Tarot cards tell stories with their pictures. The story they tell is of where people are on their journey in life. We all have a common journey through birth, transformation, and death. That journey is the story that tarot cards tell.
When you look at a deck of new tarot cards for the first time, you’ll notice that the cards are arranged in a certain order to tell their story. The major arcana cards, which represent the overarching themes of life, are numbered from The Fool’s number 0 to The World’s number 21.
In essence, our life is our journey from the moment of our birth until our death. This journey isn’t straight and linear; it’s more of a spiral. This is why The Fool is numbered 0, not 1. The Fool is an innocent adventurer, joyfully taking his own leap of faith. Both birth and death are leaps of faith. Each major transformation in life returns us to 0. Major arcana tarot cards represent overarching life themes and events in readings.
The minor arcana cards, which are the wand, cup, sword, and pentacle cards that come after the major arcana cards, detail each chapter of our lives on our spiral journeys. Whether you’re doing a reading for yourself or for somebody else, the illustrations symbolize a particular element of the human journey.
I’ve been performing tarot readings since I was a young teenager. In the beginning, I didn’t know I could obtain the answers I sought simply by focusing on the cards and allowing them to speak their language to me. Instead, I got bogged down in figuring out the cards’ meanings by cross-referencing the possibilities in books. I thought I needed to memorize what each card meant to give effective readings. But that belief unintentionally blocked my intuition from discovering the answers I sought.
The Four Tarot Suits
Just as with standard playing cards, Tarot cards have four suits. But instead of hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs, tarot cards have pentacles, wands, swords, and cups. Each of these suits corresponds to an element.
- Wands correspond to the element of fire and relate to creativity, ideas, plans, thoughts, and intellect. Wands may also represent goals and mental activity.
- Cups correspond to the element of water and relate to love, inner experience, relationships, compassion, and emotions. When cups appear in a reading, they represent emotions and reveal how we feel.
- Swords correspond to the element of air and relate to movement and action. In readings, swords represent our spiritual state and the things we do to advance ourselves on our life’s path.
- Pentacles correspond to the element of earth and relate to prosperity, health, and manifestation. When pentacle cards appear in a reading, they usually refer to an aspect of our physical lives—our body, health, finances, or physical possessions.
Questions and Answers
The most important thing required for a successful tarot reading is a good question. Questions serve to focus tarot readings. So, before you do a reading, think about what you want the cards to reveal to you. You can ask something like, “What things should I know about my family relationships?” Or, “What would my life be like if I quit my job?” You could also ask a more open-ended question, such as, “How is my relationship going?”
Once you decide what you plan to ask, the cards will give you information through their language of pictures. For example, imagine that you never learned how to read, but you’re looking at an illustrated children’s storybook. You can’t read the specific words that the characters are speaking to each other, but the illustrations allow you to generally understand what the story’s about. Similarly, you can gain a great deal of information from what’s going on in the illustrations on tarot cards. This is why it’s important for you to use a tarot deck that clearly illustrates the cards’ meanings. There are many available, but I like using the Hanson-Roberts deck or the Cosmic deck.
Giving Yourself a Tarot Reading
- While thinking about your question, shuffle the cards. You’ll feel a definite energy shift when it’s time for you to stop. Don’t overthink this—just trust that when you choose to stop is the proper time to stop.
- To read the cards’ story the same way you’d read a book, simply lay out a row of cards. There’s no rule or set number of how many cards you must use in your row; just lay out as many as you feel will be enough to receive the answers you seek.
- Read the cards from left to right. Open your mind so thoughts and images can spontaneously enter your consciousness. Note if a certain card seems to jump out at you. Are you noticing one card more than others? Is the card reminding you of something?
- Gaze intently at each of the cards. What’s going on in each illustration? Are you drawn toward elements in the illustration’s foreground or in the background? Your intuition will show you where to look so you can interpret each card your way, based on which question you seek to answer.
The more you often you practice, the quicker you’ll learn what the tarot elements mean. So, try to give yourself a practice reading each day.