My readings are worth it for 3 reasons: (1) I do long 19+ card layouts; (2) I produce long highly-detailed PDFs of customized interpretations unique to the client; and (3) I’m really, really good and can achieve a high degree of accuracy / specificity. I’m also humble—just not necessarily with something I’ve been doing for over 3 decades and know a lot about.
Still, you don’t need to pay very much to get a decent basic reading. I’ve seen people on tumblr doing what look like competent readings for as little as $1 USD. I’ve also seen a lot of foolishness, as you might expect.
I suppose the cheapest and quickest way to get a reading is to download a free tarot app for your phone. Those work, too. The problem there is that you still have to interpret the answers and the stock interpretations that come with such programs have no way of customizing to your question / issue. So your reading will always be of limited use unless you actually learn how to read. There’s no getting around needing to have the knowledge.
The genius of a good divination is that it speaks directly to what you need to know. The catch is that you have to be able to understand the oracle’s particular language. When you’re doing cartomancy with a tarot deck, you have a set number of expressions, usually around 78, comprising the greater arcana (usually picture cards from 0-The Fool through 21-The World) and the lesser arcana (usually four elemental suits of 14 cards each).
Some decks have more cards, some fewer. For example, when I do playing card readings, which I really enjoy, I’m only using the standard 52. But I can do things with playing cards that are impossible with the tarot. It’s the same with Lenormand decks that have about 36 cards. Oracle decks vary.
Here, I’m only going to talk about the so-called “Standard” Rider-Waite-Smith style deck and how to read it. Practice both of these quick methods for yourself before you decide to go pro. Even though these are easy, they still take a little bit of work.
The first method is the simplest. Get a RW-style deck, one that has graphic pictures on every card (as opposed to the older European decks that only have pictures on the major arcana and / or the court cards). Determine a question to be answered and draw seven cards in a row. Look at them from left to right. Then ask yourself, “If this were the answer to the question, what story would these images be telling?” In other words, look at the 7 cards as a story in pictures and try to say what that story is.
Now I hear you asking, “What about the right interpretations? What if I get something wrong?” Honeypie, I’m here to tell you that after you read a book on the history of cartomancy, your eyes will be opened. There are so many different meanings attributed to the same images that worrying about getting it wrong is A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME. The cards are there to focus your intuition. Your intuition is what interprets them.
So why are there little books of card meanings that come with each deck? Over time, certain styles of interpretation and meanings were written down and became considered authoritative. Arthur Edward Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, for instance, is one of the first books people read. Paul Foster Case wrote a good one on the major arcana, entitled The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, mostly as a way to teach people how to use his BOTA deck for spiritual advancement. Aleister Crowely wrote about his Thoth deck, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris and modern tarot writers like Stuart Kaplan, Rachel Pollack, and Marcus Katz have done much to advance public knowledge and insight about tarot. But none of this matters for giving a good reading. What matters is your ability to feel out the right story—the story that needs to come through the pictures.
So try my first totally intuitive method until you feel very fluent with giving 7-card answers that just come to you when you look at them. Then move on to the more structural shortcut, which is my second suggestion.
This approach is still relatively easy, but it requires a little memorization, which makes it harder than the 100% intuitive method. Here you memorize a one-word meaning for each of the 22 major arcana—i.e. The Fool is innocence, The Magician is creativity, The High Priestess is wisdom, etc. Make a list of these one-word meanings and go over it until you’ve got it down without having to look. Then remember that the lesser arcana are elemental suits. Wands are fire. Swords are air. Cups are water. Pentacles are earth. That’s all you need to know. Let’s say you decided that 9-The Hermit means “isolation.” And you draw the 9 of Swords. You know, when you look at the figure sitting up distraught in bed that she thinks she is abandoned and isolated. You have “thinking” (air) and “isolation” (9, Hermit). Get the idea? Every one of the lesser arcana can be read elementally this way through its corresponding major arcana number.
When it comes to the court cards, these are elemental as well. Pages are air. Knights are fire. Queens are water. And Kings are earth. You’ll find varying elemental attributions for these as well, but I think this set is the most logical, given the way most people read each member of the court. Incidentally, this takes all the guesswork out of interpreting them—usually the most difficult cards for beginners to learn. Test yourself: using this method, how do you interpret the Knight of Cups? If you start out by thinking “fire of water,” you’re on the right track.
Using these two methods, you will eventually know so much about each of the cards in a standard deck that you’ll become very confident. Then you can do what I did (and what I hope you haven’t already done) when I was just starting out and memorize all the supposed “traditional” meanings from something like The Pictorial Key. At least, when you start feeling like your readings are getting strong and accurate, compare your meanings to the existing ones and see where you agree and where your interpretations are unique. You will learn new things about the cards that way.
Studying tarot is a lifelong practice. My methods make giving beginning readings easy. Getting confident with them will put you in a place where you can really begin to study more complex symbol and color systems insinuated into many decks. As with anything complicated in the aggregate, the tarot is made up of many simple little things. Learn the basics first and you will be an amazing reader before you know it.