Learn The Seventy Eight Tarot Card Meanings

by Douglas Gibb on June 29, 2009

Thoth Deck

This post will provide good, practical methods that you can use to learn the divinatory meanings of all 78 Tarot cards. At this stage of the learning process it’s important that we get things into perspective. It is completely unnecessary, within the context of learning how to read Tarot cards for others, to attempt to understand each card in depth. That means that at this stage, and to be honest, at any stage, the study of Astrology, the Qabbalah, Numerology or Alchemy, is not required to become a great Tarot reader. To illustrate this, let’s take a step back for a moment and look at what a Tarot reading is attempting to do.

The most obvious thing a Tarot reading is trying to do is highlight the influences of the past, understand the circumstances of the present and predict the most likely future. A note of caution when we talk about predicting the future: a Tarot reading will predict future events; however, it provides no fixed outcome to those events. This is a very important point, in that a Tarot reading is a narrative, a story that you tell to the client and is not a definitive outcome; what story ever has a definitive outcome, or more importantly, what can we conclusively state as being an outcome to anything? Certainly, scientists don’t talk in terms of absolutes – that would be unscientific. It’s unscientific because life itself has no conclusive absolutes. Even the most self-evident absolutes, such as death, are not conclusive because we have no idea, in terms of ‘absolutes’ what happens before birth or after death. We’re not at a stage to understand these events so institutions and people, from religions, scientists, mystics and philosophers, tell narratives or stories about these ‘events’, but not one of them (although some may try) can state that their version of the story is complete.

As Tarot readers we find ourselves in a similar situation. We are predicting the future and providing a narrative but caution should be used in ever stating it is absolute.

I would like you to take a moment to reflect on my reasons for stating that we don’t have to get ‘in-depth’ with each individual card in order to provide good Tarot readings.

In fact, a good way to start this reflection would be this: life itself does not require us to have a knowledge of every force of Nature, every event or every possible phenomenon in order to simply enjoy and understand life. Rather, most people have a very vague or general idea about certain phenomena and yet, this vague or simple understanding can actually lead to great overall insight and wisdom (relative to actually trying to gain a knowledge of every possible component).

It is useful to consider the differences between understanding and knowledge. I would like you all to think about these important points as we continue on our journey in learning how to do Tarot readings.

Stage One

Six of Cups

The first thing to do then is memorise the names of all 78 Tarot cards. The best way to begin this process is to take a Tarot card from the deck and look at it. Try and fix its image and name in your mind so that you can comfortably and instantly name all 78 Tarot cards. For example, I’ve just pulled a card from my deck called the Six of Cups. I’m going to try and fix the image and name (the Six of Cups) firmly in my mind so that the next time I see that card I can instantly say that this is the Six of Cups.

Repeat this process for all 78 cards. I want you to get to a stage where you can easily, without any effort whatsoever, identify the names of each Tarot card. Try and build this up slowly so that there is no time delay between seeing the card and shouting out its name. This really simple technique is actually doing something very powerful and very subtle; it is slowly creating a link between you and the Tarot cards. At some point during this process you will most likely experience powerful dreams where you will find yourself engaging with the characters and events pictured within your cards. This is an excellent indicator that you are building up a living relationship with your deck.

Stage Two

The second stage builds gently upon the first. This time, when you pick a card, try and associate that card with no more than two divinatory meanings. It is important that you aim for two and only two. We will get into the reasons for this later on in this Tutorial Series, but for the moment aim to remember only two keywords per card.

Five of Cups

For example, I’ve just picked the Five of Cups. The keywords that I use are, ‘feeling like you have been let down by somebody or something’, and ‘a loss’.

Repeat this process for all 78 cards. Again, you will find that this process will build up a living relationship between you and your Tarot deck. Try and get to a stage where there is no time delay between picking the card, naming the card and stating two keywords.

Click here if you would like to see a list of Tarot card keywords and divinatory definitions that I use with the Tarot cards. There is also a brilliant resource on Paul’s Supertarot website that gives Tarot card meanings that you may like to study.

