In February of 2019, on a whim and for no particular reason other than curiosity, I began a habit of drawing a single Tarot card each day, looking at it, reading about it, thinking about how the depiction might apply to my life, and writing down a few notes. To my surprise, this practice has changed my life profoundly, and for the better.
For those who may be interested in trying out a similar practice, here are some recommendations on how to begin.
Get your hands on a Rider Tarot deck. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of varieties of decks out there, and many worthy of consideration for a first deck. I recommend starting with the Rider for several reasons. First of all, the depictions on the cards are evocative. They make it easy to conjure up thoughts or impressions or emotions in response to the cards, and that’s helpful because of the way that we’ll be using them. Since the depictions are distinctive, they may also help you more easily remember the associated meanings that you arrive at for each card.
There are also a lot of resources available that are geared to interpreting the Rider-Waite-Smith card images, as compared to other decks that are available. Also, it’s readily available and you can probably pick up a garden variety Rider deck pretty cheap (maybe around $15, or even less if you shop around). It’s just overall a great starter deck for the novice. You’ll probably want to eventually broaden your horizons and at least look at some other decks, and virtually any deck would be okay for starters, but it’s hard to beat the Rider if you don’t have another particular preference.
Visit Joan Bunning’s website, or buy her book. Learning the Tarot is a marvelous course for the Tarot beginner. It’s easy to read and will take you through the history and tradition of the cards, help you learn the standard accepted meanings (and also how to approach creating your own interpretations), and take you all the way to the basics of creating card spreads and reading for others, if you are so inclined.
The entire course is available online, free of charge, so if you can’t spring for the book, you can get the very same information on the website. I would recommend reading and digesting the first five chapters of the course, and then beginning the daily reading practice described in chapter five.
Of course, there are many, many, other great books and websites on the subject. For me, though, Bunning’s material is perfect for the beginner and will get you off to a great start in understanding and using the Tarot.
Develop your own routine. I hesitate to use the term “ritual” here, because it may have some connotations that put some folks off, but it’s a good idea to create a set routine for yourself around your daily readings that help to reinforce it as a habit, and help you get the most out of the practice. In the beginning, I made a big production of my daily readings, lighting incense, taking time to get into the right frame of mind, shuffling the deck in a certain habitual way, etc. I’m a little less elaborate about it now, but there are a few things that I’ve found to be especially helpful.
First, try to do your daily reading in the same place, at about the same time every day. Whatever sorts of “prelude” activities you’d like to include, use them every day for awhile. This helps to condition your mind to the idea that this is a special time, apart from the rest of your daily activities and obligations. It will help you develop and cultivate mental associations that will bring a spirit of attention and openness to the practice each time you sit down with your deck.
Some people like to ask a question before they cut and draw. For me, it has been most helpful to simply set an intention, such as “what do you have for me today?” I’m not addressing the cards with this intention. I’m addressing my own mind and spirit. “What do you have for me? What do I need to know today? What should I learn right now?”
Really look at the card. Part of the power of the Tarot is its ability to draw forth feelings, ideas and thoughts that might not surface for you otherwise. So it’s great to learn the traditional meanings of the cards, but it’s so much more important to get in touch with your own impressions and intuition. Look at the details of the card. Does the expression or action of any of the characters depicted strike a chord with you? Do you like the card or dislike it? Does it make you feel warm and happy, or contented, or uncomfortable, or confused, or joyful, or irritated, or frightened? Who does the card depict in your life? If you were in the card, what would you be doing or how would you feel? Does the card remind you of anything?
I like to spend a little time scanning my own mind and heart while looking at the card before I take a look at the description from the “little white book” that comes with the deck (or from Joan Bunning’s website or another Tarot site or book). Often, I’ll turn up a card and think “I know exactly what this means for me.” Other times I’ll think “I can’t relate to this at all. It has nothing to do with my life or how I’m feeling today.” Either way, I spend a few minutes mulling it over, and then jot down my impressions.
Keep a journal. This part is so important, because over time you’ll begin to develop your own unique personal catalogue of various card meanings, and also you may begin to see patterns that have meaning in your life or that are somehow useful to you. My practice is to create an Evernote for each season of the year, with room for an entry each day that includes the day of the week and date, the card title, my notes and a picture of the card that I take with my iPad. I also post the card each day to Instagram, and upload it to a “Daily Tarot” album on Flickr, so I can look at the series of cards chronologically from time to time and see if any patterns jump out at me, and think about what they suggest.
Sometimes my notes are nothing more than a few keywords. Other times they may include a detailed description of the card, or maybe a longer narrative about a memory, or what’s going on in my life at the moment and how the card relates to it. The main thing is to be consistent in journaling every day, even if it’s only a few words. The other important thing is to write down whatever it is you’re thinking and feeling, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable to do. The journal is for you, and not something you ever have to share with someone else. The real growth often occurs when we’re feeling most uncomfortable or vulnerable, so it’s helpful to face those sorts of things as directly as we can.
Connect with others. Whether you’re using the Tarot as a tool for personal growth, as a hobbyist or collector, as part of a spiritual practice or just a fun pastime, it’s cool to connect with other people who share the interest. There are lots of communities and websites online where you can find others who are interested in the Tarot. I particularly enjoy the community that has gathered around The Hermit’s Cave, Simon Harrison’s popular Tarot-centric YouTube channel. Google and find the sites, social media and groups that appeal most to you.
Enjoy yourself. You may find, as I did, that the Tarot is a powerful tool for personal development. Or for you it may turn out to be a simple pleasant activity, without a lot of gravity – an interesting diversion. For me, it began as the latter and soon took on a life of its own. There’s really no “right” approach, and nothing to fear from “doing it wrong.” So relax and enjoy and just take in the experience.
And whatever your experience turns out to be, I wish you the best, and I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment here with your own stories, resources, questions and ideas.
Here’s to the journey!
This post also appears on Brian’s Tarot website, Cards of Light.