A 10-Step Beginner’s Guide to Reading Tarot
A Stress-Free and Easy Guide!
So you want to read tarot but don’t know where to begin? First, I recommend reading my article, 7 Popular Misconceptions about Tarot.
In that article, I dispel all the incorrect rumors about tarot including stuff like “tarot is evil,” “you have to by a psychic to read tarot,” and “reading tarot is just about telling the future and that future is final.” It’s important to understand what tarot is and isn’t before you start reading.
Did you read it? Seriously read it, it’s helpful.
Now, let’s jump right in…
1) Choosing a Deck
You have so many tarot options to choose from and none of them are wrong unless someone made a deck that has nothing to do with the common meaning of the cards and you picked that as your first deck. I don’t even know of any decks like that so you should be ok.
Choosing a deck is your first introduction to the world of listening to your intuition, which is what reading tarot is all about!
If you don’t have money to buy a deck right now or just can’t or won’t buy a deck right now, you can download a deck for free and print it out.
If you want to buy a deck but don’t know how to choose a deck, start by browsing decks and seeing what you gravitate towards.
I recommend physically browsing decks if you can. Most bookstores should have a tarot section. Magic and occult shops definitely will have tarot decks for sale. I even read recently on Reddit that JoAnn’s Fabrics sells tarot decks!
So now you’ve found a store that sells tarot cards and you are physically in that store right now, looking at the vast amount of available tarot decks. You’re overwhelmed and have no idea what to do. It’s ok, breathe…and browse. Look around and pick up decks that interest you, read the back and see if that deck speaks to you. If not, put it down and go to the next deck that catches your eye.
Some shops will have sample tarot decks already open so that you can go through the cards and see if you connect to the artwork and overall vibe of the deck. Most stores will not have that option though, so you can either buy a deck you gravitate towards without seeing all the cards, or if you’re unsure, you can take a picture/write down the names of the decks you like and watch walkthroughs and reviews of the decks on YouTube, or just look at pics online.
Every deck for sale will have pics of all the cards online or a video to help you decide if you like that deck or not. I find that video reviews and walkthroughs help me get a better feel of the cards than pictures.
With the first deck that I still use as my main deck, I was so instantly connected to it, that I didn’t need to see all of the cards. I bought it sealed and even without a walkthrough, I knew it was the right deck for me. So that might happen for you as well.
There are so many different decks out there. You can find the original Tarot de Marseille, the popular Rider-Wait deck… there are literally tarot decks for anything you can think of, from Alice in Wonderland to cats.
Even as a beginner, you don’t need to choose a specific deck just because it’s popular or other people recommended it. You need to pick a deck that you connect to. You must listen to your intuition on this. You will need to start listening to your intuition to read tarot cards, so that’s why getting a deck is the first test of sorts.
So how do you know if you’re connected to a deck and should buy it? You will either feel a pull towards a deck or feel happy and excited handling a deck. You might like the pictures, the theme of the deck, the funny way in which the description is written. Something about that deck will resonate with you in a deep level.
It’s like choosing a book, you can look at the cover, read the description, and maybe browse the first few pages and you will know if that book is for you or not. It’s similar to tarot cards but in my experience, the connection is even more intense than finding a cool, new book to read.
When I first started reading tarot, I didn’t even intend to start reading tarot. I wasn’t against it and had always wanted to start, but I had never been able to find a deck that I could connect to. But one day, while I was browsing the tarot section of my favorite bookstore, the Deviant Moon deck called to me and practically jumped into my hands. The energy coming from that deck was impossible to ignore!
I was enamored with the art and the energy that deck was exuding. The Deviant Moon Deck is dark but still playful. A lot of people hate that deck and find it creepy, but I love creepy stuff, so that deck is perfect for me.
As soon as I picked up that Deviant Moon box, looked at the art on the box, and read the description, I knew immediately that I was buying it, there was zero doubt in my mind that then and there, I was going to finally start reading tarot. My connection to that deck was immediate and intense, but not everyone is going to be able to pop their tarot cherry in the same way. It’s different for everyone.
So if a deck doesn’t jump out at you, it’s fine. Keep looking through the decks until you find something that you like. It doesn’t need to be an intense, spiritual awakening your very first time, just liking the artwork and feeling happy when you look at a certain deck is enough.
If you can’t decide between a couple of decks, check out YouTube video reviews or buy the ones you like if you can afford to buy all of them. The main thing is that you like that deck and connect to it. That connection can be intense like my connection is to my Deviant Moon deck, or it can just be fun and pleasant. It’s just like sex! Don’t judge, let go and enjoy! Do what feels good!
