Instead of the usual card pull, this week Sarah Maria Griffin is helping guide novice tarot enthusiasts through getting started with a tarot deck of your own…[restrict]
We made it over the strange, holiday chasm, reader, and have landed in a tough opening chapter for our new year. There’s no point in mincing words – if I were to turn over a card for every sign this week, I would find a way to interpret each image as ‘Stay Indoors, Wear A Mask, Wash Your Hands,’ – so I’ll spare all of us any gentle esoteric querying, for now. Instead, because we’re in a time both of new starts and lockdowns, I thought I would put together a short, clear guide on how to get started with a tarot deck of your own.
Naturally, there’s a lot of folklore and superstition about getting into reading the tarot, but I’m not here to reinforce any of that. I feel like the tarot should be an open source and those of you who’ll take to it, will take to it. Those who don’t, won’t. It’s not a gate to keep, it’s a very old deck of cards – a story, a game we play.
So here’s how we start.
Buy a deck
No, you don’t have to receive one as a gift from a witch. If you do receive one as a gift, fantastic – if you choose to give one to someone else as a gift, also that’s fantastic. But if you have any thread of superstition about picking up a tarot deck in a bookshop and learning your way through the cards, here is your permission to buy your own deck. Bringing yourself through the process of learning the tarot is just as powerful, if not more so, than being brought in by somebody else. It’s not a cult, a secret society, a locked away sisterhood. It’s a household object: largely a deck will cost anywhere between €17 to €25 – about the same as a basic yoga mat, if we’re talking new starts and new practices.
The deck I recommend is the deck I use, The Original Rider-Waite Tarot, by A.E Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith. There are so many gorgeous, abstract modern decks that make lovely gifts and are a pleasure to look at but are very difficult to learn how to read from scratch on. I love The Wild Unknown tarot, for example, but the cards are very advanced and abstract. If you’re learning, I recommend coming in through The Rider-Waite, because that is the deck that many, many other tarots are rooted in. Once you can read the Rider-Waite, you can read any deck, more or less. There are other classic decks, like the Marseilles or the Toth, which have connecting links to the Rider-Waite but slightly different symbolism – but I don’t use them, myself – not for any particular reason, in the way that a runner would just prefer a Nike or an Asics. I find the Rider-Waite comfortable, and classic – clear, but full of mystery, too. Perhaps in future I’ll do a column on the decks I enjoy but for now, I can recommend to start at the very beginning, with the Rider-Waite.
Learn The Story
I learned in patches. Bit by bit, step by step over 17 years. Don’t feel like you have to study and suddenly develop a fluency – you might know a little more than you think already. A lot of my second novel is grounded in the tarot, so at that time I took a set of classes from an old friends and teacher, Rhea St. Julien – at Diamond Egg Tarot – which I found really immersed me in my practice and brought me up to a level where I felt entirely fluent, and confident enough to teach other people and read at a public level. But as a starting point, I’d recommend Michelle Tea’s The Modern Tarot as a clear, helpful book with a strong voice, so doesn’t feel too bare and instructional, the way the little leaflet that comes with a tarot deck can.
Pull cards from yourself, refer to the book, bring yourself through the images. I also heartily recommend the free app, The Golden Thread, which every day gives you a fresh card and a short, clear interpretation. It’s a really lovely way to bring you into a daily practice, it demystifies the story of the tarot really clearly. I would also follow the practitioner and writer, Jessica Dore, on her social media. Her reads of the tarot are both deeply studied and accessible – I learn something from her every single day.
If you’re a person who journals, it can be a gorgeous addition to a bullet journal, or a daily writing prompt. Take your time, feel your way through the pictures, apply them to your own life, your own emotional states. Stay curious. Little by little, you’ll get accustomed to the language and symbols of the tarot. Don’t rush yourself through it, don’t pressure yourself to become a local oracle or unlicensed therapist to your friends via readings – no more would you start teaching yoga after 30 days with Adriene. Treat it as a journey. Ask the deck a little question every day, pull a card. Maybe after a while pull three – the present, the problem, the solution. When you’re comfortable, move up to bigger spreads, but don’t get deterred if you feel out of your depth. The whole thing is depth. You’ll just get better at swimming. One card at a time, you’ll find your way through the story.
That’s it, really. That’s your starter pack. Deck, study, practice. I’m not going to recommend incense or crystals or sage or anything like that, because those details of spiritual practice aren’t mine to share. Don’t feel pressure to perform your new interest in the cards: you don’t have to suddenly become Instagram’s next top psychic influencer. You can keep it just for yourself. The tarot isn’t about winning, which is nice. Divination of the cards isn’t a competition – it’s about removing meaning from the paper, and therefore lessons, and therefore action, and therefore change. And change – something new where there was none before, is actually what we talk about when we talk about magic. The hat, then, the rabbit where there wasn’t one at all.
Write it all down, if you can – I always have three or four notebooks on the go, and my tarot one is the messiest, ugliest, the most full of list and arrows and margins full of scribbled thoughts. The tarot doesn’t have answers – but it has a lot of questions, and in my experience, questions are how we find our way through life. They’re how we pull ourselves out of reactive situations and into a different position: the tarot is such an old story that it can give us distance, which gives us perspective – which, in my experience, helps. Every single card in the deck is a story about all of us, at any given time.
Good luck, tiny witch. I’m rooting for you.