A form of divination with a long history, tarot and intuitive card reading has been around since the 1500s and is a powerful tool to gain clarity and tap into your intuition. But if you’re a newbie to tarot, the process of giving a reading might be overwhelming. There’s so much to know and understand, including what to look for in your first decks, and this “Tarot for Beginners” guide has you covered.

What is a tarot deck?

Tarot traditionally has 78 cards and follows a specific format: four suits of 14 cards, which compose the minor arcana, and the major arcana, which has 22 cards. The major arcana follows the journey of the fool, who begins his journey being innocent/naive, encounters some challenges and difficulties, and ultimately overcomes them to become wiser and more worldly. The minor arcana resembles a playing card deck: each suit has number cards (ace through 10) and face cards (page, jack/knight, queen, king), and the four suits represent the four elements. There is the suit of pentacles/coins, which is connected to the element of EARTH; the suit of CUPS, which is connected to the element of water; the suit of WANDS, which is most often (but not always) connected with the element of AIR; and the suit of SWORDS, which is most often (but not always) connected with the element of FIRE. Variations on these suits can include the elements with which they’re associated OR the four seasons OR four different archangels OR four of anything that create a set.

Oracle, on the other hand, is used for divination purposes but does NOT follow the structure of tarot. There can be any number of cards in an oracle deck: I’ve seen a range from 44 cards to 111, and the themes vary widely. These cards might be themed around spirit animals, dragons, affirmations, unicorns, LGBTQ+ celebrities, self-care routines, sex positions… anything, really. Oracle decks haven’t been around as long as tarot decks, which originated in Italy in the late 1400s as a playing card game, and their sole purpose is to provide guidance and insight. One popular author of oracle decks is Colette Baron-Reid; I particularly like her decks Wisdom of the Oracle and Spirit Animal Oracle, both of which have detailed guidebooks and are beginner-friendly.

Determining the energy of your deck

During our class, we discussed how each deck has a different kind of energy. Some decks are very light and soft (the Animal Tarot Deck by Doreen Virtue, for example), and others can be darker. The imagery will be darker, the interpretations might be more direct, and overall, there might be a sense that the deck has dark energy. Keep in mind that dark energy is NOT evil… it’s your energy that infuses with the deck to create the result. If you approach a deck with fear, then you’ll create some unsavory results in your reading. At the same time, it’s important to know and honor your response to a deck: if you don’t enjoy working with it, don’t work with it.

Contemporary tarot decks are based on Rider-Waite tarot, but vary with the art, kinds of suits, and even with the names of some of the cards. For example, the major arcana cards Devil and Death (15 and 13, respectively) may be named different things in a deck with lighter, less intense energy. I’ve seen the Devil be called “Ego” and the Death card named “Release,” words that each have a different energy frequency than Devil and Death. The names associated with these two major arcana cards (as well as the art for them) will give you a sense for how intense the deck is. Likewise, the art on the 10 of Swords card, which symbolizes painful endings and betrayal, can give great insight into the energy of the deck, too.

You might also be able to sense that your deck resonates with one element more than another. One way you can determine this (aside from using intution) is looking at the colors the deck uses most commonly. For example, with the Archangel Power Tarot deck, it’s edged in gold, and the backs of the cards feature gold. It’s strong, steady, powerful, transformational. As such, I get a lot of fire energy from that deck and some earth energy. The Good Witch Tarot deck, on the other hand, is much more earth-focused. The Angel Tarot deck is edged in silver and has blue and cool tones, and all of the cards in the Suit of Water (suit of cups) feature underwater scenes; this deck has a strong water energy. Last, the Fairy Tarot deck features sprites and other flying creatures, and is also edged in silver, which is softer than gold; for me, this deck is air-focused.

As you see more decks, you’ll start to pick up more and more which decks are a good fit for you, and which ones resonate with which elements.

How to interpret cards during tarot readings

We also discussed that, during readings, it’s helpful to rely on a few different tools to support your interpretation. The four that I recommended were the art, the phrases on the front of the card, the structure of tarot (if it’s a tarot deck you’re using), and the guidebook. With the art, look at colors, different animals that are depicted on the card, and look very closely at what’s happening in the card. For example, with the Lovers card, you might see two people kissing. That could symbolize romance, love, and union. How are they kissing? Is it passionate? Are they holding each other in a deep embrace? What is the EMOTION that card evokes for you? Those are all things you can incorporate into your interpretation and into your reading.

With the sayings on the front of the deck, use them as a starting point. And don’t let them limit your interpretation. Typically, I scan the phrase on the front, and use it as a launch point to tune into the energy of that phrase, sentence, or few sentences. What am I picking up energetically and from my client’s field? For me, the phrase is just a cue to help me go deeper into interpretation, and over time, you may find you rely less and less on the sayings, whereas when you first start, you might be more glued to them.

You can also use the structure of tarot to guide your interpretations. For example, if you pull a lot of major arcana cards, it might mean that the client is going through something big in their lives. If you pull a number of cards from the Suit of Cups, they might be going through some relationship, romance, or emotional stuff. If it’s the Suit of Wands, communication, thought patterns, and legal matters (like closing on a house) might be at hand. The Suit of Swords is tied to career, ambition, and overcoming challenges. And last, the Suit of Pentacles/Coins is associated with the earthly realm: abundance, finances, jobs, and material wealth and possessions. Knowing the rough structure like this can support you to ask your client questions like, “Your present card is the Eight of Coins. This suit represents your relationship to finances, and what I’m seeing in this card is _____________________. Based on that, and other things I’m picking up, I’m sensing that ___________________ is happening in your life. How might that fit with what you’re experiencing currently?”

