Over the next few minutes, you’ll learn everything you need to know about choosing a tarot deck, storing it, and interpreting your results. Whether you’ve just received a deck as a gift or you’re in the market to buy your first tarot deck, by the time you’ve reached the end of this post, you’ll have the confidence you need to take your curiosity for tarot and integrate it into your life.
Tarot cards for beginners: a guide on choosing your first deck, tarot card meanings, and getting started
How did tarot become tarot?
The tarot decks we know and love today are a far cry from the very first tarot decks from the late 14th or early 15th century. At its inception, tarocci was a card game — similar to modern-day bridge— played by the Italian aristocracy.
Of course, the rich and fabulous couldn’t keep these hand-painted cards to themselves, and the game migrated across Europe. Eventually, the game arrived in France, where it was renamed tarot.
In the 18th century, French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette published the first definitive guide to tarot card reading under the name Etteilla (Alliette spelled backward). Not long after, he released the first tarot deck designed for divination purposes. To help people understand the meanings of each card, he had them printed directly on the cards.
How to choose a tarot deck
Choosing your first tarot deck isn’t as hard as you might imagine. All it takes is for you to use your intuitiveness to select a deck that resonates with you and your energies.
One thing to consider is the illustrations on the deck. They need to call out to you. The feel of the cards should work well with your fingers and not stick. The size of the cards should be comfortable for you to work with and be easy to read. Finally, the energy coming off the cards is essential.
When testing a deck in person, begin by gliding your hand over the deck. How does it feel? Do you feel warmth, coldness, a thickness in the air, or nothing at all? If you feel nothing at all, move on to another deck.
Do this until you find a deck that calls out to you. Once you’ve found a deck with an energy that resonates, take a moment to play with the cards. Are they easy to shuffle? Are the text and font easy to read? Do the pictures on the cards call out to you?
Here’s how I chose a deck recently
An example would be the Decameron Tarot Deck I found a few months ago. It’s an erotic deck designed to amplify the sexual imagination. What makes it different from other erotic decks is the connection to the earthy world of Boccaccio’s Decameron and the depiction of people of all ages and beauty standards experiencing sensual, carnal adventure. That was exactly what I wanted. When I passed my hands over the deck, I could feel an energy coming from them. It was easy for me to know these cards were a match. Now that I’ve been working with the deck for a while, I am even more certain that the purchase was the right choice for me.
Are all tarot decks the same?
We’ve come a long way since tarocci, and we’re not done evolving yet! Today’s most popular tarot cards are based on a deck published by The Rider Company in 1909. Illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith and incorporating the teachings of academic and mystic A. E. Waite, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck solidified astrological associations and updated the Christian imagery in earlier decks. Although there are many types of tarot decks on the market, most tarot-lovers agree that the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is the ultimate choice for understanding symbolic meanings. We always recommend these tarot cards for beginners.
Can I buy my own tarot deck?
One of the most common urban legends about tarot decks is that you should never buy your own deck. As tarot card enthusiasts, we couldn’t disagree more. If you love and connect with certain cards, don’t wait for someone else to buy them for you!
That being said, a tarot deck makes an amazing gift. Choosing one that reminds you of your friend is a great way to encourage their spiritual formation.
How should I prepare my tarot deck?
Like a new outfit, once your tarot deck arrives, you’re probably itching to take it out and show it off. Being excited about it is a good thing!
But first, let’s prepare the deck for use. Whether you’ve received a factory-fresh deck still in its packaging or have inherited a hand-me-down, take the time to clear out any negative energy or baggage the deck might hold. You can do this by lighting a smudge stick and waving your deck through the smoke a few times.
Once it’s cleansed, you’ll want to instill your energy into the deck. You can do this by shuffling the deck, and taking the time to make sure you touch every card. After you shuffle the deck, knock on it a few times (just like you would on a door) to spread your energy throughout. Now, your deck is ready for your first reading.
Can my tarot cards come into contact with others?
Most people fear letting their cards come in contact with others, fearing their energy will alter the deck. Quite the opposite, you want those you are working with to touch the cards so you can get a more accurate reading for them.
Don’t be afraid to smudge your deck regularly. We want the energy of others in the cards when we do readings for them. We don’t want that energy to stick around.
How should I store my tarot deck?
Once you find a deck, you will want to take care of it. One way to protect your cards from damage is to keep them in a wooden box when you aren’t using them. I usually place my deck in a hemp pouch and then put that into a wooden box. I like this one because the protective pentacle keeps my cards safe from negative energies when I’m not using them.
