Learning Tarot: Basics of Esoteric Practice and Master’s Advice

Learning Tarot

People have always tried to uncover the mysteries of the unknown in order to learn about their future or find answers to current questions. It is thanks to this pursuit that Tarot cards emerged, which are attributed with truly magical properties. Aspiring to join the community of “initiates,” future tarot readers enroll in courses and study the practices of renowned masters. But is Tarot learning limited to these pursuits, or should one also explore the esoteric science independently?

Let’s delve into this question and determine where to begin our first steps into the world of occult knowledge.

Learning Tarot: A Brief History

Many practitioners recommend starting the study of Tarot by exploring its history. This helps to understand how the Arcana acquired their specific imagery and the meanings attributed to them by our ancestors.

There are many versions regarding who first came up with the idea of adorning playing cards with meaningful images and using them for divination. For example, it is believed that the initial wave of popularizing the Arcana occurred during the reign of the French king, Charles IV, when the court nobility entertained themselves with spiritualistic sessions. The trend caught the attention of the monarch himself, who eventually commissioned an artist to create a personalized deck.

Of course, this fashionable pursuit of Tarot learning spread across all levels of social hierarchy. Everyone who was fascinated by these simple tools for games and divination sought to express their own artistic interpretation through the cards. Ultimately, the deck known today was created by the Italian artist B. Bembo, who also received a commission to produce cards for the ruling Sforza family. This deck entered history as the “Visconti Tarot” and consisted of the classical composition of 78 Arcana.

However, Tarot cards were then forgotten for a whole 300 years. This is likely due to the persecution of witches by the Inquisition from the late 15th century until the mid-17th century. When the witch-hunting era came to an end, Count Antoine Court de Gébelin published works in two books about the esoteric Tarot cards, crediting their creation to himself.

His follower, Etteilla (Jean-Baptiste Alliette), continued the work on divinatory cards. Later, his creations became known by the author’s name. Masons embraced the idea of using Tarot extensively, and by the end of the 19th century, three different decks were already known.

Thanks to Alphonse Louis Constant, the symbolism of the Arcana was combined with Kabbalistic signs, giving the cards even greater magical significance.

Members of the “Golden Dawn” order, such as A. Crowley and A. Waite, became interested in the cards and used a deck created by S. Mathers. Later, Tarot learning, specifically their variant of the Arcana, served as the basis for the members of the order to create their own Tarot variations.

Learning Tarot: Characteristics of a Modern Deck

When learning Tarot from contemporary masters, it often begins with choosing the deck itself. The Waite Tarot deck is typically chosen for sessions as it is considered a universal deck. It is known for its simple and clear artistic design of all the cards. The images were created by the author based on studies of occult materials, myths from different cultures, and mysticism.

Each variant of the deck consists of the classic set of 78 Arcana:

  • 22 Major Arcana , used to address significant life questions and encompass various areas such as career, love, relationships, and more.
  • 56 Minor Arcana, dedicated to smaller and everyday matters.

The Minor Arcana is further divided into four suits:

  • Cups
  • Swords
  • Wands
  • Pentacles

Each suit has cards numbered from 1 to 10. Additionally, the suits are characterized by the presence of court cards:

  • Pages
  • Knights
  • Queens
  • Kings

In addition to these cards, there are occasional decks that include a 79th card – the White Card. The uniqueness of such a deck lies in the fact that it allows for the “Mission Ray” spread, which helps determine one’s life purpose.

For example, the Tarot of the New Age deck includes a White Card.

LearningTarot: Criteria for Choosing Cards

Any Tarot learning journey starts with selecting a suitable deck. In this process, it’s important to consider not only the history of the cards’ creation and personal preferences towards the author but also rely on one’s own feelings, intuition, or inner voice. Additionally, the following factors can help in making a decision:


The images on the cards should be clear and understandable. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend too much time interpreting complex symbolism. Therefore, it’s advisable to start with classic versions, such as the Tarot deck of the New Age.


The images should be harmonious, vibrant, and expressive. The artwork should be visually appealing, clear, and accurate.


Finally, Tarot learning emphasizes the importance of the practitioner’s inner perception during the interaction with the Tarot deck. It should be enjoyable for the tarot reader to hold the cards, look at them, and feel connected to the deck. If, for any reason, the images of the Arcana evoke dislike, the divinatory practices may not be successful.

Tarot Learning: Basics of Interpretation

After selecting a deck, Tarot learning continues with studying the fundamental structure and interpretation of the Tarot deck.


Since astrology and alchemy played a role in the creation of Tarot, it’s logical to assume that the cards are associated with the concept of elements – the four fundamental substances that form the basis of the universe. These elements are:

  • Fire
  • Earth
  • Air
  • Water

The creators of the Tarot Arcana correlated these elements with the suits of the deck. So, Wands are associated with the fiery element, Swords with the airy element, Pentacles with the earth element, and Cups with the water element. At least, this scheme applies to classic cards. However, in some decks, the correspondence may be arranged differently, so it’s important to pay attention while studying a specific Tarot variation. The following characteristics are attributed to the suits according to the elements:

  • The active elements of Fire and Air are traditionally associated with the masculine principle, while the passive elements of Water and Earth are associated with the feminine principle.
  • Water and Fire are related to the emotional sphere (internal and external, respectively), while Earth and Air are connected to intellect and rational thinking.
  • Cups, associated with the water element, represent emotions, openness, and imagination.
  • Wands are linked to passion, energy, movement, and creativity.
  • Pentacles reflect the physical world and material abundance: career, money, home.
  • Swords represent information, thoughts, and intellect.

Detailed descriptions of the elements can be found in Tarot reference books or Tarot courses. However, during divination, it is necessary to combine theoretical knowledge with real experience and intuition.


Numerology also plays an important role in the interpretation of spreads. It is in the numbered Arcana that a clear development dynamic of the situation can be traced for each suit from Ace to Ten.


Attention should also be paid to the color palette of the artistic design. If the predominant color in the drawn card is yellow, it is unlikely to be associated with anything negative or gloomy. Yellow is sunny, warm, and joyful.

Thematic Imagery

Similarly, the depicted objects, animals, and people on the cards should be interpreted. For example, grapes, which adorn several cards, are associated with abundance and fertility. A dog is associated with loyalty and faithfulness. First and foremost, it is important to listen to your own associations and then compare them with the interpretations in symbol encyclopedias.


The ranks represented in the Arcana by Pages, Knights, Kings, and Queens also have their own deep meanings. They reflect the status of the person being discussed in the spread or symbolize certain characteristic traits. For example, a Page or a Knight may indicate youth and inexperience, while a King or a Queen may represent experience and mastery.

It is important to focus on the question at hand before the session. Hold the cards in your hands, envision the mental flow “flowing” from your hands into the Tarot deck. It can be helpful to imagine the magical cards as living beings through which the necessary knowledge and thoughts are transmitted, so that the deck can help draw conclusions and provide guidance. In any case, learning Tarot takes place on an intuitive level during practice. Therefore, mastering the technique is actually easier than it may seem at first stages.

For further understanding follow the section on Tarot readings.