How to read tarot cards

Shuffle the cards to see what to expect in your future.

tarot cards

by Katy Moon |
Updated on

Tarot is considered one of the oldest divination tools there is and is believed to be a gateway into seeing the future. Using the power of the cards, you can gain a greater insight into yourself, your life’s path, and what you need to invite into your life in order to move forward on your spiritual journey. But how to read tarot cards exactly?

If you’re a beginner to tarot, we’ve shared how you can read and utilise this ancient tool to connect to the spirit world, with a little help from tarot expert and medium, Avril Price. It’s all just a card shuffle away…

Use your intuition

First things first, you don’t need to be a tarot pro or medium to access the magic of tarot cards. Whilst the cards come with symbols and meanings, using your own intuition when tuning into the energy is important and as a result, you’ll find different people decipher different meanings.

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“There’s no need to get bogged down by trudging through guidebooks to decipher the meanings of the cards,” says Avril. “Tarot works best when you are following your own intuition.

“Simply take your favourite deck of cards, and give them a shuffle while thinking about your intentions. Then, ask a question such as, ‘How is Spirit working with me today to achieve my goals?’ before picking a card. Look at the imagery on the card. How does it make you feel? What story is it trying to tell you?

How to practice intuition

A tarot journal

“Write down any thoughts or feelings in your journal, keeping note of any messages you receive from tarot and Spirit,” says Avril. “You may become aware of recurring symbols and themes. For example, the suit of pentacles might keep coming up if what you are trying to manifest relates to your home or work life. Wands may appear if you are passionate about putting spiritual plans into action.”

Automatic writing

To gain greater insight into a card you’ve drawn, simply sit with pen in hand and ask your Spirit guide to speak by writing words on the page in front of you. Hover your pen and let it move of its own free will. Relax and just let the writing flow.

“Spirit-inspired information can take your connection with tarot a step further,” says Avril. “Does the writing correspond with your card? Are you being given advice about your intention?” asks Avril. “If it’s not clear now, you can return to it later. You may find a message suddenly comes to you.”

Tarot symbols and meanings

While it’s important to work through the cards and exercises intuitively, this guide will help you understand some of the main signs hidden within the cards. For a deeper dive to help you interpret the meanings of cards, invest in a tarot book to support your learning.

Major Arcana

The Major Arcana is made up of 22 cards that carry a strong energy and focus on the big-picture events in your life. They are as follows:

Major Arcana 1
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The Fool: An optimistic energy of new beginnings, opportunities, and potential. The Fool is embarking on a journey into the world with an entire horizon ahead of him, taking a leap into the unknown. He may be naive and unaware of his surroundings and what's to come. He may need to be cautious where he treads.

The Magician: A marker of determination and tapping into your talents, skills, and capabilities in order to succeed. This is a great card for helping you move forward with confidence and for manifestation - you have everything you need in your power. The universe is aligned to bring positive change your way.

The High Priestess: This is a card of mystery, dreams, and intuition. You may not have all the information you need to make decisions in your life, but by retreating and reflecting, your intuition will help to lead the way. In other words, learn more from your lived experience and follow your gut!

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The Empress: This card is traditionally associated with fertility and abundance. It can represent a new creative and productive chapter in your life in the creation of new life, romance, art, and endeavours.

The Emperor: This serious leader figure represents stability, security, and trust. Everything is in control and you are on top of things with your hard work and determination bringing you thus far. It's the dominance of logic over emotion with an energy of 'leveling up' with discipline.

The Hierophant: A symbol of tradition, convention, and a conservative approach. It encourages you to learn and, if you're struggling, this card suggests that you should seek advice or wisdom from a mentor or someone you respect and trust. Instead of taking any risks, it may call you to commit to your traditional or established spiritual practices.

The Lovers: This card has two meanings. The first is relationships - there may be a reunion, a temptation of the heart, or a decision to make with regard to new or existing relationships.

