Tarot Cards for Beginners
If you want to get into Tarot but have no idea where to start, you've come to the right place.
The most important thing to do in order to start learning is to pick up a book and a deck. While there are hundreds of decks to choose from, every beginner should start with the Rider-Waite tarot deck, as this is the most widely used deck. Once you have familiarized yourself with this deck, you can branch out to others. To start out with you shouldn't confuse yourself by learning more than one deck.
The Rider-Waite deck was developed by A.E. Waite, a member of the Golden Dawn and a central figure in the development of the Western Esoteric Tradition. Waite distills a number of complex philosophies and archetypes in the Rider-Waite deck that have their roots in Jewish and Christian mysticism. These build on the more "traditional" Tarot images and interpretations used in medieval decks, and are responsible for most of the interpretations in modern decks.
Waite wrote a book to go with his deck, but it really isn't for beginners. The descriptions that he gives are well-suited to early 20th century spiritualist types, but are a bit thick for the modern student. The best books written on the Rider-Waite Tarot on the market are by Rachel Pollack. There is a two book set called "78 Degrees of Wisdom" written by her; Book 1 covers the major arcana and Book 2 covers the minor arcana. This is an excellent starting point as Pollack not only explains the thick metaphors in Waite's cards, she draws out the psychological interpretations as well.
The major arcana are what are more commonly known as the "trump" cards. These are the signature cards of the Tarot, and they tell a story of the Fool's journey of enlightenment. Each card on its own is a fascinating collection of symbols and ideas that lends itself to being much more than a divinatory tool. Death, for example, is not just death itself, but major life changes of any sort. All of the Tarot cards have layers of meaning like this that are very fascinating to learn.
The minor arcana are the cards numbered 1-10 in any one of the four suits, which in Waite's deck are Pentacles, Swords, Wands, and Cups. These cards were often not given images in medieval decks - Waite's deck marks one of the first that goes to the trouble of giving the minor arcana appropriate imagery.
The court cards are the page, knight, queen and king of each suit, and are often used as "significators", or cards that are representative of the querent. There are a number of ways of choosing an appropriate significator, from laying them all out and asking the querent to pick the one that most appeals to them, to asking the astrological sign of the querent and assigning the court card to them that matches to the element of their sign, their gender, and age.
The basic "spread" that everyone learns to start, and most readers stick with throughout their careers, is the Celtic Cross spread. This spread has two cards "crossing" each other at the centre, four cards at the cardinal points surrounding them, and four cards at the side of the "cross".
The significator is sometimes placed under the first card drawn to represent the querent. Position one reflects the problem itself, and the good and bad influences present. Position two reflects the opposing forces to the situation. Position three, at the "base" of the cross, represents the historical factors influencing the situation. Position four, to the left of the "small cross", represents factors that have been impacting the situation but are now passing away.
The fifth position, at the top of the cross, represents a possible future if certain actions are allowed to go on and actions are taken. The sixth position, to the right of the small cross, represents what will happen in the situation no matter what.
The seventh position, at the base of the four-card "tower" to the right of the cross, represents the querent and their attitude towards the situation. The eighth position, immediately above that, represents the attitude of other people involved, usually friends and family. The ninth position refers to "hopes and fears", which represents the querent's secret hopes and fears about the situation, which usually influence the outcome somewhat. The tenth card is the final, all-encompassing outcome.
There are several schools of thought on how the inverted meanings of a tarot card should be read - inverted is when the tarot card is upside down. Most experts agree that an inverted meaning is not the opposite to the original meaning of the card, but a subtle shift to the original meaning of the card that affects the outcome. For example, Death inverted may mean an inevitable change that the querent is struggling against. The reader that taught me how to read Tarot had an interested viewpoint - who is the card inverted to? Since the client is the most important person in the reading, does that not mean that cards that are upwards to them are inverted to the reader? Based on this logic she discounted inverted meanings entirely, and I am still inclined to agree. Inverted meanings are an over complication of what is already a very complex system of symbols and meanings.
This should be enough to get you started on the path of Tarot. Don't forget to meditate daily on one card, and eventually you'll have them all committed to memory. It took me a few years of doing this to really have the Tarot burned into my mind, and I still haven't forgotten the meanings of the cards 16 years later. You will also find that studying Tarot will also open up your powers of interpretation and focus in other areas of your life as well; in other words, there is no downside. Enjoy!