Tarot cards today are mainly used for divinatory purposes as a means to interpret and gain insight on past, present, or future situations. If you have come across this guide, it probably means that you have bought a Tarot deck and are ready to begin utilizing it to its full potential through a Tarot reading.
Tarot cards can share insight into a question or situation in your life when used in a reading. To read them, you shuffle the deck, focus on a question, and then interpret the message that is being shared through the meanings and images of the card that’s drawn and the connections you make.
If you are new to reading Tarot cards, this beginner’s guide is the perfect place to start as you will learn about the different cards, how to complete a Tarot reading as well gain a deeper understanding of what each of the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana cards represents.
If you are wondering where all these cards came from, they began as a card game in the 15th century. As the 18th century approached, however, they began being used for divination purposes.
Since these cards deal with different archetypes and universal symbols, they are easily able to be interpreted for any culture, continent, or time.
Tarot cards are now used to interpret situations and give you a chance to reflect on your life circumstances and be more empowered and informed in your decision making, which in turn makes the cards a great aid in one’s life journey.
Once you have taken a look at your deck of Tarot cards, you will see that some of them have suits with numbers, while others do not.
A 78-card Tarot deck will have 22 cards without suits, which are considered the Major Arcana cards, and 56 cards that consist of four suits that have 14 cards within each, the Minor Arcana cards.
Both the Major Arcana (trump cards) and Minor Arcana cards suggest different things about the person you are reading the Tarot for.
The Major Arcana Cards
The Major Arcana cards are the ones said to carry the greater secrets, as they suggest major themes and lessons that the person who is being read needs to pay attention to.
The Major Arcana cards directly represent different archetypes, and each will point to a specific lesson or theme. The Major Arcana includes:
- The Magician
- The High Priestess
- The Empress
- The Emperor
- The Hierophant
- The Lovers
- The Chariot
- The Hermit
- Wheel of Fortune
- The Hanged Man
- The Devil
- The Tower
- The Star
- The Moon
- The Sun
- The World
- The Fool
These cards typically get numbered from 1-21, with the Fool being the only unnumbered card, either being placed as 0 or as 22.
Although, it is important to remember that each deck is unique, and different versions may swap out the name of the Major Arcana card for something else, so you will have to look into which one represents which archetype.
While you do not have to master what each card represents to read the Tarot, it is good to understand the key factors and keywords of each card.
As you get into reading the Tarot, you will be letting your intuition guide you and what you have to say, and letting these keywords be more of a benchmark is the best way to approach this,
Below is a brief explanation of what each card represents as well as keywords you can reference as you begin to read the cards. Don’t worry, though, as time goes on, you will know each card like the back of your hand.
The Fool in most decks is the first card, numbered as 0. The Fool represents someone who has not yet experienced the ups and downs in life.
You should be as open and eager as the Fool to embrace your future without any prior ideas of how things should be.
Keywords: Beginnings, Release Expectations, Innocence, Free Spirit
The Magician is a representation of any person who wishes to bring out the divine qualities one has. It is a reminder that you are a unique individual, and you have been given many gifts that others do not have.
When this card comes up, it is telling you that your skills and your gifts can help you begin new endeavors in life and overcome anything holding you back. Everything you need to be your unique self and share your special gifts or skills is already inside of you.
Keywords: Unique Gifts, Special Talents
The High Priestess
The High Priestess is the most intuitive and connected card in a Tarot deck. It is all about awareness and your subconscious, urging you to listen to your intuition and inner voice.
When this card is revealed, it is asking you to start looking within for answers and to stop directing your focus on the outside world. This card reminds us that we have innate wisdom, and we should use it.
Keywords: Awareness, Intuition, Subconscious, Inner Wisdom
The most feminine card in the Tarot deck, the Empress is all about encouraging compassion, beauty, and love. The Empress is also deeply connected with Mother Nature, connecting strongly to the natural order of things.
She represents fruitfulness, nourishment, security, and in some cases, fertility. When you see this card, it could mean you need to get more in touch with your feminine side, create beauty in your life, connect with your sense, express yourself creatively and take time to recognize the good person you have been.
Keywords: Femininity, Fertility, Compassionate, Positive Influence
The Emperor card stands for the highest level of leadership, recognizing your power within your society or community. This archetype has mastered the world of matter and physical manifestation, eventually making a better life for all through this energy.
When you see this card arise, take the time to acknowledge the potential you have within yourself for mastery, through becoming more confident in your powers and inner resources despite any beliefs about yourself that may appear to be the opposite.
Keywords: Power, Inner Resources, Mastery, Leadership
The Hierophant is referred to as the messenger from the heavens, as he is experienced in spirituality and guidance. This suggests that you, too, can be a master in your field or chosen subject.
When this card comes up, it is telling you to develop your expertise and have faith in what you are doing. Continue learning what it is that you want to know so you can establish a level of expertise in your chosen subject.
