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Guidelines for Reading the Tarot

Guidelines for Reading the Tarot


As a result of Silverspear's recent talk at Pagan Pathways on Tarot reading, the following is a summary of some of the guidelines he explored. A short description of the Court Cards can be found at the end of this article under the heading: 'A Brief Look at the Court Cards'.

When purchasing your first Tarot deck select one that appeals to you aesthetically. It's important that you like the artwork, but try to avoid a deck that contains too much detail. You might find that the imagery is more confusing than helpful. Modern decks, which display pictures on all 78 cards, are easier to read than traditional-style decks, such as the Marseille Tarot and 1JJ Swiss pack. These display only pips on the minor cards and will be difficult for a beginner to read without much study. Also take time in shuffling a new set of cards.

Lay the deck on a table and 'cut' the cards several times, continuing to shuffle as you go. The cards must be thoroughly mixed up to prevent consecutive cards appearing in a spread. A method of avoiding this prior to a reading is to spread out the entire deck and select each card at 'random' from anywhere along the row. The second card selected should be placed below the first card, and so on, remembering to keep all cards face down until you have made your selection. The top card, which you can then turn over, will be the first card in your spread.

Decide also at the outset which Element you wish to attribute to both the Swords and Staves suits (the latter sometimes referred to as Wands or Batons) because opinions vary here. Correspondences derived from occult traditions often relate Swords to Air and Staves to Fire. My own view, and one shared by many Tarot exponents, is that Swords relate to the Fire Element because they are forged in that element. Staves, on the other hand, are made from wood and the natural tendency of trees is to reach towards the sky and the Air Element. One should not be too dogmatic regarding correspondences, but once you have decided which Element you feel is more appropriate then it is important that the choice you make remains consistent. When consulting the Tarot use a table and altar cloth to display your spread, and light a candle or play relaxing background music intended for meditation. Treat the cards with great respect and do not let others handle or use your Tarot deck because the cards can attract unwanted and negative vibrations.

Some Tarot exponents advocate that prior to every reading some cards should be turned upside down. The idea is that should these reversals appear in the reading the meaning of the card is modified and can accent negative features. It is a practise that I do not feel very useful because the method seems rather mechanical in my opinion. One would also need to remember after a reading to turn the inverted cards right side up or they will appear reversed in the next reading. How each upright card appears in relation to other cards in a spread, along with intuition, is sufficient in my view to establish what any card is saying. Some Tarot authorities also link the Tarot to the Cabbala by associating particular cards with the Tree of Life. I personally do not subscribe to this alleged connection with the Cabbala; Tarot imagery, in my view, is sufficient in itself to make the meaning of a reading perfectly clear. Again, one cannot be dogmatic. The choice is yours.

Eventually after much study you might feel that you have achieved a level of competence whereby you can read for others. If the querent (the person to whom you are giving the reading) seems reluctant to accept what the cards are revealing, then perhaps he or she is refusing to face up to possible personal problems. Consequently, the querent might feel some hostility towards you, the reader. If such an unfortunate response should occur, then probably the best option is to terminate the reading rather than feel pressured into telling the querent what he or she wants to hear.

Inevitably quite negative cards crop up from time to time in a spread. Do not alarm the querent by sounding melodramatic or fatalistic. Neither on the other hand should you simply gloss over what the Tarot is revealing. Remember that the purpose of a reading is to help the querent overcome any personal difficulties that he or she might currently be experiencing so that any future problems or difficulties can be avoided. Consequently, it is vitally important to bear in mind that the future is not preordained, but is shaped by present attitudes, which in turn was shaped by past attitudes. One cannot change the past, but one has complete control over decisions made in the present and which will determine any future outcome. I wish you well with your Tarot studies.

A Brief Look at the Court Cards

The Court cards can often seem confusing to beginners when learning the Tarot because some Tarot readers say that the Court cards often represent situations as well as people. Reading the Tarot, however, is an art rather than a science and only intuition can determine as to which interpretation is the appropriate one at any given time. Nonetheless, assuming that the Court cards represent people or personalities who figure in the life of the person receiving the reading, then the following is a description of their basic characteristics, bearing in mind that not all Tarot exponents will entirely be in agreement with these attributes:


The Page of Cups represents a caring, intuitive, sensitive and artistic child or teenager of either sex. In a negative context the Page can represent an insecure, emotionally weak, petulant and manipulative individual.

The Knight of Cups represents an amiable, poetic, empathic and enthusiastic young man. In a negative context the Knight can represent an immoral, unethical and unfaithful cad.

The Queen of Cups represents an emotional, sympathetic, artistic, caring and loyal woman. In a negative context the Queen can represent an immoral, vain, deceitful and emotionally draining individual.

The King of Cups represents a kind, warm-hearted, charming and generous man. In a negative context the King can represent a sad, vulnerable and emotionally immature figure.


The Page of Coins represents a conscientious, hardworking and dutiful child or teenager of either sex. In a negative context the Page can represent a spoilt, materialistic scoundrel and freeloader who has a get-rich-quick attitude to life.

The Knight of Coins represents an ambitious, hardworking, steadfast and practical young man. In a negative context the Knight can represent a boring, unimaginative, mean and petty-minded individual.

The Queen of Coins represents a sensible, down-to-earth and business-minded woman. In a negative context the Queen can represent a selfish, miserly and materialistic individual.

The King of Coins represents a shrewd, practical realist who is skilled in financial matters. In a negative context the King can represent a corrupt, materialistic and untrustworthy individual.


The Page of Staves represents an energetic, enthusiastic and mentally active child or teenager of either sex. In a negative context the Page can represent an impatient, impulsive and hyperactive personality.

The Knight of Staves represents a creative, dynamic and adventurous young man. In a negative context the Knight can represent a treacherous, duplicitous and non- committal personality.

The Queen of Staves represents an independent, intelligent and business-like woman. In a negative context the Queen can represent an inflexible, scheming and insincere personality.

The King of Staves represents a creative, honourable and successful man. In a negative context the King can represent a selfish, self-opinionated, tyrannical and even psychopathic personality.


The Page of Swords represents a provocative, irritable and angry young child or teenager of either sex. In a more negative context, the Page can represent a malicious and potentially dangerous personality.

The Knight of Swords represents a rash, impulsive young man. In a more negative context, the Knight can represent a treacherous, sadistic and violent personality.

The Queen of Swords has little or no positive qualities and represents a jealous, malicious, vindictive and vengeful woman.

The King of Swords also has little or no positive qualities and represents a domineering, despotic and belligerent bully.


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