The second is choice. You'll need to make a choice that could mean you need to sacrifice something. It may be a difficult decision to make so you should weigh your options carefully and not make it lightly.

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The Chariot: This card represents a challenge and overcoming conflict. This may have already taken place or be about to happen, but regardless the outcome is positive. Through hard work and willpower, the experience will be beneficial.

Strength: As the name suggests, this card is about the strength of character which leads to triumphant conclusions. It could be you're stronger than you think, recovering from illness, or regaining strength after a difficult time.

The Hermit: You're in need of a period of inner reflection where you need to recharge, rethink and reevaluate the road ahead. Draw attention into yourself away from the demands around you and take the time to find your feet.

Wheel of Fortune: This powerful card suggests a change is coming into your life. You may be entering a new stage in your life cycle, coming out of a difficult time, or it may result from an event or person. This change might not happen overnight.

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Justice: This card represents karmic justice and indicates that the fairest decision will be made. Through cause and effect, the scales will balance out in the end. Justice is a good sign that often signifies a positive outcome.

The Hanged Man: This card can signify a state of limbo, where you're waiting for a new chapter to begin. It can be an uncertain period or a time of pause resulting from indecisiveness or a lack of direction. However, taking a pause from action might be exactly what you need to achieve success.

Death: Often misunderstood, this isn't necessarily a bad card to pull. It can indicate the end of something old and the start of something new. The process might be difficult but it'll help you increase your sense of self-awareness - a blessing in disguise.

The Temperance: Seek balance by bringing patience and moderation to your life. Establishing a happy medium when dealing with problems can help maintain a sense of harmony. It can also be a symbol of good health - a sign you should adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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The Devil: This card suggests self-imposed limitations - you're holding yourself captive to ideas and desires, especially in the material world. It can symbolise addiction or a loss of control in your life. This might be a sign you need to hold yourself responsible.

The Tower: Interpreted to mean chaos, danger, crisis, tragedy, and liberation, this card suggests a big and sudden unforeseen change is on the horizon. It'll dismantle your 'tower' and whilst it will probably be a painful process, it will allow for a stronger 'tower' to emerge in its wake.

The Star: This card signifies the peace and calm that comes after the storm. It's a time of renewed hope and you'll likely be feeling inspired. It carries the energy of a dream coming true and that you are truly blessed by the universe at this time.

The Moon: Signifying illusion and deception, this card suggests not all is as it seems. You may feel fearful, anxious, or insecure. However, these feelings may just result from overactive emotions or your imagination. It may be time to face your fears head-on and work through them.

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The Sun: The sun is shining down on you with this card. A symbol of happiness, joy, satisfaction, and harmony, good fortune is coming your way.

Judgement: This card signifies a time of awakening, a new chance or opportunity to start over. It marks the end of a period in your life, and this is the time to reflect and learn from your past experiences. Maybe you need to seek redemption or reevaluate how you dealt with situations. In your new beginning, you can be proud of your growth.

The World: The World represents completion - the ending of a life cycle. It's a symbol of achievement, fulfilment, and acknowledgment. As with other cards, you're moving into a new stage of your life and it's a phase full of possibilities.

Minor Arcana

The remaining 56 tarot cards are divided into four Minor Arcana suits and each is associated with an element. Each suit is organised by a number so it’s easier to interpret. Compared to the Major Arcana, these zero in on the finer details.

The Minor Arcana suits

Wands: Fire, connected to passion, ideas, transformation, and high energy.

Pentacles: Earth, linked to physical life, work, health, home, and relationships.

Swords: Air, reflecting thoughts, intellect, ideas, and communication.

Cups: Water, associated with emotions, creativity, and the psyche.

