Magpie eyes took over, you saw the shiny, caved in to that feeling of being called to learn tarot that has been haunting you, maybe even for years. Now there’s a new tarot deck in your hands and as beautiful as it is you don’t know what to do with it. Been there, babes.
Or perhaps you are coming back to the practice after a long break, looking for new ways to shuffle, select cards and rituals that can make it feel fizzy and exciting again
Don’t worry, I got ya. Here’s tarot 101, from the very first unboxing to feeling like the deck is an extension of your arm as you shuffle and access your intuition with ease, let’s begin.
Firstly if you have any fears or misconceptions about tarot you might want to check out this article here. Don’t let the arbitrary opinions of others, old dogma or fear hold you back if this is something you keep feeling called to learn then there is probably a reason.
The linked article breaks down some common myths and provides information where these misconceptions may have originated and seeks to educate what tarot really is and what it isn’t.
Caring for your new tarot deck
So you’ve likely received your deck or are preparing to. Let’s go through step by step how you can care for your deck from the minute it arrives to its forever home with you.
When you first unbox your deck take a minute to prepare yourself, it’s easy to just rip open the packaging to see that yummy art work but try to savor this moment.
The first time you meet your deck is special. Maybe you’ve noticed I talk about tarot decks like they are people and that’s because the bond you can develop with a deck is so strong, each deck with its different art style and intention will have a different ‘flavor’ to them.
Some will be your everyday bae and some will be for full moons, summer or a particular solstice. Take some time to make the unboxing as luxurious as possible, light a candle, brew a cuppa and sit comfortably so you can take your time getting to know your new friend of enlightenment.
Slowly go through each card in turn and allow the emotions and memories that they evoke to wash over you. You could even journal your first impressions and have these to go back to whenever you wish.
Once you have become acquainted with your deck you will probably want to cleanse it of any negative energy it has picked up along its way to you. See decks are like energetic sponges and very perceptive to any lingering energy. Cleansing offers you a clean slate so that only your energy is imbued into the deck and is the best foundation to begin bonding with your deck. The easiest way to do this is with any form of smoke incense, my personal favorite is palo santo.
Simply light your incense and circle the smoke anti-clockwise around your deck three times and you are good to go. If you have smoke sensitivities or are unable to have any smoke in your building then a selenite or clear quartz crystal can be used.
Simply place this crystal on top of your deck and light a small white candle beside it (a tea light is perfect) once the candle has burned down all the negative energy has been absorbed and you can move on to charging your deck.
This is my favorite part. Charging heightens the deck’s particular strengths. It can improve its accuracy and help strengthen your intuition and bond with your tarot deck. The easiest way to charge your deck is during the full moon. Place it inside on a windowsill or area that is exposed to the rays of the full moon.
Unlike when charging crystals do not place your deck outside just in case it rains. If you don’t want to wait for the full moon then any moon phase can be used, it’s like charging your phone a little bit before you go out to tide you over until you can get back and charge it fully.
I like to cleanse and charge my tarot decks every full moon, it keeps them fizzing and working at their best. Also wrapping your deck in black silk and placing a clear quartz stone on top of the parcel is amazing for sealing in positive energy and your own vibes.
Don’t use a selenite crystal even though this is also a great crystal for cleansing and charging because selenite continually flakes and the crystal dandruff on a black surface will probably drive you nuts, I know it does for me.
Using your deck
Now that your new tarot deck is cleansed and charged its ready for action. But how do you actually use a tarot deck. Would it surprise you to learn there are many different ways to use a tarot deck? They can be used intuitively, for divination, for healing and shadow work, within spell craft and many more ways too.
You can read about these methods in more detail here. In fact tarot is a practice that is tailored to the individual reader over time so there really isn’t ‘one true’ classic way of reading. So let’s break down what goes into reading tarot and you can select or discard whatever methods and ways that appeal to you.
It’s important to know that everything you do creates a bond with your deck. They really will become a friend, an extension of your arms and intuition. Some people like to put their tarot deck under their pillow at night and carry them on their person for the first Luna month of owning a new deck. Every shuffle, card pull and spread is a conversation.
