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A Guide to Understanding Tarot Card Readings
tarot reading

A Guide to Understanding Tarot Card Readings

Tarot cards are one of the most iconic symbols of mysticism. From ancient tales of fortune tellers performing elaborate tarot readings to modern tarot decks that allow anyone examine their past, present and future via the occult, tarot cards have evolved over time. However, their essence remains the same. 

If you’ve never had a tarot reading, or may be a little apprehensive or non-believing that a deck of cards can predict the future, you’re not alone. Tarot card readings have long been misunderstood as purely prescient activities that warn people of impending doom or windfalls of success. In reality, a tarot reading can be a helpful tool for processing and understanding one’s life, even setting goals and making plans for the future.

No matter what your question, circumstance or issue is, a tarot card reader can help provide clarity in the sense that the cards you pull can help you think about things in a new way or open your mind to different possibilities. Finding the connections in a tarot reading can be done solo or with a trusted psychic. 

Interested in learning more about tarot reading? Here’s what you need to know, and even how to correctly do them yourself if you so choose!

History of tarot reading

While some mysticism aficionados claim that the practice of tarot reading has roots in Kabbalah, the I Ching, Indian Tantra and ancient Egyptian culture, there is no historical confirmation of this. 

In fact, tarot card decks didn’t even start out as tools for mystic predictions and insight. Like traditional card decks we use for various games, they were used as playing cards, not for tarot readings. 

Starting from the mid-15th century, the tarot card decks had a few different names, first trionfi, then tarocchi or tarock and these decks were used to play games in European countries like tarocchini in Italy, tarot in France and Königrufen in Austria. (These games are actually still played today.)

It wasn’t until 300 years later that people began using tarot cards as an occult practice through tarot readings and cartomancy—which means fortune telling using decks of cards—and this led to the creation of custom tarot card decks specifically for mystic purposes. 

The person credited with making tarot readings a popular mystic practice is the French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette, who was commonly known as Etteilla. Etteilla not only distributed the first tarot card deck made for fortune telling, he also wrote about the relationships among the four humors of ancient Greece, tarot and astrology.

tarot readings
(Heritage Images/Getty)

A century later in 1909, occultist A. E. Waite developed and published what became the most popular deck for tarot card reading, the Rider-Waite (or Waite–Smith or Rider–Waite–Smith) deck. 

Waite was responsible for writing the card deck’s companion guide, Key to the Tarot, while illustrator Pamela Colman Smith drew the imagery for all 78 cards, which was novel because previously only 22 of the cards had intricate designs and imagery. 

The decks were published by the Rider Company, which was a division of the Random House publishing company. Today, this deck is still considered the standard for modern tarot readings and some estimates show that over 100 millions copies of this deck exist. 

How many cards are in a tarot deck?

The standard Tarot deck contains 78 cards, which are divided into two sections, Major Arcana (greater secrets) and Minor Arcana (lesser secrets). The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards without suits and they are the most important and identifiable cards in the tarot deck. 

tarot reading
(Tatâna Maramygina / EyeEm / Getty)

Numbered from zero to 21, these cards represent various situations that people will confront over the course of their lives. Each card comes with a specific message to guide the person who chooses it.

The Minor Arcana has 56 cards divided into four suits of 14 cards each. These suits contain ten numbered cards and four court cards of King, Queen, Knight and Page (or Jack, depending on the deck). The four suits are wands, pentacles, swords and cups. Here’s a quick overview of what each of these suits signify: 


This suit represents fiery passion, sexuality and creativity


These cards are all about the money and the material world, shedding light on your career and finances. 


Known as the suit of love, these cards represent your intuition and emotions 


This suit illustrates your mind and intellect, including your actions and thoughts 

In short, Major Arcana cards are more about the long-term direction and scope of your life, while Minor Arcana cards are more focused on everyday situations, action and decisions. 

The most powerful tarot cards

Because the Major Arcana cards are the most recognizable and significant within a tarot card reading, it’s worth having some general knowledge of these cards.

tarot card
(MarynaYakovchuk / Getty)

While different occults and psychics have different interpretations of what these cards represent, there are some general through-lines of what each is supposed to symbolize. 

