“The true Tarot is symbolism; it speaks no other language and offers no other signs. Given the inward meaning of its emblems, they do become a kind of alphabet which is capable of indefinite combinations and makes true sense in all.” A. E. Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot
In this post I’m going into the practice of reading Tarot and how to get started. Some of my opinions and methods on things will be a bit more traditional; so if you disagree with me, don’t worry – I won’t be offended. Beliefs differ and that is fine.
So as a premise to this post: I strongly believe that any divination is spirit work and that these spirits are real; like it has been the case over the course of history until magic got heavily mentalized in the 19th/20th century. Most people nowadays would call these forces “energies” or “archetypes”. Whatever you call them, most people will agree that they can influence a reading.
Choosing your first Tarot deck
Many people will tell you to choose a deck based on your intuition, if you like the art or if you’re “drawn” to it in some way. Spare yourself some issues and don’t choose your first deck this way. Pretty art won’t teach you the system of Tarot, which means it won’t teach you to be a good reader; all it will do is make you into a mediocre reader at best who can’t break down the objective meaning of a single card because you chose your deck based on aesthetic instead of functionality.
There is a system to Tarot, which you need to study in order to effectively read. Don’t become one of those Tarot readers who did Tarot for 10 years but can’t break down the objective meanings of each card. I broke down the basic system of Tarot here. I get that pretty art can be tempting, but view it this way: If you use a deck based on its art, you as a reader will rely on an interpretation of the system, instead of the system itself.
So don’t go by “what resonates” with you. Choose a deck that will teach you the general system of Tarot. If you really want to, you can buy any artsy or gimmicky decks later on; after you internalized the system. Or you can have a “study deck” and an artsy deck at the same time! I myself use the “Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn” by Giordano Berti and Patrizio Evangelisti, while I’m using the Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson for study!
Next step: Bless your deck!
Not everyone does this, but I highly recommend blessing your Tarot deck. It is one of your spiritual tools and you don’t want evil spirits(or as some people call them: negative energies, but you get my point) to touch it in any way, which in turn might fuck up your reading.
Some people will use Holy Water with the trinitarian formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. It is easy and works for anyone who practices some Christian type of magical tradition. Another way is to “welcome” the deck into your home, which is something Neopagans and Wiccans tend to do. Or you could consecrate it to a spirit you want to work with or use the elements to your advantage. For instance you could use the purifying properties of fire in order to cleanse or consecrate your deck.
Either way, please consecrate, cleanse or bless your deck in some way. The point to this is, as I said, that nothing unwanted will touch your deck or answer through it.
Now, before you do a reading: Cleanse your space!
This is important, since any divination is spirit work to some degree. You don’t want any malicious or trickster spirits to fuck up your reading, so banish any potential malicous spirits or negative energies beforehand. You will also want have a focused and clear mind, so a small meditation beforehand helps to get yourself into the proper headspace for cleansing and card readings.
This again can be done by using Holy Water and the trinitarian formula, as well as the St. Michael prayer by Pope Leo XIII if you’re Christian. I personally make use of a kabbalistic invocation of the four Archangels and the Holy Shekinah, which puts a barrier between myself and the outer world. This is a method some people will know as “Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram”; the LBRP however is a syncretized version of this kabbalistic prayer.
Many people like to use herbs/incense; which can be extremely tricky, since incense as a whole has been used as an offering to spirits in pretty much over the course of history. While there are recipes and mixtures, which are said to drive away evil spirits; they still are specifc recipes. If you want to cleanse with smoke and incense, I highly recommend reading the eniterity of De Occulta Philosophia, Book I, Chapter 43 by Agrippa, which you can find here.
Next step: Be as specific as possible in your opening!
A lot of people tend to ask the “universe” for accurate card readings, which in my opinion is way too generalized. I personally call on God using the Ana B’Choach and then ask him to send his holy intelligences into the cards in order to give me accurate readings.
You can also command a planetary angel during the appropriate hour to give you accurate card readings as well as your Holy Guardian Angel. Just be specific on what you are calling on.
This is also where you can use incense if you’re pagan or work with planetary angels. Just use the appropiate incense for whatever spirit you are working with!