If you don’t have access to stores that sell tarot cards near you, then browsing online is totally fine. Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube all have large tarot communities with endless pictures and videos of tarot cards and decks. You can search by themes like creepy decks or spiritual decks, or even by colors like black decks and gold decks. There’s a deck for every interest and aesthetic you can imagine. And countless YouTubers post lists of their favorite decks by theme. Check those videos out and see what you connect to!
A lot of people will say that you need to start with the Rider-Waite deck, but you totally don’t. I hate that deck and think it looks hideous. If I had forced myself to start with that deck, I probably would have given up reading tarot immediately instead of it becoming a big part of my life for the past five years.
Choose what you like and trust your intuition, that’s the most important thing!
2) Getting To Know Your Deck
So now you’ve bought your first tarot deck. Congrats! You’ve opened the box and looked through the cards and are ready to get started, but you’re still not sure what to do next. Most decks come with a little booklet that will have short descriptions or keywords for each card. Read that little booklet and pull each card that you’re reading about so you can start associating the cards with their meaning.
Some decks will come with full-on books or sell companion books separately. If your deck sells a companion book, buy it! Not only will this contain more detailed interpretations of each card, but it will also include a story or detail about the artwork on each card.
The artwork is very important since it represents the energy and meaning of the cards. This will help you remember what each card means. It will also deepen your connection to the cards since you will understand why the artist designed the cards in a particular way.
Reading about why Patrick Valenza chose certain images for the Deviant Moon deck made me love my deck even more, since he was inspired by his childhood drawings and also real gravesites, among other spooky things. His stories about each card strengthened my love and connection to that deck.
If your deck doesn’t come with a companion book, you can look up the meaning of different cards at tarot.com or browse through different tarot guides at the bookstore or online and see which tarot books speak to you.
Some tarot book authors are very witchy, some are very New Age-y, some are more practical, some are more serious, and some are really funny. It just depends on what kind of writing style is easy and fun for you to read.
Aside from the Deviant Moon companion book, the only other tarot book I have is The Way of the Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher of the Cards by Alejandro Jodorowsky. I would only recommend that book to intermediate or advanced tarot readers, or people who are well-versed in the occult or spirituality since Jodorowsky gets very metaphysical and intense with his interpretations!
As a beginner, that book might be too overwhelming, but definitely check it out once you’re more comfortable and familiar with the cards. There are other great books for beginners, so pick one that you like. Check the reviews to make sure that the author is accurate with their interpretations and not making stuff up or being racist or something.
3) Tips for Remembering the Meaning of the Cards
There are 78 cards in a tarot deck and each card is packed with meaning and symbolism. You can easily feel overwhelmed trying to memorize the meaning, but don’t overwhelm yourself or put too much pressure on yourself!
Every step of your tarot journey should be fun. You need to be relaxed and receptive to what the cards are telling you. Stress and pressure will close you off and make it harder for you to understand the cards.
So start by doing readings for yourself as often as you’d like. You can read for yourself every single day. I recommend starting with 1–2 cards at first. You can do a 1 card reading or 2 card reading where you ask a question and pull 1–2 cards.
I don’t recommend reading more than 2 cards at a time as a beginner because you will feel overwhelmed, and the placement of the cards also affects the meaning.
So if The Fool is next to The Moon, that will have a different meaning than if The Fool were next to the Ace of Pentacles. And if The Fool is next to the 6 of Swords followed by the Queen of Swords, followed by the World, followed by the 6 of Wands that’s a different meaning as well which you will learn once you are more familiar with reading tarot, but you don’t need to worry about all that when you’re just getting started.
As a beginner, first, focus on the individual meaning of the cards and then move on to what the cards mean when they are next to other cards.
Think of the tarot as learning a new language. Do you start learning a new language by memorizing sentences off the bat or do you learn single words first starting with the easier words to remember? Approach the tarot in the same way, pull 1–2 cards, learn some keywords or phrases to associate with the cards first, then move on to learn more information about each card.
Once you pull a card or two, look at the details of the card. What stands out to you? Based on what you see, what do you think the meaning of the card is? Do you think it’s talking about your emotions? About the material world? Do you think it is highlighting positive aspects of one’s life or things most of us want to avoid?
You can keep a tarot journal and write down what you think the cards mean first and then look up the meaning of the card based on the companion book or whatever resource you found online and write down what meaning you get after reading the description. Were you close? Far off? Don’t worry, that’s why the guides are there. You won’t automatically know the meaning of the cards, that exercise is just to start exercising your intuition and getting you to make connections to the meaning of the cards to things you can relate to.
