Ask a Witch: Everything You Want To Know About Tarot
Practice makes perfect
Illustration by Jihyang Lim
In ”Ask a Witch,” Gabriela Herstik answers your questions about channeling ancient wisdom in the modern age. From spellcraft to finding your path, explore what it means to be a millennial witch. If you have a question about all things magickal, contact Herstik on Twitter via @gabyherstik or Instagram@gabyherstik
Question: I’m new to tarot. I found the perfect deck that I think suits me well, but I don’t really know where to go from here. Do you have any advice?
Answer: I still remember my first tarot deck. I had ordered Maria Shaw’s Tarot Kit for Teens. It came with a basic Rider-Waite tarot deck and a guidebook. I remember feeling bubbles deep in my stomach as I unwrapped the box in the basement of my childhood home in Atlanta. I felt it: This was a door, and I was about to open it.
Over a decade later and not much has changed. I still have that tarot deck, along with many others, but the feeling remains the same: the tarot is like a door I open, again and again, finding something different on the other side each time I look.
Thanks to the occult hitting the mainstream (and to the internet), starting your journey with tarot is easier than ever before. And the best part? All you really need is a deck to get started. As my journey with the cards has evolved, I’ve been able to connect with some amazing tarot readers. One of them being Theresa Reed, also known as “the Tarot Lady," who has been reading the cards for more than 30 years and boasts an online platform full of insight on everything tarot. Who better to help break down tarot myths than the lady herself? Here, then, are some basics for anyone looking to start or expand their practice with the tarot, with advice from the Tarot Lady herself.
What IS tarot?
The tarot is a deck of cards that was originally created in the 13th century, most likely in Italy. Although it was used, and can still be used, as a card game, the most common form of use is divination or telling the future. The 78-card deck is broken down into two parts, with the first being the Major Arcana. These 22 cards are the most commonly portrayed in the mainstream and include cards like the Moon, Death, and the Devil. The Major Arcana represent major changes and events and are especially vital when they pop up in readings. The Minor Arcana, on the other hand, features four suits: coins or pentacles, wands, cups or chalices, and swords or daggers. These represent situations, people, or experiences. By asking the deck a question and using a certain layout, you’re able to “read the cards” by interpreting the symbols on each one.
Nothing is ever set in stone
Tarot isn’t going to tell you if you should break up with your boyfriend or what you should eat for breakfast. The cards are maps to parts of ourselves and our unconscious and tell us things that we might not otherwise be willing or able to hear. The cards are like big, obnoxious mirrors reflecting reality in a way that we can't ignore. The most important thing the Tarot Lady has learned in her journey? “Nothing is ever cut in stone. Our lives are built by the choices we make and, every day, we have an opportunity to change course if we don’t like the way things are going. The reins are in our hands, and when we show up 100 percent ready to take personal responsibility for our decisions and lives, the real magic begins.”
Buy your first deck yourself
I’m picky. You’re probably picky too! After all, no one knows your taste like you. You can, and should, buy your first deck. One of the most important aspects of reading tarot and getting familiar with the cards is having a connection to them. Reed points out that if you’re not working with a deck you love, you probably won’t find that. So take your time and choose one that feels right to you. If you want a more classic looking deck, try the Rider-Waite or Universal Tarot. Hit up your local metaphysical shop or bookstore and look at different options. You can look online too! Check on Etsy and Kickstarter for really creative versions; many independent artists are making some incredible decks. Oh, and trust your gut when you make your selection. This is ALWAYS the golden rule.
Practice makes perfect
Tarot is like anything else: it takes time, skill, and dedication to get really good. It should not be a rushed process. Reed’s advice is to “pull a card for the day, every single day. Take a moment to contemplate what that card might mean. If you need to, look up interpretations in a book you like. At the end of the day, reflect on how that tarot card might have shown up in your life… or not. Drawing a card every day allows you to get familiar with the tarot and it also gives you a chance to see the card in action as you go throughout your day. I still pull a card for the day, every day, and I’ve been doing it for 35 years!”
Don’t forget to practice! Actually doing readings, no matter how nervous or inexperienced you feel, is the best way to learn. Reed also suggests getting a journal to record your readings. That way, not only can you go back and look at where you’ve been right (and also wrong), but you’ll learn more quickly since physically writing everything down helps with your memory. Seeing how the cards interact with what’s happening in your own life is a deeply personal process. Keeping track of this will help you create your own interpretations.
Take a Class
Thanks to the internet and the New Age, finding a tarot class, either virtually or in real life, is not hard. If you are a more hands-on learner, find someone whose reading style you connect with and take a class. Having this face-to-face connection is often very helpful with intuitive arts like tarot.
You can read for yourself.
Who knows you better than you?! It's totally fine and actually really worthwhile to do your own readings. Listen to what the cards are trying to tell you and write it down. See how it plays out. Try your best to be objective and not to interpret the cards anything other than objectively. It's very tempting when doing your own readings to look for the answers you want to receive. If it's too hard for you to avoid this, then seek out a professional to read your cards for you. But, ideally, practice makes perfect, and you should be able to get to a place where you can read your own cards without falling prey to confirmation bias.
Death does not mean death
This is honestly one of the first things I tell people in readings. Death is one of my favorite cards; it means transformation. One door closing and another door opening. Having death in a reading is indicative of a big change and a fresh start. Do not be afraid!
Intuition is everything
Repeat after me: There is no right or wrong in tarot. Your personal connection with the cards and your own intuition might mean that your interpretation may be different than what your deck’s guidebook says. And that’s okay! Learning to trust this part of your soul is an important part of your journey, and it will strengthen the more you read. Reed says the biggest secret about tarot is that “it makes you more intuitive! I’m serious about that! The more you work with the cards, the more you begin to trust your own inner guidance. Even if you think you’re not 'psychic,' in time, you might be surprised at just how well your sixth sense works. Tarot is a great ally for anyone who wants to develop their intuition.”
So find a deck you love and get to it. Your intuition will thank you.