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How to Read the Tarot

‘The Tarot need not imply that our fate is bound to overtake us, but rather it indicates how we may best go forth to meet out destiny – that we have a choice.’      Suzanne Judith

Tarot – Divine or the Devil

Mention the word ‘Tarot’, and, depending on who you talk to, it can conjure images of being something so mystical it is only understood by occultists and psychics.  Fear and trepidation in the extreme can also be associated with the Tarot when it is characterised as ‘dark’ or evil.

In truth, the earliest known existing deck, the Visconti-Sforza deck, is a very beautiful set of cards, each one in itself a wonderful piece of art, created in around the year 1432, for a marriage between the Italian Visconti and Sforza families.  So much so that I have a set of  the stunning gold embossed version framed as pictures and displayed at expos.  I could have sold these many times over.  Originally painted by Bonifacco Bembo, the pictures were used for a game called ‘Tarocchi’ and consisted of 4 suits of 14 cards plus 22 cards showing different scenes.

To me, fun and games is a long way from the devil. There is no doubt that the symbology, numbers and archetypal images of the tarot are universal and can be linked to psychology, numerology, and other mystical systems and religions throughout the world.

I also believe that religion and elitist institutions of the past, knowing knowledge means power, have a lot to answer for with regard to instilling fear of things, ideologies and people to keep the masses in the dark.  Once again, the cards of the Tarot simply represent themes which are common to our human experience and which mark, portray and symbolize stages in our growth toward wholeness.  Similarly, these benign images can be found in poems, myths, stories and legends, the arts and our dreams.

Finally and probably most noteworthy, anyone who can read a child’s picture story book can read the Tarot!  Whilst the cards may be beautiful and encompass much esoteric symbolism, when it actually comes down to it they are about people, childhood, parenthood, love and relationships, vocation, spiritual growth, awareness, oppression, happiness, sadness, money and resources, and all the experiences possible in this wonderful journey of life.

It is worth noting here that de-mystifying the Tarot does not minimize the sense of sacredness or profoundness it it contains for those who have worked with, studied or explored it.  Perhaps the point here that no object in itself has power or is good or evil; some use a knife to perform life saving surgery, some to maim, and most of us just to eat!  Largely, it is our free will/choice/actions, that are good or bad, and even then, the choices we make and perceptions of good/bad will be influenced by our ever changing level of awareness.


In hindsight as we move individually and for humanity as a whole ‘Today’s enlightenment can be tomorrow’s barbaric regrettable past.’

How to Actually Read the Tarot.

In terms of reading the tarot cards there are primarily two different approaches we can take, each being valid and very effective.  The first is that anyone can pick up a Tarot deck and, with a question in mind, choose some cards and refer to a book literally for their meaning to enlighten.  The second is similar to reading children’s picture books or viewing art, where we allow the images of the cards to speak to us, eliciting our own feelings and intuitions as to the story they may be telling.

From my perspective and experience neither is ‘better’ in terms of accuracy. In fact when I first began reading using the former method I was astounded as to the information gleaned.  The pitfalls, however, are that there are many books with differing interpretations and you can get so caught up trying to select from the various meanings, and remember them to ensure you are ‘correct,’ that you can squeeze the life out of a very beautiful thing.  This process can be very stunted, time consuming and not very free flowing, especially if you wish to read for others.

Eventually, after prompting from spirit to ‘let go of the books,’ I changed to the latter method and it was only then that I truly allowed myself to focus on the images and what they elicited from me …and my tarot reading went to a whole new level.

In essence it is like learning to type when I was at school.  Anyone can type instantly by looking at the keyboard, however if you learn without looking at the keyboard as we did at school, whilst a little tedious and taking much longer, ultimately you can type at far higher speeds without having to even think about it, it is integrated and totally natural.

Similarly you can read the tarot immediately using referencel books, or you can develop a relationship with the cards which elicits your own intuition.  In the long run, using them over time you become familiar with tarot as you would a language where you no longer need to translate.   It is then that you can really fly and they become more a focus for your own intuition and psychic abilities.  My greatest challenge, and the best thing I ever did in terms of psychic development, was to throw out the books and trust myself and spirit.

So you can see it just depends on what you are looking for.  If you are just looking for information a tarot deck and reference book with meanings is absolutely fine, but if you wish to read the cards intuitively and develop your psychic ability, it is all there for you.  ***See also the Channeled message ‘Spirit communication for Tarot’ attached to this email.


How To Read the cards Intuitively

When you begin reading the tarot intuitively it is helpful to have a loose framework to work from rather than remembering every card’s literal meaning, or multiple meanings from different books.

Minor Arcana I use the numbers or people on the cards flavoured by their suit .

For example: all the aces (1’s) are at the beginning of the suit.  Ace of cups – new emotional beginnings; Ace of wands – a new creative.  All the 10’s are the most of that particular suit; 10 of cups – fullness of emotional hopes and dreams, 10 Wands -full on, even overload of endeavours.

Court Cards I use the people on the cards flavoured by their suit.

For example:  the Queen of Swords is a mature woman who is intelligent and mentally strong; the Queen of Cups is a mature woman who is sensitive, emotional and reflective.

