How do I get into tarot?
By Sarah Wray
Everybody has to start somewhere! Sarah Wray, Liminal 11’s Marketing & Publicity Manager, is a total newbie when it comes to tarot. In this post, she shares her early experiences of choosing a tarot deck, learning to do tarot readings and opening her mind to the positive effects that tarot can have on your life. From the perspective of a total novice, she offers some advice to help fellow tarot beginners take their first steps.
I have a confession to make: before I started working with Liminal 11, I was pretty close-minded when it came to tarot cards! I grew up in southern Missouri – the buckle of the Bible Belt – which means my first impression of all things tarot came from a totally uninformed place. In fact, my experience with tarot was, up until a few months ago, limited solely to a fairly silly scene in the movie Now and Then (an old favourite of mine and nearly every ’90s girl I know).
Even as a much older person with a far more open mind, I wondered if tarot cards could ever appeal to my ‘rational’ side. It just never occurred to me that I could benefit from using tarot cards until I started really looking into it. I’m still a total beginner, but after a few months of using tarot cards on my own and with a few close friends, I’m a convert to this mystical (and often misunderstood!) craft.
So then… how does one get into tarot?
Choosing a tarot deck
First of all, I’d say that choosing a deck that resonates with you is REALLY important! You need to really love the artwork and overall style; you need to feel something when you look at the cards. I felt that immediately when I started seeing the early drawings for Liminal 11’s Luna Sol Tarot deck, but of course, I can’t quite get my hands on that until later this year.
When I started looking for my own deck, I nearly went with the most popular: the Rider-Waite-Smith, with its traditional and immediately recognisable occultist imagery. It seemed worthwhile to start with something standard; however, as much as I like Pamela Colman Smith’s iconic style, it just didn’t feel like the deck for me to get started with. There is so much symbolism that I don’t yet understand, and, at the time, I wasn’t sure how deep I wanted to dive in! I knew I would need to look to a more modern deck to find the one that would inspire me to really delve into tarot.
I started to feel overwhelmed at the number of decks out there… Divination is surging in popularity, and loads of artists are making new tarot decks all the time. I had no idea there was so much choice! But one deck eventually caught my eye. With a spacey-looking, rainbow-coloured box and incredible cards filled with drawings of trees and woodland creatures, as well as astonishing line-work, Kim Krans’s The Wild Unknown looked like it had been made just for me!
Not content to have just a one-sided interpretation of each card, I also got myself a copy of Michelle Tea’s Modern Tarot. I had read Tea’s work before and knew I loved what she had to say, so it seemed like a no-brainer to pick up her tarot book as well. Learning from a few different guides during my early readings has worked out really well for me.
Both Modern Tarot and The Wild Unknown are considered by those ‘in the know’ to be extremely modern and accessible to beginners. (See further thoughts on this deck from Liminal 11 co-founder Darren Shill, below.) While there are perhaps some who feel that modernisation dilutes the complex meanings behind the cards, I feel that this simply opens up tarot to those who would never have considered it before.
By choosing a tarot deck and reading materials that suited me, rather than trying to dive in to something that felt a bit less accessible, I gave myself a great start! Not only did I want to look at my tarot cards all the time, I really dug the message I was getting as well.
Everyone will have a deck that suits them – you just have to find yours.
It’s also important to note that you don’t have to stick with just one deck, but it is very helpful to become accustomed to one as you learn the craft. Many people become tarot deck collectors down the line. As for me? I’ve already got a RWS deck, and I have my eye on a number of others as well…
Learning to do tarot readings
Once you have a deck, you need to learn how to use it!
First, I spent a lot of time just getting to know the various cards in my tarot deck. I started by laying out the Major Arcana, and each suit in the Minor Arcana, in order. This helped me to follow the visual story told by the cards and see the similarities and differences between the various suits. It’s amazing how much you can get from just looking at the cards, without really knowing what they are ‘supposed to’ mean, and allowing yourself to make your own connections.
Then I hit the books (and the internet). I got to know the meanings of each suit – wands, cups, swords and pentacles – and the numbers within. I followed the journey of the Major Arcana, from the innocent, naive Fool to the completed wholeness of The World.
Finally, I started doing very basic readings. Most people say it’s easiest to start with single-card readings, and I agree, particularly because this helps you hone your ability to ask good questions. Instead of asking, “What is today going to be like?” I changed the question to, “Where do I need to focus my energy to achieve my goals today?” Tarot cards don’t give you definitive, yes or no answers. You have to interpret the real question before you can really interpret the answers. I still do a single-card reading most mornings as part of my mindfulness routine.
Soon after, I moved on to three- and four-card readings for myself and for my friends, with mixed results… Sometimes it’s really hard to understand how the various cards of a spread work together, but I’m improving with practice. Clearly, I still have a LOT to learn!
