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Tarot Card Reading Instructions

Don't be fooled - tarot is not so simple that you can learn enough from a simple list of Tarot Card Reading Instructions to be able to get the most from your use of tarot decks. That is, of course, good news because the more there is to learn about any large and fascinating subject the more sophisticated and generally worth your time it is likely to be!

This page of Tarot Card reading instructions is just a brief summary of the steps involved in a typical tarot reading. When you have read, and perhaps practiced, these steps we hope you'll continue to learn more through other articles, tarot books, and so on.

Let's start with a quick overview.
Tarot Card reading instructions consist of the following:

  1. Choose a Tarot Deck that appeals to you and that you feel comfortable using.

  2. Arrange to have enough time in a peaceful space in which you will not be disturbed.

  3. Create a calm spiritual atmosphere. Some people like to use a special table cloth and/or enhance the mood with objects such as candles, crystals or flowers.

  4. Consider which spread you will use for this particular reading. Choice of tarot spreads is a subject in its own right!
    (If you will read for someone else this decision may be taken later, after an initial chat with the sitter. However, do not discuss their issue with them at length - or even ask them to name it if they don't volunteer such information immediately. It is, however, generally acceptable to ask if someone has a preferred spread or to choose a spread based on how much time they have available - maybe just a 2 or 3 card spread for someone in a hurry!)

  5. Meditate or pray according to a system that feels right to you. Using whatever technique suits your personal philosophy, calm your mind into a suitably receptive state, emptying it (at least temporarily) of day-to-day worries, concerns and pressures. It is particularly useful not to feel any sense of time-pressure. Ideally this step should not take long or be obvious to others, though it is important.

  6. Handle the tarot deck respectfully and, when you are ready, shuffle the tarot cards.
    Bear in mind that, depending on the spread and system you have chosen to use, the tarot cards may have different meanings depending on their orientation (upright, or reversed) so you may need to shuffle the cards in both respects.

  7. Having relaxed and started to handle the tarot deck, now begin to focus on your question or subject for this particular reading. (If the reading is not for yourself but for someone else, often called a "sitter", invite him/her to shuffle the cards lightly at this stage - but only after you are sure that they have already been sufficiently shuffled to randomise the order and orientation of the cards if they had previously been arranged in order. The sitter shuffles tarot cards prior to his/her tarot reading primarily to infuse them with his/her energy, incl. e.g. emotional state, concerning the subject of the reading.)

    So, the person for whom the spread will be interpreted is now holding and lightly shuffling the deck while holding his/her question or subject in mind, with an open mind.
    Try not to hope for any specific outcome or advice at this stage - either in "real life" or in the form of seeing specific cards in your reading. Just hold the issue or area of concern gently in your awareness and mentally ask for guidance or to be open to receive wisdom, or similar.

  8. Tarot readers may use their own particular rituals next, at the beginning of the reading itself.
    A popular choice is to split the deck into three sections, which is often called "cutting the deck", or to invite the sitter to do so. Individual styles vary but there is usually some small, but significant, action marking an end to the phase of preparation and the beginning of the reading itself. If you cut the deck into three sections it is usual to then replace them in a different order, forming the final "shuffle" of the deck. Many readers re-form the deck in a particular way or order that may look impressive but, probably more importantly, helps to fix him/her into his/her best mental and emotional state for tarot reading.

    Now it is time to begin the tarot reading itself - or to layout the spread.

    Again, personal styles vary ...

  9. Either lay-out the entire spread face-down before turning-over each card in order, or turn cards over as you place each.

    Some readers lay out all of the cards that will form the spread face-down on the table or cloth before turning-over the first card. Other readers lay the cards facing upwards and begin to "read" interpretations from placement of the first card that will form the overall spread. There is no "right" or "wrong" method but it is important to be consistent.
    (As a general rule, cards are more likely to be laid-out face-down forming a full spread at the outset when there are more cards used in that particular spread, e.g. in the cases of 15 or more cards in the spread. However, it is always a matter of individual choice.)

    We must make some assumptions to describe tarot card reading instructions in general, so we'll take the example of use of a 5-Card Spread for a tarot reading about a specific topic. See also a 5-Card Relationship Spread in our FREE relationship tarot reading section.

  10. Having decided if you will lay-out all the cards first or turn each over as you go, now be sure that you are clear about the spread you will use.

    If you don't know it well you might want to have the book you are using or other tarot card reading instructions to hand.
    Here is a brief reminder of a basic 5-Card Specific Question Spread:

    Tarot Card Reading Instructions using the example of a simple 5-Card One-Subject Spread.

  11. We'll assume that you have laid all five cards face-down before starting to read by turning each card over in turn (that is, in numerical order as indicated above).
    Why ? Because if you are reading these tarot card reading instructions then you are probably just learning tarot reading so by laying all the cards out first you have already defined your spread (as a reminder in front of you) and you have now replaced the deck on the table so both hands are free for reading further instructions, including possibly (probably !?!) looking-up meanings in books or online, as you go.

