“How long did it take you to get comfortable reading the cards?” This was a question that someone recently asked me, so I thought I’d share it here.
Tarot is a complex entity.
When I first started learning to read Tarot cards, I thought it would be as simple as learning 78 definitions. There are 78 cards, and each of them has a ‘meaning.’ Should be simple right? Maybe I can learn to do it in a month. 2 or 3 cards a day. Easy peasy, right? Um, no.
Tarot is a language. And while Tarot cards (and words) have meaning, they also have context.
Context turns out to be the more difficult things to understand when learning to read Tarot.
What do I mean by this exactly?
Keeping with the language analogy, a young child learns some basic words to get them what they want and they learn to name things. Just as we as readers learn the keywords associated with the tarot cards.
Once we learn those keywords, and we start to use the cards in readings we quickly learn that we must now incorporate context into the meanings.
For example, the 5 of Pentacles has keywords: material loss, destitution, poverty, financial or material challenge. Say I’m doing a reading and this card comes up in the position for ‘Advice for the Journey.’ The advice is material loss, destitution, poverty or financial or material change?? Well, that makes no sense at all now does it? It’s like if someone asked you what time is it? And you answer ‘peanut butter.’
The next stage of learning Tarot is learning to understand the way in which each of the cards can apply in different contexts. This is similar to when I child can start to learn flexible meanings of words. For example ‘fast.’ How many contexts can we use this word? A fast train is a lot different than a fast runner. And some people fast when they are trying to lose weight. And a ship can be held fast at anchor. Tarot is like this.
In order to gain a deeper sense of meaning from the cards, we have to expand the sense of the keywords beyond the concrete. We need to look at the feeling behind the card. How do destitute people feel? We need to look at the energy depicted in the card? What is the mood of this card? We can take the cues from the keywords but we have to expand our understanding of the card to get a more generalized sense of it. And from there we can find the connection.
So, in the context of of ‘advice,’ for the 5 of pentacles we might expand our keyword to mean: feeling insecure, dissatisfied. It can expand to include a mood of worry, and uncertainty. And so, the Advice may be to ‘seek help, look for moral support, persevere, continue onward and our circumstances will change.’
And it doesn’t stop there. I mean sure, you can stop there. If you’re doing a one-card reading, you’re done.
But just like words in a sentence. Tarot cards can have their meanings affected by the cards around them in a Tarot spread. Once you’ve assessed the card in its position in your spread, the next step is to get a sense of how it relates to the cards that surround it. These cards can pull the meaning in one direction or another.
So, for example, in our same reading if the 3 of cups is describing our environment we might interpret the advice to be more along the lines of reaching out for help from friends. But if the Devil shows up, we might interpret the advice as keeping or minds on what matters the most to avoid distraction and temptation.
Do you see how we can take this one card and start to see how it can apply in many different ways? These are just a few examples.
And then there’s another level of Tarot that involves intuition. Sometimes the cards just tell you something, and the connection is not obvious from the keywords, or the context or the surrounding cards. That can happen to, and you have to trust it.
So, to answer the original question: How long did it take you to get comfortable reading the cards? Way longer than I expected. And still sometimes I have to sit for a minute and listen to what the cards are telling me.
I expected the process to take me a month or two. After a month or two I realized how much there still was to learn. There weren’t just keywords, there was symbolism and numerology, and astrology, and other esoteric elements that once understood would enhance my ability to read and understand what the cards were telling me.
I think it’s a case of you don’t know what you don’t know. And the more you know the more you know you don’t know.
To get a deeper connection to your tarot cards, I’d suggest Tarot journaling. I’ll be posting more about this in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!
As practical advice, I’d also recommend getting a Rider-Waite or Rider-Waite clone deck and sticking with it until you feel you’re getting somewhere. I, personally, am attracted to pretty images and so I ended up buying some decks that are less concrete to read than the Rider- Waite, and this added more time to my learning process. A favorite Rider-Waite deck of mine is the Radiant Rider Waite, it is more colorful and the images are redrawn to be slightly more dimensional. I’ve included Amazon links to this deck. But, please bookmark my blog or leave a comment before you go!!