Tar-oh! A Beginner's Manual
The fall is always my favorite time of year to focus on the art of spiritual navel-gazing. Something about being sandwiched between a bountiful Harvest Moon and the impending certain death of all things really makes me want to celebrate the more ephemeral aspects within my own life.
One of my favorite ways of connecting with myself is through the tarot. In my experience, when the word “tarot” gets brought up, many people shy away from the subject- often assigning a sinister or frighteningly occult quality to this type divination.
My introduction to the tarot did not involve being bare-chested in the middle of some spooky woods. My introduction came in the form of an old friend consoling me after my first teenage heartbreak. In fact, it wasn’t unlike being handed a box of tissues that offered some sensible insight. From that moment on, I began to study the tarot through a sobering self-help perspective. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at this point, just a passionate young witch. As such, I would like to offer some advice on how to get started as a tarot practitioner.
CHOOSING A DECK
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the first step. If indecision plagues you, this will be the trickiest part. This step should also be an excellent adventure in letting your intuition guide you.
I had heard from a number of sources that a tarot deck should be acquired from another. In other words, a deck should come to you in the form of a gift or trade and never store bought. I have also heard the complete opposite. I tend to side with the latter.
The imagery of a deck really helps to set a certain tone for an entire spread*. It is important to pay attention to the visuals of a deck for many reasons.
Consider how the visual elements make you feel. If this is something you plan on spending a great deal of personal time with, you probably have a sense of how you want the cards to make you feel. Take into account the color and quality of the artwork on the cards.
Another important aspect of a deck’s illustration is the legibility. The images on a deck are meant to be interpreted by the reader. Each deck seems to have a “language” of its own. A reading will be made much easier if you speak the same language as the cards- or can easily learn.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SPREAD*
Ok, you’ve made it this far. You’re probably ready to get shuffling, huh? You may have a particular topic in mind for your reading, for example, you may have a question about your career, significant other, family etc.
If your cards are in the hands of an experienced witch, he or she may prescribe a tried and true spread. If you are reading your own hand, you might try creating your own intentional layout or choosing another popular style from a trusted tarot resource.
Readings can consist of one card to the entire deck. When beginning to practice the tarot, I would recommend choosing a familiar format, but one that resonates with you nonetheless. As needed, you can always modify a spread by adding, subtracting, or switching the position of cards.
I have three favorites that I commonly refer to. Any of the spreads described below can be geared toward a specific purpose by setting the intention for the reading before shuffling the deck, and keeping said intention in the fore of your mind while laying the cards. I suggest taking some time to meditate with the cards before calling on the wisdom of the tarot.
The Celtic Cross
This is the first spread I learned and the one I most commonly return to when I want a "general" reading. I appreciate the depth of insight that this spread offers. Because it is a ten card reading, the spread covers a lot of ground.
1: The Present: Represents the current situation of the querent*
2: The Challenge: This card represents what is in direct conflict with the present situation. It is important to keep in mind that, although this card represents a "challenge," no card is inherently good or bad.
3: The Past: What has happened in the querent's past as it relates to the present situation.
4: The Future: Not a definitive projection of events, but a guided look into what the future might hold for the querent.
5: Above: What the querent's mental power is working toward.
6: Below: This card represents the subconscious realm as it pertains to the underlying reasons for the present situation.
7: Self-Image: How the querent sees themselves in the present situation.
8: Projected Image: How others see the querent in the present situation.
9: Hopes & Fears: Another card relating to the subconscious. This card is tricky, as it draws a parallel between what the querent (you) might hope for and fear the most.
10: Outcome: A likely culmination of events.
A three card spread, this read is quick, dirty, and to the point.
1: The Past
2: The Present
3: The Future
Five Card Spread
I like to use this spread when I am feeling particularly indecisive about what it is I want to know. This is a good spread for the non-commital, as it is only five cards and provides a question for the querent.
1. The Question: What situation in the querent's present that the spread will be relating to.
2. The Past: The events leading up to the matter at hand
3. Role: How the querent's actions or characteristics have contributed to creating the present situation.
4. Influences: Examines the impact of family, friends, and outsiders as it relates to the present.
5. Answers: A potential remedy or solution to the Question card.
INTERPRETING YOUR READING
This is perhaps the most personal step of them all. The interpretation of a spread can be as in-depth or as casual as the querent prefers. As each deck, spread, and reading are different- this method is completely up to the reader.
Many decks include a booklet, or will offer one available separately for purchase. Though each deck has its own flavor, the interpretations are more or less universal for each deck's corresponding card.
Below is a list of my favorite (online) right-hand tarot companions/resources:
- Biddy Tarot: biddytarot.com/tarot-card-meanings
- AECLECTIC: aeclectic.net/tarot
- Aunty Flo: auntyflo.com/tarot
- Spread: How the reader lays out the physical tarot cards.
- Querent: The person that the tarot spread is relating to/the person asking the questions.
- Major Arcana: Sometimes referred to as "trumps." These twenty-two cards are distinct and separate from the rest of the cards in the four suits. In many spreads, these cards hold more weight than cards from the minor arcana.
- Minor Arcana: Comprises the rest of the 78-card deck, and includes every card from the suits of wands, swords, cups, and pentacles.
I hope you have enjoyed this crash course in the card craft of tarot! Happy divination, gods and goddesses!