Here’s a quick overview of each Major Arcana card:

The Fool: 

The first card in the deck is the most vulnerable and naive. Getting this card is a reminder to come to life with an open mind and no expectations. 

The Magician: 

This card represents your unique magic, reminding you that your skills and gifts are enough to accomplish whatever you put your mind to. 

The High Priestess: 

This card encourages you to turn within and connect with your intuition. The answer you seek is already inside you. 

The Empress: 

This card embodies the divine feminine, representing love, compassion and a connection to nature. 

The Emperor: 

This card represents structure and encourages you to take charge as the leader of your own life. 

The Hierophant: 

This card provides a message of needing extra help or guidance, encouraging you to find an expert to lead you in your current situation. 

The Lovers: 

This card represents your romantic relationships and asks you to pay attention to your love life, especially if you’re feeling unsure or indecisive about your current love-related situation. 

The Chariot: 

This card represents your innate drive and grit, asking you to expand your perceived limitations to unleash your true power. 


This card is all about perseverance and being able to face obstacles with courage. 

The Hermit: 

This card asks you to retreat from the world and stop seeking answers and validation from outside sources. 

Wheel of Fortune: 

This card represents the fact that life is always changing and reminds you to stay rooted with gratitude in the present when life is going your way. 


This card is a reminder that what goes around comes around. If it comes up in your reading, think about how your current circumstances might represent a karmic punishment or reward. 

The Hanged Man: 

This card is all about feeling like you’re at a crossroads and not knowing which route to take. By letting go of your control of the situation you can find clarity. 


Luckily, this card is not a bad omen. In fact, it’s a reminder to appreciate new beginnings and opportunities—all things must come to an end to make way for new experiences and relationships. 


This card is all about patience and moderation, asking you to go with the flow of your life without trying to force things in a particular direction. 

The Devil: 

This card represents feeling stuck, out of options or out of control. It’s a reminder that you need to free yourself—the door has been unlocked the whole time and it’s up to you to open it. 

The Tower: 

This card is the one that no one wants to get. Basically, it’s message is to just let it all burn. If you’re feeling like your life is coming down around you, it’s time to tear it down and start rebuilding. 

The Star: 

This is the card of optimism and hope and its message is simple: The universe is working in your favor. 

The Moon: 

This card represents your subconscious and intuition. It usually means that something in your life isn’t as it seems and you need to trust your gut if you feel like something, or someone, is “off.”

The Sun: 

This card is a sign that you’re moving in the right direction, representing joy and vitality in your life. 


With this card, your past and future come together to create your next move. It encourages you to trust your inner wisdom and insight, especially if something’s been holding you back from personal growth. 

The World: 

This final card represents personal fulfillment and it’s a sign that you are right where you are meant to be in your life at this current moment. 

Where to get tarot readings

While you can certainly book an appointment with your local psychic or tarot reader, there are a number of online tarot card reading services that are not only reputable but super convenient. Think about it: Do you really need to be with a psychic in person to get a good reading? In today’s world pretty much everything can be done virtually, so why not tarot readings, too. 

tarot card reading
(yacobchuk / Getty)

After all, tarot card readers don’t rely on the physical world to make their predictions. They’re connecting with the mystical plane and their spiritual expertise in order to give you your reading so it doesn’t matter if they are right in front of you or many miles away. 

And it’s kind of a win-win for both parties—many tarot card readers prefer working online, since they can easily reach more people right from their computers, and you don’t have to wait for an appointment or get out of your sweatpants to meet a tarot reader in real life.

Psychic websites offer trained and certified psychics and tarot readers, allowing you lots of choice when it comes to finding the best tarot site for you. Since many sites have user reviews you can check psychics out before you sign up for a reading with them. 

The standards for psychics on these sites are very high and each platform facilitates routine checks to root out anyone who’s problematic, like a person posing as a medium or someone who gets consistently poor reviews. Because of the rigorous screening process and accountability, you’re sure to find an excellent reader for your tarot session. 

