Beginners Tutorial To Reading Tarot Cards

by Douglas Gibb on June 26, 2009

Learner

Over the next Nine days I will be writing a beginners tutorial to reading Tarot cards. I will do my best to assume that you have no knowledge of reading for others and will attempt, with this Tutorial Series, to take your readings to a place that gives you greater confidence and adds greater depth and subtly to your interpretations. This tutorial will help you understand the following:

  1. How to choose the right Tarot deck for you!
    • Which we will cover in this introduction.
  2. Learn the 78 divinatory meanings of the cards.
  3. Put this new found knowledge into place by looking at two card readings.
  4. An introduction on the Elements.
  5. Three card readings.
  6. Introduction to reversals.
  7. An introduction to the Celtic Cross Spread.
  8. Putting it all together with loads of practice examples.
  9. An increase in understanding and confidence with your own abilities.
  10. Understanding the importance of communication.
    • In fact this is the most important skill you will learn.

The Tutorial Series aims to give practical advice to people wanting to learn the Tarot. I try and avoid unnecessary theory where possible; if I think it’s important I’ll do my best to explain why I think it’s important and also how this theory can help you on a practical level. This Tutorial Series will also focus heavily on practical real life examples which I hope will take a lot of the mystery out of reading with Tarot cards.

I want to mention just one or two further points before we begin looking at choosing a Tarot deck. Although I do my best to assume no knowledge of the Tarot, I also do my best to make this as practical a tutorial as possible. This means that it may feel at times like I’m asking you to jump from one idea to another without time for reflection. I do this on purpose, to help build your confidence and to hopefully show you that a lot of things that have been written on this subject unnecessarily complicate the learning process; in fact most of what has been written only serves to undermine confidence.

How To Choose A Tarot Deck That Is Right For You

There are many myths surrounding this stage of learning. I won’t go into them here because I feel it’s unnecessary and wouldn’t necessarily help you in the context of this tutorial. This is my advice for choosing a Tarot deck:

Simply pick one that you like!

There’s no more to it than that really. It’s important you pick a deck you like and that you enjoy looking at it. I would suggest, for the purposes of this tutorial, sticking to a deck that has the standard 78 cards in it. Apart from that there is no rule for choosing a deck to learn with. I think it’s really important that you realise that the deck itself, for all intents and purposes, is the least important factor in a Tarot reading. Its only importance lies in making sure that you have a deck that you enjoy looking at.

For instance, when I was first learning the Tarot, the first deck that I bought was the Thoth Tarot deck. I hesitated because of the myths that I had heard surrounding the buying of a deck. I’m awfully glad I ignored those myths because, to this day, the Thoth deck is still one of my favourites; and the one I use most often with clients. However, if you still feel unsure with what deck to choose then I would like you read a brilliant guide written by The Tarot Sense – Choosing The Right Tarot deck.

Beginners Tutorial to Reading Tarot Cards

This post is part of the beginners Tutorial to Reading Tarot Cards. Follow this 9 day course (with weekends off – oh yes) and you will develop greater confidence and understanding in how to accurately read Tarot cards for others. This course assumes no prior knowledge.

  1. Introduction.
  2. A Guide to learning the divinatory meanings of all 78 Tarot cards.
  3. Learning how to confidently do 2 card readings.
  4. An introduction to the Elements that will help you develop and understand one of the most misunderstood areas of Tarot – Elemental Dignities!
  5. Applying the four Elements to 2 card readings.
  6. An introduction to Reversals and applying them to 2 card readings.
  7. Using the information we have learned so far and combining it into a powerful three card reading.
  8. Applying what we have learned towards the Celtic Cross spread.
  9. Communication during a Tarot reading.
  10. Reflecting on everything we have learned during this tutorial.

(Theoretically) Related Posts:

49 comments… Let's discuss

Catherine June 27, 2009 at 10:46 am

How To Choose A Tarot Deck That Is Right For You

I’ve read lots of useless information written about choosing a deck that complicates what should be a pleasant process, so well done on saying it exactly as it should be!

I was fortunate enough to have escaped all that when choosing my first deck; a deck chosen for many reasons, but in particular because I just liked the images. I still use that deck regularly to this day.

I wasn’t so fortunate after that as I then began to read more and found I needed a different deck which I subsequently bought and have since given away!

