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Tarot Quickstart Guide

Read on for a quick overview of the basics of Tarot reading!

If you are totally new to the concept of Tarot, you can also follow this link for a little bit of background!

Your First Tarot Lesson

To dive into reading Tarot cards as quickly as possible, I suggest the following:

  • First, learn the basics about the deck and the way it is set up, which will help you learn the individual cards much more quickly.

  • Second, start with some simple three-card spreads and practice interpretations on them.

  • After that, depending on what you wish to use the cards for, you should be well equipped to decide exactly how you want to expand your knowledge: Individual practice? Searching for more advanced spreads on the internet? Trapping a demon in a circle of salt and forcing them to divulge their secrets in exchange for blood and/or a nice turkey sandwich?

This is a photograph of the Print-on-Demand cards, which have rounded corners. See the next image for a comparison of The Star here to the Print-n-Play image of the same card.

This is a photograph of the Print-on-Demand cards, which have rounded corners. See the next image for a comparison of The Star here to the Print-n-Play image of the same card.

Learn the Cards

The Portal Tarot are divided into two groups of cards called the Major and Minor Arcana; the Minor Arcana are further divided into four suits. The most important difference between the Major and Minor Arcana in the Portal Tarot: The Apprentice is that, while the Major Arcana rely on your interpretation of the name and image on the card--or your understanding of them from your research--the Minor Arcana each offer written suggestions for what they might mean, in the form of key words and a brief explanation. While similar text exists for each of the Major Arcana, it is available separately, in the documentation included with the cards.

To begin learning the whole deck, break it into suits. Each of the five suits of the Portal Tarot corresponds to an overarching theme or concept; I suggest reading their descriptions below, and then reading through the corresponding suit at least once, briefly. Thinking about them in units may make it easier to digest!

The Major Arcana

The 22 Major Arcana represent archetypal roles and experiences along the path of what is often called the Fool’s Journey. Each card depicts a key state of being or turning point as The Fool--the first card--endures everything life can throw at them, until they achieve their ultimate destiny in the card called The World. As a whole, this ‘suit’ tells a story similar to (but not the same as) Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” showing some of the people, places, and stages of life that many humans encounter in this mortal coil.

When one of these cards appears, life-altering forces are in play… but those forces are complex, nuanced, and much more than they may first appear! Take a moment now to browse through these cards in sequence, view the images upon them, read my own provided interpretations—and then, if you wish, seek out lore and alternative influence to expand your understanding of these cards. The well-known Rider-Waite-Smith deck has very different descriptions of the Major Arcana included with it, but even those are re-translated and re-analyzed on numerous websites. My hope is that you will view the art and, over time, generate or adopt your own preferred interpretations of this iconic sequence.

One note on The Fool: While it is numbered 0, some esoteric Tarot decks place it at the end of the Major Arcana, or between the last two cards, or claim it has no place within the sequence because it represents the soul traveling through all of the other cards. I don’t have a strong reason to dispute any of these claims, but I place it firmly at the beginning because, by the end of their journey, they aren’t actually The Fool any more—which is why, if you view the art of the Major Arcana, you may notice the characters recurring several times.

Note: These are digital images from the Print-n-Play PDF, as opposed to photographs of the Print-on-Demand cards, which is why they have square corners and full bleed.

Note: These are digital images from the Print-n-Play PDF, as opposed to photographs of the Print-on-Demand cards, which is why they have square corners and full bleed.

The Minor Arcana

I think about the four Minor Arcana as each being a mini-Fool’s Journey if its own. Each Ace card represents the start of something that grows, struggles, and eventually comes to a conclusion in the corresponding Ten card. Then, each category of face cards (Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings) represents a different understanding of the concepts of the suit. Pages are youthful and inexperienced, Knights are all-embracing and zealous, and Queens and Kings represent different versions of what might be considered more mature outlooks.

The suit of Wands represents fire, and the passion this element brings to both creation and destruction. Fire is power, enthusiasm, and spirit; it provides the primal spark of civilization. Fire is also ambitious, chaotic, and dangerous, especially if left unchecked. Skim through these cards, from Ace to King, and see them representing the evolution from the initial spark of ambition to confident, inspiring leadership.

