How to Use Tarot Cards

Four Methods:Studying Your Tarot DeckDrawing a Single Card for Divination or Self ReflectionLaying Out a Three Card SpreadLaying Out a More Complex Spread

Using tarot cards for the first time can seem daunting but it only takes a little bit of study and practice to become proficient at using them. You will just need to learn how to read your tarot cards and how to set up different ways of laying them out, before you can begin using your cards. Once you know the basics, tarot cards can be used in a variety of ways. Most often they are used for help with self reflection and divination, in other words for predicting the future.

Method 1
Studying Your Tarot Deck

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    Learn about the history of tarot decks and how they are organized. Tarot cards evolved out of regular playing cards during the 15th century. However, they did not take their current form until around 1909, when the Rider-Waite tarot deck was created.[1] The images on this deck are the ones now commonly associated with tarot.
    • Each tarot deck has 78 cards, 22 of which are called the "trumps" or major arcana, and 56 of which are called the minor arcana. The major arcana refer to big and important life events or themes, while the minor arcana refer to more daily themes or events.[2]
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    Learn the established meanings behind individual cards. There are established meanings behind all of the tarot cards.[3] You can explore these meanings in the wide variety of tarot books out there.
    • Some of the most well-known cards include The Fool, The Lovers, The Hanged Man, and the Death card. The Fool symbolizes someone who has all they need but should be wary of making a misstep or foolish choice.[4] The Lovers card may or may not reference romantic love, instead signaling a choice that needs to be made in order to follow the path you want.[5] The Hanged Man usually has an image of a person hanging upside down from a tree of wisdom by one foot. This card symbolizes the sacrifices one may need to make in order to gain wisdom from the world.[6] The Death card can mean actual death but more likely it is referencing some other sort of ending, for instance the end of a relationship.[7]
    • Remember that the meaning of a card can change depending of the direction it is facing. While not all tarot users pay attention to the direction of the card, many find that it gives the card a deeper meaning.[8] Study the upside down variation as well as the meaning for a card that is right side up.
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    Assess what individual cards might mean to you. In addition to reading up on the established meanings of each card, look at the images on each card and assess the cards meaning based on the image.
    • While the established meaning of each card is important for you to get the feel of the card, the meaning should change a bit after using tarot cards for awhile. Your interpretation should become more about your personal association with the general theme of the card, as opposed to anything written about it in a book.[9]
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    Learn a variety of ways to use your cards. There is not just one way to use tarot. Explore a variety of types of spreads, the term used for how the tarot cards are laid out, and practice whichever spreads you find helpful.[10]
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    Keep practicing. Like everything, learning tarot takes practice. Once you feel confident in your understanding of the cards, try using them for divination or self reflection on a regular basis.
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    Practice visualizing using your deck before using them. Imagine there is an orange clear light surrounding the earth. Then, imagine that the light is shining down onto your tarot cards. Imagine that the orange light contains all of the answers of the world, opening the space for infinite possibility and knowledge.
    • Attempt to do some kind of visualization before each reading.

Method 2
Drawing a Single Card for Divination or Self Reflection

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    Prepare yourself to use your tarot cards. Take a deep breath and clear your mind. Center yourself in this time and moment.
    • Imagine you are inhaling all the answers of the world. Exhale all your thoughts and find calm.
    • Exhale, releasing your thoughts out through your ears. Repeat until you are ready to begin.
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    Ask a question if you feel motivated to do so. Open yourself up to receiving your answer. Simply let a question from your heart arise. Just think about it, there is no need to say it aloud unless you want to.
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    Cut the deck. After holding the cards in your hand for a few seconds and directing your energy toward them, shuffle the deck. You can either do this as you would traditional playing cards or by doing a series of cuts of the deck, whichever you prefer.
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    Draw one card from the top of the deck. Hold the card you chose in your hand. Focus on its image and message. Open yourself to the possibilities of it's guidance.
    • While some people see the cards they draw as a sign of things to come, others use them to work on aspects of themselves. Whether you believe that the cards can tell you the future or if you just want to use them to help you through some self discovery, tarot cards can be of great use.
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    Close your eyes and imagine the card you drew in your mind. Let the actual card just sit on the table. Then, when you are ready, flip the card back over in your mind and let it go. Follow that by turning the actual card back over and then sticking it into the middle of the deck.
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    Prepare yourself for meditation, if you like. Keep your eyes closed and take a few deep breathes. Allow your thoughts to move outside of yourself.