This can be a great format to get you started so that you feel confident in having something on which to rely during readings and giving your client an opportunity to give you more detailed information without seeming like you know nothing about tarot. Again, a lot of my sessions with clients (even when giving tarot readings) comes back to coaching. People want support with their life challenges, and by holding a non-judgmental, loving space for them, they’re more likely to open up and be willing to talk through what they’re experiencing.

Last, you can also use the guidebook if your deck contains one. In general, though, I would advise you only to use the guidebook with a new deck and that you challenge yourself to give readings using other strategies first.

The nuts and bolts of giving a tarot card reading for beginners

To give a card reading, start by clearing your deck with intention. You can rap on it with your knuckles, imagine that white light is covering it, or use any other method that resonates with you. For example, you could even run your deck over the smoke of white sage or Palo Santo or just set the intention that the deck has been cleared from any previous readings.

After that, you can say a prayer over your deck for your client. Again, energy follows intention, so you can do this quickly and silently. You may find that, as you get more experienced, this process takes less and less time for you. A great starting prayer is this: “Dear God/Spirit/Universe, thank you for the opportunity to do this reading. I ask that this reading be a blessing to my client and that it most support whatever they need for healing right now. Please make me a clear and open channel so that I may hear, feel, see, and know any messages that wish to come through, and so that this reading is delivered from a vibration of love and acceptance. (Thank you, blessed be. / Thank you in Jesus’ name. / Thank you.

Next, shuffle the cards. If cards stick out or fly out of the deck, pull them. These are jumper cards, and these cards will add additional information to the reading. You can also set the intention that jumper cards will be obvious so that you’re not wondering if a card is or isn’t meant to be pulled. Once you’ve finished shuffling, ask your client if they would like to cut the deck. If they say yes, then put the bottom set of cards on top of the ones that were on top. From there, you will draw any cards for the reading from what is now the top of the deck. Typically, I flip these cards out so that I don’t see them before the client does, and I place them before the client.

In a typical three-card reading, I pull the Past card first, and place it to my right (client’s left), then the Present card, and then the Future card. I read from my client’s left to their right. And however the cards are positioned in front of my client, is how I read them (e.g., if they look right-side-up to my client, then I read them as right-side-up). Reversals (where the cards face me, and look upside-down to my client) either mean that the client has an energetic block in that area, or it reverses the meaning, or it weakens the meaning. Energy follows intention, so it can be helpful to get clear on what you want reversals to mean for you in your readings.

Ultimately, the spreads or layout of the cards you can use when giving a reading are limited only by your imagination. If you search the web, there are so many preexisting spreads out there for a variety of different situations and questions you might ask. In our class, we practiced doing a two-card layout (what did you need to know today and tomorrow) and a standard three-card layout: past, present, and future. However, there’s so much more out there, if that interests you.

Beginner tarot decks that I like

During class, I shared a few of the decks that I have and work with. My first deck was the Archangel Power Tarot (by Radleigh Valentine), and I also have the Angel Tarot Deck and the Fairy Tarot Deck. Of the three, the Fairy Tarot Deck is the lightest, and the Archangel Power Tarot is the strongest and most powerful. All three of them are great decks, and it really just depends on what your intent and purpose is.

I’m also in the process of creating my own deck; while the timeline on that has changed, it will be published within the year. That will be called the Dominion Power Tarot Deck, and it’s because each suit is modeled after a Dominion. (Dominions are powerful angels that direct the actions of other angels.) For example, my personal guide Amiel, who is a Dominion, will be associated with the Suit of Wands. The deck will be darker, stronger, and more intense than the Archangel Power Tarot deck, and still loving in its nature and approach. But definitely direct. Because my guide Amiel is direct, and I don’t think he’d let the interpretations for any cards in his suit be any different. ????

I’ll be sure to let you all know when this deck is on Kickstarter so that you can support it, if you’d like. I anticipate that will be the middle of 2020.

Tarot for beginners next steps

Continue practicing tarot and oracle card readings as you feel inspired. It’s a great daily practice to develop so that you get clarity and insight on your life, and it’s an opportunity to become more connected with your intuition.

So, the first thing is: give yourself readings. Give others readings. Challenge yourself to do as much interpretation as possible and seeing if it resonates before you pick up the guidebook, if you have one. Stretch yourself, and know that it’s okay not to be 100% accurate. Even very gifted, practiced, and experienced psychics are not accurate 100% of the time any time, and you will misinterpret things. I certainly have, and it’s part of the process.

Second, practice with different decks. As you become more involved, you’ll learn the similarities between tarot decks and also get more attuned to the differences between them. You’ll also get more comfortable with the decks that you use more consistently.

Third, keep expanding your intuition. There are other ways that you can expand and grow your intuition in addition to practicing tarot, such as learning Reiki and other energy healing modalities. The more you expand your connection to your own intuition, the easier giving tarot readings will become.

Last, you can always use Biddy Tarot as a resource if you get stuck. It’s a very thorough website, and I’ve used it at different points in my own development to get clear on what certain cards mean, or additional things I can consider if a certain card comes up during a reading. Biddy is very knowledgeable about tarot, and she also has online courses, if you want to learn even more about tarot.

To your empowerment,
Kelly Noel

P.S. While I don’t give tarot readings myself anymore, I do occasionally provide group oracle readings in my free Facebook community, The Sexy, Spiritual Badasses. I also lead a new guided meditation every weekday and post other resources into the group, too.