The booklet that most tarot decks come with just gives you a group of words associated with each card, but the cards have more meaning than some key words. If it’s easier and less overwhelming for you to start with the booklet, that’s fine. But you need to also see the more detailed descriptions of each card when you’re ready.
There are also other ways to learn about the cards besides reading. Reading is not for everyone, people learn differently. You can find lots of videos on YouTube and even find some podcasts that go in-depth on each card. Because of how short TikTok videos are, and how much misinformation there is about tarot on there, I don’t recommend using TikTok to learn the meaning of the cards.
Learn at your own pace and focus more on connecting to the cards and understanding them, rather than simply memorizing the meaning. Remember to have fun and relax when you’re studying the cards, and find a way to study them that works for you, whether it’s reading books about it, listening to podcasts, or writing down notes to help you remember.
Even experienced readers still look up the meaning of certain cards from time to time because we want to freshen up our understanding or want to see if there is another interpretation we’re missing, or we just want to read that message from another person’s voice rather than our own or Spirit’s. There’s no shame in looking up the meaning, that’s why those resources are there!
4) How to Shuffle, Pull Cards, and Pick the Right Spread
This is a common question beginners have and like every step of your tarot-learning journey, it’s up to you. Some people like to shuffle their decks like playing cards, others are more gentle and shuffle the cards loosely without bending them. I’m very gentle with my cards and never bend them, but Las Vegas dealer shuffling is fine that’s what you like doing. Do whatever feels comfortable and natural for you.
The way to pull cards is also up to you. Some people like to spread the cards across a flat surface and pick cards that way, others will shuffle until a card falls out while shuffling, and others, like me, will shuffle the deck and pull a card that calls to us. When you are touching the cards, you will feel a pull towards a card. That pull can be gentle, it can be intense, or it can feel more like curiosity. Once you pull enough cards, you will know that feeling well, and pulling cards will be automatic for you.
There are a variety of spreads out there, so once you’re familiar enough with the cards to start adding more cards to your personal readings, use this time to experiment with different spreads. My Deviant Moon deck came with its own spread and tarot mat that has each position on the spread labeled. I used that for a bit and tried other spreads, but then developed my own spread and just use my own now.
Try different spreads and see which ones you like and don’t like. If it doesn’t work for you, try something else. Even try making your own spread and see if that works better for you. It did for me. Each spread has a specific placement or where the cards go and what it means when a card is placed in certain area of the spread.
For example, on the Deviant Moon spread, the first placement is for the present day, the second is for past influences, the third is for subconscious influences, and it keeps going until you’ve laid out ten cards in a circle that all have a specific meaning based on their placement. This placement varies depending on the spread that you use. It’s good to try different spreads first so that you can see how spreads work, and then if you want to develop your own spread, do it! You can see a list of different, more popular spreads here.
In the beginning, you might hesitate a lot and second guess yourself through the process of shuffling, pulling, and even spreading. Try to get over that. There’s no wrong way to do this. Trust yourself and your intuition. Do what works for you and move on if you try something and it doesn’t work.
5) How to Ask the Right Questions
Asking the right questions is a big part of reading tarot. It’s just as important as learning the meaning of the cards.
Since this is a big topic, I’m going to go into this in more detail in another article, but I’ll still touch on this now because it’s really important.
Remember that the tarot is a language of the soul or your psyche depending on your beliefs about spirituality and tarot. One card has a lot of meaning so that is why asking the tarot yes or no questions is extremely limiting and misusing the tarot.
Let’s say you ask the tarot, “Will I get that job that I really want?” And you pull the 5 of Wands. Some people will read that as a “no” and some people can read that as “yes,” both are correct but that’s not exactly what the tarot is saying. If you pull the 5 of Wands when asking about a job prospect, it’s warning you that you will not get along with the people you work with if you take that job and there will be constant conflict.
Now whether or not you still take that job knowing that is up to you. Rather than telling you if you get that job, the tarot wants to tell you what to expect if you take that job and things you need to consider. But if you are only allowing the tarot to tell you “yes” or “no” you will actually miss out on the important message the cards are conveying. You’re limiting the language of the tarot and might as well be flipping a coin or pulling playing cards and choosing one color as “yes” or the other color as “no.”
So avoid asking the tarot yes or no questions and instead ask open-ended questions like:
A) Are there any obstacles right now that are preventing me from getting this job?
B) If I get this job, what will I need to be mindful of in order to have a good experience in this new job?
C) What are my strengths that will help me become successful in this new job?
D) What energy should I be channeling more of when it comes to being happy with my career?
F) What do I need to do now to become a ____ in the future?
