The Art of Darkness

Learn the Tarot in 5 Minutes

March 21st, 2007 by Cobwebs

Whether or not you believe in the efficacy of tarot cards, being able to do a reading is ever-so-cool. Don’t be daunted by the seemingly endless number of cards; use these simple mnemonics to help you keep everything straight, and you’ll be piercing the veil to the Other Side in no time.

There are zillions of tarot designs available, but something like the Rider-Waite or Morgan Greer decks are a good starting point because the images are fairly standardized and classic. (By contrast, my Halloween Tarot deck replaces the standard suits with Imps, Ghosts, Bats, and Pumpkins, and it took me forever before I stopped thinking, “Wait, are Bats supposed to be Swords or Pentacles or what?”)

Let’s start with the four “suits,” also known as the Minor Arcana. There are:

  • Cups – Emotional matters. Memory aid: Cups are filled with water, emotions such as tears are watery.
  • Pentacles – Financial or material concerns. Memory aid: These are usually illustrated as a pentacle inside of a circle, which looks like a coin. (In older decks, this suit is sometimes called Coins.)
  • Rods – Spiritual and intellectual matters. Memory aid: Old illustrations of spiritual leaders (Moses, Buddha, and whatnot) often depict them as carrying a rod or staff.
  • Swords – Authority and conflict. Memory aid: Actually, this one ought to be pretty obvious.


There are 14 cards in each suit, which can be remembered as follows:

  • King – An adult man.
  • Queen – An adult woman.
  • Knight – A young man.
  • Page – A young woman or a child of either sex.
  • Ace/One – A single person, or a beginning. Any interpretation of the idea of “one” or “begin” (since this is the first number card in the suit) works fine.
  • Two – A couple, or any other illustration of two-ness.
  • Three – A family (a couple joined by a child), the trinity, a triangle, etc.
  • Four – Financial affairs and common sense. (Foursquare and solid.)
  • Five – Sensuality and worldly concerns. (The five senses.)
  • Six – Love and sexuality. (Rhymes with sex.)
  • Seven – Good luck. (Seven is traditionally a lucky number.)
  • Eight – An unlucky number. (Just remember that it’s the one after the lucky number.)
  • Nine – A nearly-achieved goal, something just short of completion. (Almost to the end of the suit.)
  • Ten – Completion. (The last card in the suit.)

So, for example, a King of Cups might be viewed as representing an emotional entanglement with a man, or the influence of an emotional man, or just about any other juxtaposition of “man” and “emotion” you feel like tossing out there. Anything that sounds fairly reasonable is fine.

On to the Major Arcana. There are 22 of these cards, most of which (at least, in the starter decks) have a sufficiently-detailed illustration to give you a hint about their meaning without memorizing them. The Tower, for instance, generally has an image of lightning striking a tower and/or people falling from a parapet. That should be enough to get you talking about bad luck striking, a sudden change for the worse, and so forth. If you want to get fancy, you can view the Major Arcana as a progression from innocence (The Fool) through various lessons and experiences until enlightenment and completion is reached (The World), and describe the various cards against that theme.

Finally, the reading. There are lots of traditional “spreads” (some of which are described here), or you can come up with your own if you so desire. A very easy one goes like this:

  1. Have the person asking the question (sometimes called the querent, which sounds more mystical) select a card which represents them from the suit representing the kind of question being asked (so, for instance, a young man wondering whether he should take a new job would select the Knight of Pentacles). Lay it on the table face-up.
  2. Next, the questioner should shuffle the deck a few times whilst concentrating on the question, then cut the deck and hand it over to you.
  3. Select three cards and lay them face-up, one to the left of the card on the table, one on top, and one to the right.
  4. The one to the left (facing the questioner) is what they have experienced in the past related to their question. The one in the middle is what they’re experiencing right now, and the one to the right is what they’ll experience in the future and/or the outcome of their question.
  5. Some readers view an upside-down card (from the viewpoint of the questioner) to be the “reverse” of the usual meaning of the card (e.g., the Death card usually means a major change of some kind, but the reverse would mean stasis or stagnation). You can do this if you want, or simply read them all as if they were right side up.


When in doubt, be vague; “Your boss is going to fire you tomorrow” can be easily disproved, but “You will soon come under the influence of a powerful man” can be interpreted dozens of ways.

Remember–attitude is everything. Your voice should be firm and confident; you are revealing Hidden Knowledge, laid bare to you by your Inner Sight. The tarot layout is clear to you, and you should explain the cards’ meaning with conviction. Ambiance is a big help, too; it’s much easier to give a convincing reading in a dim room by candlelight than in a brightly-lit coffee shop.

That’s all you need! Go forth and dazzle your friends with your deep and arcane wisdom! Maybe they’ll buy you lunch.

Posted in Doom It Yourself | 2 Comments »

2 Responses

  1. Melissa Says:

    This sounds like fun for our next get together. I’ve always wanted to try the whole wandering gypsy thing like in Jane Eyre where Mr. Rochester comes in dressed as the old lady and tells all the fortunes but I wouldn’t be able to fool my family. Still it would be fun to try.

  2. xJane Says:

    LOVE it! A few friends and I often get together and (when we remember to) read tarot at each other. This is usually done over coffee in a Denny’s (because it’s the only place open by that time). Denny’s at 3AM has always been a little mystical to me, but that may be the time rather than the placeā€¦

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