How Do I Start Reading Tarot Cards?

Welcome to another edition of ‘Ask Charla.′ You know, here at Astrology Answers I get a lot of questions from all corners of the globe; things to do with love and romance, chakras, tarot, astrology, numerology; if it′s metaphysical, then someone at some time has asked it!

This is such a wonderful question, because there are so many different answers! There’s no right or wrong way to learn to read the tarot and oracles, no matter what other people might tell you. Going with your gut is certainly one aspect—and I’ll cover that below in just a moment.

What most people forget when they’re starting to read the tarot is that this is a responsibility. If you’re reading your own cards, you have to make sure you can be objective rather than subjective—and as someone who’s been doing readings for nearly 40 years, let me tell you, that’s easier said than done!

This is why many people choose to get someone else to read for them, and that’s all well and good. The other side of this coin, though, is who knows you better than you know yourself? Let’s take a closer look at some other misconceptions when it comes to reading the tarot and other oracles.

It’s Okay to Buy Your Own Cards

This is one of the very basic principles. You can’t very well read the tarot without cards, can you? There’s a lot of superstition that you’re not supposed to buy your own cards, and I don’t buy into that. What if someone gives you a deck where you don’t like the pictures? Are you doomed to try to fall in love with it because it was a gift? No!

When you purchase tarot cards with money, that money represents energy. Either it was something you worked for and earned, or something that someone gave to you—in a birthday card for example. Either way, you’re exchanging energy for energy, and you’re also choosing something you like.

How can that be wrong? It’s okay to buy your own cards, but if you’re with someone superstitious, give them your money, and let them make the transaction for you then give you the cards. That way, you didn’t technically buy them!

You Don’t Have to Learn from a Master

A lot of people will tell you that Tarot is dangerous or that different oracles can only be taught by particular people. This one-upmanship is ripe in some metaphysical communities, and basically it needs to be ignored. You can learn the tarot through diligent work on your own. You don’t have to be taught by a master—or anyone else, for that matter!

Having said that, there are some guidelines that need to be followed. Your comment about going with your gut is one of them. For example, when I see the Empress, I always see a birth of some sort—either childbirth or the birth of an idea. My friend Paula always sees a hospital situation, and nurturing.

The wonderful thing here is, because the tarot tunes into your unconscious mind when you’re doing readings, different interpretations of the same card are allowed! Reading the tarot is all about what it means to you; when you learn from a book, you’re just studying what it meant to that author. You’re allowed to have different opinions.

It’s Not Necessary to Memorize the Traditional Meanings

Now, before traditional tarot readers get their panties in a wad, I want to stress that I’m not belittling the archetypal meanings. True scholars of the tarot know the more you learn about the cards, the more there is to learn about the cards! Astrology, numerology, and all sorts of other symbolism is packed into the images.

Just as everyone who ever wrote a book on the tarot shared what the cards meant to them, everyone who ever designed a tarot deck did likewise.

The traditional meanings will help you in your understanding of the cards, but there’s no reason to memorize them parrot fashion. I believe it was Einstein who said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.”

There are enough research books on the meanings of the different aspects of the tarot—including online books and even phone apps—that there’s no need to commit a lot of heavy symbolism to memory.

Start with First Impressions

I’ve said it previously and I’ll say it again. To read the tarot or another oracle is to interpret what it means to you. The best way to do this is to start with first impressions. Let’s take the Three of Swords for example.

Is it a happy card? No! The first thing that came to my mind when I was first learning how to read the tarot was the old saying ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd.’ Because I saw a heart, I figured this card meant there had been a heartache, probably caused by someone butting in where they weren’t wanted.

Sure enough, this card often appears in relationship readings when the other party has had an affair!

Use the Instruction Book as a Backup

Most tarot decks come with a little white book, or maybe even a full sized instruction manual. By all means use it, but don’t depend on it. I like to read through these when I’m exploring a new deck, to see what the designer of the deck was conveying, but it’s not necessary to depend on the meanings in the book.

In all cases, you’re using the deck because of what it’s saying to you, not what the designer of the deck was saying to you, make sense?

Sometimes the cards won’t speak to you. This happens for a number of reasons. Like anything else, the tarot can have a bad day! Maybe you’re just meant to put the cards away for awhile then try again. However, if you want to persevere, this is where the instruction book really is helpful.

Look up what the card means in the book, and then look at your own viewpoint again. Sometimes you just need a fresh idea to get the cards conversing with you again.

It’s Easy to Write Your Own Tarot Book

I’m serious! Want to know how? Grab your favorite tarot deck and start to work with it. Go through the cards and write down your impressions. When you do readings, make notes of what epiphanies you had, or how particular cards worked together, or what you saw for the first time.

It may seem insignificant, but write it down, anyway. All of these thoughts and revelations are the tarot speaking to you. How do you think other people wrote their book?

As you work with the cards, you’ll probably—sooner or later—want to read what other people have written about the meanings. Write down your thoughts on that too. Do you agree? Disagree? Why? All of this builds up a vast databank of information that is personal to you, your own personal book on how to read the tarot.

After all, they’re your cards and you’re the one reading them, so why not write your own guidebook for doing so?

You Are Your Own Authority

This ties in with writing your own book. What the cards mean to anyone else is immaterial when you’re the one who is reading them. Once you get proficient enough at your own methods, you may want to join the ranks of others and do readings professionally, or perhaps have your own ideas published for others to read.

While there is no hard and fast rule on how to learn the tarot, there are some ethics that have to be followed. It’s okay to write about why The Tower is a positive card, even though most references to it are quite cautionary. If you see it as something positive, explain the traditional meanings (disruptions, warnings, endings), and then why you feel it is saying something else.

There are whole decks of cards that turn tradition on its head, rearranging the order, changing the meanings, and more. It’s up to you to do what’s right for you.


You see, there is no one path when it comes to learning to read the tarot. The best way is a combination of your own intuition, a study of the traditional meanings, and getting as much information as you can to include in your own tarot journal.

Be warned, though; the tarot is addictive, and once you start delving into the archetypes and images, you may find you want to keep on exploring more and more decks, and more and more books. Go right ahead. Maybe one day we’ll see you in print, too!

About The Author

Charla Stone

Hi! I’m Charla Stone and I learned astrology and mysticism way back in the 1970s. I’ve spent the last four decades using the stars, tarot, runes, crystals, totems, and more to bring light and guidance to others. I’m just an old hippie at heart who has traveled the world to learn of its cultures. I’ve been published online and in print—which still rather surprises me, as this isn’t something I do, it’s just who I am! When I’m not writing or doing readings, I’m spending time in my garden or the art studio, or with my beloved dogs.
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