So I agree, simply pick one that you like! It really is that easy :)

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Douglas June 27, 2009 at 11:26 am

Thank you for sharing your experiences Catherine.

I wanted to let people know that there is no otherworldly judgment being made on the choice of deck used. In fact, if heaven is a place on Earth then enjoyment and fun are the only ‘guides’.

In this post the only question I want people to ask is, do I like this deck? Enjoy the deck you use and you will enjoy reading with it; and I’m sure the people being read for will respond in kind.

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AJ September 19, 2009 at 12:44 am

My recent tarot deck is the Deviant Moon and it’s really interesting. I was so drawn to it. I think I’m gonna like playing with it.

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Douglas September 19, 2009 at 1:21 am

Hi AJ,

That’s great to hear. It’s so important to find a deck your comfortable with – even better to be drawn to it :)

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Tom February 27, 2014 at 5:26 am

Hi Douglas
Do you do readings?

Thanks

Tom

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colin March 6, 2010 at 11:17 am

Hi there, I’m just new to tarot and find this site very useful. It has lots of good information.

Since I have started to look deeper I feel that I have learned a lot already, cant seem to keep my face out of here! It’s very good, and yes I have acquired a good deck of cards that are very informative to me, full of useful pictures, and I feel that I already have something in common with them. I had been given the Swiss deck and didn’t get any thing from them and have had them for 10 years. When I become more akin to the meanings of the cards, then they will be good as I will never get rid of them because the pictures are very nice to look at. I’m newbie, but very keen!

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Douglas Gibb March 10, 2010 at 12:45 am

Hi Colin,

Thanks for stopping by!

Awesome, I’m glad you’re enthusiastic and enjoying the posts.

I wish you all the best. Keep me posted on your progress :)

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Morten April 18, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Hi Doug,
Just finish step one, in your beginners tutorial to reading tarot cards.
Not an easy task, lots of decks to choose from :)
It was the pictorials in the minor arcana, that made me choose the deck.

Morten
Norway

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Douglas Gibb April 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hi Morten,

Thanks for stopping by :)

Great! I hope you enjoy the rest of the tutorial series. Let me know how you get on :)

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Faith May 20, 2010 at 7:23 am

Hi Douglas,

Firstly, thank you for the reply on my query on how to deal with what I already know about the querent while doing a reading. I tried the blind forces technique, and the first thing that hit me was that I need to learn and know a lot more about the indivisual cards.

I have been reading your beginners tutorial and I realized that despite reading cards for some time now, it never occured to me that I should atleast memorize 1-2 keywords for each card. Which brings me to another question. I have been working with the Rider-Waite and Mythic tarot (which I really like, specially being able to link the storyline of a card into a reading). However, I have just managed to get my Thoth tarot. I have also ordered Mary K Greers workbook and The Crowley Tarot: The Handbook to the Cards (Akron and Banzaf); they will arrive in about a week. However, I must admit I am thoroughly confused about how should I go about learning to read my Thoth deck. Should I try to learn each card in detail one by one, symbols et. all? Should I put cards, say all 3 Fools of the 3 decks and then compare? Not sure what is the best way to do this. The Thoth deck fascinates me so much but after trying a couple of readings with it, I feel its slipping away and grinning at me and saying “its not going to be easy”; stupid as it seems :(

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Kathryn K. May 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

I had heard alot of rumors prior to reading also.. Like its bad luck to read for yourself ect.. None of it is true. Thats what tarot is about.. Intuition & following your gut. If u wanna read for yourself or buy a certain deck that is what you SHOULD do. That is what was meant to be. I love reading tarot and try to learn something new with it everyday. It really is a destressor for me.. =] Im constantly being asked to read for friends & famil these days. I love it though!! I have even gotten a few of them into it all. & showed them how easy it really is. I have always been a very intuitive person, very spiritual so this is just perfect for me! <3
Lots of love & Peace to all.