Overall then the process that I would like you to use in learning the meaning of all 78 Tarot cards is:

  1. Pick a random card and lock the image into your mind and name it
  2. Build up the speed in which you can state the card name when you see the image
  3. Attempt to get to the point where there is no delay at all between seeing the Tarot card and being able to name it
  4. I would also suggest that you record your dreams during this learning process
  5. Once you are comfortable with the above points try and associate each card with no more than two keywords
  6. Again, try and get to a stage where there is no time delay between seeing the card, naming the card and stating two key words

To conclude, at this point in your learning it’s important to realise that more keywords or an in-depth knowledge of the Qabbalah, Astrology or Numerology will not make you a better reader. This is one of those cases where less is actually more.

When I was learning the Tarot, I used this article on Tarot Lessons, Elemental Dignities And Card Counting and both my career as a Tarot reader as well as the content of this post have very much been influenced by it.

This post is part of the Beginners Tutorial To Reading Tarot Cards.

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31 comments… Let's discuss

Douglas June 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm

It occurred to me after I’d published this post that Time is another one of those self-evident concepts that we don’t really know anything conclusively about. Rather than being a constant, Time is relative.

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AJ September 16, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Hi Douglas. From what deck did those tarot cards came from? They’re very interesting.

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Douglas September 16, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Hi AJ thanks for dropping by :)

The Tarot Cards are from Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Deck. They’re awesome ;)

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Tish February 6, 2010 at 2:13 am

Hi, I had brain surgery and thought I would give up my abilities to read, since my memory has some flaws but I am stil able to read energies , claravoiant isn’t as easy to totaly run from but this is and has been my calling since I was very young .. are there any sites to help my memory of meanings My need to get back stronger then ever is a must do and I need reality not just someone trying to get on you tube can anyone help ,TY tisha

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Aditya Jois March 2, 2010 at 7:20 am

Hi, I live in a small town in India. Here i didn’t found Tarot card so I desingned my Own cards using ordinary playing Cards. Is it ok? And thanks to you! I learned so many things from you..

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Douglas Gibb March 2, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Hi Aditya Jois,

Thank you for your kind words.

Yes, I think it’s amazing that you designed your own Tarot deck.

Taking the time to design your own Tarot deck can only do great things for your intuition and spiritual development :D

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cassie July 5, 2012 at 1:35 am

Dear Aditya Jois,
at the moment I do not have the money to buy a deck of my own. it is great that you are making your own. by doing this you are putting part of yourself into the cards, therefore, you will inturn, be able to understant their meanings to a greater extent. I am making my own by cutting thick paper into the shape of coffins and painting totem animals to represent the different figures.
Hope this helps,
Cassie

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colin April 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm

hi there Douglas, I have completed the first lesson some time ago and keep re doing it again and again because the only thing that I have a problem with is remembering the court cars some times I get it right but then others my memory just goes so I assosiate withe the type of card that they are fire air the colour of the card red for rage air blue card cold as ice at times a earth the green lands of old and money and the water well just plain simple cold water like some emotions cold.

yeah I have been having dreams about the cards and not just small dreams these seem to last the night not scarey ones though might be playing on the mind about not getting it some times, i have been trying to assosiate the court cards with people that i know as well that was a good tip seems to work a little, yet have noticed depends on the read how the court cards seem to look at one another that tells it’s own storey, I never though about writing the dreams down regarding the cards that is a good idea as i have them now nightly, through this at times I fell like I am becoming obsessed through the dreams is that not bad.