Method 3
Laying Out a Three Card Spread

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    Prepare yourself as you would for pulling a single card. Center your mind and find a space of peace and calm within yourself.
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    Prepare your tarot deck for a reading. Cleanse the cards by sorting them out into their suits and then piling them back together.[11] Then hold the cards in your hands and send your energy into them, charging them up.[12] Finally, shuffle the cards until you feel they are once again in a random order.
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    Lay out three cards in front of you face up, one next to the other. These three cards represent your past, present, and future, from left to right.[13]
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    Explore the meanings of your past, present, and future cards. If you can't remember what a specific card means, don't be afraid to look it up in your tarot book or online.
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    Turn the cards over one by one so they are facing down when you are done exploring their meaning. Insert each one back into the middle of the deck and then put your deck away in a safe place when you are done using them.

Method 4
Laying Out a More Complex Spread

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    Study the wide variety of spreads that can be done with tarot cards, as there are a ton of different variations.[14] A more complex spread that is good to start with is a five card spread.
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    Prepare yourself and your cards. Center your energy and your mind. Charge the cards by holding them in your hand and sending your energy into them. Gently shuffle them.
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    Speak your incantation. An incantation is like a statement or question asking what you want from the cards. This can be a vague or specific question, it's your choice.
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    Shuffle your tarot deck. Make sure to cut the deck several times, until the cards are in a totally random order.
    • If you are doing the reading for someone else, have them shuffle the deck. After all, if the reading is supposed to be about them their energy should be in the cards.
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    Pull one card at a time from the deck, placing each so that you create a cross pattern on your table. The first card you will place in the center. The next card will be placed directly to the left of the center card and the third card will be placed to the right of the center card. The fourth card is placed at the bottom of the center card and the fifth, and final, card is placed directly above the center card.[15]
    • The meaning of each card placement is important, as it is in all spreads. The three horizontal cards represent the past, present, and future from left to right, as they do in a three card spread. The bottom card represents the reason you are asking the tarot questions and the top card represents the potential for your question.
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    Interpret the cards you have dealt. Look at the cards first before thinking about their traditional meanings. Let the images rise to the front of your mind. Try not to have expectations for an answer to your question, simply seek vision and insight.
    • Pick up each card as you interpret it. Look at the picture on it. What stands out? What specific meaning might it have for you or the person you are doing the reading for?
    • Look up what that card means using your books and resources. In the beginning you might refer to your book or online resources often to help you move forward.
    • Want resonates with you? You know the truth through your experiences. When a message from the cards or books sticks out in your mind, you know that is a potential answer to your question.
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    Turn the cards face down when you are done with your reading. Place them back into the middle of the deck and put your cards away in a safe place.
    • You may want to keep a list or journal of your readings, to track how tarot has worked for you over time.


  • Don't buy a deck without looking at the cards and getting a sense of how they feel to you. Pick out a deck that strongly attracts you because the deck that attracts you is the one that you will have the most success with.[16]
  • Make sure that you charge your cards before using them. Hold the deck in your hands and send your energy into them. If you have a new deck, you might consider sleeping with them under your pillow or keeping them close to your body for a few days, so that your energy can absorb into them.[17]
  • Remember to make sure you, or the person that you are doing a reading for, shuffles the deck before you lay out any cards.
  • It may help to set a calm and peaceful mood in the room where you are using your tarot cards. Lower the lights and use a candle or some incense to create a special feeling in your space.
  • Store your tarot cards away respectfully. You can keep them in the deck box or wrap them together using a piece of fabric. In general, you just want to keep them together in a safe place.

Article Info

Categories: Card Reading