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Douglas Gibb May 29, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Hi Kathryn,

I’m glad you’re getting so much out of the Tarot. It’s great to hear people who are just enjoying Tarot :) I was also aware of the myths surrounding Tarot – bad luck to read for yourself, a Tarot deck should be given, not bought etc. Luckily, like you, I never listened to them either :)

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susan May 28, 2010 at 5:57 pm

i would like advice on a deck of cards please.
i would like a deck that pictures tell a story, the ones i have now are the celtic tarot and the minor arcarna are only represented with eg five cups, 5 wands etc
are they all like that? if not coukd you recomend a pack please

many thanks
sue

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Douglas Gibb May 29, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Hi Susan,

I recently wrote an article on choosing a Tarot deck which you may find useful.

Perhaps visiting Aeclectic for some ideas could be worthwhile. There are plenty of decks that cover similar themes (with a complete diversity of artistic presentation), it shouldn’t be hard to find what you’re looking for. As for a specific deck, I really don’t know. This is just one of those things that will take time to before you find what you’re looking for (it’s out there!) :D

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TERRY September 8, 2010 at 2:15 am

I was reading da spanish tarot cards about 6 years ago, Ive always loved the unknown since i can remember. Is it true that you have to have the gift in order to read the tarot cards…

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Vickie Roldan November 25, 2013 at 9:13 pm

EVERYONE on the planet HAS the “gift” already…..it is just a matter of developing it and tuning in to it

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Linda May 22, 2011 at 5:06 am

Love reading all the comments on your web site. I’m just getting started with Tarot cards and very excited about it. I’ll take all the advise I can get.

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Terrill Rothrock July 2, 2011 at 5:08 am

Have you ever considered writing a book? This website is exactly what I have been looking for in a book, so glad that I stumbled across all this valuable information. I appreciate it all!

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Douglas Gibb July 13, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Hi Terrill

I have recently started thinking about it but I’m not really in a position to write it yet. But if I was to write it, I would go self-published and host the means of buying the book on this site. However, I don’t really know what kinds of stuff I would put in the book. I would want the book to contain unique content so I’ll need to think about that one :)

Thank you for your kind words :D

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Charleen July 30, 2011 at 1:52 am

Hi Douglas,

I’ve been scouring the internet looking to better my tarot skills. I’m a newbie, but have studied my cards well, and have had some VERY excellent results with them. That being said though, I still don’t feel like I could do a reading for someone else yet. I still don’t yet grasp the concept of how each card relates to the other in, let’s say, a Celtic Cross Spread, but, I’m still reading through your site and absolutely loved your line, “the Tarot will teach you, if you listen” in your How the approach a Reading article.

Thank you for all of your knowledge, I will keep reading your site, and any advice for a newbie like me, is SO welcome!!

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Douglas Gibb July 31, 2011 at 1:59 am

Hi Charleen,

Thank you for your kind words.

Tarot can be frustrating when you’re learning, particularly when the cards don’t seem to knit together. Hang in there! This is the most difficult stage. Soon, it will all start to make sense. :D

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Charleen July 31, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Thanks Douglas!

I appreciate your comments!!

I spent a couple hours the past few nights reading over your website…is it necessary to learn elemental dignities, astrology AND numerology to become a fluent tarot reader?? It all seems SO overwhelming!! I’ve touched a small bit on numerology and astrology, but get really lost trying to put all these things together!!

I know you have to crawl before you can walk…so where should I start??

Thanks so much for your help….again, love your website!! Thanks for your contributions!!!

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robert wallace September 1, 2011 at 5:45 pm

could someone read this 7 card reading for me ??
fortitude/lover/emperor/justice/judgement/the devil then temperance
I,d be forever gratefull.
Robert

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cj July 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm

@ Robert Wallace: In the 7 card spread you mentioned, were there any reversed cards? When I get your reply I can interpret that sequence…

cj

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solobo October 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Hi Doug ,Catherine et al,
I wud be grateful if you Could tell me what it means if a reversed card turns up in the – Solution(Option) position of the spread?
I got reversed Justice in this position- my question -What is the favourable solution for this meeting discussing business ?
Does this suggest that the partnership is not gud?
Thanks

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Kcamya Aggarwal April 10, 2012 at 6:38 pm

I have a rider waite tarot card deck and i have been doing tarot since 2 months however i want to know more about osho zen tarot cards and i am drawn towards its deck. Would you like to enlighten me a little about this?

