Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners

Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners

by Joan Bunning


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Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners by Joan Bunning

Learning the Tarot is a complete course on how to use the tarot cards for personal guidance. The 19 lessons in the course cover the basics and then move gradually into more advanced concepts. Exercises and sample responses for each lesson help you learn and practice. For simplicity, only one easy layout is used throughout the course the Celtic Cross Spread. Learning the Tarot focuses in detail on the actual process of discovering meaning in the cards. Lessons cover topics such as how to consider one card by itself, how to look for card pairs, and how to create the "story" of a reading. A convenient reference section contains two pages of information for each card including a picture from the popular Waite deck, a description, keywords, action phrases and suggestions for cards with similar and opposite meanings.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781578630486
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 10/01/1998
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 133,619
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Joan Bunning received her B.A. in Social Psychology from Cornell University and has worked as a writer, editor and computer programmer. Since 1995, her "Learning the Tarot" website has helped thousands of people worldwide discover the personal value of the tarot. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two sons and two dogs.

Read an Excerpt


By Joan Bunning

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1998 Joan Bunning
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-413-1


Lesson 1

Introduction to the Tarot

Years ago, when I told my brother I was studying the tarot, his first comment was, "How can a deck of cards possibly tell you anything about anything?" I laughed because I thought his reply summed up pretty well the common sense view of the cards. I, too, had my doubts about the tarot, but I found out that the cards can make a real difference in the way you perceive and deal with the challenges in your life. In this introduction, I'll try to explain why.

The origin of the tarot is a mystery. We do know for sure that the cards were used in Italy in the fifteenth century as a popular card game. Wealthy patrons commissioned beautiful decks, some of which have survived. The Visconti-Sforza, created in 1450 or shortly thereafter, is one of the earliest and most complete.

Later in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the cards were discovered by a number of influential scholars of the occult. These gentlemen were fascinated by the tarot and recognized that the images on the cards were more powerful than a simple game would suggest. They revealed (or created!) the "true" history of the tarot by connecting the cards to Egyptian mysteries, Hermetic philosophy, the Kabbalah, alchemy, and other mystical systems. These pursuits continued into the early part of the twentieth century when the tarot was incorporated into the practices of several secret societies, including the Order of the Golden Dawn.

Although the roots of the tarot are in the occult tradition, interest in the cards has expanded in the last few decades to include many perspectives. New decks have been created that reflect these interests. There are Native American, herbal, mythological, and Japanese decks, among others.

The tarot is most commonly viewed as a tool for divination. A traditional tarot reading involves a seeker—someone who is looking for answers to personal questions—and a reader— someone who knows how to interpret the cards. After the seeker has shuffled and cut the deck, the reader lays out the chosen cards in a pattern called a spread. Each position in the spread has a meaning, and each card has a meaning as well. The reader combines these two meanings to shed light on the seeker's question.

A simple process, but rarely presented in a simple way. In films, we always see the tarot being used in a seedy parlor or back room. An old woman, seated in shadows, reads the cards for a nervous, young girl. The crone lifts her wrinkled finger and drops it ominously on the Death card. The girl draws back, frightened by this sign of her impending doom.

This aura of darkness clings to the tarot cards even now. Some religions shun the cards, and the scientific establishment condemns them as symbols of unreason, a holdover from an unenlightened past. Let us set aside these shadowy images for now and consider the tarot for what it is—a deck of picture cards. The question becomes, what can we do with them?

The answer lies with the unconscious—that deep level of memory and awareness that resides within each of us, but outside our everyday experience. Even though we ignore the action of the unconscious most of the time, it profoundly affects everything we do. In his writings, Sigmund Freud stressed the irrational, primitive aspect of the unconscious. He thought that it was the home of our most unacceptable desires and urges. His contemporary Carl Jung emphasized the positive, creative aspect of the unconscious. He tried to show that it has a collective component that touches universal qualities.

We may never know the full range and power of the unconscious, but there are ways to explore its landscape. Many techniques have been developed for this purpose—psychotherapy, dream interpretation, visualization, and meditation. The tarot is another such tool.

Consider for a moment a typical card in the tarot deck, the Five of Swords. This card shows a man holding three swords and looking at two figures in the distance. Two other swords lie on the ground. As I look at this card, I begin to create a story around the image. I see a man who seems satisfied with some battle he has won. He looks rather smug and pleased that he has all the swords. The others look downcast and defeated.

What I have done is take an open-ended image and project a story onto it. To me, my view is the obvious one—the only possible interpretation of this scene. In fact, someone else could have imagined a totally different story. Maybe the man is trying to pick up the swords. He's calling to the others to help him, but they refuse. Or, maybe the other two were fighting, and he convinced them to lay down their arms.