I tend to train myself with the cards on a morning with my morning coffee, just after waking I have always done this for different things that go on in my life as an artist I used to get out of bed for 5am as the first light was coming to paint in my studio because the light at that time of the day is amazing so thats where I get that from. so my brain is starting to tingle and zing when i jump out o bed it’s like a light bulb turning on… Zingggg.
have a look at my old web site i dont use it now see what you think if you have time, http//freewebs.com./colinonart/ or just type in google colinonart just like this you will get there. and yes I have for a long time been wanting to paint my own cards would take for ever but I feel that this would be a fantastic way of developing the meanings personal to me.

thxs for listening Doug hope to speak soon

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Rachael May 16, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I became interested in tarot in 2009 but for the life of me could not make head nor tail out of any of it and nothing spoke to me! I think the main problem was reading too much information on the internet and I just overloaded.

About four weeks ago I decided I was ready to try again and this time I just used my book to help me along, I seemed to pick up more this way but still I felt that something was missing, still I felt that I just was not getting the full picture I could accurately read the cards but they were not flowing so to speak. I decided to just look up a little bit on the internet. I came across your blog and I have to say I am really glad I did because it has helped me a lot. Just having the keywords so far is brilliant and I am now getting to know the cards a lot quicker. I am still a little daunted by the elemental dignities but I feel that I will learn a lot more following your course than I would going through all the information on the internet so thank you for putting this together in words and ways I actually understand!

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Douglas Gibb May 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Hi Rachael,

Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate it :)

Learning the Tarot can become daunting when there is so much information available. The real knack to reading Tarot cards is to allow the imagination to take over from our rational minds. This can be extremely difficult to do. It requires a certain level of trust.

So much about learning (anything) these days involves a good grasp of theory and a rational assessment of that theory. People tend to take this approach into reading Tarot cards but this is where it falls down because reading Tarot cards is an irrational process; a large part of that process involves intuition, and intuition is always particular to the individual Tarot reader.

This means that each person develops their own style. If there is one thing I would want you to keep in mind as you learn Tarot it is this: Trust yourself. Trust that irrational part of you whenever you sit down to read some cards because it is that irrational part of you that, when trusted, reads the Tarot. All the other techniques, such as Elemental Dignities, Card Counting or whatever, are just devices to help each and every Tarot reader become comfortable with that irrational voice that actually does the reading.

I’m glad you’re enjoying some of the articles I’ve written and I wish you all the best. Let me know how you get on :D

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Flávio June 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Hi Douglas,

Like a said in a past comment I’ve just find your Tarot site and It’s have been very helpful because I do want to leard the Tarot, but I have been a stucked on somewhere during the learning process, maybe stucked on myself : ) Well I very excited to read and learn all the begginers guide.

Here in Brazil we have a very famous tarot reared called Ney Naiff. Do you know him?

See you.

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Douglas Gibb June 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Hi Flávio,

I’ve never heard of Ney Naiff – do you find Ney Naiff a source of inspiration? I’ve always found it useful to seek inspiration when learning anything. It keeps the passion for the subject alive in my experience :)

I hope you enjoy the rest of the beginners tutorial :D

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Flávio June 10, 2010 at 11:49 am

Hello again Douglas.

Yeah I have my sources of inspirations. I believe we have to link the inspirations and dedication.
One question: How can I post a photo of mine on comments. I don’t like those littlle aliens : )

Have a nice day.

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vanisha July 6, 2010 at 11:15 am

Hi dear,
First of all thank you from the heart to share your knowledge with everyone and even for guiding whoever want to join the world of Tarot.
For me all your tutorials have been very helpful and enjoyable.
I would like to ask you something: I have read many different meaning for cards from different Tarots reader but at the end of the day i dnt know with whose meaning should i go???
I wish to have your interpretation of each 78 cards since i am following your tutorials, i have the feeling that this would be the best meaning for me.

One more Thank you..

Regards
Vanisha
(frm Mauritius)

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Douglas Gibb July 6, 2010 at 11:51 am

Hi Vanisha,

Thank you for your kind words and I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts :)

You can find all my posts on divinatory meanings under the category, Tarot Lexicon. This category contains several posts that detail my approach to Tarot cards along with the divinatory meanings that I use. I hope you find them useful :)

Let me know how you get on :D

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Tiana August 5, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Thank you for these posts. Understandable, enlightening and very encouraging…really appreciate the info in them.

