Introduction and Frequently Asked Questions For Beginners
This series of articles and lessons that I give my students have been added to my web site for the many new beginners of Tarot that are developing every year. Maybe you have just been gifted your very first Tarot deck, bought one on impulse after seeing it at your favourite book store, or have not acquired your first deck yet and are looking for information before you make an investment. I hope these articles can provide to those who, for what ever reason have developed an interest in this most fascinating subject, a general overview of the Tarot and resources on where to learn more.
What is Tarot?
Simply put, a deck of 78 cards with images, divided in two parts, a set of 22 cards and a set 56 cards which are divided into 4 suits. It can be used as a tool for mediation and divination and games can be played with it. It has a rich esoteric history in the last couple of centuries which has continued into this one. It has become very popular in the last 60 or so years and every year sees many new and different decks being offered.
How does Tarot Work?
No one can say for sure, but most people will form an opinion of their own with use of it. I can only offer my own opinion as how the experience of using the cards work for me and what I believe about how that happens.
There are two parts, to how I experience Tarot as working. The first part, lies in the principle of intention and my belief in this principle. When I shuffle Tarot cards, I set my intention to what ever kind of guidance I am seeking. I trust that my unconscious self or that of the person I am reading for will exchange information with the mundane world (the cards), and that, the intention will cause the particular cards that can best guide me or a person I am reading for, to end up in the card layout. (this is the principle of synchronistic action) The second part, lies in the images on the cards and how the Tarot is structured. Tarot is structured so some cards represent archetypical ideas and principles that are cross cultural and held in some form or another world wide, and others represent the more mundane aspects of our daily lives. The art work itself can provoke a deep response in the psyche when looked upon (this is why I feel it is so important to work with a deck that speaks to you in some way). So after I or the person I am reading for have drawn the cards that are exactly right for the guidance being sought, I look at those cards and my conscious mind exchanges information with my unconscious mind and intuition. My conscious mind will give me access to all my formal and book learned Tarot knowledge, while my unconscious mind will access more primordial ideas and symbols. This process give me information and messages I can use to address the issues that guidance was being sought for.
There is no scientific way to prove this, it is experience based over many years. This is how it works for me.
Where did Tarot come from?
No one knows for sure. Much myth and lore can be found in books and other places claiming Tarot originated in Atlantis, Egypt, Indian, with Kabbalists or with the Gypsies, etc, but none of them have any provable foundation at this time. What is know is found in the earliest written records and Tarot cards that have survived from the last half of the 1300’s and 1400’s in Italy. At that time is was being used for gaming and only later were the applications of mediation and divination applied. Whether or not it existed before that time and if Tarot was used for other than gaming is not at this time known.
If you are interested in what is known of the history of Tarot please refer to the following resources:
The Tarot, History, Mystery and Lore by Cynthia Giles,
Tarot Symbolism by Robert O’Neil,
The Encyclopaedia of Tarot, Volumes l, ll, and lll by Stuart R. Kaplan, t
The Tarot L History FAQ at James Revak’s Villa Revak
What Tarot Deck Should I Buy?
This is probably the question I get asked the most. I believe if you really want to work with Tarot, you will get the most value from a deck that you really really like. What does it mean to really like a deck? You can ask yourself the following questions. Do I like most of the images and the style of art? Does it seem to fit well in my hand, not too small, not too large? Am I drawn to it over the other decks I have or have looked at it? Do I get a thrill or some kind of positive feeling when I hold it? If you have yes for one or more of these questions you are most likely on the right track.
If you can afford another few dollars, I also recommend purchasing a mini Waite deck of some kind for reference (unless you choose a Rider Waite deck as your main Tarot). This is not a necessity, just nice to have as there is so much reference to this deck in so many books.
If you are lucky, you may find a store that has open decks you can look at. I was at Chapters in Winnipeg and although they don’t keep open decks as demo’s, they did let me open a deck I was interested in and look first, so asking a clerk for help might be of benefit.
What Tarot Books Should I Read or Buy?
