Tarot Talk: how to get started reading Tarot for yourself

tarot-talkI had a friend ask me recently if I would help her learn Tarot.  It was a happy surprise.  I wasn’t sure what I’d say at first because I actually haven’t ever taught someone how to read and use Tarot before.  But that old saying “the best way to learn something better is to teach it to someone else” is absolutely true.  So I said yes!

And we had a fun time the other night while I rattled on about suits and patterns and img_0429majors and minors with a tiny bit of history that I could remember.  We had a great time and I think it went pretty well.  And I’ve been thinking a bunch more since then about how I might go about the process in the future so I wanted to share those thoughts.

One note that I wanted to mention before I launch in:  I am not an expert, nor do I play one on TV.  I’ve been slinging cards for a while now, but I wouldn’t call myself a guru.  I’m just a person who reads intuitively and believes that there is always something new to learn or a way to improve.  While I wouldn’t be comfortable teaching a class or branding myself that way yet, I’m happy to help someone else take their first steps into Tarot.

Rules of the Road
My first and most important thing are my two rules of Tarot.  These are really the only things that I am absolutely firm with, if you want to learn Tarot here’s what you need to know:
1. Anyone can read tarot if they’re willing to learn, there is no specific set of faith guidelines or practices that Thou Shalt Adhere to.  You take your practice of tarot and make it work for you.  You do not have to be psychic or a witch or an insert-special-thing-here in order to use Tarot.
2. If there’s something that I say, or someone else is teaching you and it feels wrong to you, don’t do it.  I do recommend learning about the “rules” that are floating around out there, like the fact that you have to be gifted or steal your first deck (which every Tarot reader I’ve met agrees is total garbage), or that you have to wrap your decks in silk.  If you dig down into some of these so-called rules you can see what they were driving at.  Silk = treat your tools with respect and you’ll get more out of them.  The being gifted or stealing thing is the one exception, I’ve got nothing on that one.  Do not steal your Tarot decks, can you imagine the bad energy that would follow that around?

pentacles-07Finding the Right Deck
The next thing I recommend is that you have a good deck to work with.  My friend had a deck that she’d taken a first few tentative steps with but she wasn’t really connecting to.  I pulled out decks that I used in the past but have grown out of, and she flipped through my old Robin Wood deck and found that she liked it.  I’ve written before about choosing your first tarot deck.  I like a Rider-Waite-Smith deck or a RWS inspired deck when you’re just starting out because it’ll match a lot of examples you’ll see online.  Choosing a good deck can really be a huge help in learning to read.

Also know that there is no One True Perfect Deck.  You might love the first deck you see, you might buy several before you find one that resonates.  This is okay.  The decks you love with change and evolve as you grow in your Tarot practice.

If you can’t afford to buy a Tarot deck that’s okay, there are a number of aps out there that you can absolutely use to read the cards.  A few that I like are The Fool’s Dog Tarot Aps, the sampler versions are free and the entire deck ones are just a few dollars.  Another is the Golden Thread Tarot.  Personally, I prefer to have the cards in my hands, I like to feel the texture of the cards and the motions of shuffling and laying them out.  But if you can’t afford them or if you have mobility challenges and it would cause you pain, digital is absolutely fine!  That goes right along with the “If it feels wrong, don’t do it” rule.  I firmly believe that Tarot should be accessible and if an ap makes it open to you when it otherwise wouldn’t, an ap is great.

Clearing and Dedicating
If you’ve gotten a hand-me-down deck, or really any deck that you get, I recommend cleansing/dedicating the deck before you get started.   It’s a good way to clear out any old energies and to help you set some intention for your Tarot practice.  Some ways to do that: you can use sage to smudge the deck, you can leave your deck in full moonlight, or you can meditate with it.  I strongly suggest that you use a cleansing ritual that resonates with you, it’s all about the energy and if you think something feels ridiculous and fake it isn’t going to work for you.

Card Meanings
Your next step is going to be actually working with the cards.  There are 78 of them and IMG_0453they all mean different things.  Now, I’m not going to give you the 78 meanings here in this post, because there are lots of great resources out there that already do that.  Some places I’ve found fantastically useful:  Learn Tarot – This is Joan Bunning’s website and it has the same info that her published book has.  I own the book and I use the website a lot as well.   Another great course is Little Red Tarot’s Alternative Tarot Course.   As of this writing it costs $35 and is worth every single penny 🙂

Now that I’ve recommended some course options here’s a note that I wish someone had told me when I was starting out.  Don’t get hung up on memorizing every last detail and keyword of every single tarot card right out of the gate.  It’s perfectly okay to look cards up in the booklet that comes with most decks or on a website or the book you picked.  It’s more important to get comfortable working with the cards, examining them, meditating over the symbols on them, exploring your thoughts and feelings when you look at the cards.  The more you work with them, the more familiar they’ll start to become.