There’s no right or wrong way to store your tarot, so you can rest easy that you haven’t done anything “wrong” if you’ve chosen a different storage method. As long as you keep the cards away from moisture that could damage the paper, you can store your cards in any manner you choose.
What are the different tarot card meanings?
So you’ve got your first deck, know how to store it, and prepared it for first use. Now what?
Learning the tarot card meanings is the next step to getting the most out of your deck. Most tarot decks have 78 cards divided into the minor and major arcana.
The 56 minor arcana are divided into swords, pentacles, wands, and cups, making up the four suits of the deck with 17 cards in each. The four suits all have different meanings. Usually, swords symbolize intellect and ideas, pentacles symbolize work and finances, wands symbolize creativity and passion, and cups symbolize emotion.
These aren’t the only meanings for each suit— the four classical elements are associated with the suits, too. Understanding the connection to each can help you deepen your relationship with your deck and enhance your readings. Swords are associated with air, pentacles are associated with earth, wands are associated with fire, and cups are associated with water.
Don’t get too focused on the names of the minor arcana suits, though. The deck’s author may choose alternative names for the suits to fit the theme.
The 22 major arcana, also known as trumps, depict symbolic elements. These elements are essential to understanding major life events and lessons.
Don’t get too caught up in memorizing the meanings of every card. Most decks come with an in-depth guide to help you understand the significance and symbolism of each card. It may not feel this way now, but as you spend more time with your deck, you’ll need to guide less and less. Eventually, you’ll be able to do every reading by intuition alone.
How do I read the cards?
Now that you’ve learned about the different cards, you’re probably eager to understand how to put that knowledge into practice for yourself. Theoretical learning is great, but practical is better. We’ll share two of our top spreads of tarot cards for beginners.
Three card pull
If you’ve watched a movie with a fortune teller, you’ve probably seen a three-card spread. It’s the most common way to read tarot cards, but it’s definitely not the only way. In fact, it could take you years to scratch the surface of all possible spreads.
Let’s start simple, though. After preparing your deck, you (or the person whose cards you’re reading) will select three cards and place them side by side. The first card represents the past. The second card represents the present. And, you guessed it, the final card represents the future.
Be sure to take the time to reflect on the cards you receive. Don’t like the card you pulled to represent the future? Use this reading as a warning and take steps to change your future.
Single card pull
While a three-card spread can help you understand your past and present and plan for the future, you may want an answer that’s a little more immediate.
A single card pull is a perfect daily exercise that will give you an answer to a specific, non-yes or no question. A few examples of good questions for single card pulls include:
- What should I focus on today?
- How does _______ feel about me?
- What does my future look like in this [job/relationship/friendship]?
Remember, a single card pull is just that. Choose a card, interpret the answer, and trust the deck.
Additional types of tarot spreads
When starting out, single and three-card pulls are the easiest to master. As you grow in your skills, you can learn spreads like the Celtic cross, horseshoe, five-card spread, and so many more.
Upright vs. reverse meanings
While cards facing upright adhere to the tarot card meanings ascribed to them, cards in reverse (upside down) carry the opposite meaning. For instance, upright, the Two of Cups card means mutual love and soulmates. Reversed, that same card indicates an imbalance in the relationship and a potential breakup. Now, what could be so good may not be the meaning you wish to hear.
Will these cards tell the future?
The cards are a tool, and the future isn’t set in stone. While your readings may give you insight into things that may happen, you can take steps to change the future if you’re not happy with what you see.
Many people use tarot cards to predict the future and prepare for the eventualities ahead. Others use tarot cards as a tool for spiritual reflection and self-improvement. How you choose to use the cards is a personal journey, and whichever path you choose is the right one for you. Who knows— the way you use the cards today may not be how you use them a year from now.
What happens next?
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the Tarot Cards for Beginners Guide. The next step is taking this knowledge and putting it into practice. After all, practice makes perfect.
If you haven’t purchased your first tarot deck yet, visit Pure Journi and peruse a wide variety of decks. From spooky and dark to sensual and erotic to light-filled and angelic, we have a deck you’ll love.
Soon, you’ll know all the tarot card meanings by heart, and you’ll be doing three card spreads and Celtic Crosses with ease. You’ll grow in confidence and build trust with your deck as you spend more time with it.
Keep practicing. Keep asking questions. And keep learning. A deeper understanding of yourself and others awaits.