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I have been seeing a lot conversations around how tarot readings work and how to best learn to read the cards lately. Often these conversations come with strong feelings on some peoples part that their way is the best way. Reading the cards for me encompasses many tools, techniques, skills, and abilities. I want to share this series as a non-dogmatic exploration of all the answers to the question “Where do great tarot readings come from?” All the posts in the series can be found here.
Learning to read tarot
I think that every bit of study deepens a tarot readers power. I left study for towards the end because it is the thing that beginners seem to get stuck on the most. “How do I memorize all the cards meanings?” is a question I often hear. In some ways you don’t need to. Let’s be honest that everyone reads from the the book or some notes in the beginning. However today I want to talk about study and what it might add to your tarot reading tool box.
First in the beginning I recommend people start with one approach or teacher and work to get to know one thing about every card before reading everything on the market. If you can say something like “The Magician speaks about power that comes from knowing yourself.” you are off to a great start. Every approach has something to add to reading the cards, but it can get very confusing very fast.
So where do you start?
If the deck you love has a book that was written to go with it then read that. It will likely be the most congruous with the cards. I read only Crowley about the Thoth deck for years. I think slowly breaking down the writing is as important as becoming familiar with the images. It takes time and in many books there are a lot of layers that will come out with time and practice.
Find a teacher that you feel good with. If you like them and their communication style works for you then it is going to help you grow your skills. I learn more by having conversations with other skilled readers than from any source other than reading these days. There are a lot of great classes out there. I’ll put some links at the end for people I think do great stuff.
Note: The spiritual business world can be strange sometimes. Treat any spiritual teacher as you would an accountant. They can tell you a lot about a specific subject, but there are areas of life they should not be getting involved with. An accountant should be advising you on your money not how to handle your love life. If it gets weird go find someone else to learn from.
Qaballa. Probably because I spent so much time studying the Thoth deck I really feel Qaballa can add a lot to tarot. It can add a sense of the way in which the universe and the tarot over lap. Through the systems of correspondences it provides a construct that can be powerful for understanding the relationship of one knowledge system to another. With the numerology of Gematria it can provide mystic insights into language that reveals hidden meanings. If you are magicakically inclined it set up you up with tools to work ranging from spell craft to summoning spirits.
Note: There are a few ways to learn Qaballa and everyone feels they are right. One is from a Rabbi. If you are not Jewish you might not get to far with this one. Secondly, you can look at the western tradition of Qaballa which comes from the Golden Dawn and other groups. It is to some extent its own separate system. There is also a more European approach which is in the middle. The author or teacher you are working from will probably fall into one of these three groups.
Astrology. This is another great tool for understanding patterns and the relationship of the parts of the self the movement of the world. Knowing astrology can help with telling time. Understanding the nature of people that you are reading for. It can also add a great deal of secondary information about the cards. For example Strength is often associated with Leo and so we can look to astrology to learn more about what a person shown by this card might be like.
Note: Again there is a variation of associations depending on who you look at. My work with Crowley tended to focus me more on the seven inner planets and neglected the outer planets of Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto. I feel this works great for me but am aware others would feel it is limited.
But what about memorizing?
Ultimately if you are wanting to include some of these other tools you are going to have to memorize some stuff but not everything. I stopped studying astrology after getting familiar with the basic angles and meanings. I used to have a huge body of Qaballistic information in my head when I was really into that system. I just learned it by rote. The fact is that if you are not excited to memorize information from these other systems you might just want to look at them till you get bored and then come back to them later when you are excited again. Chances are you will learn more deeply that way.
Ultimately you might find that all you need is the cards and your favourite author’s book. That is great too. Learning the meaning of each card will continue to be a process that unfolds over time. I am always learning more about tarot from the cards, the readings I do, and from conversations with other readers. Learning tarot is not like learning your times tables in school. There is no timeline, test, or consequence for taking your time – have fun with them.
Did I leave your favourite tarot learning experience off the list? Let me know in the comments.
If you are looking for a tarot class, check out The Hermit’s Lamp School here.
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“Book” image by Moyen Brenn used under Creative Commons License.