The tarot is a tool to commune with our highest self, spirit guides, deities and the universe. We converse with these energies through the deck. The deck is the language and the words.
Tarot isn’t only for psychics divining the future. It can be, but it can also be used as a form of introspection, of traversing our internal landscape. I have a friend who is as practical and atheistic as they come, she likes to sit with me for readings and uses them as a mindfulness/meditative exercise. Another friend journals with tarot as a form of stress relief and another channels her deceased mother in law through the cards.
The wonderful thing about tarot is they are images to throw your particular consciousness and beliefs(or lack of) upon, in whatever way they choose to manifest in you.
If you don’t believe in the universe, spirits or deities please do not try to force yourself into believing them. Tarot will meet you where you are at and can be an incredibly diverse and multi-faceted tool at opening your mind, if you let them. But they can’t open your mind if you insist on keeping it in one rigid box or label.
So lean into and explore what you do believe and disregard what you don’t, that includes info in this article and every resource for anything tarot or witchy related that you can find.
There are many shuffling techniques you can try. My favorites are overhand and riffle/casino. Cutting the deck into 3 piles and putting them together in a different order also works well too.
Experiment with each of these and see which you like best. I have developed a somewhat accidental routine of 1 overhand and then immediately 1 cutting of the deck and I then repeat this 7 times. This is for when I shuffle a new tarot deck for the very first time to get it all well and truly mixed up. I do it this many times because 7 is a very magical number.
For my daily draw I like overhand because it’s quick and simple and usually a card will jump straight out. I categorically do not ever riffle/casino cards with thick card stock or cards with foil and gilded edge accents, it just seems too rough and the bend seems to affect the foil over time. I reserve this for thinner cards without these accents instead.
Also if you perform the messy shuffle make sure it’s on a soft fabric surface so you don’t create scratches on your card faces. If you’re really stuck where to begin then do an overhand shuffle. It’s the easiest to learn, gets the cards good and mixed up and is gentle on them.
Selecting a card
Or if a tarot spell called for you to pick a specific card for a specific emotion or situation you probably wouldn’t leave it up to chance and select a card at random, would you? See, Intent matters. So below you’ll find instructions on card selecting methods but also a little guide based on the intent you have for the card in question.
Always experiment and see which ones you like personally and go wit’s what you feel called to.
Nice and simple, after shuffling in your preferred method hold the cards in your non-dominant hand and with your dominant hand gently fan them out. Take your time to graze the index finger of your dominant hand over the corner of each card and select the one which feels tingly, when you know, you’ll know. You know?
Use this for daily readings and for firing up your intuition, if you’ve asked a question and really care about the answer, if the question relates to a big event or decision in your life then using this is great because it really makes you to stop and focus your intuition.
Another nice and easy one, whilst shuffling if a card jumps out that’s the card. This is the universe shouting at you demanding you look at this card. If this card was part of a reading with multiple cards then this card should be given the most importance.
If a reading is a sentence then this card is an exclamation point. If you want a jumper then all you need to do is keep shuffling until one presents itself
Use this for daily readings or ‘quick and dirty’ card pulls. Small questions or sometimes no question just a “What do I need to know/what is good for me today?” The fact this card has jumped out to meet you feels great. Please note that matte laminated cards don’t ‘jump’ as well as glossy cards so pick a gloss laminated deck for jumper questions.
The conscious selection
No need to shuffle, simply turn the cards face up and ruffle through until you find the one you need. Every card packs a punch and different flavor. Sometimes you just know you need the ace of wands for a new project or the strength card for the gym.
This method is often used for spell work or for meditating on a specific card to temporarily gain the attributes of that card. Want to ace an interview? Queen or King of swords. Want to make friends? 3 of cups. Need a boost of positivity? The Sun.
Often you can find spells and mediations featuring tarot cards online or you can make your own once you feel comfortable with each card and it’s meanings.
Top or bottom
Shuffle in your favorite way and then select the card on top and also the very bottom card. Place each card face down, top card on the left, bottom card on the right. Turn these over.
