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Crash course: Learn to read the tarot without memorizing the cards.

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

A tarot deck has 78 cards and is divided into two sections: there are 22 Major Arcana (tools for evolving) and 56 Minor Arcana (everyday matters). Starting out to learn the Tarot, we think we have to learn all the meanings of the 78 cards, upright and reversed. The other day, I was thinking about all the ways to read a spread.

16 card tarot layout with 5 oracle cards for an indepth reading
A typical tarot reading spread I use. 16 tarot cards with 5 additonal oracle cards.

I found a combination calculator online. I entered the figures of reading: interpreting 4 cards at a time in a 16 card spread (the usual way I interpret the cards in a spread) and it turns out there are 1,820 possible combinations. In a 9 card spread, interpreting 3 cards at a time, there are 84 different combinations to work with. Jeez, that's a lot of memorizing.

You don't have to memorize them. The cards are a tool for you and your higher power to develop a language of communication. They are supposed to make it easier for you to communicate with your guides. If you’re trying to memorize all the meanings, you may never get to read a spread. To develop that language you need to have a basic understanding of the cards, connect with your higher power, and practice.


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4 Basic Steps for Learning to Read the Tarot (or Oracle Cards) without memorizing the cards

Recognize that reading tarot or oracle cards is not about predicting the future or telling you what is going to happen in any given situation about the here and now or the future. Reading tarot is about gaining understanding and insight to help you see things from a different perspective.

Mostly we want to give you the information so when you’re ready, you have the information that will change your perspective, even slightly. It is in seeing things differently that you make way for miracles. And those miracles are to help you change your life.”

Step 1

Meditate. Learn to clear your mind of any preconceived ideas and judgements.

Why is meditation so important in reading? During meditation we learn to let go of distracting thoughts. We set aside the ego (the need to be right). We learn to listen deeply rather than focus on external stimulation. This will allow you to connect with your higher power. If you can hear yourself, you can hear your guides.

As you go into meditation, that is the right time to set the intentions. Ask that your guides work with you to create a safe and sacred place for you to connect. Ask that the truth be told, clearly understood and accurately represented. Ask that they help you raise your vibration so you may be a clear channel of communication. It’s great to ask your grandma who was psychic to work with you, but raise the vibration by asking that your guide or angels, or even God work with you.

If you’re reading for yourself everyday, and meditate each time, you are establishing a spiritual practice.

This process of meditation and intention setting will allow you to access your intuition and eventually help you to channel. Yes, when you develop your reading skills you will quite likely begin to channel.

Plus it's really good for you to develop a daily meditation practice. If you’re reading for yourself everyday, and meditate each time, you are establishing a spiritual practice. You can continue the meditation practice even if you don’t pull cards. The benefits of a meditation practice is so profoundly helpful, I will write an entirely separate article on why everyone needs to bring meditation into their self-care routine. For now, suffice it to say - it’s a powerful tool for getting amazing tarot readings.

Meditation raises the brain frequency. You want to leave the beta frequency (active, external focused) to at least the alpha frequency (very relaxed, passive).

Tip: you can use a guided meditation designed to raise your vibration, open the heart-center (opening the heart center is an important tool for connecting with your client as well as your guides and if you're developing mediumship abilities, to connect with spirit). Or just do a silent meditation setting the intention to release unnecessary cords, and connect with divine love.

Step 2

Get the idea of what the cards mean. You can learn to read tarot cards without memorizing the cards. Pull at least one card and read about it in the booklet that comes with the deck or pick up another book on tarot card meanings or even check out online resources. You can do this for a reading or just because you want to read about the cards. You don’t have to enter into a reading to learn about the tarot cards, it can be fun just to discover what they cover.

Each day, pull at least one card, asking for guidance on the day. You can ask questions of the tarot cards like: What will help me to understand today? What message do you have for me today? Show me what I can improve upon with my relationship today?

Keep it general and write down what you get and check in at the end of the day to see how you may have done. Writing it down helps you recall the information you did receive, and even months down the road you may find you hit upon something that you did not notice when you wrote it.

Tarot cards with keywords
Add helpful reminders, keywords, directly on the face of the cards to help you recall their meaning.

Tip: As you familiarize yourself with the cards, on the face of the card jot down some keywords for yourself to recall easily when you read the tarot layouts.

Step 3

Understand the significance of the positions in which you lay out the cards. Assigning a context to the card positions will help you understand how to interpret the tarot cards.

Tip: Start with four card spreads.

4 card tarot spread with contextual meaning
Assign a meaning to each card positon to help you understand how to interpret the card in context.

Position 1) Strengths - What I already know.

This will identify a strength or what tools you have available.

This context will become an important understanding for future detailed spreads. Guides often begin their sessions with important things for the client to recognize about their current situation. It may be to let them know that they are seen and understood by the guides. It may be to provide evidence that the connection is real and valuable. It may also (and more likely so) let the client recognize what gifts, skills, understanding they already have and may be very helpful in the current situation.