The point is that of all possible stories, I chose a certain one. Why? Because it is human nature to project unconscious material onto objects in the environment. We always see reality through a lens made up of our own inner state. Therapists have long noted this tendency and have created tools to assist in the process. The famous Rorschach inkblot test is based on such projection.

Projection is one reason why the tarot cards are valuable. Their intriguing pictures and patterns are effective in tapping the unconscious. This is the personal aspect of the tarot, but the cards also have a collective component. As humans, we all have certain common needs and experiences. The images on the tarot cards capture these universal moments and draw them out consistently. People tend to react to the cards in similar ways because they represent archetypes. Over many centuries, the tarot has evolved into a collection of the most basic patterns of human thought and emotion.

Consider the Empress. She stands for the Mother Principle—life in all its abundance. Notice how her image conjures up feelings of luxuriance. She is seated on soft, lush pillows, and her robe flows in folds around her. In the Empress, we sense the bounty and sensual richness of nature.

The power of the tarot comes from this combination of the personal and the universal. You can see each card in your own way, but, at the same time, you are supported by understandings that others have found meaningful. The tarot is a mirror that reflects back to you the hidden aspects of your own unique awareness.

When we do a tarot reading, we select certain cards by shuffling, cutting, and dealing the deck. Although this process seems random, we still assume the cards we pick are special. This is the point of a tarot reading after all—to choose the cards we are meant to see. Now, common sense tells us that cards chosen by chance can't hold any special meaning—or can they?

To answer this question, let's look at randomness more closely. Usually we say that an event is random when it appears to be the result of the chance interaction of mechanical forces. From a set of possible outcomes—all equally likely—one occurs, but for no particular reason.

This definition includes two key assumptions about random events: they are the result of mechanical forces, and they have no meaning. First, no tarot reading is solely the product of mechanical forces. It is the result of a long series of conscious actions. We decide to study the tarot. We buy a deck and learn how to use it. We shuffle and cut the cards in a certain way at a certain point. Finally, we use our perceptions to interpret the cards.

At every step, we are actively involved. Why then are we tempted to say a reading is "the chance interaction of mechanical forces?" Because we can't explain just how our consciousness is involved. We know our card choices aren't deliberate, so we call them random. In fact, could there be a deeper mechanism at work, one connected to the power of our unconscious? Could our inner states be tied to outer events in a way that we don't yet fully understand? I hold this possibility out to you.

The other feature of a random event is that it has no inherent meaning. I roll a die and get a six, but there is no purpose to this result. I could just as easily roll a one, and the meaning would be the same—or would it? Do we really know these two outcomes are equal? Perhaps there is meaning and purpose in every event, great or small, but we don't always recognize it.

At a party many years ago, I had the sudden urge to pick up a die sitting on the floor. I knew with great conviction that I would use this die to roll each number individually. As I began, the laughter and noise of the party faded away. I felt a growing excitement as a different number appeared with each roll. It was only with the last successful roll that my everyday awareness returned, and I sat back, wondering what had happened.

At one level, these six rolls were unrelated, random events, but at another level, they were very meaningful. My inner experience told me this was so, even though an outside observer might not agree. What was the meaning? At the time, it was a lesson in the strange interaction between mind and matter. Today, I know it had another purpose—to be available to me now, some twenty-five years later, as an illustration for this very lesson!

Meaning is a mysterious quality that arises at the juncture of inner and outer realities. There is a message in everything—trees, songs, even trash—but only when we are open to perceiving it. The tarot cards convey many messages because of the richness of their images and connections. More importantly, tarot readings communicate meaning because we bring to them our sincere desire to discover deeper truths about our lives. By seeking meaning in this way, we honor its reality and give it a chance to be revealed.

If there is meaning in a reading, where does it come from? I believe it comes from that part of ourselves that is aware of the divine source of meaning. This is an aspect of the unconscious, yet it is much more. It acts as a wise advisor who knows us well. It understands what we need and leads us in the direction we need to go. Some people call this advisor the soul, the superconscious, or the higher self I call it the Inner Guide because that is the role it plays in connection with the tarot.

Each of us has an Inner Guide that serves as a fountain of meaning for us. Your Inner Guide is always with you because it is part of you. You can't destroy this connection, but you can ignore it. When you reach for your tarot deck, you signal to your Inner Guide that you are open to its wisdom. This simple act of faith allows you to become aware of the guidance that was always there for you.

We are meant by nature to rely on the wisdom of our Inner Guide, but somehow we have forgotten how to access it. We trust our conscious minds instead, and forget to look deeper. Our conscious minds are clever, but unfortunately, they just don't have the full awareness we need to make appropriate choices day by day.

When we are operating from our conscious minds, we often feel as if events are forced upon us by chance. Life seems to have little purpose, and we suffer because we do not really understand who we are and what we want. When we know how to access our Inner Guide, we experience life differently. We have the certainty and peace that comes from aligning our conscious will with our inner purpose. Our path becomes more joyous, and we see more clearly how we bring together the scattered elements of our lives to fulfill our destinies.