This pull is great for a this or that answer, the card you selected from the top is ‘what if I do THIS’ and the card on the bottom is the ‘what if I do THAT’ mostly you’ll get a very clear idea which option you should go for. I did this once and for THIS I got The 3 of swords and for THAT I got The Sun. Guess which choice I went for?
You’ve prepared your tarot deck and drawn a few cards, let’s talk about what to do if you want more than one card and why you WOULD want more than one. This is where you ask a few questions based on some kind of a theme and lay them down together, either at your altar or on the floor on a nice silk cloth, perhaps the black silk cloth you used to wrap you deck in mentioned earlier. This is called a tarot spread.
Each card is an answer to the mini question and they all add up to make a comprehensive answer. They come in all different shapes and sizes.
The basic format is to shuffle your cards, ask each question and select as many cards as the spread calls for and then place them face down where the spread suggests. Turn them over one by one taking in how the card answers the question. In general spreads are between 3-5 cards work best, particularly if you are just starting out with spreads.
There are large spreads but these can be overwhelming at first, because more cards means more information and more time to filter/understand this information. It can be very draining to read multiple cards and spreads. Below is a quick little list to take you from a one card reader to a supreme card slinger:
- A daily draw: if you are brand new to tarot, draw one card each day for perhaps the first month or so. Carry it with you and take time to sit with its meaning. Journal about how it makes you feel. Most cards come with a guidebook explaining their meanings but you can also google the card and see what comes up, most decks are based off the Rider Waite Smith deck so the meanings will be incredibly similar even if the art work is different.
- This/that spread: described in the previous section and easy to see which option we should select, be sure to use your intuition and not just ‘do as the cards say’ it’s very important your intuition guides you not the two sentences that come in your guidebook. You can begin this once you feel ready, there isn’t really any time frame for any of this it is all as and when you feel ready for it.
- Past, present and future spread: three cards and my personally favorite spread. This is a simple reading but it packs a punch. The card on the left speaks of your past and how a particular element of your past can help you now. The present is the middle card and is generally your action card because the present is the only time we have to act in. Finally the third card on the right is your future, or more accurately what will happen if you do/don’t do the action of the present card. I stuck with the 3 card reading pretty much exclusively for the first 2 years of my tarot journey, I just didn’t feel the need to incorporate more cards because of the depth that is possible with this spread. Keep at this until you feel bored or you are called to try more spreads.
- 3-9 card spreads: these can be found in most guidebooks and online, in fact I have a few that I designed here and here. These are great for more complex themes. Again remember the more cards in the spread the longer you’ll need to absorb the information give them to you. So if you are getting confused during a spread you can always drop back a level. This is helpful too if you have a little break from your tarot practice, perhaps after a vacation. Tarot will always greet you at the level of information you are ready for. Sometimes when we get frustrated we feel like we need to pull more cards to clarify or try the spread again but the first time is always right. It’s okay to lay a spread down and come back to it over a couple of hours or even days. A handy tip is to take a photo on your phone and then come back to this photo when you are ready. I print off these photos and put them in my journal and then write about them.
- 10+ card spreads: including but not limited to the Celtic cross. Ah the Celtic cross, such a classic spread and wonderful when it all goes right but so easy to get confused and muddled about with. This can be seen as an entire life spread with cards that covers love, money/career, the past, our hopes and dreams and everything in between. But... and this is just my (probably unpopular) opinion, it’s not really all that. Some folks absolutely love it and once you feel ready you should definitely give it a try and you might just love it. Again adapt the practice of tarot to fit you. Try everything, keep what feels fizzy, throw away what feels arbitrary.
Creating a ritual
This is the part that I believe people are unknowingly very familiar and interested in. The ritual, the mood, the vibe. This is what takes cards from being something printed in a factory and shipped by a postman from mundane objects and makes them sacred consecrated items for soul work.
The ceremony around shuffling the deck, choosing a card and laying the spread is bursting with magical intent. I’ve divided this section into two main categories: accessories and methods. It’s important to know that neither of these categories are strictly necessary, what gives the cards power are your mind, your intention and the energies that you believe in.