Position 2) What is the challenge I'm facing?

Provides you with insight into what you may or may not be seeing about the situation you’re asking about. Maybe it goes under the surface to show you what’s at the heart of the situation to redirect your attention to an important piece of the puzzle. Maybe it confirms what you already know about the challenge you face.

Position 3) What do I need to understand in order to transcend this challenge?

This gives advice on how to change your perspective on the situation. Afterall, if you are struggling with an issue, you're looking at the problem. To find answers we have to focus on solutions. It can point out what skills you need to develop or what you need to be facing.

Position 4) Where the results could lead.

This can give you an idea of what lies ahead when you apply the guidance. I found I wanted to always pull an additional card to see where following this guidance would take me. Would there be resolution? Would I get to the conclusion? Would it lead to more learning? I found working the “results” into the spread gave me clarity.

Tip: Resist the temptation to keep the pulling cards to clarify. Keep it to 4 cards in the spread. Continuing to pull more cards to clear your confusion will only create more confusion.

tarot card spread
Interpreting a 4-card tarot spread about manifesting money.

In this spread shown above, the question was 'How do I move forward to create prosperity in my life?". They were asking from the perspective of manifesting prosperity. Their means of making money is already good, and their understanding of the concepts involved in manifesting abundance is well underway. They find they start to see the prosperity, and then it shuts down. What do they need to understand?

Interpretation of the Tarot Spread:

1) What they know.

This client is an entrepreneur, they have been established a good business. They have been learning and practicing the new skills of manifesting. They understand the techniques and are work well with what they have.

2) The Challenge.

While they are applying the skills they already have, there are some things they still need to learn or perfect. (They feel things are coming along but not entirely here yet).

3) Advice.

Let the past stay in the past. What ever has not worked in the past is not an indication of what is in the future. Because it's not here yet in the way they'd like does not mean its not coming! Practice letting go.

4) Outcome:

Applying this guidance will allow the momentum of manifesting their prosperity come along faster. This will mark the end of the slow start and their finding themself moving much more easily into prosperity.

If you find you are still struggling to find what the answer:

Rephrase the question. When you hit on the right way to ask that question, the answer will become clearer.

Tip: A good focus for questions includes "What do I need to understand about…?" Later when your language with the Tarot is more developed, you will be able to pull more cards and get deeper insights.

Step 4

Practice, practice practice.

Pull cards for yourself each day. At the beginning of the day or at the end of the day. Write it down. Any time you want more insight or deeper understanding of a situation or a feeling.

Offer to read for your friends, having them sit with you and ask a question. Please don't read “on” someone else without their explicit permission, read “for” them, with their blessing. Otherwise you're mucking about where you don't belong. First rule of karma is to mind your business!

Tuning in - your intuition

You will start to tune into your intuition. You will start letting your higher power into your conscious mind. The information you get during a reading will be triggered by the card but not necessarily the exact meaning of the card. You may find that when you look at a card, you will see the keywords or recall its meaning and in an intuitive flash, you'll know what the message is.

Your intuition will take over - it may come as a feeling, a picture, a mini movie, or just a stream of consciousness that you interpret. You may see it differently than what you've read in a book because of its position and your intuition. The cards are now helping you to create a new language of communicating.

Important guidance

I can’t stress this point enough. Before you start your session, if you are reading for someone else or yourself, set the intention.

Make the statement of intention regardless of if you’re reading for someone or for yourself alone. Declare your intention. If you're with someone declare this intention aloud while shuffling the cards. You want your client to be on the same wavelength as you are. Remember, you are working together. That heart-centered connection I mentioned in the beginning is really important. By moving into the heart space of love, we connect with the divine within all of us. Sharing the intention helps the hearts connect.

Take a spiritual approach to reading tarot

I used to read a lot of books on tarot reading for fun. Each author had a different approach to what the purpose of tarot reading is all about and they encompassed a broad range of interpretations for the cards. So many held traditional views of fortune telling.That the purpose of the reading of tarot cards was to see what the future held. “What trouble was coming? What should be on the lookout for?”

I never understood this approach because I always felt there was trouble coming, and being prepared for it by knowing it was coming didn’t help me change the future. I wanted to know how to change the future. It was when I left behind the traditional tarot interpretations and embraced a spiritual connection with the tarot, that the tarot began to offer what I was searching for, guidance on how to make life better.

That is exactly what a spiritual approach to reading tarot offers. It offers the chance to see what's going on deep inside, what you can do to shift the energy and when you do that, it offers a glimpse into the future - which we like to call predictions! It’s through a different perspective that we learn. We are able to move into a deeper place of understanding, allowing us to make way for change. The predictions of what is to come unfolds as we do a deep dive into our hearts and minds and strive for growth. Tarot readings are about the process of growing and helping you get where you want to go.

If you'd like to dive deeper into learning to read the tarot cards, get on the waitlist to be notified when my next online Learn to Read Tarot class is held.


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