Major arcana I see as the story of unfoldment and growth of self/humankind, each card building on the rest.  Beginning with the fool, a leap into the physical world, experiencing mother, father, state, sexuality, spirit learning, and developing ego.   Then we turn more inwards looking at deeper meanings about self and life as we let go of masks.  Finally there is facing our shadow or subconscious fears that we may blossom into the fullness of our self and all there is.

Initially though, and more importantly, the simple process of using the cards daily to glean insight into yourself, others, situations, life and learning gives real understanding and experience of the images on the cards.

A reader’s skill is based on the development of intimacy with the card images through extensive exposure to them, and the development of personal intuition.

Beyond the literal meanings or even the above framework, the most important thing is what each card elicits from you!  The cards are a link to our higher self and universal energies and we need to eventually leave our mental processes behind and open up to what we perceive beyond appearances.


We begin by focusing on:

                                          ~ Overall look/theme of the card/cards

                                          ~ Colour, brightness/darkness, tone

                                          ~ Are they active, still, contemplative?

                                          ~ What the symbols or picture or person appear to be

                                          ~ What feeling does it elicit in you

                                          ~ Use your imagination

In time and with hindsight we come to know the many shapes and forms the experience of the ‘Tower’ may take, from liberating epiphanies to unexpected things/events appearing from left field. Also we come to know those cards that signified or typified increase or loss of finance, new emotional beginnings or times of introspection or public recognition.

As we develop a relationship with the cards we can use simple spreads to begin and work our way to the more advanced.  Choosing which spread to use is very important and is dependent upon what you want from the reading.  Some are very open and general which will give you an overall view, some are comprehensive with suggested guidance and some, such as the 12month spread, are good for getting the timing of events spoken of and great for bringing the reading together at its end.

Intent is everything in this endeavor generally, as with most spirit work, but when it comes to receiving the best possible insight even more so and that will directly relate to what we ask!  Being clear about what you or the querent wants from the cards is extremely important energetically effecting the entire process but also in the type of spread you use.  So becoming familiar with various types of spreads is essential so you can choose the most appropriate.

Prophecy or Free Will

The Tarot is most renowned as a tool for divination or prophecy.  We can use them not only to look at current issues, people or situations, but also how they may progress and their outcome into the future.  For many this is truly wondrous and quite amazing, especially when you begin to use the cards, but also a little scary and spooky.  To this day, after nearly 20 years of receiving confirmation from myself and clients and groups, I have a mindful respect of the information they bring and how it can inspire and empower us toward a more authentically fulfilling life. Unfortunately, I have on some occasions witnessed the negative effects where people have felt disempowered, even fearful and angst ridden, due to information or predictions that are not constructive and sometimes just downright destructive.

Once again, this is all about the Reader’s style, their spiritual/psychological/emotional awareness and where they are coming from personally.  When reading for others I see myself as being of service to them, where the tarot is only a tool not the other way around.  I focus on the issues and questions they wish to look at and if there is any ‘negative’ stuff there it needs to be dealt with constructively. If they are going through very difficult times, I look to see what they need and in the very least they need to leave with a light at the end of the tunnel.

Whilst prophecy can inspire us we can also gain infinitesimal value when we use the Tarot to understand ourselves, subconscious motives, others, situations or what is our learning in a particular issue.  Similarly to dreams, the tarot cards can act as a mirror, wise teacher, spirit guide or life coach and when we use them in this way it can be life changing.

When we understand ourselves and become more ‘self aware’ it can be profoundly helpful and empowering.  Also as we ‘co-create’ our reality and life then the more awareness we have of self, others and the broader scheme of things, enables us to make better decisions more aligned with out true/authentic self.

Ultimately I believe prophecy and free will are compatible and one of the benefits of laying a spread to look at the possible outcome of a desired course is that, depending on how it looks, we can then choose to power ahead, go back to go or maybe take a detour if still unsure.  Further, in my 20 year experience of doing readings, I find that in part, most of the time they are confirming what the person already knows on some level, and having that confirmation is all they need to go for their dream…or make a break from the past.

It is my belief that prior to each life we choose lessons and experiences to grow and learn, and karmically as well as ethically, people need to make their own choices. We are creating our life with every moment of every day, and for who choose to develop an intimate relationship with the Tarot it can be a wonderful companion, prompting and probing, informing and inspiring us towards a more meaningful and fulfilling life experience.


A few Facts:

Today most modern tarot decks differ very little from those of the 15th century set, of 78 cards – 4 suits of 14 cards minor arcana), and 22 trumps (major arcana).

The most popular being the Rider Waite appeared 1910 and many others are based upon this.   Artist Pamela Coleman designed pictures for the minor which work with the subconscious giving us something to interpret.

I highly recommend this deck or one based upon it if you want to learn to read the Tarot.  Whilst I normally encourage people to follow their own intuition, from 14 yrs of teaching about the Tarot the images it provides prove far easier for people to elicit their own understandings.


The word ‘Arcana’ comes from Arcanum meaning secret knowledge.


Cheryl Rae 2011