Trust your Intuition.
IMG_0561There was a card in one of my favorite decks that I struggled with for far too long.  All the books I read said that this particular card meant “X” and whenever I looked at that card I just knew that it meant “Y” instead.  I spent so much brain power trying to make that card mean “X”, trying to force a reading connection where there wasn’t one for me.  And finally I read somewhere that not every single tarot card reads the same way.  The Fool from one deck might read very differently from another.  And that’s okay.  I’m not saying race out there and make up entirely new meanings from every card (archetypes are archetypes for a reason after all), but if there’s one in your deck that you feel strongly about and it differs from the book, then go for it.  That’s your intuition talking to you.  Listen to it and let your understanding grow over time.  The way you read Tarot now will be different from how you read it next month which will be different from how you read it in a year.  It’s okay to grow in your understanding and to change your mind.  Even multiple times.  There are as many ways to interpret any given card as there are Tarot readers.

Last Thoughts

Just jump in and try.  Everyone has to start somewhere, everyone is a beginner at some point.  I encourage you to read lots of blogs about Tarot, you can see some of my favorite tarot bloggers on the right side of the site.  You can also check out the #TarotRap hashtag on twitter for some really great community Twitter chat.  Read. Read. Read.  I read every Tarot book I can get my hands on and the more you keep learning the better your skills will be.  Embrace viewpoints that differ from yours because in comparing understanding you can really grow in your confidence in your own reading abilities.

If all else fails, you can always Book a Reading with me 🙂

A Wooly How To: Dye a silk tarot cloth

It’s arts and crafts day at Wooly Witchy!  I’m going to teach you guys how to create your own Tarot cloths.  You don’t need any crafting experience to make this cloth and it’s pretty inexpensive too!  It’s really the perfect beginners project.  There are infinite ways to decorate your cloth.

Make your own DIY Silk Tarot Cloth

file_006

Ready to try it yourself?  Here’s what you’ll need.

Materials:
Silk scarf – I got mine from Dharma Trading Company.  And I recommend the 21×21 size for a Tarot cloth, but you could also use a 35×35 cloth depending on what your reading/working space can hold.   Cost for these depends on what size you get, but it’s $3 – $6 per scarf.
Spectra Art Tissue in colors that you like.  Again, I got mine from Dharma and it cost me $4.35 for a package of tissue which is plenty for lots of cloths.  Again, you need to make sure that the tissue paper you get is specifically made to bleed the dye out of the paper.  A lot of the papers you see in the wrapping paper sections are made so they won’t bleed onto other things when they get wet.  We need to make sure ours does.
Spray bottles – really anything inexpensive will work.  I think I found mine at Target for a dollar or two each.
White vinegar – It doesn’t matter even a little bit what brand you get.  Get it at your local grocery store for as cheap as possible.
Plastic table cloth to protect your work space from getting stained with dye from the tissue paper.  You can absolutely use a garbage bag for this if you prefer.
Optional:
rubber gloves to keep the dye off your hands and fingers
piece of cardboard to make card templates.

Instructions

Step 01: First thing you want to pour about an inch of vinegar into your spray bottle and then fill it the rest of the way with tap water.  The exact ratio isn’t super important, but make sure you don’t leave out the vinegar because it’s what helps the color set into the silk.

Step 02: Prepare your work space by putting down the plastic table cloth to protect the
tabletop.  I’ve got one old cheap dollar store one that I use over and over for messy craft projects.  It’s covered in paint from a set of painted wings we made.

