There are a lot of reasons to love Intentional Tarot by Denise Hesselroth, such as her unique approach which brings practical benefits and her lovely writing voice. Another bonus in these pages is her discussion of learning styles. Newbies often ask “how is the best way to learn the cards?” Every reader would have their own advice, probably based on their experience. However, people learn differently and their natural inclination should shape their learning process.
In this excerpt from Intentional Tarot, Hesselroth discusses three types of tarot learners.
Getting Off Book
It seems to me there are three types of beginners when it comes to learning the meanings of the tarot cards, or I could say “deciding what the meaning of each card is for you,” since no two readers will see the cards in exactly the same way. As anyone who loves to pore over a new deck or tarot book can attest, you will probably be tweaking your understanding of each card your whole life.
Textbook Beginner (The Thinker)
This person prefers an RWS-type deck and reading about the interpretations from one or more books or online resources. They may eventually include one or more non-RWS decks in their tarot library. They might become interested in the correspondences found between some tarot card meanings and other esoteric schools such as astrology or the kabbalah.
Unconventional Beginner (The Explorer)
This person prefers a deck such as the Thoth or another deck that differs to varying degrees from the RWS images and reading the book that comes with that deck or online resources. They may eventually include one or more RWS-type decks in their tarot library. And while correspondences to other schools of thought such as astrology and the kabbalah definitely exist in the RWS, other types of decks often make these connections a major focus of the deck’s development and need to be studied along with the basic tarot meanings.
Personal Intuition Beginner (The Dreamer)
This person could be working with any deck, but they do very little study of the card meanings via books or online. They are guided or guide themselves to intuit their own meanings and insights for each card. They may eventually go on to study some of the classic tarot manuals that have been published, but they usually rely on their psychic intuitions first.
Each beginner will have their own way of advancing and perhaps eventually doing readings without the help of books or notes. It’s important to find your unique voice as you develop a way to read the cards that works for you. Here are some things that have helped me, a Textbook Beginner, finally put my books aside and feel confident on my own. These hints will probably work best for the Thinker/Explorer types while the Dreamers might prefer to hone their natural psychic connection to each card instead.
- Get used to handling the cards. Practice shuffling them. Get some muscle memory in your hands so you feel comfortable with them physically. When you’re at home, carry them around with you as much as you would your cell phone. Tarot cards are generally quite a bit larger than standard playing card decks and can take some getting used to.
- Sit at a table and put the cards into groupings. Put each number of the pip cards together and get a sense of what makes them similar or different. Look at the progress of each suit from ace to ten and see how the essence of the suit evolves. Compare the details on the court cards. Play with different ways to organize the major arcana that help you see the story of The Fool’s Journey or other major themes that seem to appear.
- Look up the meanings of the first few cards that catch your eye in what- ever resources you plan to use. Depending on your study style, you might have just one tarot deck companion book, or you may have one or more what you consider to be beginner, easy, or classic books that you find helpful and informative. These are often very effective sources for getting started with tarot. Dreamers might prefer to select a book with only a small number of keywords. Get familiar with how the book is arranged. Put some sticky notes at the beginning of each section so you can quickly find the cards you’ll eventually be looking for.
- Start getting methodical about reading the descriptions for each card while holding the card in your hand and looking for details in the images. However, don’t read about more than ten cards at one sitting. Put down your studies for at least a few hours; then if you come back in the same day, go over those same ten cards again. Theoretically, it should take over a week of daily study to get through all of the seventy-eight cards. If you get bored or confused it probably means one of two things: (1) that’s not the right book and/or deck for you, or (2) studying is hard and sometimes just not fun but you can push on through if you work at it. I don’t know how many times I’ve bought a new deck and read through the Fool and the Magician, maybe a few more majors and a few of the pip cards, then had to put the deck aside and move on to other priorities in my life. Studying takes time and attention.
- After you’ve put a good effort into studying all the card meanings, put the book aside. (Dreamers: you can jump in here if you prefer not to study from books.) Shuffle your deck and place it face down. Turn over and look at one card at a time. Try to feel what its core meaning is for you, based both on your recent studies and any personal insights you may get from the details in the images. A picture is worth a thousand words, so you don’t need to think in verbal terms about the meanings. Refer to your books and notes as much as you want to. You should only do up to a dozen or so cards at a time, then step away for a while.
- Using pen and paper or a spreadsheet or your favorite document soft- ware, write down two or three words for each of the seventy-eight cards. These words can come from books and/or your own intuition. Having the information come out of your own hands to the paper leads to a different type of memory than just hours of reading.
- Can you imagine a photo you have of a favorite aunt or sister or goofy friend? When you think of or look at that photo, you can feel the essence of who that person is, how you feel about them, and what was happening right at that moment. That is the goal for linking the men- tal image of a card to its core meaning. Close your eyes and mentally go through the Ace through Ten of one suit, picture the image, and think of your keywords. After the right amount of focused study, this visual exercise will usually be enough to bring the feeling of your full core meaning to mind. When you mentally get to a card that you can’t remember (“Six of Pentacles, what the heck does the Six of Pentacles look like?”), then open your eyes, check your materials and start over from the beginning of the suit. Work on one suit of cards for a few days, then practice a different suit. Do the same for the court cards and different groups of major arcana cards.
- You will know you are starting to get off book when you can mentally go through all seventy-eight cards at one sitting, picturing the image of each card (if visuals trigger memories like they do for me), and remembering your core meaning for it. I do this exercise maybe once a month and am successful about 95 percent of the time.