Keywords: Learn, Expertise, Mastery, Have Faith
The Lovers card is one that represents the close relationships in your life. Suggesting that your love life may need extra attention as you may be at a crossroads deciding what it is you should do. Always reminding you to study your options carefully, so you make a wise decision, but also be willing to make a compromise if needed.
When this card comes up, however, it could also represent being at a crossroads with other values or decisions in your life. Whether it be about your romantic relationships or something else, you are asked to look at all the possible consequences for each choice.
Keywords: Relationships, Decision, Compromise, Consequences
The feeling of freedom and being viewed as a hero is what the Chariot card is all about—serving as a sign of empowerment relating to your high achievements.
This card connects you to your natural determination and drives to achieve a victory of some kind, encouraging you to take action. Essentially, reminding you that you should be open to change and new experiences as a force that is driving you forward.
Keywords: Determination, Drive, Prepared for Change, Achievement
As the name of the card states, this archetype is all about strength. Typically depicted with the image of a lion, this card represents the strength it takes to be courageous and mentally strong.
If you are shown this card in a Tarot reading, you are being encouraged to continue believing in your strength when it comes to what you are facing in life—knowing that you will come out stronger than you were before.
Keywords: Courage, Mentally Strong, Self-Esteem
The Hermit card is one that represents being alone. The Hermit knows that to process all that is happening in life, one must escape from the noisy external world and find quietness while alone.
When you see the Hermit card, it is reminding you to take time alone and not let others rush you in your time of contemplation. There is a great value found in time spent away from the world.
Keywords: Alone Time, Contemplation, Solitude
Wheel of Fortune
In the Wheel of Fortune, you can either be at the top or the bottom as the wheel is constantly spinning. Reminding us that is constant in our lives and many benefits can be found when change occurs.
Life will not always remain as it is, and this card shows you that we all will end up at the top at some points in our lives, and other times, we will be at the bottom. What the Wheel of Fortune wants you to take away from this is the lesson about being comfortable in and learning from the change.
Keywords: Change is Constant, Learn from Change, Take Comfort in Change
Justice, just as the word says, is the card that reminds you about karma and the consequences that can happen for every action you take. Reminding us that every decision we have made in our lives has ultimately led us to the exact moment we are in today.
When this card comes up, remember to be fair, empathetic, and compassionate towards others. This fair-minded card will teach us that what goes around comes around.
Keywords: Karma, Fairness
The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man card is one that indicates being still in one’s pursuit of life. When we are not acting on anything and looking for a new perspective on life, this card may appear.
When we see this card, we must take a break to look within to find wisdom, patience, and optimism about our current situation. Then when we can begin moving again, we know what small steps we should take to get where we want to be.
Letting go of the outcome of your circumstances and accepting where you are is the first step to allowing yourself to take action on a new path.
Keywords: Pause, Surrender, New Perspective
Although this is the Death card, it does not suggest a physical death rather an ending of something, and with every ending comes a new beginning. Suggesting you may need to free yourself from something that has happened in the past.
When this card appears, it may be suggesting that we have to let some things end, as most things do, so we can make room for a new beginning. We must move forward in life without fear, as everything that is ending in life is making room for something else to begin.
Keywords: Endings, New Beginnings, Letting Go
This card is a reference to our soul. Temperance encourages peace and patience in our lives, allowing whatever must flow to flow. Begin seeking what you may be missing in your life, and hone in on your talents and abilities.
When you see this card, it is reminding you to take things as they come and remain flexible enough, so if changes arise, you are ready.
Keywords: Patience, Change in Personality, Moderation
The Devil card represents the powerlessness and lack of control you may feel you have in your life or a certain situation. With the Devil convincing you that you have no way out, while in fact, it is you who is holding yourself back.
When you see the Devil card in your reading, you are being asked to let go of your inhibitions and assert and express yourself honestly. Accept your power to remain true to yourself.
Keywords: Shadow Self, Restriction, Express Yourself
One of the most dreaded cards is the Tower as it represents destruction. If you feel as if everything around you is falling to the ground, you must remember that you can be a catalyst for the change that happens next.
It is only when a drastic change takes place that we have hope for better and new times.
Keywords: Massive Change, Destruction, Start Fresh
The Star card represents hope and healing in all aspects of your life. This is telling you to surrender to the greater good and connect to your higher, more spiritual self.
When the Star card is drawn, it is advising you to spend time in reflection and towards spiritual pursuits, all the while having faith in the plan of the universe.
Keywords: Hope, Purpose, Faith, Spirituality
The Moon card, being greatly connected to your subconscious, reflects your thoughts, feelings, doubts, and fears.
When the Moon card is drawn, know that you cannot always control what happens, and that may cause stress and anxiety. The Moon reminds you to trust your intuition and deal with any worries you may have.
Keywords: Fear, Anxiety, Intuition
One of the most powerfully uplifting cards is the Sun, representing happiness, optimism, and joy. The Sun appears as a positive reminder that everything is moving in the right direction.
The Sun reminds you to have confidence in your authentic self and that good situations and people will always surround you.
Keywords: Happiness, Positivity, Right Direction, Authenticity
The Judgement card calls forward your decisions and actions, allowing you the chance to make sure they align with where you want to end up.