The suit of Swords represents air, an element of freedom and the power of the mind. Their double-edged nature symbolizes the careful balance that must be maintained between intellect and action, the grace of constant motion and thought, even when those things are invisible to the naked eye. Review these cards from Ace to King and observe how they represent an understanding of a single truth prompting the growth of keen judgement.

The suit of Cups represents water, the element associated with emotion and insight; the wisdom to be adaptable, to forge strong relationships, and to perceive the world clearly. These traits are healing and nurturing, as long as the influence they grant is used for good, and is not overlooked or corrupted. Read through the suit from Ace to King, seeing the transition from understanding one’s own emotions to having the wisdom to understand others.

The suit of Coins represents earth and the material world: physicality, endurance, and health, but also finances, wealth, and human endeavors. Essentially, all ways that a person can be grounded in the world, seeking stability and support for their body, or even their ego and self-image. Consider the journey from Ace to King and how it demonstrates the opportunity that lets a person build a successful endeavor, as long as they have the seed to start.


Read the Cards

The simplest form of a Tarot reading is to think of a question or topic--for example, someone’s love life, or the fate of a side character in a story you are telling--and draw a single card. “Reading” this one-card spread means considering the implications of the card on the specific subject in question, allowing context to color your interpretations.

You are likely to find that instinct will sometimes take over, trying to twist the meaning of a card to suit your expectations; depending on how you use the cards, this may be exactly what you want. The results may be confirming ideas already floating around in your mind, since you already knew the answer all along. On the other hand, you might get more interesting, unexpected outcomes if you resist this temptation. You’ll have to decide for yourself how to handle this situation, but I suggest erring on the side of instinct.

As an example, let’s considering drawing a single card in response to two different prompts. The card will be the Three of Swords, which reads:

Three of Swords: Misplaced Trust: Putting faith in the wrong person or ideology can lead to lengthy suffering, even after the mistake is realized. This card represents heartbreak, betrayal, and grief.


Prompt 1: What does the future hold for my career?

Interpretation 1: Unfortunately, you’re putting faith in someone--or something--that is going to let you down in a major way. It may or may not be intentional, but they are going to put you in a terrible position, leading to suffering that might be the loss of the job entirely, or which could mean being stuck in a job or role you hate for a long time. You should consider evaluating your support structure and the things you count on; is someone planning on quitting soon, leaving you shorthanded at a critical moment? Does your computer’s backup actually work, or would a crash destroy all your files, projects, or designs?

Prompt 2: I introduced a minor character into a story in order to have them give the main characters important information; how do I… dispose of them?

Interpretation 2: Their trust has been betrayed--or they betray the main characters! Consider which would be more interesting and motivating: Does the side character wind up dead, imprisoned, or injured, leading to the protagonists seeking justice for them? Or would it be more intriguing if it turned out that this character had lied to the protagonists or concealed critical information, leading them into danger? Depending on whether you wish to devote more time to them or not, make the decision that would lead to the best story!

Hopefully, this sort of interpretation is fairly simple. Adding more cards to the spread then means considering how they each interact with the context of the prompt and the other cards drawn; I suggest upgrading to three cards, and seeing how they work together. You may wish to decide, as you draw, that each card will play a specific role in your reading: Past, present, and future, or problem, solution, and outcome, or something like that. However, I personally tend to just draw the three cards and see how they feel once I have them together.

To demonstrate, let’s add two more cards to the spread above, and reexamine those two prompts again:

Three of Swords: Misplaced Trust: Putting faith in the wrong person or ideology can lead to lengthy suffering, even after the mistake is realized. This card represents heartbreak, betrayal, and grief.

Eight of Coins: Craftsmanship: A master of a craft will not only pay attention to the details of their work, but they will know what details matter the most. This card represents mastery, expertise, or time well spent.