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Carol June 1, 2012 at 10:04 am

I’m so grateful that i found your great tarot site, I’ve been browsing the net for weeks now to learn tarot and your site is the most informative, full of great articles and lots of effective and yet so simple techniques I’ve ever encountered. I will definitely follow your tutorial series to learn tarot.
Now, i have to decide for a tarot deck to purchase.
Thank you so much for this wonderful knowledge.
All the best Douglas.

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RK January 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hi Douglas,
Thank you for the wonderful articles. I’m learning a lot.. I was wondering, since you suggested to start out with ONE keyword per card whilst learning, if anywhere on this site you offer the keywords you’ve assigned to all the cards (ex. 3 of swords – sorrow, 7 of disks/pentacles- failure) as opposed to the more comprehensive tarot lexicon?
Thanks, and again, brilliant stuff!!

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Douglas Gibb January 16, 2013 at 4:17 am

Hi RK,

The only place I list the meanings for each cards is under the category Tarot Lexicon. However, when it comes to learning one keyword per card, pick one meaning that makes the most sense to you. That way you will always remember it and will always have a connection to it.

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Karla Carreon April 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Hello Douglas!

I just bought my first deck of Tarot cards today and I am very willing to learn how to read. I’ve been reading your tutorials about it for about an hour now and I think I’m picking up a few things. I was just wondering, how long will it take me before I am able to effortlessly read the cards if I practice everyday? It’s summer and I probably won’t have anything to do other than this.

Also, can you give me a little bit more examples about reading 2 cards? I am really confused and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Thank you so much for this helpful tutorial!

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Douglas Gibb April 16, 2013 at 2:08 am

Hi Karla,

They think it takes around 10,000 hours to master any skill, but if you what to know how long it will take you to be able to read the Tarot with confidence, then I would say a few months. It all depends on how much you practice and what your expectations are. If you expect to master the Tarot then it will most likely take longer than you expect but if you just want to be able to read for yourself and friends then it will probably surprise you how quickly you will acquire that ability.

More examples of reading 2 or more cards can be found throughout this blog. Just search this site for some examples. This post has some good examples of 2 card combinations. I can’t really remember half the stuff that I’ve written on this blog but I do know that I usually include a few examples in most of the articles that I write.

I hope this helps :)

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mj April 23, 2013 at 3:58 am

Hello Doug,

I’ve bought a beginner’s tarot card kit with 2 decks (Rider Waite / Thoth) last year at a Spiritualist camp in Lilydale, NY. I’ve been slowly trying to learn all the meanings. I have done the journaling, and have also signed up to receive a tarot card from a few different sources everyday in my inbox. This not only gives me a tarot reading everyday, but helps me learn the meaning of the cards in a fairly painless way. I have also recently registered on a site to do free tarot readings for the experience and feedback.

In my thirst for more Tarot knowledge I stumbled on your sight and have found it to be just amazing! So, thank you for a really AWESOME site full of informative material that’s just right for the beginner and for those just a bit more advanced, like me. I truly appreciate the time and effort it must take for you to share your knowledge. :)

MJ

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Douglas Gibb April 23, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Hi MJ

Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate it. Great to hear that some of these posts have been helpful to you. I have a forum on this site where people occasionally ask opinions on their Tarot Reading. It might be another avenue for you to practice doing readings in a non-judgmental environment. If that is something that would interest you … check it out :D

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corinna dunhill May 5, 2013 at 8:40 am

i am just starting out learning tarot a beginner i am enjoying it and looking forward to reading for my family and friends its always something i wanted to do but it is hard learning each individual card

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corinna dunhill May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am

This looks a very helpful sight just what i need to help me on my way :) thankyou

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amy July 11, 2013 at 3:42 am

Just wanted to tell my story of how I received my deck…I woke in that morning, told my family that our outing for the day was to go pick out a taro deck for me, went in the store and as we were looking at the decks on the shelf, but not touching them or the shelves, a deck fell off and landed at my feet…Needless to say, that was the deck I chose :)

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Douglas Gibb July 11, 2013 at 9:53 am

Hi Amy,

Nice! Thanks for sharing :D

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Ally August 14, 2013 at 2:29 am

Hi there, I am pretty much a complete beginner, although I have had my cards for a couple of years and have bought a book or two that I have just gotten around to reading.
I have found that your interpretations of the cards do not match up at all with some of the ones in the book that I have, they might overlap a little but not really an exact match. Ie, to take one at random, my book says that the 3 of wands means ‘an artist or inventor who turns dreams into reality’ among other things. I can’t find this anywhere in your definition. Is it more about getting a whole ‘feel’ for the concept of the card, not just memorising a bunch of phrases? Why are the interpretations so different?