See the difference in these questions? They are open-ended and also keep you empowered so that ultimately you decide where your career goes. If you had asked the tarot “What will my future career be?” You are limiting the language of the cards and also limiting yourself since you are then having the cards decide your future for you when that’s not what the tarot is for.
I touch upon this in my article, 7 Popular Misconceptions About Tarot, under point #3, where I talk about tarot and the future. Hopefully, you read it because it’s important to know that ultimately you are in charge of your future and there are an infinite amount of futures. If you want a certain future, the tarot can highlight the current obstacles in your life that are in your way and also highlight things in your life that are helping you obtain that goal. Do not make the tarot decide your future, ask the tarot how to get the future you desire!
But people get caught up in the future when they should be focused on the present. If you’re happy now, then you have less need to worry about the future. So then have the tarot help you with your issues right now so that you are mindful of the problems you have, see some negative patterns of behavior that you need to get past, and also see the good things in your life that you should be grateful for.
I’m not against doing goal-oriented future readings as long as you are taking control over your future and not making the tarot decide your future for you, but you should be mainly focused on your life right now. That’s the best way to have a happy and better future.
Here are some questions to ask the tarot to help you stay present:
A) What do I need to be mindful of right now?
B) What do I need to be grateful for?
C) What are some things in my past that are still affecting me negatively right now and how do I overcome these issues?
D) What does my shadow side want me to know?
E) What’s a hidden or untapped talent I have but am not aware of yet?
F) What do I need to know about my love life/career/spirituality/family/etc. right now?
Try those questions and see what the tarot tells you!
6) When to Start Reading for Others
It’s normal to feel excited about your tarot journey and want to read for others right away. If you have a friend or family member who is also interested in tarot, it’s nice to study the cards together and have someone to motivate you and encourage you.
Learning the cards with someone who also enjoys tarot is great. If you have a tarot buddy, definitely take advantage of that because most of us don’t.
I don’t recommend reading for others until you know the meaning of most of the cards and can understand them well. You don’t have to remember the meaning of every single card, but you should know most of them without needing to look at a guide before you read for others.
Reading for someone else is different than reading WITH someone else. Reading with someone else is studying the cards with someone, where that other person pulls their cards and you both look up the meaning of the cards together and you both discuss what you think the cards mean. This is great practice and will help you get a deeper understanding of the cards.
That’s different than reading for someone else because reading for someone else means that person thinks you already know how to read tarot and you are talking to them as an authority on tarot. Instead of you both learning together, that person you are reading for is learning from you.
To be able to read for someone else, you need to know the cards well. This can take months or years depending on how fast you learn. I read tarot for a year by myself before I started reading for other people, but there isn’t a set time for when you can read for other people, it depends on how long it takes you to understand 90% of the cards without needing to look it up in a book.
You should be able to do a 12-card reading on yourself without needing to look up anything before you start reading for other people. But you can read WITH others at any point in your tarot-learning journey, just make it clear that you are still learning and ask the person you’re reading for what they think about the interpretation you presented to them. Be open and don’t speak as an authority yet, because you’re not.
Don’t use the tarot to start telling your loved ones who you think they are, because that’s what most beginners end up doing. Instead of reading what the cards say, beginners will go by their interpretation of that person. Reading for people you know is an advanced skill since you need to know the difference between your perception of that person and what the cards are actually saying. It takes experience and a deep understanding of reading to have that level of awareness to read for people you know.
Once you are ready to read for others, read for people you don’t know. If you can only read for people you know when you’re just starting to read for others, be aware of your “beginners bias” and try not to just apply your knowledge of that person into your reading and try to let the cards speak for themselves.
7) When to Start Reading for Money
If you want to start making money reading tarot, try reading for free first to make sure that you have enough practice and confidence to do it for money.
Reddit has a great tarot community, you can offer free readings on there or even live stream on YouTube, Instagram, or Twitch and offer some free readings that way. Some people also do readings on TikTok, but because of how short the videos are, (unless you can make longer videos on TikTok now) I don’t recommend doing it on there since you need more than a minute to read a card.
Reader burnout is a thing, so don’t try to do a lot of readings, one after another. Start with a couple of readings first and work your way up, making sure to pace yourself and give yourself enough rest in between readings.
If you’re already tired and someone asks for a reading, say “no.” If you plan to do free readings again in the future, let them know to check back later. You don’t have to read for someone if you’re tired. If you get burned out, you can lose the connection you have with your cards and even if you know the cards well, it will be very difficult for you to read them in that state.
Once you have done enough free readings where you feel confident in your ability to read the cards and help others, then you’re ready to read for money!
You can offer online readings on Etsy or Fiverr or do in-person readings if online readings are not your thing. Everyone always asks how much they should charge. Always charge the amount you feel most comfortable with. Not too high, not too low. If you feel good about the price you’re charging, then that’s your price. That price is different for everyone.