Minor Arcana
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The numbers within each suit

Ace: New beginnings, decisions, time for action

Two: Partnerships and relationships, collaboration, opposition

Three: Change, growth, forward-moving energy

Four: Structure and logic, stability, standstill

Five: Change and uncertainty, conflict, grief and anger

Six: Balance, routine, blockages

Seven: Wisdom, understanding, solutions

Eight: Power, action, justice

Nine: Climax, accomplishment, near completion. Nine of Swords and Wands are heavier cards

Ten: Ending, closure, completion. Ten of Swords and Wands signify challenges you can overcome

Page: A situation or person in your life, something is about to happen

Knight: A situation or person in your life, the energy of movement and action

Queen: Feminine energy

King: Masculine energy

Reverse meaning

If you chose to, pulling your cards in reverse can provide you with more depth to your tarot session. If you pull a card and it's upside down (in reverse), you can interpret the card to mean the opposite of the upright meaning. However, don't worry, this doesn't mean the cards have to be negative.

Pulling your tarot cards

To use your tarot deck, set a clear intention. Shuffle your deck and repeat your question or intention. Then you can pull your cards.

There are a few ways you can do this:

Pick the cards that fly out: This is a sign that Spirit is trying to get your attention.

Pick the top cards: Once you’ve shuffled your cards, pick those that sit at the top of your pile.

Pick cards with energy: Fan your cards on the table. Let your hand float above the pick the cards which give out energy.

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Tarot card spreads to try

The simple three-card spread

Using all 78 cards in your tarot deck, shuffle them and focus on different goals in life as you do this. Pick out three cards and lay them before you.

Card One: What does my goal look like?

This card will give you a glimpse of your intended goal. Are there any hints within the card’s images? Listen to your intuition, do you feel that you need to add anything or change something in your life?

Card Two: What could hinder me?

This card reveals what could be holding you back. Are there blocks or challenges ahead that could slow you down, what can you do to change this?

Card Three: How can Spirit help me?

This card will give an indication of how Spirit will be working with you to manifest your vision. Look at the cards individually and as a whole. What is the overall impression? Put pen to paper and do some automatic writing to tune
into any messages from the cards and Spirit.

Seek inspiration and motivation

Use this spread to receive a message from Spirit for guidance that will help you progress with your goals.

Step 1: From the tarot deck, pick a card that you feel drawn to and that resonates with you in some way. This is called the significator card. Once you have chosen your card, put it back in the pack and shuffle the cards.

Step 2: Split the deck into four equal piles. Each of the piles represents a tarot suit and questions your attitude to achieving your goal.

Pile 1: Swords – how you feel about your intention.
Pile 2: Wands – what motivates you to achieve your intention?
Pile 3: Cups – your sensitivity or intuition about your intention.
Pile 4: Pentacles – how you see the practicalities of your intention.

Step 3: Go through each pile until you find the significator card. The pile it is within is the set of cards Spirit is connecting you to. Now shuffle this pile and pick a card from it, this is the card Spirit is communicating through.
What does the imagery tell you?

After your tarot reading

It’s important to stay receptive to signs and messages from the Spirit as you go about everyday life.

“You may find messages arrive some time later in the form of synchronicities, overhearing random conversations and significant people entering your life.

"Write any of these down in your tarot journal. The meanings might not be immediately obvious, but over time they may suddenly dawn on you.” Avril also recommends that it’s a good idea to do a daily or weekly tarot reading to check in with Spirit and see where you are on your journey.

However, it’s also important to take action of your own. Take steps towards your goal and review the notes in your tarot journal if you need guidance on which steps to take next.

“It is also worth noting that once you feel you have put in all the groundwork, feel free to let go of your intention,” says Avril. “Over-focusing can be detrimental to the end result, as they say, a watched pot never boils.”

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How to cleanse your tarot cards

To cleanse and recharge your cards, you can leave them in the moonlight overnight with an amethyst crystal on top. Alternatively, waft frankincense, Palo Santo incense, or sage over the cards.

However, some find that just creating a clean space for your tarot card reading and setting the intention is enough to cleanse – do what feels right for you.

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