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Eireann August 31, 2010 at 2:45 am

Your site has been an amazing help, I do have a question though. Do different tarot decks have different meanings or are they all generally the same?

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Douglas Gibb August 31, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Hi Eireann,

Thank you for your kind words. Yes, different decks do have different meanings – the different interpretations reflect the world views of the deck creators in question. The real knack to selecting a Tarot deck is to find one where you connect strongly to the images, or overall feeling behind the deck.

By doing it this way, you can be confident that you have selected a deck in which you and the deck creator share similar world views and therefore your Tarot readings will improve.

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monisha September 24, 2010 at 5:01 am

Dear Douglas,
I am really happy to read the contents of your site, I would also like to add that to understand the meaning of a card, we can just hold the card in our left hand and meditate with it. We are sure to get guidance from our inner self about the true meaning associated with that card. What do you say?
Regards,
Monisha( INDIA)

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Flávio September 24, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Hi Doug!!!

I’ve practicing a lot these days, actully I”m trying to memorise only tho keywords per card. i’m sure I’m doing well. During this process I’ve been noticed
something very interesting: sometimes I dream of the cards..It souns like madness but it’s true!!! For example, I was studying the major arcans and in the middle of the night I just woke up with the image of The Whell fo Fortune in my mind. I guess it’s an effect of the learning process. Have you ever pass through this yet?

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K August 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm

This course is freaking AWESOME. I really wish I had found your site when I first began to seriously get into Tarot. Though I’m familiar with a lot of the cards already, I think I’m going to start back at the beginning of this stage. I had been trying a couple other methods for getting familiar with the cards, but this definitely seems like the best way. THANK YOU!

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Mark Snowbear January 10, 2013 at 11:28 am

Hi

I’ve started to play the game and was surprised on how may cards I instantly knew :-)

Maybe this is a bit long winded but, I have individuality scanned in every card from my pack and from the file I have created a screen saver for my laptop, not only a great screen saver but the beauty is that the cards are presented randomly on the screen so as they come up I can try and name them and identify two keywords for them to.

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Douglas Gibb January 16, 2013 at 4:14 am

Hi Mark,

This is an excellent way of practicing. Thank you for sharing it and I’m sure others will find it useful.

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StoneGypsy Trina June 17, 2013 at 2:03 am

This makes things so much easier :)

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Steven June 28, 2013 at 12:26 am

Hi there!
First of all, thank you! Every other guidance I’ve found has made it very technical and almost impossible for me to follow, meaning I’ve struggled to follow along. Tonight, I’ve managed to be able to look at my cards for the first time and know their name straight away. I built up and soon began flashing the image and turning the card over and I got every one correct. I also practised by Googling my deck and naming each card using the thumbnail images! Worked a treat!

I’m about to move onto Stage Two in the next few days… but I’m curious to know which two meanings I should pick? Some cards, especially the Majors, have several… how do I know which ones would be best to pick? Does anyone have any tips for me?

Thanks!

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Douglas Gibb June 28, 2013 at 12:54 am

Hi Steven,

Using thumbnail images is a great idea.

The best way is to go through the Majors and pick out a few keywords is to think about the underlying concept of each card. For instance, the Hanged man has the concepts of public humiliation, pain and defeat associated with it. By understanding the concept of the card, finding associated keywords should be easier. I also wouldn’t spend a long time doing this. Consider this stage of the tutorial as something that will inevitably change over time. Knowing this, try not to be overly concerned with the specific details. You can always return to it later, as most of us do, many times, throughout our lives.

If you’re looking for any more help with Tarot, consider joining the Tarot Eon forums. It’s a place set up for people to visit and ask anything at all to do with Tarot. A good place to learn, share ideas and develop as a Tarot reader.

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Debbie September 1, 2013 at 12:36 pm

U have just rediscovered my lovely Tarot cards put away for almost 15 years and want to really learn how to read. I’m going away on my holidays in a few weeks time and will have lots of time to really read and learn – my question is this, can you recommend a really good kindle book that I can down load to study while I’m away please. I am already trying to memorise all the cards but need to move on with meanings.

