Tarot Reading Basics: How To Learn Tarot Reading

The practice of fortune-telling or divination using card decks (commonly known as cartomancy) goes back a long time and is still very much popular to this day. And among the different methods of cartomancy that card-readers or psychics use (Lenormand, Kipper, Oracle or simply playing deck cards), Tarot arguably happens to be the most popular and the most widely-used one.

Tarot Reading

First things first, a tarot deck consists of 78 cards. And these are divided into two separate categories: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The former is made of 22 individual cards with each carrying their separate meanings and interpretations. The Minor Arcana, on the other hand, includes 56 cards and like a playing card deck, is divided into four numbered suits.
Now, in order to understand how tarot reading works, one must know that the meaning and symbolism of each individual card plays important role in a tarot reading. As we will discuss later, one can pose different questions or concerns or seek advice regarding different aspects of one’s life during a tarot reading session. Whether the card-reader uses the Major Aracna or Minor Arcana cards (or both) and what sort of a ‘spread’ is used will depend on the nature of a subject’s query.

For example, the wide variety of questions or concerns posed during a tarot reading can be roughly divided into two main types: open readings and question readings.

Open Readings: During an open reading session, the subject is normally seeking insights into the broader aspects of his/her life, such as insights into one’s own nature; or energies affecting changes into the general areas of one’s life (health, family, relationship, career, etc.); broad guidelines about one’s future directions, etc. In readings of this kind, the Major Arcana cards play the prominent role.

Question Readings: These are sessions where a subject normally puts specific problems, questions or ask for guidance regarding something more immediate in nature. These questions may be about one’s professional life, family, relationships, etc. and the reading is supposed to help you make a decision at hand.

How to Learn Tarot Reading

If you want to learn tarot cards by yourself, first of all you need to understand the meaning and symbolism attached to individual cards.

The Major and the Minor Arcana

In the Major Arcana, there are 22 cards in all and each individual card carries special meanings and interpretations. So, you’ve to learn by heart all the different meanings of each individual card found in the Major Arcana such as the Sun, Moon, Devil, Temperance, Hanged Man, Fool, etc.

While reading the Major Arcana cards, it is important to remember that the cards do not bear any single straightforward meaning. Depending on the situation, they may suggest or imply different things. And it is just as important to pay attention to all the minute details that fill up the imagery of a single card.

For example, the card Moon alone contains a whole host of imageries: the scorpion, the water, the wild and the tamed dog, the tongues of fire and so on. Although most tarot readers see the card as suggesting the ‘evolution of spirit’, one must stay alert to other possible meanings or keywords that can be derived from the different images.

The Minor Arcana contains four suits of 14 cards each. From ace to 10, each suit has 10 numbered cards and four face cards:

The Jack or the Page
The Knight
The Queen
The king

The four suits are commonly called Pentacles (Disks or Coins in some traditions), Wands (Batons), Swords and Cups. The meanings of the suits and how they correspond to regular playing card decks we discuss below in the section ‘how to perform tarot reading using regular playing decks’. Remember, however, that the Minor Arcana cards are normally consulted for interpreting what we may call the ‘lesser secrets.’ Most cartomancers associate the meanings of this set of cards with problems and concerns of everyday life.

Tarot Spreads

Just as important as the meaning of individual cards is the knowledge of different tarot spreads. Many different variations are found in this regard, depending on the practices of different readers. However, there are two common variations that are used by almost all tarot readers: the Three Steps and the Celtic Cross.

In the former spread, you simply draw three cards from the deck and place them face down. From left to right, the three cards roughly represent the past, the present and the future, though this may change according to the query.

For example, in a Love reading, the first card may indicate what you desire from your present relationship or from your partner. The second card, what your partner desires. And finally, the third card can provide insights as to where your relationship is heading or alternatively, how to go about your relationship in the future so that you can build a meaningful relationship together with your partner.

The Celtic Cross is a more complex spread and is normally used when someone seeks a comprehensive overview of a certain problem such as the current situation, possible causes, risks and hopes, outside influences, possible courses of action and so on. In a Celtic Cross spread, you draw 10 cards and spread them in an arrangement that visually resembles a Celtic cross (formed by the 1-6 cards) and a line (formed by the 7-10 cards). Each of these different cards purportedly represents a certain aspect of the problem in hand.

How to Tarot Reading with Playing Cards

As mentioned, the Minor Arcana cards closely resemble a regular playing card deck and the suits (and their meanings) correspond to the four suits found in regular decks.

  1. The suit of Swords corresponds to the suit of Spades.

Element: Air

Keywords: Intellect, action, struggle, being proactive, preparing yourself to face struggles and difficulties to reach your desired outcome.

  1. The Suit of Cups corresponds to the suit of Hearts

Element: Water

Keywords: Desires or feelings, hidden emotions, the mental realm, understanding what you really want or what is best for your general well-being.

  1. The suit of Pentacles corresponds to the suit of Diamonds.

Element: Earth

Keywords: Realm of the material and the physical, the present situation, the materialization of one’s labors, potentials, etc.

  1. The suit of Wands corresponds to the suit of Clubs.

Element: Fire

Keywords: Creativity, realm of spirit, ideas, germination of an idea, ambition and growth.


The above is a brief overview of how tarot reading works as also how you can learn tarot reading yourself. If you are interested in the latter, it goes without saying that you will need to familiarize yourself with all the different literature surrounding the subject; learn the symbolisms associated with the cards by heart; and finally, obtain a good understanding of different tarot spreads and what spread to use under what situation. We’ve here mentioned the two most common spreads, but as a beginner, you will be better off starting with easier spreads or single card readings such as the Fool’s Game, the Day Card, etc.
As for subjects attending a tarot reading, they must underrated one essential thing—that tarot readings are not written in stone. So, one should not expect Tarot When Will It Happen or Tarot Reading Yes or No type of answer. Rather, one should look to use the findings revealed during a session as guidance for future development, growth, decision-making, etc.