Step 03: I recommend that you iron your silk first.  Make sure that you select the silk
setting on your iron so you don’t burn it.  Once it’s wrinkle free, we’re ready to add color!

file_000

Step 04: Since I was specifically designing this cloth to use with my favorite three card spreads I wanted three rectangles for the cards.  I created a card template from a piece of cardboard by tracing around my Wild Unknown deck box.  I added a little bit of width and height so it would show around the edges of my cards when I laid them out.  I used the cardboard to cut out three rectangles from my Spectra tissue paper.  I picked black for this cloth since I wanted a nice dark background for the cards themselves.

file_004

Step 05: Choose the placement of your “cards”.  For this cloth I wanted a simple three card spread layout, but you can absolutely choose any layout that will fit on your cloth.  You could lay out any spread you like, celtic cross, bridge spreads, your imagination is the limit here.  You can also opt to skip the card spots if you don’t want one with a pre-determined card layout.

file_005

Step 06:  Grab your spray bottle!  Put on your gloves at this point to protect your hands from getting stained with dye.  If it does get on your skin don’t worry, it will wash off.  If you get some on your clothing I recommend treating the stain with a stain treatment and washing in cold water right away.
Spray your tissue paper, be careful with the first few sprays since the water can push your tissue paper out of place.  The amount of water and vinegar mix you spray onto your tissue paper determines how much the colors will bleed out into the fabric.  More water = more color bleeding, less water = less bleeding.  An important thing to keep in mind as you’re choosing your colors is that you can always add a dark color over a light color but you cannot put a light color over a dark one.  For example: the black card squares are as dark as they’re going to be.

file_001

Once your squares are sprayed and held in place you can start building the rest of your cloth.  I decided to line each of my card spaces with a teal color.  Just tear pieces of tissue paper (or cut them if you prefer a little more precision), lay them on your cloth, and spray them.  Repeat ad nauseum until you’ve got everything where you’d like.

file_003

Step 07: Here’s the step I always find hardest.  Just wait.  You need to give the paper time to transfer the dye to the silk.  Exact timing varies depending on the color and how intense you want the color to be on your cloth.  You can check the color by peeling up a corner of the paper and checking your color.  Once you’re happy with the color under your tissue paper you can start peeling up the pieces.  Have a bowl or a trashcan ready at this point because the tissue paper will drip and get dye EVERYWHERE if you’re not careful.

Step 08: Now you need to let your cloth dry.  I laid mine on a laundry drying rack with an old towel underneath it to catch any dye drips.  I don’t usually have trouble with dye dripping off once the paper is removed, but better safe than sorry.  Silk cloths dry much more quickly than other fabrics.

Step 09: The last step for your cloths is to heat set your dye.  Put your cloth into the dryer on high for ten minutes.  You don’t want to leave your cloths in too long because it can make the silk get dull.

file_006

Step 10: Use your new awesome cloth!  Make more cloths!  You can give these as gifts, use them to wrap your own decks, the possibilities are almost endless.

If you make cloths I would love to see them!  Please feel free to share your projects in the comments!

How to Choose a Tarot Deck

Before I launch into a post about choosing a tarot deck I have to make a small confession. I’m not super choosy about buying tarot decks.  I have a small collection of them and I love to get new ones if one catches my eye.   That said, despite owning a bundle of them, I always circle back to a small handful that I love working with.

But that’s absolutely okay.  I don’t see anything wrong with collecting tarot decks; they’re beautiful art pieces, powerful tools, and great meditation aids.  Like any kind of collection, as long as your bills are paid and it’s not causing you harm, you should feel free to indulge yourself.  I used to feel guilty when I bought a deck that I didn’t use, but I realized that was a waste of energy.  Your favorite deck may change over time and one that you used to use all the time might take a backseat as your life changes, your reading style changes, or your reading audience changes.  I used to rely heavily on a Robin Wood Tarot deck, but as I’ve grown and changed I find that it’s too white and heteronormative to resonate with me anymore.  I’m not saying it’s not a good deck, just that my needs in a tarot deck are different now.

IMG_0844

Some of my collection, sadly unorganized at the moment because my studio is a mess.

So, how do you choose the tarot deck that’s right for you?  In my experience it’s a bit of a trial and error process until you find a deck that really resonates with you.  I want to tackle one stubbornly popular myth first.

Myth: You have to be given your first tarot deck.

This little story really annoys me.  Firstly, it takes your agency away from you.  You’re just

8_of_pentacles

Universal Fantasy Tarot

supposed to wait patiently for someone to magically guess that you need a tarot deck and then give it to you?  So many people would never get a deck!  This isn’t even considering people who might be living in situations where tarot is misunderstood and feared.  Also, I think that choosing and buying your very own tarot deck gives you a leg up in working with your chosen deck.  For me, tarot is about empowerment, and what could be more empowering than taking your own initiative and choosing your spiritual tools yourself?  Of course, this isn’t a slight against people who did have someone else give them a deck.  If someone gave you your first deck and you loved it and it’s perfect, that’s fantastic.  I guess what I’m saying here is that there is no wrong way to get a deck.  Except maybe stealing one.  The energy of theft is probably not the best energy you want to introduce into your tarot.

