The Heart of the Cards: A Beginner’s Experience with Tarot

by Nick Langner

As someone with a passing interest in the esoteric and metaphysical, I’d been familiar with the basic premise of tarot reading but had never taken part in it. My opportunity to get a firsthand experience with tarot came when I took Cynthia Papa-Lentini’s Everyday Tarot R&R workshop, curious to learn more about this popular form of divination.

While tarot might seem accessible only to well-practiced mystics, it turns out it’s something that anyone can do. “Everyone can read tarot because the core of the practice is intuition—something we all have,” explains Cynthia, who performs tarot readings in the Kripalu Shop and is also a psychic, medium, and Ayurvedic practitioner.

To demonstrate this, she has us each choose one of four large printouts of tarot cards hanging around the room and stand by it. I’m one of a handful of people drawn to a figure who gives an impression of strength, power, wisdom, and a hint of cleverness and trickery—a bit like the Norse god of mischief, Loki, if you will. Cynthia asks us to describe out loud the impressions we get from our cards, and reveals the one I’m standing near to be the King of Cups, which does symbolize strength and wisdom.

We then prepare to do readings for ourselves, and Cynthia offers three guidelines that can help anyone read tarot:

  • Be as clear as possible within yourself when reading.
  • Understand that the practice of reading tarot comes from a universal oneness.
  • Know that praying, however you choose to pray and who/what you choose to pray to, enhances your connection to the Divine.

As with any practice, reading tarot with greater expertise requires studying and experience. “Make friends with the cards by carrying individual cards around with you and spending time studying each card,” Cynthia suggests, learning what associations you have with the cards and which ones you are most drawn to or feel a connection with.

Each card is unique, and the mechanics (the numbers, suits, etc.) of tarot shape the “personality” of the cards. Tarot cards fall into two categories: the Minor Arcana and the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana cards represent everyday events and situations, and include the suit cards: wands, swords, cups, and coins (or pentacles). As with standard playing cards, the Minor Arcana are numbered 1 (or Ace) through 10, and also have “court” cards in the form of pages, knights, queens, and kings. The Major Arcana cards represent karmic or life events that take place over a long period of time and are of great consequence, and include cards like the Magician, Death, the High Priestess, and the Fool.

Before we do our reading, we “clear” ourselves with a breathing exercise, getting grounded in presence and mindfulness. Once we’re ready, we go to a large table set up with several different tarot decks, and pick four cards (without looking at them) from any deck of our choosing; I happen to pick from a deck called the Tarot of Dreams. Then, I set a distinct question in my mind that I want the cards—the Divine, really—to help with. Having recently experienced a very difficult and painful breakup, I think, “Will I make it through this and move on for the better?” and draw three of my four cards, representing past, present, and future.

The first was the Two of Coins, which signifies being able to keep a level head in the midst of hardship. The second was the Eight of Coins, which implies a period of isolation and focusing energy on achieving a goal. The third, featuring a radiant celestial woman pouring rainbows from two pitchers, was the Star. The card wasn’t listed on the “cheat sheets” Cynthia handed out, so I looked it up in one of the Tarot dictionaries on the table—the book described the Star as the “luckiest card in the pack,” symbolizing the end of a difficult time, being led out of darkness and despair and into hope, opportunity, and intense renewal.

The readings seemed to answer to my question, and I couldn’t help feeling a glimmer of hope and relief. Perhaps it was luck, or coincidence. Or, maybe there really is something more to tarot, and it is a tool through which we can commune with the Divine. Either way, I believe that how we interpret the cards and how we act on those interpretations can truly shape our lives. Perhaps I’ll start carrying around a copy of the Star.

Find out about Awaken Your Inner Magic: Yoga and Tarot.

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Nick Langner is Marketing Copywriter at Kripalu.