I use the tarot because it is one of the best tools I have found to make the whispers of my Inner Guide more available consciously. The ideas, images, and feelings that emerge as I work through a reading are a message from my Inner Guide. How do I know there is a message, and it's not just my imagination? I don't, really. I can only trust my experience and see what happens.

You do not really need the tarot to access your Inner Guide. The cards serve the same function as Dumbo's magic feather. In the Disney movie, Dumbo the Elephant really could fly on his own, but he didn't believe it. He placed all his faith on the special feather he held in his trunk. He thought this feather gave him the power to fly, but he found out differently when it blew away, and he was forced to fall back on his own resources.

The tarot cards may help you fly until you can reach your Inner Guide on your own. Don't worry for now about how this might happen. Just play with the cards, work through the lessons and exercises, and see if you don't experience a few surprises.


Lesson 2

The Major Arcana

The standard tarot deck consists of 78 cards divided into two sections, the major and minor arcanas. The word arcana is the plural of arcanum, which means "profound secret." To the alchemists of the Middle Ages, the arcanum was the secret of nature. The tarot cards are therefore a collection of the "secrets" that underlie and explain our universe.

The 22 cards of the major arcana are the heart of the deck. Each of these cards symbolizes some universal aspect of human experience. They represent the archetypes—consistent, directing patterns of influence that are an inherent part of human nature.

Each card in the major arcana has a name and number. Some names convey a card's meaning directly, such as Strength, Justice, and Temperance. Other cards are individuals who personify a particular approach to life, such as the Magician or the Hermit. There are also cards with astronomical names, such as the Star, Sun, and Moon. They represent the elusive forces associated with these heavenly bodies.

The major arcana cards are special because they draw out deep and complex reactions. The images on the Universal-Waite deck are evocative because they combine esoteric symbolism with recognizable figures and situations. The symbolism is subtle, but effective.

A major arcana card is always given extra weight in a reading. When one of these cards appears, you know the issues at stake are not mundane or temporary. They represent your most basic concerns—your major feelings and motivations. In later lessons, I show in more detail how you can recognize and interpret the themes of the major arcana in a reading.

Excerpted from LEARNING THE TAROT by Joan Bunning. Copyright © 1998 Joan Bunning. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




Section I—Lessons          

Lesson 1 Introduction to the Tarot          

Part 1 Elements of trie Tarot          

Lesson 2 The Major Arcana          

Lesson 3 The Minor Arcana          

Lesson 4 The Spread          

Lesson 5 The Daily Reading          

Lesson 6 The Environment          

Lesson 7 Writing a Question          

Lesson 8 The Question Reading          

Lesson 9 The Other Reading          

Lesson 10 The Open Reading          

Part 2 Principles of Interpretation          


Lesson 11 Interpreting a Single Card          

Lesson 12 Major and Minor Arcana Cards          

Lesson 13 Aces          

Lesson 14 Court Cards          

Lesson 15 Card Pairs          

Lesson 16 Position Pairs in the Celtic Cross Spread          

Lesson 17 Reversed Cards          

Lesson 18 Creating the Story          

Lesson 19 Some Final Thoughts          

Section II—Exercises          

Introduction to the Exercises          

1 Introduction to the Tarot          

2 The Major Arcana          

3 The Minor Arcana          

4 The Spread          

5 The Daily Reading          

6 The Environment          

7 Writing a Question          

8 The Question Reading          

9 The Other Reading          

10 The Open Reading          

11 Interpreting a Single Card          

12 Major and Minor Arcana Cards          

13 Aces          

14 Court Cards          

15 Card Pairs          

16 Position Pairs in the Celtic Cross          

17 Reversed Cards          

18 Creating the Story          

19 Some Final Thoughts          

Section III—Suggestions for Exercises          

Lesson 3          

Lesson 12          

Lesson 14          

Lesson 15          

Lesson 16          

Lesson 17          

Section IV—Card Descriptions          

Introduction to the Card Descriptions          

Part 1 Major Arcana          


0 The Fool          

1 The Magician          

2 The High Priestess          

3 The Empress          

4 The Emperor          

5 The Hierophant          

6 The Lovers          

7 The Chariot          

8 Strength          

9 The Hermit          

10 The Wheel of Fortune          

11 Justice          

12 The Hanged Man          

13 Death          

14 Temperance          

15 The Devil          

16 The Tower          

17 The Star          

18 The Moon          

19 The Sun          

20 Judgement          

21 The World          

Part 2 Minor Arcana          






Section V—The Celtic Cross Spread          

The Celtic Cross          

Position Descriptions          

Jill's Readings          


First Reading          

Second Reading          

Third Reading          


Appendix A The Fool's Journey          

Appendix B Tarot Suit Qualities          

Appendix C Suit Pair Meanings          

Appendix D Court Card Rank Pair Meanings          

Appendix E Shuffling Methods          

Appendix F The Question Reading: A Step-by-Step Procedure          

Appendix G The Other Reading: A Step-by-Step Procedure          

Appendix H The Open Reading: A Step-by-Step Procedure          



About the Author          

What People are Saying About This

Bonnie Cehovet

"I found this to be a compelling book, and highly recommend it to all levels of readers. The presentation of questions and exercises along with each lesson allows the student to put the energy of the work being studied into their readings and into their lives on an immediate basis."
World Tarot Network

