fun part – pulling the cards. Pull the cards and place them on the position of your spread. Refer to the interpretations of the cards in any books you’re using, as well as your gut feeling and any symbols that come up. Notice how the question and the layout relate to interpretation of the card. Honour what you feel. If necessary to help clarify something, pull an extra card. And don’t be afraid to do more research on a card if you get stuck. When you’ve finished interpreting the cards individually, try to see how they fit together as a whole.
  6. Take notes of your pull, and then take a moment to ground and centre your energy by breathing and feeling the earth supporting you.

Although it seems like a lot, the more you work with the cards, the easier it will become. Create a relationship with your deck; work with it often, honour it and say thank you to the cards for their wisdom. And don’t forget to have some fun!

Learn more in Gabriela Herstik’s book Craft, How to Be a Modern Witch…