Learning Tarot

This wasn’t a direct question to the blog, but was sent to a mailing list I’m on. A member asked for tips on learning tarot.

Ideas (caveat: not every reader reads the same way, even when they use the same divination tools, and not all of these may be equally or at all useful for the way your own mind works, so ymmv):

1. If you know the basic meanings of the cards now, then put the books away for a while and start creating your own “book,” based on your own experience with your own readings. This will require that you do practice readings on yourself and on other people, so you can get feedback. Keep track of them; write them down. Leave space to go back later and make additional notes as things come to light down the road. This can be as simple as a record of the cards you lay for a given reading, or as complex as a place to brainstorm and/or meditate on individual cards, make associations with various symbols, keep track of what cards come up for certain querents or what elements come up for certain types of queries over time, etc.

2. Think of the cards as words/vocabulary, and the layout as your sentence structure. After a while, you may be able to read without a predetermined layout, just pulling cards as you go / as your querent talks, but when you’re just starting out, it can help to confine yourself to a predetermined sentence structure (ie, layout), and practicing extensively with one layout can help you get experience interpreting individual cards within that particular “sentence structure.” That can sometimes help you learn to extract the core meaning from a card that can then be transferred to/expanded upon within a particular context or setting. (Regular three-card readings, for instance, are, in my opinion, a lot more useful a lot more quickly for this than are single-card daily readings or extended layouts with 10 or 15 or more cards.)

3. If you already know some other system fairly well, there may be a way you can use it to help you make the leap you’re facing with Tarot (getting from learning the “little white book” meanings to actually getting fluent with getting at what a given card is saying in a given layout regarding a given situation). For instance, if you are passingly familiar with astrology, and you read with a deck that makes the cards’ astrological associations overt like the Thoth or the Quest, then you can think of the 3 of Swords as Saturn (blockage/restriction/limitation) in Libra (peace/harmony). Sometimes identifying these core elements can make it easier to figure out what the card is saying in a given “sentence” or “paragraph.” You can do the same kind of “breaking down” by focusing on the numerology of the cards, or on the qabalistic associations.

4. Alternately, depending on how your mind works, focusing on some small non-pictorial element may make it harder for you. Some people are a lot more visually-oriented or narratively-oriented than others. In that case, sometimes a change of deck can make a difference. Some decks may talk to us differently, or talk to different parts of us, or tell their stories in ways that are clearer to us, than others. I admire the concept behind the Quest deck, for instance, but I find the art so incredibly ugly as to be positively intuition-destroying, and I’d rather read with a set of bar coasters, or a handful of pine needles. I love that I own the Blake tarot, but I rarely read with it because it makes even a hangnail take on the weight of a big cosmic event. You may find some decks, like the Aquarian or Rider Waite, speak to you more clearly through the visual stories being told in the actual cards, where decks that focus more on illustrating or indicating symbols or principles or that are more abstract may not work as well for you.

5. It takes years to learn to read the Tarot truly “fluently.” The only way to do it is by doing it. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it’s taking time.

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