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Douglas Gibb August 14, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Hi Ally,

Yes, you need to spend time with each card and get to know it on a personal level. A list of definitions is useful to help get a complete beginner started, but after awhile each person must take the time to really befriend each card. That level of comfort takes time but is well worth the effort.

I’m not sure why my interpretations would be so different from anothers. It’s been a few years since I wrote these posts and my current interpretations are different from the ones I had when I wrote them. Time can change ones opinion. Time and experience. I would imagine that if I were to write down my current interpretations, they would be even further removed from the standard list.

I should add that this is what I do for a living so my interpretations are going to be rather different from someone who uses the Tarot for other pursuits. In many ways my interpretations are shaped by the people I read for and the pressures and so on of doing this every day.

I would also say that there is nothing wrong with a books list of definitions (or a websites :D) because I think that they can be helpful – they can act as hooks into the cards when you first start learning. Learning what each card defines takes a short amount of time. Learning what each card is as a concept can take a lifetime so there is no rush. It will never be something you could say that you have mastered or learned completely. It’s always an ongoing process.

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Ally August 15, 2013 at 12:12 am

Thanks for taking the time to answer, Douglas. I can see how definitions can be just a starting point for what is a very intuitive art/science so it becomes very personal to each reader. I guess that become apparent with experience.
I forgot to say – great website. For a beginner it is both easy to understand and comprehensive. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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Douglas Gibb August 15, 2013 at 12:44 am

Hi Ally,

Thank you for the compliment :D

Yes, it’s experience more than anything. I understand the frustrations of learning Tarot, and the eagerness to get started but the key with the actual card meanings themselves is to trust that they just sort of get learned in the process of working with Tarot.

The keywords are a good starting point. Just learn a few for each card and then work on the story telling aspect of tarot reading and all the other stuff will slot into place. Trust your imagination and allow yourself (give yourself permission) to move away from the standard lists described in books.

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Debbie September 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Hi, I am going on my holiday in a few weeks time so will have plenty of time to study in peace and quiet – can you recommend a good kindle book to download in order to get to grips with Tarot for a beginner please?

Debs

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Nina R. December 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Hi Douglas,
I’ve got my Tarot desk and the book yesterday. I’m very excited to learn, I hope your article gonna make things more clear either. So far I’ve got two questions for you.. May I do the reading if I have a Baby under 1 year old? And do I need a special skills to make it (Vision etc.) or is it fine just to learn?
Thanks, Nina

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renay bowman December 19, 2013 at 3:05 am

thank you

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Robert Deveau February 5, 2014 at 4:32 pm

This site offers interactive practice in tarot reading. check it out at
http://bobdeveau.com/tarot/tarothome.html

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Carmelo Rivera February 12, 2014 at 6:46 pm

I am completely new to tarot cards, I mean “zero” (nada). Just happen to find an old tarot deck (happens to be “The Rider Tarot Deck”) It was in a book shelf and I remember my daughter read the tarot to me about ten years ago. So I got curious and feel like I would like to lean reading. The only thing I done so far is to count the cards to ensure is a full deck of 78 cards. I have not even looked at the pictures. I will follow 100% the instructions on this “Beginners Tutorial to Reading Tarot Cards” and see if I can learn from the experts. I will also read all the comments from you guys and thanks everyone for them. If I feel like I am learning this I will let you know. For now just wish me luck…God bless you all!

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Douglas Gibb March 1, 2014 at 3:11 am

Hey Carmelo,

Good luck!

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Carmelo Rivera February 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Thanks.

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Timothy March 21, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Mr. Gibb,
Thank you so much for making this tutorial! I’ve been interested in readings for some time, and a friend of mine (a Wiccan) is willing to give me some tips on readings. This was a great way to start learning about reading tarot cards! I actually just bought my own deck and am expecting it in the mail soon. Again, thank you! Without this basis, I may never have truly gotten an understanding of the tarot reading process!

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