Judgment can be seen to share some similarities with the Death card.
Keywords: Awakening, Renewal, Purpose, Reflection, Reckoning
The Minor Arcana Cards
The Minor Arcana cards are the ones that represent lesser secrets yet remain just as important. These cards represent the joys, hopes, triumphs, fears, annoyances, as well as the many challenges we may face in our day to day lives.
These cards give short-term or temporary insights, while the Major Arcana cards represent overarching lessons for someone to pay attention to.
The Minor Arcana cards have a total of 56 cards, with four different suits consisting of 14 cards in each suit. Each suit is representative of different parts of human experience in life, some decks may be different than others, but they are generally the same. The Minor Arcana suits are:
- Wands/Rods – relate to action, motivation, initiative, drive, and desire
- Swords – relate to our thought process and decision making
- Cups – relate to our feelings and emotions
- Pentacles/Coins – relate to our material world, such as work and our financials
These cards get numbered from 1-10, with the remaining four being the court cards, which includes a King, Queen, Knight, and Page/Jack.
However, it is important to know that each numbered or court card holds its unique message and energies independent of the suit. You can learn more about this and each card’s meaning in the video below, and there’s no need to have it memorized before you can begin reading the Tarot:
Are you finally ready to begin reading the Tarot? Well, what better way than practicing on yourself. You not only will get better at it, but you will be given a chance to gain a little insight into yourself.
While you have already gotten a brief introduction to the meaning of the cards, you do not need to memorize them all before you begin. Instead, remember the keywords or reference them as you go.
To begin the Tarot reading, start shuffling the cards, and while there are many ways you can lay out the cards, it is best to start with the basic three-card spread.
As you are shuffling, think about what question you want to ask or topic in your life that you want to cover. As you are shuffling, you may find a card or two that falls out. This may mean you need to hear the message of this card, and you can use it as one of your three.
If not, don’t worry, you can pick the three cards on your own, and the message can be just as strong. To do this, do what feels right, cut the deck in the middle and re-shuffle 3 times, pick the top 3 cards or lay them all out upside-down and grab 3 at random, whatever feels right.
No matter what you choose to do, remember to stay focused on the question you want to be answered. When you are ready, lay the 3 cards face up from left to right in front of you.
You can also have each card in the three-card spread represent something different such as the past, present, and future.
Interpreting the Meaning
As you now have your cards, you can begin denoting the meaning of the cards as it regards the past, present, future, or a specific situation, action, or an outcome. As you begin to look at them, remember the keywords of each and begin to see if any connections exist between them as they should start to tell a story.
You can also use the pictures as a representation of what the message may be. This can add a layer of depth to your reading by giving you the opportunity to find more insights that might pertain to the answer of the question being asked.
Remember, perfection will take time, so keep an open mind and trust your intuition as you start on your Tarot journey. You should also keep a reference of the meanings and keywords handy when you first start. One may even come with your Tarot Deck.
Cards in Reverse
All of the Major Arcana card meanings and general interpretations that you previously read represent the upright energy of the card. However, it is important to remember that a card can show up in reverse, which means the message it sends is reversed from the upright message.
A card in reverse simply means that when you picked the card and placed it (left to right) face up in front of you, one showed up upside down. These reverse cards are important, too, as the message will be regarding the reversed energy of the card.
If the card is in reverse, it is best to reference a book such as Tarot In Reverse: Making Sense of the Upside Down Cards or the internet to begin to learn these meanings as well.
Trusting Your Intuition
One of the most important things in doing a Tarot reading for either yourself or others is trusting your intuition and listening to what you are thinking and feeling while you read the cards.
One way to do this more is to always take a second to get the overall feel and your immediate reaction to the spread before you begin reading them and trust those initial feelings and thoughts. Then use what you feel and any first thoughts you had to guide you throughout the rest of the reading.
Tarot Reading Ritual
At the end of your reading, you should take the time to be grateful to your cards, clear them of any energy they may have encountered, such as from people you read, and store them in a safe and secure location.
When you are using these cards to connect with other people’s energy, you want to make sure it does not come home with you, so remember to have an ending ritual that you complete every time following the reading.
Practice Makes Perfect
As time goes on, you will stop having to reference this article or other sources for the meanings of cards, and you will begin to see patterns and systems a lot more often.
You will also become a lot more confident in yourself and your interpretations of the Tarot cards, making the readings that much more enjoyable for yourself and the person being read.
Remember to keep practicing on yourself and others, so you can continue to improve.
As you begin to read Tarot cards, the most important thing is to practice. The more cards you draw and read, the bigger connection you will form with the cards and a deeper understanding you will begin to gain. Start simple and as you get more comfortable, draw more cards at a time.
Eventually, you will begin to understand more clearly the meanings behind each card, as well as what the pictures might be telling you, along with being more easily ready to listen to and trust your intuition.
Keep an open mind, know your keywords for each card or have them handy, and go ahead and shuffle your cards and deal your very first Tarot spread!