Beginner’s Guide to Reading Tarot Cards

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became interested in tarot, but I do know when I finally allowed myself to take the first step. Right after the New Year, I started exploring this form of cartomancy, from reading articles to reading maps and recently doing professional reading. Discovering how tarot – a 15th century Italian card game that became a divination tool in late 18th century France – fits into the modern world of therapy and self-care was an enticing process. Here’s a beginner’s guide to tarot, written by a true novice.


After several introductions to podcasts and tarot articles, I decided to get myself a tarot deck. I’ve heard that tarot cards should be gifted, not bought (to avoid any appearance of “arrogance”). Not wanting to ask anyone, or wait for my birthday or a holiday, I decided to buy the cards as ethically as possible from an independent online store.

Finding a deck that I connected with was important. I chose Neo Tarot by writer and healer Jerico Mandybur. The deck is paired with a helpful guide that combines tarot and self-care activities. Her Matisse-inspired artwork by Daiana Ruiz includes a variety of skin tones, body sizes and gender expressions, a far cry from the medieval Christian imagery of the iconic Rider Waite cards.

A tarot deck is made up of 78 cards. The 56 Minor Arcana cards deal with daily concerns. They are divided into four suites with individual associations: pentacles (finances, material possessions); chopsticks (motivations, passions); cups (emotions, intuitions); and swords (thoughts, actions). The 22 Major Arcana cards are the most important, speaking of major life events: The Fool, The Lovers, Death, and The World.

Each card also has astrological, numerological and elemental meanings, adding multiple avenues of interpretation.

Although I love the language, getting to grips with the tarot vocabulary, which evokes something ancient and magical for me, took weeks. Now I love it.

I draw a card each morning and journal how its meaning might appear in my life. Recently, the Queen of Wands — meaning optimism, focus, and collaboration — got me thinking about how I historically navigated some of my busiest days. However, I am far from having done a complete reading myself.

Tarot cards. Photo by Andrew J. Williams III.

Get carded

I had never been to a medium before. Even after I started learning tarot myself, I was skeptical. Or maybe just uninitiated. Naive. I grew up in a practical Protestant household, although the metaphysics were subtly provided by Gregorian chant and my parents’ New Age CDs. Not knowing where to start, I turned to a more familiar intangible medium: Google.

That’s how I found Charley, founder and owner of Psychic Shop, located in Dupont Circle. A seventh generation spiritualist, Charley has performed tarot, palm and aura readings, as well as reiki healing, for over 30 years.

“Look at stores in your area. Gotta love Google,” advises Charley. “Call and talk with the person doing the reading and try to pick up a vibe. You need to feel comfortable around this person, like you can connect with them. If you are not, it will change the energy of the reading.

I agree. Charley’s warm and present energy, as well as his keen sense of humor, were evident even on the phone; any lingering hesitation quickly evaporated as we spoke.

Her bright boutique on the second floor further erased my preconceived notions of a candlelit room swathed in dark, heavy fabrics. Psychic Shop – where Charley also sells crystals, tarot decks and more – is full of plants and colors. A bubbling fountain and classical music gently mark the room.

The reading takes place in a small welcoming room. Charley emphasizes that all readings are private and confidential. I opt for a half-bridge reading, which takes about 15 minutes. Unlike my cards, Charley’s are beautifully broken in after decades of use.

“I leave [the participant] know that positive or negative, I will only tell the truth. If they have any questions as they go along, feel free to ask them,” says Charley.

“The cards will always give insight into every aspect of your life, but they will always stick to what’s most important. The energy of the cards isn’t always what you want to hear. It’s not under your control, or the reader’s control, for that matter.This is what the cards want to reveal, what they think is important to you.

Charley asks me to focus on one question – I choose an upcoming creative project – and begins. The maps, through Charley, tell me to expect a bit of chaos, but I’ll thrive if I’m prepared, among more personal observations. It’s surprisingly specific, even without my interpretations.

The experience is therapeutic. Charlie understands. Many people, she says, find the card’s messages both validating and uplifting.

Her clients, representative of the DC melting pot, come to her for readings on “a wide range of issues. Through the cards, we can talk about you, your personal life, your career path, your finances and also the important people in your life, like lovers, colleagues and family.

She also reminds me that tarot isn’t just fun and entertaining. For many, it’s a place to find real answers to difficult situations. Charley recommends getting a reading every three weeks to three months, so the reading has time to show up.

Keep my cards handy

A longtime friend and Tarot reader recently asked me about my goals with Tarot. I couldn’t answer his question honestly, because so far I’ve enjoyed the process of exploring his rich world without thinking of an end. For now, I appreciate that part of my life is just about rewarding practice, intuition, and curiosity.

Botany and Tarot: 5200 N Capitol St. NW, DC; // @botanicaytarot

The Chakra Room: 1669 Wisconsin Avenue NW, DC;

Mystical Shop: 609 Pennsylvania Ave SE, DC;

Psychic Shop: 1215 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; // @psychicshopdc

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