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Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very practical book, i have been reading the tarot for 38 years and always keep my eyes open buying new books, i wish to know about this book before i expended a fortune buying a correspondence curse from a tarot school that after all it focused only in the description of the cards not exactly in the practical meanings that is all that matters for a reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Of all the books that I have purchased on reading the Tarot, none have been as good as Joan Bunning's Learning the Tarot. It's certainly designed for the beginning level Tarot card reader, it is clear, concise and makes each card understandable and memorable. I've read this one book many times now, and took the course over a year ago. I highly recommend both the book and the free course, taught by the author, and available through BNU. If you have any interest at all in learning how to read Tarot cards, this book is definitely for you!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Of all the books I have, this book is the most helpful and easiest to understand. Joan wrote this book with the beginner in mind. Other authors seem to have forgotten that most beginners are looking for guidelines to go by and some have No knowledge of the Tarot. This book is GREAT!!!! I highly recommend for the beginner and other more experienced reader!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Joan does a wonderful job explaining the tarot. I've looked at a few other tarot books but no one breaks it down to make it easier for the beginner like me. Thanks for this book and doing such a wonderful job on the BNU course. I feel I've learned lots. I hate to see the course end!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Freeze! Stop! You either got to this point in your life by typing tarot in in that keyword box.. or you got here by going through Joan's site. Good news. You can stop. You're done searching :) I will not say this book is the ultimate tarot book. I will not say that you will fail unless you buy THIS book. But I will say this. Joan is approachable, nice, and a very good teacher. She shows how to best interpret the cards for YOU. She teaches YOU how to learn the tarot in a manner that will be most conducive to YOU. You do it all. From the journal to the cards.. YOU are centered. You are central. If you want a book that gives you the ability to work with a great divination method, go ahead. Order this book. Good journey!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms. Bunning really explains things in depth for a beginning book and this is one of my all time favorites. I have many books on Tarot and this is one I use again and again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first tarot book I ever ran accross, and I love it! I've been very fortunate to find an online version, since I'm blind, and love the info it gives! I feel that the interpretations can be most wonderful. Joan Bunning is a great writer, and author as well at teacher.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent introduction to the RWS family of decks. Bunning offers a simple, easy to use approach that will have newbies reading quickly. Simple, logical, approachable. Does not include any esoteric info but my opinion is that this topic should be reserved for intermediate tarot students.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have several books on the tarot, but this one is the best I've seen. With this book, Joan Bunning has guided me in the direction I have wanted to go. The imagery on the Rider Waite deck has finally come to life for me. If you're looking for a book that brings out the details of the cards without being overwhelming...your search is over. I also recommend the B&N University online class that Joan teaches. She is real and reachable. Thank you, Joan, for sharing your wisdom and insight with us.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is teriffic. Joan Bunning is a wonderful teacher. Her book's lesson plan is easy to follow and is very thorough.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Joan's free online study version of her book illustrates her unselfish and unreserved sharing of her knowledge to others, truly the making of a true tarot card reader! Her book is very well organized, clear and concise, and allows no room for misunderstanding or confusion. It truly covers all aspects from a beginner's point of view to that of the more serious student of the tarot. I truly recommend Joan Bunning's book. It is extrememly informative and made learning all the more fun. It could easily passed off as Tarot101.
SCBirdGirl More than 1 year ago
Without a doubt, a must have book!  Joan Bunning really puts it together.  I have the  hardcopy edition and she shows every card in black and white.  The exercises are excellent.  Her interpretations are easily relatable to modern life and the cards to each other.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is made possible by barnes and noble so is all the other nook books that you may enjoy. That is why we should help our local barnes and noble stay in business or else we may lose our nook books and nook things we love and have been spending our money on. So buy the harry potter collection on your nokk so that they dont lose business
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best Tarot books I have ever read! I absolutely loved it! The author is very engaging and it feels like she is right there with you as you work your way through the outstanding exercises. Her section on the Celtic Cross Spread is fantastic-extremely detailed and allows for the best possible interpretation using both the Position Meaning and the Card Meaning. It can be a bit of a challenge to know which Position Meaning to use (probably reader error!) but I think it is worth it to be able to explore the Card Meaning more fully.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutly no help, very confusing and nothing useful!