Here are just a few of the most best online tarot card reading websites you can check out: 

  • Keen: This online tarot reading website offers a number of highly specialized tarot card readers who can do many different types of readings, from the basic three- and four-card spread readings to the more complicated sessions. 
  • California Psychics: This platform offers psychic readings on various platforms—phone, online chat and video—in a number of specialities, including tarot readers, crystal healing, aura reading, astrology and numerology. 
  • Kasamba: Focusing on love tarot readings and relationships, this online tarot card reading platform helps clients use online psychic wisdom to unlock their passion, find their soul mates and build stronger relationships. In addition to online tarot reading sessions, Kasama has dream analysis and other psychic offerings. 
  • Mysticsense: This online tarot card site is all about subcategories, allowing users to find exactly the psychic and speciality they are looking for. This way, the psychic you choose will have particular expertise with the subject you want to discuss during your reading. 

Can you read tarot cards by yourself?

Do you want a free tarot reading? This may be for you! You don’t necessarily need to be a professional to be a tarot reader. If you have a deck of tarot cards and the desire to be committed to the process, you can do your tarot readings on your own or with a group of friends. 

tarot reader
(The Good Brigade / Getty)

That said, if you really love tarot reading, a professional reader might be a better choice, as they are typically more adept at interpreting your cards and provide deeper insight but a solo session can still be meaningful. 

To DIY tarot readings, first choose a deck that suits you. There’s the traditional Rider-Waite deck, or there are more specialized decks like Fairy Tarot Cards, Everyday Tarot (great for beginners) and more complicated decks like Thoth Tarot Cards. 

Consider the size of the deck, too—a larger deck is great for doing readings with groups of friends while a smaller deck is nice for doing readings on-the-go or for people with smaller hands. Finally, you can look at the imagery on the cards and pick your deck based on which illustrations speak to you. 

When you do your reading, get your space ready. Choose a table and clear away any clutter. You might want to spread a blanket or scarf over the table to create some ambiance. Light a candle, burn some incense and really set up the scene for mysticism—whatever you can do to make the space feel special and spiritual for you. 

How to shuffle tarot cards 

Before you start your reading, you’ll need to shuffle your tarot card deck, just as you would before playing a card game. However, this kind of shuffling isn't just about making sure you don’t draw the same cards over and over again. It’s about setting the stage for a successful and insightful psychic reading. 

how to use tarot cards
(Oksana Zueva / Getty)

When it comes to the actual shuffling part, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Cleanse the deck: Before you start a reading session with a brand new deck of tarot cards, you want to cleanse the deck by meditating and passing each card through a cleansing smoke, like sage or palo santo. This is thought to give your deck an energetic blank slate and make your readings more accurate. 
  2. Think of your question while holding the deck: Take a deep breath and really concentrate on what you want to get out of your card reading to allow the energy to flow from you and into your cards. If you don’t have a question, think about a situation or issue that’s been on your mind. 
  3. Shuffle your cards: The act of shuffling is actually part of the process of a psychic reading—as you shuffle, you want to keep speaking your intention for the reading out loud or in your mind and ask for guidance from the divine. By grounding yourself in this way, you can channel your energy toward the cards and bring about a more successful card reading session. How you actually shuffle doesn’t matter all that much. You can cut the deck multiple times, do some fancy casino-style shuffle moves or whatever you feel compelled to do. Don’t overthink this part. 
  4. Draw your cards: Traditional tarot card readers draw cards using their left hands since the left side of the body is thought to be the one with the receptive, intuitive energy, so this practice is encouraged when you DIY. If you’re just starting out, you might want to draw your cards using the three-card reading method, and cut the deck into three piles: Pile one represents your past, pile two represents your present situation and pile three is your future. Draw cards by overturning the top card in each pile.  

Once you overturn your cards, you can use the guide that came with your tarot deck or online resources to interpret your reading. 

Tarot cards: A great self-care tool for understanding yourself

Think of tarot card readings as just another tool in your self-care tool box. Instead of mindlessly scrolling Instagram, doing yet another mud mask or binge-watching a show, mix up your downtime by shuffling and drawing some cards. 

Whether you do this every night before bed in tandem with journaling or monthly with a group of friends, the practice of drawing cards will allow you to think critically about your life path and grow your intuition. You could even draw a card each morning to start your day in a more mindful way while reading quotes about life to keep the mental juices flowing. 

tarot cards reading

Doing tarot card readings can help you stay more connected to your inner world, allowing you to remain centered and encouraging your personal emotional growth at the same time. While tarot cards can’t tell you what the future holds, they can be a powerful tool for manifesting the future you want. 

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