Starting a Tarot Practice

So, you’re interested in starting a tarot practice! That’s great! But I bet you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and lost, confused about decks and should it be a gift and what about layouts and also there are 78 cards how will you remember all that?! Deep breaths now, I’ve been where you are, and here I am, 20+ years later. Let me tell you how I got started, and how you can get going with a long relationship with tarot, too.

When you’re starting a tarot practice, there’s tons of conflicting advice out there.

So let’s cut through the chatter, first. Do what feels right for you, with no regard to what high and mighty so and so said to do. It’s perfectly ok for you to break a few rules and bend a guideline or two. Or three. Tarot can help unlock and guide your already present intuitive abilities, which are unique to you and will respond best to what actually works… for ~you~. Starting a tarot practice doesn’t have to be this formulaic and rigid endeavor: you can do what feels most right for you, in whatever order feels right.

Now, yes, you can just jump in and ignore all the guidelines. However…

I have guidelines for you.

Let’s look at that old chestnut about how your tarot deck needs to be a gift to you, and that buying it yourself negates the magic or whatever. Yeah, no, that’s not how that works. Whether it’s a gift, or an impulse buy you picked up at a weird shop by the beach, or ordered on the ubiquitous online shopping mecca, or even a deck you made yourself, all that matters is that you have cards in your hands and the intention to read them.

My very first ‘deck’ was a pack of 3 x 5 index cards, written in pencil with the names and meanings and associations. Like flash cards! I actually recommend doing something similar, even if you have a deck of cards, so that you can learn the card meanings and associations faster. Instead of flipping back and forth from your guidebook (or google search), you’ve got the meanings literally right in front of you, in your own words.

A lot of the decks available online come with an associated guidebook, and that’s great for beginners!

If you can, pick up a deck with a guidebook when you’re starting out. The guidebook will have advice and interpretation guides from the designer of the deck, and that’s invaluable. Every tarot deck and deck designer and artist is working from a slightly different slant, take, and view of the cards. Getting inside information directly from them about what they were intending with the art on each card will give you an advantage working with that given deck. Extra especially if you picked up a tarot deck to start out with that isn’t based on the ‘traditional’ Smith-Waite deck!

If you’ve got a more traditional deck to start with, or if you want to learn the traditional card meanings…

Oh boy are you in for a treat. There are thousands of words written on the meanings of the cards, including an entire book by Arthur E. Waite himself. The traditional meanings and interpretations are well documented. When I made a study of the cards (ongoing, let’s be real here), I went full research nerd. Multiple texts, so many books on the tarot, internet searches and pages printed out and preserved in a binder… because one source for any subject is too few. Three or more sources on any given area of research, cross referenced and annotated, collated, and double checked.

No, you don’t have to be a research nerd like me! But if you are, c’mere my nerdy fam! The point I’m trying to make is that you can find many different takes on the tarot and the traditional meanings of the cards. There is so much information out there!

I quickly realized when I was first starting out that I could get bogged down in a Master’s level dissertation, and never actually pick up the deck and do a reading.

The only real way for you to build and grow your practice and relationship with tarot is the exact same way you build and grow your meditation practice. You have to actually sit down and do the thing. Even if you don’t have all the cards memorized, if you don’t know what it means to put Death in the signifier or to lay the Tower reversed, fuck it. Just go for it! Every novice reader has to eventually just dive in with the cards and trust their own intuition and the cards.

Alright, you’re ready. Or not. Either way, this is happening. Pick up a deck and read!

six card deck interview layout

I’ve seen a lot of ‘interview your deck’ layouts on the ‘net recently, and that’s a great idea for starting out, or any time you pick up a new deck! Or an old deck. At any point, really. The idea is that you want your deck to connect with you, and tell you about what sort of readings you can get from it. I have multiple tarot decks, and each one gives a slightly different type and style of reading, each deck has different emotional states and energy vibes it pulls out of me. An interview layout can help you figure out what each individual deck can bring you.

Ok, wait, what’s a layout?

A layout is any set pattern for dropping the cards onto your table. You see, each card has a meaning, but, it is only in context that the meaning has relevance. A layout gives you the context. Each card placement has a meaning or question it asks, and the card placed in that position is made relevant through the layout. You can just draw cards willy nilly and go for a full intuitive wild ass reading. I’ve done it, it’s fun, and exhausting, but maybe not such a good idea when you’re just starting out.

three card layout

A typical layout is a three card draw. In that three card layout you can name and label the three positions pretty much anything. From left to right, all in a row, think of any given triptych and let those meanings shade the cards interpretations for you. Past/present/future, body/mind/soul, family/self/community… Go wild! Within the restricted structure of the three cards, you can uncover all sorts of in depth information, if you’re using a layout that will provide insight to you and your querent. I would advise you to start with the three card layout in your readings, and move on to more esoteric layouts later.

Do you feel more confident starting your tarot practice?

Just remember: you can’t mess this up. It’s your practice, it takes the shape and form you want it to take. Intuitive, traditional, structured, formless, all about the emotions that underlie situations, the social currents, or the raw physical facts… your practice will look different from my practice, and that’s awesome! Sit down, shuffle, read. It’s that simple, and that complex.

Thank you for reading this far! If you’re interested in booking a reading with me, I charge $5 for a three card reading. It’ll take about 15 minutes, is super painless, and you’ll get insight and advice from it.

Namaste

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