How Do You Read Tarot For Beginners

How do you read Tarot for beginners? It's a question that many new to the world of cartomancy will undoubtedly ask...

Tarot Reading can seem daunting at first because you feel like you have to memorise 78 different meanings for each of the cards. Although that's true to some degree, it's not as scary as it sounds and there's plenty of ways to master the Tarot without losing your mind.

WORDS: Cat Crawford

IMAGE: Bigc Studio on Canva


One of the first things to understand is that originally Tarot was a simple card game. It was created as a status symbol. Aristocracy created a series of carefully hand-painted cards to passively show off their wealth. It’s only within the last few hundred years that Tarot became associated with fortune telling.

Many therefore think they have to be psychic or have some sort of ‘gift’ in order to be able to read Tarot but you do not. There’s actually many different ways you can choose to get started with Tarot reading. It might be that you only want to read for yourself, or maybe you do want to offer fortune telling for clients.

Modern sciences like psychology also play a big role in our current Tarot landscape. This is an angle I prefer to read from. A more psychological and quantum physics angle. I’m not a very naturally sciencey person, but I get the most value out of researching the connections between science and the spiritual, particularly within the Tarot. 

So, when it comes to answering your question ‘How do you read Tarot for beginners’ I will try and answer it as best I can. Let’s get started. 


Can you teach yourself to read Tarot?

Of course you can!

Learning to read Tarot is like learning any skill. If I had to compare it to something I would say it’s a bit like learning a language. You have to learn about structure and context, then you learn the meanings of the cards, a bit like learning words. Only with Tarot you have beautiful illustrations to help you translate. 

In my experience, and I tried to learn Tarot for years before I actually committed to learning to read Tarot properly, courses are your best bet. I found that buying books wasn’t enough for my very visual way of learning. I also needed practice tasks laid out for me in order to get to grips with reading. Tarot courses are also great because you can get feedback on your readings to see if you’re getting the basics right.

 Even self-led courses like the Energetic Tarot Foundational course has the option of getting in touch to chat about anything you might find confusing or complicated.

Teaching yourself is hugely rewarding, plus there’s no better person to practice on than yourself.

You can make mistakes and find your own rhythm in your own time.

The thing to make clear about teaching yourself Tarot is that there are ‘traditional’ meanings we all apply so that we’ve got knowledge to build on, but it’s using your own experiences and intuition to interpret the cards that really makes you a Tarot reader.


Is it hard to learn Tarot cards?

Two Card Oracle Card Spread

I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy, because of course its not. You’re essentially learning a whole new language and having to form connections with part of your brain you don’t usually connect to.

But, it’s not impossible and learning Tarot should always be fun. If you find you’re trying to force yourself to learn Tarot and you’re not enjoying yourself, take a break and think about whether it’s the right medium for you. There’s loads of different ways to do divination, from Scyring using obsidian mirrors to Oracle Cards and even Runes.

If you want to be good at reading Tarot, the key is practice. Mountains of consistent practice. That’s why I always push my students to take up Tarot journaling right from the beginning. Creating a consistent Tarot journaling routine will instantly put you on the right path towards mastering the Tarot cards. 

Another thing I tell all my students is to take your learning journey slow. Your brain can only process so much information at a time, which means you’ll actually learn Tarot quicker by learning the cards in smaller doses. 


How Does Tarot work?

This question will gain a different answer depending on how you ask. In truth nobody really knows, but there are plenty of valid theories. The theory I subscribe to most is that the Tarot has a way of tapping into the subconscious mind. Like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible coming down from the ceiling on that wire.

The Tarot has a way to sneak past all of our mental defences and gains access to the darkest and most well protected parts of the self. This then allows us a direct line to talk to the subconscious self and ask it questions so we can get answers and find a deeper sense of clarity and understanding.  

The way in which the Tarot does this is a combination of intuitive feelings, personal paradigms, collective unconscious knowledge and known archetypes. It uses shared human experiences and the way individuals view the world and their place within it, to highlight things we would usually miss. 

Tarot gives us a birds-eye-view of who we are, why we are the way we are and why we think, feel and do the things we do. It’s like a best-friend and therapist hybrid, not qualified to offer medical advice but knows you well enough to offer relevant guidance. 

Do Tarot cards need cleansing?

One of the ways Tarot cards work is by representing energy. Plus, your own energy when reading can be a huge factor in how you interpret the cards. Because of this constant energy exchange, I always recommend cleansing your cards once in a while. 

The main way we cleanse the Tarot cards before each use is by tapping or even just shuffling. I always like to give my cards a quick tap three times with the heel of my palm. This helps to knock out any stagnant energy that might be lingering in an unused deck or clear off any mixed energies in an overused one. 

