There are so many ways out there to improve your divination skills as a tarot reader. With great sites like Labyrinthos and a plethora of books available on the market, you can get the basics down fairly easily with any given tarot deck. However, there comes a time when just using one basic resource and doing readings won’t be enough. You need to bring in new insights to help you expand your craft. Having been working on this for several years, I credit a few different techniques and resources for helping me learn all that I have about reading tarot. Hopefully a few of these will be helpful for you as well.
What I Didn’t Do
Let’s start with one thing I didn’t do: I did not sit down and try to memorize all the tarot cards like they were flash cards. I know, shocker, but to this day I will still crack open my notes to check what a card means when I draw it. Why? Well, a couple reasons.
First of all, I have never been good at memorization. As such, even when I do know the meaning of a card, I tend to double check anyway to be extra sure. On top of that, I have a growing selection of tarot decks to choose from, and each one has its own quirks and voices. I like referencing what the author has to say when I look at a card. So if I am going to be looking at the book regardless, I’d rather memorize the meanings at a more natural pace.
The Art of Tarot
There’s a reason that tarot has art on its cards; that art plays a key role in interpreting readings. A little art analysis goes a long way in determining what a reading means. Pay attention to how the figures in the cards are facing. Left usually means towards the past, while right usually means towards the future. Color can also play a key role. If all three cards have a bright blue sky, that unifies them somehow. Sometimes a card that is normally very calm can seem foreboding when you draw it. Why? Listen to your instincts and what that art made you think when you pulled it.
If you struggle with paying attention to the art of the cards, I highly suggest getting a well designed oracle deck. Oracle decks, being very unique, often rely heavily on their artwork, rather than just their meanings. Doing oracle card readings taught me to look for reoccurring visual elements between cards to supplement the readings.
Fewer Spreads; More Conversations
Many tarot readers start their practice by using spreads, with each card falling into a specific position or answering a specific question. They are fantastic… up to a point. They lock you into looking at the cards as individuals, and often limit the deck to one “word” answers per spread position.
Instead of doing spreads all the time, I started just pulling cards to see what happened. Sometimes I determine a number of cards at the start, others I just pull till I feel like it’s time to stop. Either way, I ask one question and let the deck use as many cards as necessary to answer. If I have further questions or need clarification, I ask that as a separate question.
Doing this allows me to look at each set of cards as a collective composition, rather than individuals. Sometimes the deck will come up with things to talk about that I didn’t even consider. Letting the deck speak for itself and guide the conversation is much better for complex questions.
One tool that helped me greatly with learning to do this was obtaining a Lenormand deck. Lenormand cards are typically drawn in pairs or larger sets. What cards are next to each other is often more important than any individual card drawn. Taking what I learned from Lenormand and applying it back to tarot, I learned to turn a string of cards into a sentence, rather than a bunch of key words.
Learning the Structural Elements
A standard tarot deck usually has a major and minor arcana. The major arcana depicts the Fool’s Journey, a concept I highly recommend reading about if you haven’t already. Meanwhile each suit of the minor arcana has a different focus. The numbering of the minor arcana cards play a role as well. Learning all this can be a lot at the start of your tarot journey, but once you have the basics down they can help considerably. Need to know the nuance between two very similar cards? Look at what you know about them outside the basics. Where do the fall in the ordering of cards? What comes before and after it?
I would also recommend decks like Vice Versa Tarot and In Between Tarot. Both of these are a very interesting take on showing the cards. Vice Versa Tarot uses concepts from both upright and reversed meanings to make double sided cards, teaching about thinking from multiple perspectives. Meanwhile the In Between Tarot helps teach about what happens between each set of cards, letting you see how they transition between each other in unique ways.
The History of Cartomancy and Tarot
Getting more in-depth even than that, I also highly recommend looking at the history of tarot and the cards’ meanings. Many of them changed over time as society changed, which means that they have certain meanings you might be missing. Modern tarot books focus on modern meanings, and that is perfectly fine. However, I highly recommend books like Tarot Time Traveler for learning more about the history of tarot and cartomancy. It gives context on elements you might have questioned before.
Read Multiple People’s Takes of the Cards
One author’s words is never going to be the end-all, be-all of definitions. Keywords might be the same between authors, but the analogies and stories different authors tell can make you see things in new lights. To help, I tend to use a variety of unique tarot decks. While they are based off the traditional cards, they provide extra elements that give a very unique point of view to each one. For example, the Animal Totem Tarot deck uses animals to help demonstrate each card’s meanings. Some cards I did not understand before started to make a lot more sense after seeing them portrayed as animals. I pull that knowledge into readings with other decks now to supplement the basic meanings.
There are so many ways out there to learn more about tarot and improve your readings. Pick one area that you’d like to improve on and start learning from there. Over time, you’ll notice your readings are pulling in more and more context beyond what you initially would consider.