Queen of Wands: Independence: The Queen of Wands is energetic, self-assured, and always moving. They may work well with others, but always on their own terms: they rely only on themselves. They represent efficiency, assertiveness, and the execution of a plan.


Prompt 1: What does the future hold for my career?

Interpretation 1: With two more cards to consider, my interpretation begins the same, but it evolves to include more details. The Three of Swords suggests that there is a danger in trusting someone or something too much, as it is soon going to betray you. The Eight of Coins might suggest the betrayer; does someone in your workplace stand out, or want to stand out, as the ultimate expert? Is someone putting in a lot of overtime, or behaving like a perfectionist? Possibly their micromanaging or second-guessing of your work is going to cause problems. The Queen of Wands is all about independence, but I think it sounds like the most relevant idea here is assertiveness and the execution of a plan. Someone may try to question your decisions, or call your abilities into doubt, painting themselves as the person to listen to. When this happens, you should stand up for yourself! You need some follow-through; if you persevere, you will win in the end.

Prompt 2: I introduced a minor character into a story in order to have them give the main characters important information; how do I… dispose of them?

Interpretation 2: This minor character can have a much more complex fate suggested for them with three cards to consider. In combination, but not in the order I drew them, I get the sense of a consummate villain: someone who is planning for every contingency (the Queen of Wands), who knows every trick in the book (the Eight of Coins), and who will be the source of the betrayal mentioned on the Three of Swords. I think this side character is a patsy: The information they existed to convey is accurate, but it leaves out crucial details, and it makes it look, in the end, like this bit-character-nobody was trying to get the protagonists killed. Will the protagonists discover who is really at fault, or will they kill the messenger, so to speak? And if they do, what will that leave them thinking and feeling when they later realize the truth? This interpretation certainly pushes the story forward!

And while the many guides in print and online can offer you thousands of ways to use a Tarot spread, here are some suggestions focused around my specialty: fostering creativity for storytelling and gaming:

  • Describe a character by drawing cards for their background, their quest, and their personality.

  • Create random encounters or major plot moments by drawing cards for what happens, what is at stake, and what solution the characters might have to undertake.

  • Use the cards to ‘tell the future’ of a character, group, nation, or creature.

  • Move the story ahead by using the cards to foretell each new scene, or even moments within a given scene, drawing new cards as each one is resolved.

  • Draw cards to arbitrate the action in a role playing game, drawing multiple cards to oppose each other when relevant, or otherwise drawing a card and deciding success or failure based on the meaning, or the suit and number combination, or both!

FINAL THOUGHTS: REVERSED CARDS, Bigger Spreads, and Connections

  • Some Tarot readers consider ‘reversed’ cards--ones drawn upside-down--to have different meanings than they do when upright. However, this is not universal; many readers simply turn all cards upright as they place them in a spread. Even amongst those that do differentiate between upright and reversed, some take reversed cards to mean the opposite of what they do when upright, whereas others view reversal as indicating a lesser, ‘blocked,’ or otherwise incomplete version of their upright status. The Portal Tarot: The Apprentice includes both upright and reversed meanings, because I felt it was interesting to offer my thoughts on each card in two ways. However, in my own use of the Tarot, I usually find that I leave cards upright, just for simplicity’s sake.

  • More nuanced spreads of cards, with many more than just three, are certainly possible. Even if you start with three, it may sometimes seem worth drawing more cards to expand upon any of the ones already drawn, or to provide further details as your interpretation grows. Search around online, or read books about the Tarot, and you’ll find many different combinations--or make your own!

  • Some sources you may find in print and online will suggest interesting connections between cards; sometimes, finding two that feel related may alter their meanings in your spread. While I myself have never felt I the need to try and research ‘historical’ connections between cards, since many different Tarot decks exist, I have definitely come across pairs or groupings of cards that seem especially relevant in context with each other. Don’t be afraid to pair up or combine cards together as you draw them, if it feels right to do so.

Hopefully, with these basics, you feel on your way to learning how to use The Portal Tarot in whatever way best fits your needs and interests! If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment here, or email me at!