A good practice is to keep a bit of clear quartz or selenite on top of your deck or in your deck bag. These crystals are known for their purifying qualities and they can keep the energy of your Tarot deck fresh when not being used. 

Another way to cleanse your deck is by running it through the smoke of dried sage or rosemary. I like to do this as a sort of ‘deep cleanse’ every six months or so, as I keep my own decks fairly energy neutral through using those previously mentioned techniques. 


Do Tarot cards need cleansing

How do I start my first Tarot reading?

Shuffle - How Do You Read Tarot For Beginners

The best way to take those very first steps in Tarot reading is to start small and ask a specific question. For example, you may start your day by asking your Tarot deck “What should my focus be for today?”. Shuffle your deck – especially if you’ve just got new cards and they’re fresh out the pack – then choose a card for guidance. 

Once you’ve mastered one card Tarot pulls, you can start adding more cards to your readings. Add one extra card to make a two card spread and assign a purpose to each of your two cards. An example of this would be if we asked the same question as before – “What should my focus be for today?” – then we would pull two cards instead of one. You might assign the first card the purpose of telling you what you should focus on, then your second card could expand on that and offer how you can do it. 

As you get more and more confident you will start increasing the number of cards in your readings. The three card, past, present and future spread is the most popular amongst beginners and professionals alike. But, like I mentioned before, it’s best to take things slow and steady. 


What questions to ask Tarot cards?

I always recommend asking a specific question when working with Tarot, mainly because I use the cards in a very psychology-centric way. Asking a question therefore gives the subconscious an area of the mind to focus on, rather than trying to sift through libraries of information to find the right thing. 

When it comes to what questions to ask your Tarot cards, the general rule is to avoid any questions that can only result in a simple yes or no answer. For any yes or no questions, it’s best to use something like a pendulum, rather than the more complex Tarot cards. 


It’s best to follow the 5 W’s & H rule when asking questions of the Tarot. This is the rule that your questions should begin with either; what, when, where, who, why and how. These questions allow room for expansion and exploration. Particularly the ‘why’ which is something that can be extremely eye opening when using Tarot. 

For example, I often ask my cards ‘why’ I feel a certain way and it gives me the opportunity to really unravel complex thoughts and feelings in a more in-depth way.

What's the best Tarot deck for beginners?

When it comes to the best Tarot deck for beginners, there’s no doubt that it is the Rider Waite-Smith Tarot deck. This is the Tarot deck that most modern and contemporary Tarot decks use as a foundation for their meanings. If you can read Tarot with a Rider Waite-Smith deck, then you’ll find it a lot easier to transition to other Tarot decks with different illustrations. 

It also helps that the Rider Waite-Smith deck is available world-wide in some form or another. Plus, there’s many different versions that are identical or at least extremely similar. I’ve got the Pamela Coleman Smith Centennial Rider Waite-Smith deck and I also have The Original Rider Waite deck. Some other popular versions are the Universal Waite Deck and the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot Deck.

If you really don’t vibe with the Rider Waite-Smith illustrations, then there are lots of more modern takes on the same imagery that might be better suited. For example, The Light Seer’s Tarot Deck follows the same structure as the Rider Waite-Smith deck but with updated illustrations. The same goes for the very popular Modern Witch Tarot Deck

Whichever deck you choose to go with eventually, the most important thing to keep in mind is how a deck makes you feel. I have a great number of decks that I’ve collected or been sent over the years. However, there’s only a handful I love to use because their illustrations genuinely interest me. My favourite deck is the Pagan Otherworld’s deck, which perfectly taps into my love of classic oil paintings and that renaissance art style. 

Choose a deck that makes you want to do a reading every time you see it! 


Best Tarot Deck for Beginners

When should you not do a Tarot reading?

Arguably, there’s never a ‘bad’ time to do a Tarot reading, however there is a bad mindset. If you are feeling especially low, are having less than kind thoughts about yourself or others, it might be good to not pick up your deck.

Remember when we touched on cleansing your Tarot deck? We touched on how working with Tarot is an energy exchange between you and your cards. This means if you are radiating negative energy then you are more at risk of getting it back. It’s also because when you are in this frame of mind, you might not be seeing things as clearly as you should be and you don’t want to do a reading that is going to make you feel worse!


It also goes without saying that doing a reading when intoxicated can also be less than clear. Nobody wants a drunk Tarot reader, not even if you’re doing a reading on yourself. 

Again it all comes down to doing readings with a clear head. This is why it’s always best to do a little meditation before doing a reading. The calmer and more clear headed you are, the easier it will be to do a reading and the more beneficial that reading will be. 

If you’re ever unsure as to whether you should do a reading, especially for yourself, ask yourself “Do I feel energetically capable of offering or taking guidance right now?” if the answer is no, walk away. 


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