Okay, so you’ve decided that you want to get a deck, awesome!  But where do you even start?  There are hundreds and hundreds of possibilities out there.  You can find themed tarot decks on almost any subject you can imagine: CatsDragonsAliens, or even Baseball.  That almost makes it harder because there are so many options!

IMG_0570

Universal Goddess Tarot

So here’s my advice: you need to find a deck that you’re charmed by.  If you can, start by looking into Rider Waite Smith styled decks.  A lot of the intro to tarot websites and books are focused around that style of tarot.  That makes it easier to learn the meanings of the cards and you’ll have plenty of bloggers who use a deck similar to yours and lots of decks to learn from.  I also echo the suggestion of lots of others who suggested that you get a deck of “dudes doing shit”.  To be clear here, I don’t mean that you need a deck of men, but a deck with humanoid figures interacting with each other and the environment often makes it easier if you’re just getting started.

For me it’s really important that the deck be in an art style that I can connect with.  The more you look at decks, the more you’ll get to realize things you like and things you don’t like.  Personally, I’ve found that I don’t care for photo manipulated decks; I like drawings better on my cards.  I also like decks that have some traditional RWS symbolism but aren’t re-drawings of the exact same images.

You should also consider what you’re going to be using your deck for.  Do you want something to read spreads?  Then you might want something that is clear and easy to

IMG_0845

Witchlings Oracle Deck

understand, something like the Happy Tarot, the Robin Wood, or something like it.  Do you want something to help you connect with spirit?  Something like the Universal Goddess Tarot might be perfect.  I use my Universal Goddess deck both in divination and in goddess meditations.

Another thought I wanted to mention was that you can also consider oracle decks if they suit your wants.  I know this post is about how to choose a tarot deck, but most of it can also apply to oracle decks.  Obviously, with an oracle deck, the RWS advice about finding one with people doesn’t apply, but aside from that, look for something that you feel a pull towards and that you really like.  Oracle decks are not the same as Tarot decks, but don’t let anyone tell you that they’re inferior.  They’re just a different way of card reading.  In case you’re not familiar with the difference between oracle and tarot decks, it’s that tarot decks contain 22 cards in the Major Arcana and 14 Minor Arcana (also known as pip cards) in four suits that make up the 78 cards in a deck.  Oracle cards come in every flavor of the rainbow, and come in any number of cards, sometimes with a booklet for reading them and sometimes without so that you must rely on your intuition to decipher a spread of them.  I enjoy both types of decks and I own an assortment of both.  I do a lot more work with my tarot cards, but sometimes the simplicity of an oracle deck is too appealing to pass up.

IMG_0453

Happy Tarot

I also want to point out that sometimes the really great decks will surprise you.  I bought the Happy Tarot (see the Hermit card there?) because if was adorably sugar sweet and filled with cupcakes.  I didn’t really expect it to be a deck I did serious work with, but I’ve been so wrong about that.  The deck is great and I have found it to be wonderful to work with.  Don’t discount a ‘cute’ or themed deck as a novelty item right away.  Some of them are, but some will work just as well as a super traditional Rider Waite Smith.

The last piece of advice I have is that it’s okay to buy a deck and realize that it’s not the right deck for you.  If you hold out for The One True Deck you could get paralyzed and end up never trying any at all.  And here’s my second confession: part of the reason that I have so many decks is that it took me a long time to understand that I didn’t have to find the Perfect Deck.  You might use one deck for a while and then ‘outgrow’ it and start working with another.  And that’s okay.

So there you go?  Shop around, find something you love, and know that it’s okay to change

img_0548

Wild Unknown Tarot

your mind or pick more than one.  I’ve found that Aeclectic Tarot is a great place to find information about different decks.  They have reviews and purchase links for most decks.  Also check out the Tarot blogs, I post reviews here on The Wooly Witch from time to time and so do lots of other Tarot bloggers.

It’s also totally fine to throw all my suggestions out the window and do things your own different way.  That’s a big theme for me as I walk my spiritual path.  Learn all you can, take what makes sense, discard what doesn’t resonate with you.

Happy reading!  If you’re new I’d love to hear what your first deck was/is/will be.  If you’ve been reading for a while, I’d love to hear how you picked your first deck.  As you can tell, I love decks!