Check out other readers and see their price points. Do you think it’s too high or too low or just right? Experiment with prices and see how you feel about it. You might find that in the beginning, you thought $30 for a 20-minute reading was good but given the amount of energy expelled in 20 minutes, you want to charge more. Then charge more.
Or you might feel $30 for a 20-minute reading is too high and you’re not getting enough clients or you feel you’re ripping people off. Then charge less. You can change your price every single day if you want. It’s really up to you and what you are happy with charging.
8) “I can’t connect to my deck anymore, HELP!”
It happens, it’s ok! This usually happens when you either get burned out or are not using the right deck. If you have been doing too many readings or putting too much pressure on yourself to be perfect at reading, you can burn yourself out. Give yourself a break and go back to it when you’re relaxed, refreshed, and calm.
If you became burned out because you did too many readings, then listen to yourself and space out your readings more once you are ready to return to reading again. Reading tarot takes a lot of energy. I don’t recommend doing back-to-back readings ever unless you are someone with an insane amount of energy who never gets tired.
Or perhaps, reading for others just might not be for you. If you feel really drained after a reading and don’t enjoy doing it, you should stop reading for others or only do it once in a while for friends and family if you feel inclined to. If even that is too much, you can always go back to only reading for yourself. Do what feels right for you.
You need to listen to yourself and not push yourself when it comes to reading tarot. This is not a sport, this is a spiritual and psychological journey. You need to be relaxed, well-rested, and calm when reading tarot unless you’re doing mental health work with the tarot, which I will discuss in another article.
If you aren’t burned out but still not connecting to your cards, no matter how much you study you can’t seem to remember the meaning, or you just don’t enjoy reading with that deck and something feels off, then that means that deck is not the right one for you at this time.
Sometimes people connect with a deck and then disconnect, or they never connected with that deck in the first place. Sometimes they just need a break from a certain deck and want something fresh and new. This is fine, there are hundreds of thousands of other decks you can read with instead.
Get another deck if you’re not vibing with the deck you’ve been using. Be sure to pick one that makes you feel happy and ignites some excitement and passion in you. Even if that deck you like seems silly, don’t judge, just get it and try it out. Don’t just pick something because you think it looks more professional or cool on Instagram. You need to connect with your deck in order to read properly. This is so important.
If you’re eyeing that Lisa Frank tarot deck but are worried about what people will think, stop worrying about what others will think and choose something that makes you happy and will make reading tarot fun for you. This is YOUR tarot journey!
9) The Proper Way to Get Rid of Unwanted Decks
You can resell unwanted decks, donate them, gift them, or even bury them respectfully in a nice, wooded area. If the deck is still in good condition, giving it away is better than burying it. There is someone out there who would be happy to have your unwanted deck. Leave it out in a public park or library, if you don’t know what else to do with a deck that is still in good condition. The right person will find it and pick it up.
Since the tarot should be treated with respect, I recommend only throwing a deck in the trash if it’s damaged or counterfeit. A well-worn deck that you’ve used for a long time, but don’t want to use anymore or keep, should be buried to respect the energy of that deck and all the help that tarot deck has given you.
10) Friends and Family Not Supporting You Reading Tarot
If you have friends or family who think reading tarot is satanic, evil, stupid, etc. then find new friends and family! The tarot will totally back me up on this.
You should only surround yourself with supportive people. Typically, when we start reading tarot, we are also going on a spiritual journey or at least a journey of self-development.
While we are working on ourselves and growing as people, we will change a lot. So the people we connected to before might not connect to who we later become. In this journey, you will change and you will need to get rid of people in your life, especially toxic people and unsupportive people. The tarot will tell you this exact same thing if you ask them about these people and what you need to know about your relationship with them.
If you’re in a situation where you cannot get rid of the anti-tarot people in your life, then your only options are to tell them to keep that shit to themselves because you don’t care what they think, most of the time they will continue to make shitty comments anyway. Or you can just stay in the tarot closet and not bring up tarot around them ever again.
Neither is ideal and both hinder your growth and development while also keeping negative energy around you, which is why I say to get rid of these people as soon as possible!
So I hope these tips and suggestions helped you get started on your tarot journey. This journey is different for everyone. The main thing is that you have fun and listen to your intuition and know that even after 10+ years of reading tarot, there will always be new things you will learn about the cards.
It’s just like learning a language, even in your native language, you can still learn new words and discover new things about your language. The tarot is the same. It’s a journey to discover your soul and learn more about your psyche. Relax, open your mind, learn, and enjoy!