Are Tarot Cards Accurate? A User’s Guide

How do you learn to do Tarot readings, and are they accurate?

A collection of Tarot cards laid out next to each other

Main image courtesy of Conscious Lifestyle Magazine.

Although Tarot cards and readings have been around for a long time, the art has really undergone a revival since young people have started using it as a way to get in touch with their spiritual sides. Whether you’re looking for advice on big decisions, insight on your own thoughts and emotions, or assistance with a simple yes-or-no decision, Tarot reading might prove useful, if you figure out how to use and read the cards well enough.

But Tarot can also be extremely confusing. There are lots of misconceptions about what the cards can and cannot do. And besides the misconceptions, there are a lot of cards and a lot of decks to choose from. With so many different suits, symbols, names, and meanings, it can feel impossible to glean any meaning or insight from Tarot cards whatsoever. The overabundance of cards and images can become even more confusing when you’re not even sure if your Tarot reading will be accurate to begin with-- how do you know if your cards are incorrect or if your interpretation of them is incorrect?

If you want to get into the practice of Tarot reading, we’ve put together a quick break-down of how Tarot cards work, as well as what they are most useful for. As it turns out, Tarot readings can be quite accurate-- if you know how to use them.

The History of Tarot Reading

An assortment of Tarot cards on a table
Tarot originated from an Italian gambling game. Image courtesy of The Spectator.

For most of its history, Tarot was simply the name of the deck of cards used in the Italian game of Tarocchi-- a gambling game similar to Bridge. This game, which came to popularity in the 15th century, simply took a standard deck of cards and added an extra suit of 16 cards called “Trumps” or “Triumphs,” each of which was painted with an allegorical figure. Over time, the number of Triumphs increased to 22, which is how modern Tarot decks came to consist of 78 cards-- 22 Triumphs, which comprise the Major Arcana, and 56 cards of the Minor Arcana.

Regardless of the addition of Triumph cards with their allegorical figures, Tarocchi remained mostly a gambling game until the late 18th century. Around this time, in France, Tarot started to become associated with divination thanks to Jean-Baptiste Alliette publishing a Tarot deck specifically for that purpose. From then on, Tarot was more associated with the occult than with a gambling game.

In recent years, the purpose of Tarot has shifted again. Although many still associate the cards with the occult or with the art of divination, it’s also become popular to use them mostly as an aid for personal growth and insight into your own struggles. People report good results with this, too-- so even if you’re not interested in looking into the future, per se, you might find Tarot reading to be a good way of learning more about yourself.

What are Tarot Cards For?

A white pawn sitting in front of a mirror, which reflects a white king chess-piece
Tarot readings are usually most useful for self-reflection. Image courtesy of Keith Rosen.

In pop culture, Tarot is associated with fortune-telling and with seeing the future. How many Halloween movies feature a medium drawing out and reading Tarot cards in order to tell someone their future? Plenty, for sure-- but although people do use Tarot for divination in real life, it tends to be more useful as a mode of self-reflection. For someone just starting out, it’s probably more advisable to put a pause on trying to see the future and focus on what’s in front of you first.

Many Tarot readers insist that Tarot cards work best when the querent-- the person asking a question-- is seeking advice or insight rather than hard, cold facts about the future. This might be advice about a big life decision, a job change, a relationship, or insight into their own thoughts and feelings. Regardless of the goal of a reading, it’s crucial that the querent-- whether they be a reader or a client-- ask honest and earnest questions. Leading questions-- questions aimed toward getting a particular response, or based off of faulty or biased information-- end up leading to confusion while interpreting cards, which can get messy and frustrating.

It’s also important to keep an open mind about your readings. Tarot reading is very much a matter of interpreting the cards in front of you, and interpretation is a skill that develops through practice. As you learn the cards, their meanings, and their associations, you may find your interpretations getting more spot-on. This is an art, not a science, and it’s important to remember that the cards are supposed to provide insight, not tell you what to do.

How are Tarot Decks Organized?

A Tarot card depicting a character ("The Fool") jumping from a cliff
Tarot readings follow the story of the Fool, a main character who grows throughout life. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

Tarot decks consist of 78 cards in total. 22 of these cards, called the Major Arcana, represent major themes and situations that all people face throughout their lives. These are often interpreted in relation to major life events. The other 56 cards, the Minor Arcana, are made up of 4 suits like a normal deck of playing cards-- these suits are the Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. These cards, numbered like normal playing cards, represent smaller influences and events in life.

How Do You Start Reading Tarot Cards?

A layout of Tarot cards on a table, sitting next to an oil lamp
Start out small when learning to use Tarot cards. Image courtesy of Isha Tarot Reading.

The first step to learning to read Tarot cards is to pick a deck that suits you. This is actually very important to how your interpretations will start to lean-- design choices, color palettes, and symbols on your specific deck may speak to you more than on other decks, so try to pick one that you’re drawn to.

Next, you’ll want to become familiar with the words associated with each card in your deck. There can be a lot of nuance to each card’s meaning, and things get more complicated the more cards you look at, so you’ll want to start out slowly and get a feel for the things you associate with each card.

When you feel confident enough to actually do a Tarot reading, you’ll likely want to start out small-- with one or three-card spreads based around carefully formulated, straightforward questions. Focus on what you want to ask while you shuffle and choose your cards. Most importantly, keep an open mind while trying to interpret them-- especially when you’re just beginning. With several meanings associated with each card, and even their position in your spread influencing how they interact with each other, it’s very difficult to claim that any single spread means any single thing-- so be open to reflect on how each card may be relevant to your situation.

How Accurate are Tarot Cards?

A hand-drawn card depicting a partially-destroyed tower.
Tarot cards’ accuracy largely depends on the attitude of the reader. Image courtesy of Sweety High.

Now, we know how Tarot originated, and we know basically how to do a Tarot reading and what to look out for. But are Tarot cards accurate?

This really depends on what we mean by accurate, and it also depends on who is reading a spread. The formulation of your question can affect the accuracy of your cards and your interpretation, and your life experience and biases will also tend to slip into your readings in one way or another-- so it seems that we can’t claim that Tarot cards can act as unbiased judges. In the end, you are the one drawing and reading the cards.

That said, many people find their Tarot readings to be extremely accurate, and consistently so. Those who get the most positive results from Tarot readings tend to also be the most open-minded-- meaning they avoid leading questions, try to look at situations with as little bias as possible, don’t use Tarot readings as the be-all, end-all decision maker, and keep an eye out for unexpected ways that cards may apply to them even after they have come up with their own first interpretation. These people often find that Tarot readings end up applying to different aspects of their lives in ways they don’t expect-- and so even readings that don’t initially appear accurate end up being extremely relevant to them.

Overall, the accuracy of your Tarot reading experience depends largely on your own attitude toward it. Approaching Tarot with extreme skepticism is more likely to result in inaccurate readings-- either due to flawed questions or flawed interpretations. Likewise, approaching it as a science, with a single correct interpretation for each spread, often ends up leaving readers disenchanted with the art. On the other hand, extremely intuitive people are often able to find lots of accurate details in their readings, whether for themselves or for other people-- leading to a high level of satisfaction with their results.

So, if you want to learn how to read Tarot cards, make sure to keep your mind open to multiple interpretations. Tarot tells a story-- it takes time to learn its language and its nuances in order to understand that story well. If you approach the art as a way of seeking interpretive advice, find a deck that draws you to it, and start out small as you build up your skills, you’ll likely find that your readings are rather accurate-- even if it’s not in the way you were expecting.

Skyler Watkins

Skyler Watkins is an aspiring author and editor located in Columbus, Ohio.
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