Go see a pro!
As you develop your ability to do your own tarot readings, I’d say it’s important to get a reading from an experienced reader – a seasoned professional if you’re willing and can afford it. You can get a lot from the do-it-yourself approach, but there are aspects of doing a reading that you’ll never even consider if you don’t see it done by an experienced reader. This is also an essential part of moving on from having just a superficial understanding of the cards. Without seeing a proper reading in action, done by someone who really knows what they’re doing, you’re unlikely to fully understand or appreciate the vast range of what the tarot has to say.
I’ve not quite done this step, but I’m planning to soon. I know that, by doing this, I could learn so much more about giving myself and my friends more nuanced readings, and interpreting the cards beyond what my guidebooks have to say.
Enjoy the positives, and don’t get too bogged down in the bits you don’t ‘get’
When I started getting into the tarot, some of my more scientifically-minded friends were sceptical of my picking up an occultist hobby. Frankly, I was a little bit sceptical too! For the sake of full disclosure, I do not believe in the supernatural nor in psychic powers – although I fully accept there is so much about our mystical universe that we do not and cannot ever understand. I am of the opinion that each and all of us must forge our own tools to guide us through the journey of life, whatever those tools may be! If they lead to a more free, happy and well-rounded life, then who cards if those tools are tarot cards, science books or prayer?
I do, however, believe in the power of self-reflection, and I see tarot cards as a really useful tool – a game, even – for opening up, reflecting on your situation and determining what it is you want or need in order to live a more complete life. They’re a great tool for mindfulness and meditation, and they offer a chance for you to quiet your mind and be present with yourself. Sometimes they can just be a way of helping you to speak your mind or admit what you already know. Sometimes, they can just be a bit of fun or a way to get to know a new friend.
The truth is that everyone cries out to the universe for answers at some point in their lives! Tarot cards are a great way to help you find those answers, whether you believe that they’re coming from a higher power or simply from within yourself.
For anyone just getting started with the tarot, I recommend working out what it is you want to get from using the cards. Think about where you think those answers are coming from. Focus on what makes sense to you, and don’t worry too much about the parts that don’t appeal or that you just don’t ‘get’.
I’m still at the beginning of my journey, but it’s one I’ve really loved and and can see continuing for a very long time to come!
Further thoughts on Kim Krans’s Wild Unknown Tarot
by Darren Shill
Something of a phenomenon! The publisher, HarperElixir, mentions that, since 2015, over 50,000 copies of the Wild Unknown Tarot have been sold. It’s high (if not number 1) ranking in polls of most popular tarot decks is hardly surprising then. So wherein lies the wonder? Kim Krans’s approach to the tarot here is one of natural simplicity. The Major Arcana are not over-burdened with symbolism, usually depicting an animal or occasionally a tree, sometimes with a few key symbols you might see in a classical deck. The Minor Arcana are, similarly, beautifully straightforward. Detail usually extends beyond just a numerical representation of the suit, again with the inclusion of an animal or natural feature. It feels pared back. Much is conveyed in her line-work and shading – the radiant energy in the Ace of Wands is wonderfully portrayed through the colouring and drama of the lines.
On the subject of colour, it is restrained, therefore more startling when used. In terms of production quality, the current edition is very high – a magnetic clasp outer box with a clear, easy-to-use guide, and a secondary, sturdy box for the cards.
Here is a deck that, whilst I instantly warmed to it, I had a bit of reservation if they were right for me personally. That said, I remember my first reading with the deck. I looked up at the person I was reading for, smiled and said, “You know what, these really work!” In terms of who I think they might suit, clearly given their popularity, the answer is broad. The simple Minor Arcana might be a little difficult for someone new to the tarot to memorise, given its lack of narrative sometimes, but the straightforward guide book certainly helps here. And the Majors are certainly easy to connect to, with their natural theme. Ultimately, being fortunate to own a few tarot decks, the test is whether I reach for them as my deck of choice (Luna Sol aside of course!), and indeed, sometimes I do. My voice will have no effect on this deck’s popularity, but still – I would certainly recommend the Wild Unknown!
The Luna Sol Tarot
Of course, you’ve probably seen by now that Liminal 11 have their own tarot deck coming out this year: the Luna Sol Tarot, by Kay Medaglia. This deck contains a lot of the traditional symbolism you would find in a classical tarot deck, but Kay’s approach is undoubtedly modern. Filled with warm colours and a positive, radiating energy, the Luna Sol will be a deck for beginners, seasoned readers and collectors alike.
Everyone’s tarot journey is different. Sarah’s experience is unique to her alone. We’d love to hear about how your early tarot experiences were similar or different to hers, or whether you have any questions for the Liminal 11 team about how to get in to tarot. Hit us up on social media, or leave a comment below!