Many Thanks
Debbie

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Claudia January 21, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Hello. I have a question that no one else seemed to ask so I guess it might be stupid but please try to explain it more clearly to me as I don’t want to make a mistake at this stage… since it’d be hard to completely remove the keyword for a card once I learn it. My question is – is there a guide containing all the keywords that I have to assign to those cards? Does it have a source somewhere? Is it just be looking at the card and the first thing that comes to my mind is the divination meaning? What are the divination meanings, what if I skip something important and it will forever destroy the quality of my reading? Or am I just approaching it in a wrong way? “This time, when you pick a card, try and associate that card with no more than two divinatory meanings.” – is there a list of divinatory meanings that must be included?

So ok, I take The Lovers card and I say “love” and “future” because that’s what the picture makes me think. But then I take Five of Chalicles and… there’s a guy holding a lamb and those chalicles all around him. Do I just give it a meaning that I’m able to remember so when I try to read Tarot I just use this card with this meaning that I gave to it? If so then how can I know that I didn’t forget something important? Eg if there was no Lovers card and I gave meaning to all other cards and no card had the meaning “love” wouldn’t my reading be very lacking? I’m just really confused, sorry :(

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Douglas Gibb March 1, 2014 at 4:09 am

Hi Claudia,

Good question.

The guide to the keywords is usually included with the Tarot deck – in a little white book. If you don’t have this book then a quick google search will provide you with a list of definitions. The keywords provided in the little white book are a sort of standard set of meanings, which are unofficially accepted as a good place to start. However, there are rather a lot of them so my recommendation in this article was to pick two keywords for each card.

But, you don’t have to do it this way. You can create your own list of definitions. It won’t ruin the quality of the reading because there is no absolute meaning for any of the cards. Your example of the Lovers card is great. Those keywords are a good choice.

There are 78 cards and you can’t expect yourself to learn the meaning for each one of them straight away. In truth, this is a life times pursuit. I can’t claim to understand what all the cards mean, it isn’t possible. But, I do understand your concern as you’re correct – your reading would lack if no card had the meaning “love”.

I think the best way for you to move forward with this is to have a book with a list of meanings for each card. Go through the book. Consider the abstract meaning behind each of the cards as you’re reading this book (or website). For instance,

  • Five of Cups: Loss
  • Eight of Swords: Interruption
  • Lovers: Love

Once you’re happy that you have a keyword that represents the important qualities behind the cards then begin to combine them together and practice Tarot card readings. This is a phase of learning Tarot that can’t be rushed. It’s both the least important and most important phase. It is the least important because you’re constantly updating your understanding of the card, and it is the most important because it is the thing that represents.

I hope that helps.

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Alexis February 1, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Hi Douglas,

I’m 14, and I’m trying to learn how to read tarot cards. I got a deck a few years ago from my mother, who has been reading the cards since she was 10. Even after 3 years of trying, I’m not half as good as she is. I’ve been looking online for help, and nothing was working. Then I came across your post, and I’m gradually learning!

Thank you so much for your help!

Alexis

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Douglas Gibb March 1, 2014 at 3:35 am

Hi Alexis,

Thank you for your kind words. Practice and patience are the only traits you need to possess in order to learn Tarot, or anything else for that matter.

A good tip to know when learning anything is this: have fun.

If you look around you and observe people trying to learn a new skill you will most likely see that people are very serious. Their energy is very heavy. Being heavy is not good for agility and agility is needed when learning anything. Having fun lightens one up and being light keeps one agile. This is a good state to be in when trying to learn. Indeed, “enlightenment” means to lighten up.

I was lucky when it came to learning how to read Tarot. I was surrounded by people all learning at the same time. In fact, we all went on to read for a living. So, learning and laughter went hand in hand. But, I suppose the undercurrent of it all was repetition and patience.

Take care.

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