    Now turn-over each of the tarot cards in the order indicated and get a good sense, not just an understanding of words - but a real feeling of each tarot card before moving on to the next tarot card. More about that ...

  12. This simple page of tarot card reading instructions does not include a description of the meaning of every card in the deck, but you do need to understand the meaning of each tarot card when it appears in the deck - so open another tab in your web-browser and check the meaning of each individual tarot card as and when it appears in your spread.
    Do not suppose that is enough ! Books and webpages only convey words which may evoke different emotions in different people at different times.
    Really look and "feel" each individual tarot card.

    • How does the description make you feel ?
    • How do the colours affect you ?
    • Does it give you an overall sense of hope, or despair, etc..

    If Tarot Reading is new to you why not write down your responses initially ?
    It will take a bit longer, but it may be very helpful in the longer-term.

  13. Having got an initial sense of the card itself, next consider the card in that particular position.

    If the reading is for someone else, NOW you can start to speak ... e.g. you don't want to talk for 5 mins about the Death card, only to add afterwards that it relates to the past (!) because by then you may have disturbed the emotions of the sitter enough to disrupt and render less helpful the rest of the reading.

    So, now you can say something like ... "This [Name of Tarot Card] in this [Meaning of Position in Spread] position in your reading about [subject of reading - if stated by then] gives me a sense of [your overall impression based on both the standard "meaning" of the card, your own "sense" at that time, and your intuition also taking into account the significance of the position in the particular spread] ..."

  14. Warnings to bear in mind at this stage:
    Remember that Tarot is not absolute. At best it may offer helpful insights into possibilities.
    • Do not say anything outright negative, either to yourself, or to anyone else: You do not know enough to do that.
    • Do not be frightened or say or behave in any way that might frighten anyone else. That is not the purpose of Tarot and it is certainly not a very nice or constructive way to behave.

  15. Continue to interpret each card in order. As you do so be sure to constantly review the previous cards in the light of new information revealed by subsequent cards in the spread. There is no need to state all of this consideration aloud, but do be consciously aware of it. Yes, that takes time ... haven't you noticed how Tarot Readers sometimes pause for a moment now and then ? There is often a lot to take in and feel for balance of.

  16. When cards have been considered individually take a fresh look at the spread before you and consider it as a whole. Sometimes new insights emerge at this stage. It is, of course, essential to be patient.
    Mention any such new overall intuitions to the sitter if there is one. Observe his/her response.

  17. If you have a sitter (other than yourself) invite his/her questions.
    Maintain an open mind and try to answer questions with reference to the cards.
    E.g. "[specific feature/detail] in [specific card] which is in the [meaning of position] in your spread gives me the sense of ...".

    Even if you know the spread that you are using extremely well, don't assume that the sitter has remembered everything you said about it as he/she will have been processing a lot of information during the reading - including his/her own emotions, of which you might not be fully aware.

  18. Do not rush the end of the reading, especially as some sitters may be shy about asking for clarification or further information. Encourage this gently. If a question is asked to which you see and feel no answer don't panic ...

    Sometimes an extra card or two is helpful. If you need to take an extra card from the deck after the end of a standard spread/reading don't start the shuffling process all over again. The deck has already received the energy of this question at the outset. Some readers invite the seeker to shuffle again briefly, others simply use the next card - after clarifying aloud the extra information required. If you choose to do this be sure to interpret the extra card/s in the context of all the information already present in the spread: You are not starting again (at this stage) !
    Do not be tempted to change to a different interpretation of the spread at the end if/because the sitter hoped for a different outcome
    . If necessary explain that tarot does not predict the future because we can always affect future events by our own attitudes, actions and emotions. Remember that someone's fear of a situation is enough to affect a tarot spread - hence the reason for setting-up a calm positive environment in steps 2., 3. and 5. at the beginning of these tarot card reading instructions.

  19. At the close of the reading don't forget to consider how you feel.
    (Obviously you may have some information about how the sitter - if any - feels, but that information will be limited.)
    Re-ground and calm yourself using a technique that feels comfortable to you. That may involve prayer, visualisation, thanking spirit guides, or something else appropriate to your own particular tradition. You don't want to walk away from a Tarot Reading carrying the hopes/fears/stress of the subject of the reading, so ...

    In some way: "Close" the reading, for yourself (not just by saying "Goodbye" to a sitter).
    Many readers find small rituals extremely helpful at this stage.
    Read around and try out ideas in order to find or develop a good "closing ritual" to suit you.

  20. Well Done !
    Respectfully re-pack your Tarot Deck and any other items used to create the ambiance for your tarot experience.

- Article added 29 October 2010.

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