How To Do A Basic Tarot Reading For Yourself Or A Friend

Written by Tiffany Maloney

I'm certain many of you have been drawn at one time or another to a mysterious gypsy tent at a festival of some kind, complete with a crystal ball, incense smoke and a Stevie Nicks-inspired witchy woman offering to tell you what "the cards" hold for you, for about $25 or so, right?

Or perhaps you even bought a deck yourself and just knew that with practice, this would be the key to unlocking what karma had in store for you, only to spend hours staring at pictures of medieval men clasping coins and Knights on horseback or the dreaded Death card — what good could possibly come of that card, anyway?

Tarot is centuries old. Played as a card game in French parlors and all across Europe, it became a tool of Divination around the year 1600. The name Tarot is said to come from Egyptian roots, and reference the Book of Thoth and even Isis, one of the oldest gods/goddesses of Ancient Egypt.

But the interpretations of the history of the cards are as varied as there are decks on the market.

The most widely used (and well known) is the "Rider-Waite" deck. These images have come to symbolize the mysticism and esoterica that we now associate with Tarot.

I began dabbling in Tarot in my early 20's. My first desk came with a large black cloth with a numbered outline of an elaborate 12-card spread and a book that deciphered the meaning of each card if it appeared in a certain position.

One reading would take HOURS, as I looked up each card in the spread, read it's meaning, attempted to interpret the meaning in the position and then apply it to myself somehow. Eventually those cards and that cloth ended up in the back of a drawer somewhere and forgotten. It just wasn't approachable or practical.

Years later, as my yoga practice developed and true sense of self emerged, I came upon another deck of cards. I was instantly drawn to the simple yellow box and knew it was time to pick them up again. As a devoted student of both mythology and Jungian psychology, I began to see the cards in a very different light.

The cards are archetypal in every way. Jung wrote that archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves, in other words, that they are patterns of instinctual behavior. The cards represent universal truths. A true reading is not fortune telling, it's good psychology. The exact same cards drawn for one person may take on an entirely different meaning if drawn for someone else. It's simply a key to unlocking the subconscious mind.

Try this simple reading I put together to help get you started with Tarot. And remember, practice makes magic!

How To Choose Your Deck

If you visit your local bookstore or occult shop you will find an array of Tarot decks. Everything from angel cards to vampire Tarot, to animal spirit guide cards. My advice is to go with what calls you — what feels right.

However, decks that are referred to as "Oracle" decks are not meant for spreads. These are meant for daily devotional guidance. My personal choice is the "Rider-Waite Tarot."

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How To Prepare Your Cards

First, check your cards for any instructional or blank cards and remove those. Place the entire deck on your alter or sacred space, or even outdoors under the sun or moonlight. I like to place a clear Quartz Crystal on mine to neutralize the energy and vibration.

The more the cards are used, the more vibration they will absorb. Next, separate out the Major Arcana cards — these are the cards NOT part of a suit, such as The Tower and Strength.

Keep the Major Arcana in one deck, and the Minor Arcana in another. (I keep a little satin ribbon around each set). Shuffle each deck eight times — a sacred number in esoteric work.

A Basic 3-Card Spread

Choose one card from the Major Arcana deck. This is your Archetypal card. This signifies YOU or the person you are reading. This will define the relationship of all the subsequent cards.

Until you are familiar with what all of the cards mean and the symbolism, a wonderful (and quick) source is You can actually just put in the name of the card in Google and get information, but remember, it's not one size fits all! It's in relation to the person being read.

Many decks also come with a detailed instruction booklet that provides the meaning of each card.

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Reading Your Cards

Once the archetype is established, have your friend (or yourself, if solo) shuffle the Minor Arcana deck eight times and divide it into three small piles facing down, then turn over the top card of each pile.

The first card represents the physical realm, what is going on in the material earthly plane for him or her (or you).

The second card represents the mental realm, what is in the person's mind (or yours) that is brewing. Perhaps something that is unspoken or holding them/you back.

The third card represents the spiritual realm. This card is often a message from the spirit.

As you decipher the meaning and symbolism of each card in the given position, relate back to what that means in accordance to the chosen archetype. It's almost always uncanny how accurate this simple reading can be.

Cover Photo: Stocksy, Gallery courtesy of the author

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