“But now because Lots are not directed alwayes by mans minde, but also, as we said before, by the help of other Spirits; nor is the minde of a Prophet alwayes disposed to that excess of passion as we spoke of: hence amongst the Ancients, it was a Custome to premise before the casting of the Lot, some sacred performances, in which they called upon divine Intelligencies and spirits for to direct the Lot aright.” De Occulta Philosophia, Book II, Chapter 54
Now start practicing!
In order to read Tarot, you’ll have to practice. So after you blessed your deck; go on and cleanse your space. Focus on your question, maybe even ask it out loud and shuffle. If cards fall out while shuffling, include them in your reading. Read reversals as well! You don’t have to use spreads, although some spreads are helpful if you have trouble to read a narrative. The Celtic Cross and the 3 Card spread come to mind. Don’t do general readings, try to be as specific as possible. It helps if you ask things you already know the answer to as well.
Then go on to journal every reading you do. This way you’ll be able to double-check if you were right when it comes to reading into the future!
Meditate on each card!
You can do this by drawing one card a day for yourself, which you will meditate on; or you just go by order starting with 0 – The Fool and meditate on the Fool’s journey. Meditation on the cards are almost essential in order to grasp the mysticism within the Tarot as well as to gain a deeper understanding of each card. Meditate on the Hebrew letter the card is associated with, look up the kabbalistic meaning behind it. Meditate on the astrological and elemental associations of the card.
You can use reliable sources of the occult for this, like William Lilly’s “Christian Astrology” or Cornelius Agrippa’s “De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres”. For any kabbalistic associations you can either go by “hermetic” Kabbalah of the Golden Dawn or by Jewish sources. Let’s take the Fool for instance. It is associated with the element of air and the Hebrew letter Alef. What does Agrippa say about the element of air? What do rabbis teach on the letter Alef? Do this with each card and you’ll get a very deep understanding of each card.
Just with your readings, journal your meditations as well!
Once you start reading for other people: Don’t sugarcoat your readings!
The amount of readers who sugarcoat their readings is ridiculous. Do yourself and your client a favor; make a disclaimer that your readings might not always be 100% accurate. But most importantly: Don’t ever sugarcoat negative readings. Sure, you want to be nice and make your client feel good; but even though your client might hate you in the moment, they’ll thank you later on. So always read whatever you see, don’t sugarcoat it. I’ve seen people run after a lost love for years because of Tarot readers sugarcoating negative love readings. Don’t be that bad Tarot reader.
I hope this post is helpful for anyone who wishes to start out with Tarot. Thank you for reading!
Literature to deepen one’s understanding of the system of Tarot and western esotericism:
- “Christian Astrology” by William Lilly.
- “De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres” or “Three Books of Occult Philosophy” by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Free to read here.
- “Timaeus” by Plato. Free to read here.
- renaissanceastrology.com by Christopher Warnock as well as his books.
- “The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic” by Israel Regardie. Free to read here.
- “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot” by A. E. Waite. Free to read here.
- “The Book of Thoth” by Aleister Crowley. Free to read here.
My recommendations for study decks:
- “Hermetic Tarot” by Godfrey Dowson. This is handsdown the best deck in order to study the system of Tarot! Amazon.
- “Thoth Tarot” by Aleister Crowley. The correspondences stay the same for the most part; but Crowley put in a lot of his own thelemic philosophy(which is not an issue if you’re comfortable with it). Amazon.
- “Golden Dawn Magical Tarot” by the Ciceros. Amazon.
- “Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn” by Giordano Berti and Patrizio Evangelisti. Beautifully illustrated deck; the illustrations overall follow the Golden Dawn system more closely than the RWS Tarot, since the artist closely followed descriptions of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn for the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana are illustrated as well, which is very reminiscent of the RWS Tarot. Amazon.
- “Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot” by A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. One of the first commercialized Golden Dawn decks. Waite and Smith packed it with a lot of symbolism and it is easy to read; because it is an illustrated decks I don’t recommend it as a study deck. Please read A. E. Waite’s book “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot” if you want to read from this deck. Amazon.
- “Golden Art Nouveau Tarot” by Giulia Massaglia. A RWS-clone! It keeps the concepts of the original artwork intact, which is why it is my favorite RWS-clone. The artwork in it is beautiful and it reads just like the original RWS deck. Read “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot” by A. E. Waite with this one as well! Amazon.