This is a harder question to answer than what deck should I buy, because you can’t know which book you will like before you read it. I always suggest that you at least buy a book specifically written for the deck you have chosen. Hopefully this will give you information on any unique symbols the creators have used in the deck. A lot of decks now come in deck/book sets which is very helpful. For other Tarot books check you local library and see what they have to offer. If you have any friends who have Tarot books, ask if you could borrow them briefly or at least have a quick look. Another good idea is to read as many Tarot book reviews as you can before making a purchase. This can give you an idea how other people are viewing a particular book.
I offer here a small list of books I have read myself and are in my opinion helpful for the beginner. Remember though, this is only my opinion, what I like and think is helpful for a new Tarot enthusiast might not suit you, so try to read as many reviews as you can and borrow at first if possible. Villa Revak has a review list of over 100 Tarot books and they are nicely categorized, so titles appropriate to beginners are easy to find.
Tarot for Yourself : A Workbook For Personal Transformation
by Mary K. Greer
publisher Newcastle Publishing Co., Inc., 1884
This book can be used with any deck and is illustrated with many. It will help a beginner to get to know their deck in a very personal way. Personal growth is gleaned through use of finding Personality, Soul and Year cards, journal entries, working with crystals and Tarot together. It has many exercises and will introduce a student to ritual work and guided visualization, extensive work using the 10 Celtic spread and 3 card spread, plus other illustrated card spreads. It also has great correspondence tables, meanings for upright positions as well as questions to consider for each card. It is a long time favourite of many Tarotists, both beginners and advanced.
Choice Centred Tarot
by Gail Fairfield
publisher New Castle, 1985 or 1997 Revised edition Samuel Weiser
It seems most people either really like this book or don’t like it all, but I found Gail’s approach a refreshing way of looking at Tarot. I wore out my original 1885 version and now have the revised 1997 version. It gives a fairly modern, more psychological approach to Tarot, than most other offerings. Meanings are given for positive, negative and neutral aspects of each card as well as for upright and reversed positions. It has some excellent writing on how to create spreads and ask questions for the reading process. It does not contain any of the more traditional framework for working with Tarot but it is designed to be used with any deck.
Learning The Tarot, A Tarot Book for Beginners
by Joan Bunning
publisher Samuel Weiser , 1995
This is a wonderful beginners book based on Joan’s popular online course with lessons, card descriptions (for the Waite decks) and reading examples for the Celtic Cross,. A very good place to start for someone with a serious interest in learning to read Tarot.
Tarot Dictionary and Compendium
by Jana Riley
published by Samuel Weiser
This is another favourite of mine. The book compiles upright card meanings for all 78 cards by well know Tarot authors Angeles Arrien, Norma Cowie, Alistar Crowley, Pamela Eakins, Gail Fairfield, Mary K. Greer, Vicki Noble, Rachel Pollack, Juliet Sharman-Burke, R. J. Stewart, Waite, Barbara G. Walker, James Wanless, as well as her own. This can be a great resource if a student is working on developing their own system of keywords for Tarot. Jana also discusses why divination may work, correspondences between Tarot, Astrology, Kabbalah, etc. She also has a nice treatment of relating the Court Family/People cards to the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator.
Tarot, History, Mystery, and Lore
by Cynthia Giles
publisher Simon and Schuster
This book will not teach you any Tarot basics. But often beginners are interested in what is know about the history of the Tarot. There are other wonderful resources on this topic, but I found this one very easy to read and so suggest it for beginners who are interested. The book also has a lot of information and ideas on the occult tradition of Tarot use, modern decks and a great reading list.
How Long Will It Take To Learn Tarot?
There is no definitive answer to this question. How long it takes to do readings competently with a Tarot deck depends mostly on how much effort and practice one puts into it. I can definitely say it will take longer than ten minutes, one evening, one week or one month, despite the claims of some books. As to the serious study of Tarot beyond divination, this is a study of a lifetime. Tarot has a vast and rich past and history to explore and Tarot is not static but ever evolving, so there are always new ideas and decks to learn about.