Tarot for Beginners: FAQ

If you are contemplating getting started on the tarot journey, but are not sure where or how to start, here are my insights to 6 common frequently asked questions, and my answers to each. My answers are based on my own experiences over the past 12 years, as a tarot student, reader, teacher, and deck collector.

What is a good tarot deck for beginners?

My personal recommendation is to go with the classic Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck, of which there are several different publications. The main reasons for this are:

The Emperor from the Universal Rider Waite Smith tarot
  • It is, after all, a classic: it was first published in 1910, the artwork created by Pamela Colman Smith under instruction from Arthur Edward Waite (both members of the occult secret society group the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn). This means it is referenced in many tarot books, online resources and study groups.
  • It is the foundation to virtually most tarot decks created since: if you understand the RWS, you will have a solid platform from which to delve into the rich artwork of just about all tarot decks on the market. Most modern tarot decks, regardless of their theme (whether the theme be botanical, pagan, historical period, animal or else), are based on, and heavily influenced by, the RWS.

    The main exception to this rule are those decks based on the Thoth tarot deck created by Lady Frieda Harris under instruction from Alesteir Crowley, however this is not a deck I recommend to beginners for a number of reasons I won’t elaborate on in this post.
  • The pips (minor arcana) contain scenes from real life, rather than numbered elements (the later a feature of the precursor Marseille type decks). This allows for ease of interpretation and development of a story line when describing the card.
  • The imagery is easy to understand, structured and organised to reflect numerological and element meanings; the scenes in the cards are relateable and, while it is rich in symbolism, this is placed so it does not detract or overwhelm the meaning of the cards, so that the essence of each card can be discerned with relative ease (although everyone will have a few cards that they find challenging to understand, which is normal).
  • It is cheap, and easy to obtain: as of June 2020, the standard RWS by US Games can be found online on sites such as Book Depository under $US 20.
Universal Rider Waite Smith tarot deck

Here in Australia, online shops such as Booktopia have it listed for $AU 24.25, and a couple of months ago I found it sold at my local Big W for only $AU 20.00. If you happen to live in a big city, I highly recommend finding a metaphysical shop or book store with a physical presence, and checking it out. I recall visiting the Theosophical Society bookstore in Melbourne a few years ago which had an ample cabinet well stocked with tarot decks including the RWS.

Should I buy my first deck or receive this as a gift?

It is perfectly fine to purchase your first deck yourself (I did this – 12 years later here I am, about 50 plus decks, a tarot library, and doing readings professionally – let this be your warning! 🙂 ).

There seems to be some sort of unquestionable myth that you MUST be given your first deck, for whatever dubious reasons float around. While that would make a wonderful memory, it is by no means a pre-requisite, so if it is in some way holding you back from obtaining your first deck, don’t let it stop you. I’ve written about this alongside other common tarot myths in a previous post, Tarot reader myths.

How do I learn the tarot?

One card daily draws: a great way to exercise the intuitive muscle
Card: The Hight Priestess from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot

My personal recommendation is the one my teacher, Fern Mercier from Tarot Aotearoa, imparted on me as a tarot neophyte way back all those years: one card a day, no more, to start with. Start by drawing one card at random in the morning: allow yourself some quiet time, relax, and focus. You may wish to ask a question such as What will today bring for me?, or What do I need to know about today? (avoid Yes/No questions); spend some time describing it (a tarot journal is a great support tool), and then returning to the card at the end of the day, noting whether it holds any relevance to your day. Leave the books for later on, once you have exercised your intuitive muscle with these daily card draws.

Note that describing a card can be done in many different ways: you may focus on just the use of colour, or a symbol that captures your eye, or describing what actions are taking place, how the characters are sitting, etc. Any and/or all of these methods are perfectly valid. Just go with what calls to you when you first see it.

Sometimes you will be incredulous at the synchronicities this little exercise illuminates in your life. Other times, you’ll draw a blank, leaving you to wonder whether tarot really is for you: yet this is a crucial part of learning the tarot. That is, understanding that sometimes the relevance, or the answer, is not immediately obvious, but is yet to reveal itself, a few days or a couple of weeks later. Trusting the cards, and trusting myself, were core lessons in my early tarot journey (and well beyond, may I add).

What are the best tarot books for beginners?

I have written a post on my top 5 tarot book recommendations for beginners, however please do note that there are many more our there that I am yet to leaf through.

What tarot spreads are suitable for a beginner?

To begin with, I would advise to stick with the one card daily draw I described above. I do not recommend doing any large spreads, especially attempting something like the Celtic Cross. I remember first doing this when I purchased my first tarot deck, and feeling overwhelmed by it all. It’s far too much to take in as a beginner, even though you may well feel the pull to try it – and if you do, like I did, don’t be dismayed or dejected if it does not make any sense.

A simple 3 card spread to answer the question, What will today bring for me?
Cards are from the Herbal Tarot

Once you have done the one card daily draw for a while – sufficient enough to go through and describe the 78 cards – I would suggest expanding this to a 3 card daily draw, and again, a great question to ask is What will today bring for me?, or What do I need to know about today?

Do I need to be psychic to read tarot cards?

Absolutely not, although may I add in the wise words of Diane Stein’s book by the same name All women are psychics. However do not feel intimidated if you think your reading or intuitive ability is not up to some made up, unattainable standard.

As I have mentioned above, developing your intuition is usually something that takes time and requires practice, but the more you do this, the more you will develop: practice does make perfect.

No doubt there are many other questions beginners have, as I did, however I hope the above serve as good guidance to anyone contemplating beginning their tarot journey.

Warm blessings,

Monica