Learning all 78 Tarot card meanings can seem like a daunting task! Here I will share with you my seven favorite techniques for learning Tarot card meanings. These exercises will allow you to engage with your Tarot cards on a deep level, etching the Tarot card meanings into your brain! Take your time with these exercises and I promise you will gain a strong connection to and understanding of your Tarot cards. I recommend having a good book of Tarot card meanings as your companion for these exercises.
1) Notice what is going on in the card
Many Tarot cards in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck illustrate some kind of scene unfolding. Really look at each Tarot card and ask what is going on here? What is the card imagery telling me?
For example, the Eight of Cups shows a figure walking away from eight stacked cups. It would appear as though this person is going off in search of something, perhaps even abandoning the cups. Indeed, the Eight of Cups meaning is all about moving on and searching for deeper meaning and fulfillment even if it means leaving something that one has worked hard to build up.
Jot down your impressions and then look up the Tarot card meaning in your companion book to see how close you were. Of course not all Tarot cards are so obviously illustrated, but this technique will work for many of the minor arcana cards.
2) Pay attention to the symbols
Go through your Tarot deck and choose one symbol on each card that represents an aspect of that cards meaning for you.
For me, the sun in the right hand corner of The Fool Tarot card represents optimism. The shining star in The Hermit’s lantern, in my opinion, stands for the guiding light of conscious awareness, and the uneven ground that the Page of Swords is standing on symbolizes instability.
The next time you do a Tarot reading, the symbols will act as memory triggers, reminding you of the Tarot card meanings. This is a really fun exercise to do on a rainy day!
3) Understand the Tarot suit qualities
Remove the Major Arcana cards from the deck and group the remaining Minor Arcana cards and Court cards into four groups – Cups, Swords, Pentacles and Wands. Each suit has a particular quality and deals with specific aspects of everyday life.
Cups– emotions, feeling, relationships (Water)
Swords – mental aspect, thought, communication (Air)
Pentacles – physical world, body, health, money (Earth)
Wands– spiritual aspect, passion, creative drive, vocation (Fire)
Lay out each Tarot suit in a row in numerical order from Ace to ten, omitting the Court cards. Look at the progression from Ace to Ten as a “journey” of that suit and notice how each suits qualities are expressed in many different ways depending on the card number.
For example, the Suit of Swords shows us the many ways our thoughts can effect us, from the Ace of swords (representing clarity, insight and great idea) to the Four of Swords (calmness resulting from letting our minds become quiet) to Nine of Swords (anxiety from letting our negative thoughts spiral out of control).
Compare each Tarot suit and notice the different vibes you get from each one. What vibe do you get from the Suit of Cups compared to the Suit of Swords? Does looking at the Suit of Wands make you feel different than when you gaze at the Suit of Pentacles?
If you are the creative writing type, try crafting a story starting with the Ace and then progressing all the way through the suit, using each card to inspire the next stage of the story. This can really help you understand each Tarot cards meaning on a deep level. (Another good rainy day activity!)
4) Understand the numerical qualities
Re-organize your Minor Arcana cards so they are grouped according to their number. Put all the Aces together, all the Twos together, etc…until you have ten groups of four cards. Now look for the similarities – can you grasp a particular theme with each numerical group? Sometimes this is obvious and other times it is not. If you can’t see a link between the cards in each number group, what are the differences?
5) Observe any movement (or lack thereof)
Go through your deck and take out the cards that show obvious movement (eg: The Tower – people falling downward, Knight of Swords – charging toward something, Five of Pentacles – limping along with difficulty, Five of Wands – lots of movement but nobody’s going anywhere!)
Looking at each Tarot card individually, how does the movement in that card relate to that cards meaning?
Now go through your deck again and take out the cards that show a total absence of movement (eg: The Hanged Man, Four of Swords, King of Wands, Knight of Pentacles).
Looking at each Tarot card, how are these Tarot card meanings characterized by a lack of movement?
6) Personalize the Tarot card meanings
See if you can relate each card to a time in your life when you experienced what this card is portraying or to someone you know who has these characteristics. Maybe the Four of Cups reminds you of the time you kept getting job offers that just didn’t interest you. The High Priestess may represent your feeling of deep connection to the divine feminine within you. And perhaps the Knight of Cups reminds you of your sensitive, artistic nephew who always follows his heart.
Doing this will help you understand and remember the Tarot card meanings in a deep, personal way so that you won’t forget them easily! This isn’t something to be done in a day however – give yourself lots of time for this exercise, breaking it up over a period of several days or weeks.
7) Write on your cards
Jot down a few keywords on the back of each card, or on the white margins of the card. I have to be honest – this is my least favorite technique for learning Tarot card meanings. I haven’t actually tried this myself but many people tell me that this has worked well for them. I would recommend using an old deck or an extra deck that you don’t care about, since this pretty much ruins your cards!
This technique will not give you the depth of understanding that the previous techniques will, but if you still find yourself getting stuck on the Tarot card meanings after trying them, give this one a shot!