The BEST Way to Learn to Read Tarot (Without Having to Memorize the Cards)
Learning to read tarot can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Why Learning to Read Tarot Can Get So Complicated
Okay, so you’re ready to start reading tarot! Hell yes. You’ve got (or about to get) your very first deck, and you’re ready to dive right in.
Here’s what usually happens next:
- You start with a lil spread for yourself. How hard can reading three cards be?
- Stare at the cards intently, because some influencer said you should be able to ~intuitively~ read the cards. Wait. Wonder if you’re doing it wrong.
- Start googling. Fast forward about 45 minutes and 20 Google searches later. You’re officially in the weeds.
It’d be totally reasonable for you to feel frustrated at this point. How tf is anyone supposed to remember every nuance of all 78 cards, plus synthesize the meaning of how they’re working together in a spread?! 🤯
I’m here to tell ya, reading for yourself does not need to complicated, and you definitely don’t have to memorize 78 card descriptions!
The Most Efficient Way to Learn Tarot
Precisely because there is so much information about the cards — hello, whole books are written about it — I find it most useful to group the cards.
When we group the cards, we have something we can start with for every card — then, we can let our intuition bloom from a more solid foundation and feel more confident about what comes up.
Here are the three ways to group the cards that will set you up to read any spread!
Group 1: The Major Arcana + The Fool’s Journey
As you may or may not know, the traditional tarot cards contain two categories: The Major Arcana and Minor Arcana (more on the latter in a moment).
The Major Arcana contain trump cards. These cards are numbered from 0–21; in the original tarot, they were the only cards with pictures.
Something important to remember about the Major Arcana is these cards represent the Fool’s journey from ignorance to self-actualization.
If you have a deck, go ‘head and take out the major arcana cards. Divide them into four groups: put The Fool on top, in its own place; then cards 1–7, 8–14, 14–21 in rows, like this:
If you can remember the Fool’s journey, you can remember the trumps.
- Cards I-VII represents a process of maturity. It shows the stages of a person’s growth from a child, to whom mother is all loving and father all powerful, through education, to the point where the child becomes an independent personality.
- Cards VIII — VXI represents a search for self-knowledge, and the process by which one sees the ego as separate from the self. The ego is seen for the first time in Strength, and is subsequently checked, sees itself, transforms through Death, and finds a middle way.
- Cards XV — XXI represents freedom from the material world and enlightenment. A spiritual quest is taken here; tied to the material world, a lightning bolt shatters our ego so we can find a renewed connection to spirit. Though there are tricksters and opportunities to be led astray, if we persist, we’ll reconnect with that piece of ourselves that we share with source. Able to see the connection we have to everything else, we are able to discern that which is truly us and dance in unison with The World.
Group 2: Correspondence of Minor Arcana to Elements
There are four categories in the minor arcana: wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. Here are their elemental correspondences and the energies they’re associated with each:
- Wands: Fire
Fire + wand energy is related to pure life force and creativity. It symbolizes passion, power, will, assertiveness, and courage.
- Cups: Water
Water + cup energy is related to emotions and the subconscious. It symbolizes cleansing, purification, regeneration, change, fertility, and unconditional love.
- Swords: Air
Air + sword energy is related to the intellect. It symbolizes truth, knowledge, thinking, perception, and breath.
- Pentacles: Earth
Earth + pentacle energy is related to the senses. It symbolizes tangible items, stability, and the natural world. Pentacles can represent money.
Group 3: The Decan Tarot Wheel + Astrological Correspondences
The Decan Tarot wheel is most useful for those who have some familiarity with Astrology. My guess is if you’re into Tarot, you are probably into Astrology, too — but if you’re just getting started with both, fear not!
What you’re looking at below is the decan wheel:
Photo Cred: ThothBlogs
This wheel is the same wheel you see in a natal chart. Both wheels are divided into twelve sections, or houses. We read the wheel starting where 9:00 would be on a traditional clock (the red Aries segment). We read the wheel counterclockwise.
Each house (segment) contains 30 degrees, which are broken down into 10 degree chunks, which we call decans (deca = 10).
As you can see, the minor arcana are each assigned their own decan. For example, Aries contains the 2, 3, and 4 of Wands.
Look closely, and you’ll notice the cards are not listed in order. That’s because the cards “live” in zodiac signs that share the same element. For example, you’ll only find wands in fire signs.
Let’s Try with an Example
So, how does this help us read a spread? Let’s say you pull the 2 of cups for the question “How should I approach a conflict with my boss?
Looking at the Decan Wheel, you’ll see the 2 of cups is in Cancer, a cardinal water sign. It’s associated with Venus, and the dates June 21–30. Now, hold this information and take a look at the card:
Ok, SO: I know Venus is the ruler of relating to others, connection and beauty. I also know Cancer is a sign typically associated with nurturing, motherhood, and emotions. Finally, it’s a cardinal water sign, which means it has initiating energy, related to feelings, passions, and the subconscious.
With these elements in my mind, I let the card imagery speak to me. These two people seem to be coming together, almost as if they are about to “cheers”. They’re looking in each other’s eyes. It looks like the person on the right is touching the hand of the person on the left. They both have wreaths on their heads made of what appears to be plants; one of flowers, one of leaves. They seem to be connected on an emotional, maybe even spiritual level.
I could go deeper into the symbolism, but already, I’m getting an answer to my question. The air needs to be cleared. What’s required is a direct, kind conversation. And, if I do that, I’ll likely experience a more honest and supportive relationship with my boss.
A Final Word
Reading tarot for yourself is a beautiful way to connect to your higher self, but trust me — I know it can be frustrating when you’re first starting out.
That’s why I created my free 3-day email course, Decoding the Tarot. You can snag it here.
In the meantime, be sure to follow me @_holisticdana on IG for more tarot tips + tricks. Happy Reading! ♥️
Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom (Hardcover Gift Edition). Red Wheel Weiser. Kindle Edition.
Written by: Dana Augustine