However creating a ceremony around our readings can make it feel more powerful, keep us in the moment and then we are more likely to listen to the advice our highest self/guides or the universe is giving us so without further ado, here’s some things you can add to heighten your readings or maybe just add during a Sabbat or Esbat:
- Black silk cloth: mentioned above a couple of times. Black is a protective color and something about the cards on a black surface pulls me in so that their colors, energies and depictions seem clearer and sharper against a black back drop.
- Candles: using magical color theory, burning a particular color of candle can imbue the reading with a magical air, creating a spell and dreamy effect that stays with you for hours.
- Journal: a really pretty journal to document your readings, see how you progress at your ability to read them and also how their messages change and adapt over time.
- Crystal grids: to draw in a specific vibration during your reading. My favorite crystal to enhance tarot readings is rose quartz, it gives the advice a self loving and soft edge which is so welcome in this fast paced and hectic world.
- Tea: any flavor, hot or cold, sweet or plain. Bring water energy to your reading in your favorite cup and sip whilst you divine. Just be careful not to spill on your cards, yes I speak from experience and no I’m not over it yet. Let’s just say I don’t drink blackcurrant tea whilst I read white cards anymore; because I am traumatized and now my cards are tinged slightly pink.
Actually learning tarot
The meat and potatoes of tarot is actually learning how to read tarot, obviously, right? It’s also the hardest part, we all think, feel and believe a little differently so tarot is going to be a reflection of that. So how to learn something that is slightly different for all of us. I have a couple of hints and tips and a really useful video for you today. I also have a blog article specifically for tarot learning resources here and many of them are free.
At the beginning you will probably need to read the guidebook along with your deck and this is good because it’s what it’s there for, to help you. The more you read with your deck you will be able to pause and take in the card in its specific spread/question and use your intuition first before diving straight into the book and pretty soon you won’t even need the book.
This process is difficult enough as we learn not only the logical meanings but also the uniqueness that they deliver to us on a personal and emotional level so we don’t need to make it even harder for ourselves. Watching this video really helped me solidify the basics. Spend a good long time on the basics, build a steady foundation for the fancier stuff to stand upon.
Well my dears, if you’ve stuck with it and reached this point well done you, this is about 4000 words so let me know how many cups of tea it took. I hope today’s article has given you a little food for thought and maybe some methods and tips you can experiment with whether this is your maiden voyage with tarot or if you’re returning to the practice.
So good luck to you on your tarot journey and please please let me know if you are going to try any of these.
Well speaking of cuppas I think I’m due one; probably not blackcurrant, eh?
My son just surprised me with my first deck and after reading your article, I going to try all the advice in here until I find one that works best for me. Never know until their all given a shot. Thank you so much for all the information. You made this a very easy read. Very personal and didn’t leave me feeling intimidated or inferior like the others do. Well said! Thank you!
I just got my first deck of tarot cards. I went through them one at a time. Then went back and the ones that got my attention I put to the side. I’m going to look those up first and start from there.
I loved your article. It was informative and straight forward. I have bookmarked you for further understanding.
My oracle deck & tarot cards came in from your shop today, and I have to tell you, it was like the entire world changed around me.
I am autistic and often light has really bothered me, this happens often in winter with the sun shining on the bright snow. I was curled up in the dark in bed when the mail came, and as soon as the box was in my hands it was as though my entire spirit was lifted, and the sun didn’t feel too bright and overwhelming, it felt like love & life and healing. I have been sitting in the sun since, admiring the decks and making a special space for them & my new journal in my office.
I am very excited to start this journey, and this article has helped me a lot, as a beginner I am sure I will come back to this often and have already read a lot of your other articles! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful creations with us and also your wisdom!
I just received my first deck, it is amazing, I am very happy, I am very happy and satisfied after receiving the deck. You are a wonderful deck designer, I wish you to continue creating such wonderful works. :)
I just got my first deck from the mail and judt about to open it. Thank you so much for this! More blessings to you! 😊
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