Self-Study Tarot

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You can absolutely teach yourself tarot through independent study. To start, you will need a tarot deck, any deck at all, so long as it is in the traditional structure of 78 cards, divided into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, the Minors further divided into four suits.

Note however that there are three prevailing systems of tarot: the Tarot de Marseille (dating back to 1440, give or take), the Rider-Waite-Smith (1909), and the Thoth (1969), although how the various systems and traditions are categorized vary from scholar to scholar, and you might also hear terms like Continental Tarot, English Tarot, French, Spanish, etc. Generally, Continental Tarot fall under my categorization of Marseille while English Tarots are going to be either Rider-Waite-Smith or Thoth–you’ll have to check deck by deck. French is generally Marseille, but not all, so again, must check deck by deck. Spanish is also generally Marseille, with notable exceptions deck by deck. There are also now contemporary deck systems that may be a hybrid of the three more established systems or an entirely new symbolic system altogether.

Most modern day tarot students start with the Rider-Waite-Smith and generally it is the recommended starter system to learn. Again, however, there are exceptions to that generalization. If you pride yourself in being a historic purist, the Marseille may suit you better. Those interested in esoteric tarot may gravitate toward the Oswald Wirth or Etteilla based decks within the Marseille system. Those who know they will be using tarot for energetic work and venture further into the occult will find the Thoth to resonate with them.

However, the rest of this page is going to assume that you start learning on the Rider-Waite-Smith for no other reason but that it’s my own approach. And since this is my website, that’s pretty much the only rationale I have to give. =)



So of course, I kinda have to recommend starting your tarot studies with Holistic Tarot (North Atlantic Books, 2015). If that vibes with you, then get a Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck (which doesn’t mean you need to get the Rider Waite deck, by the way, just one that’s a clone or at the very least a close derivative of the RWS… you can play around with the different decks later). Then start on the Study Guide for the Beginner Tarot Student, linked below.

Oh, by the way, here’s where you can get HT (Holistic Tarot):



In fact, just go here and download the rest of the Beginner supplements that’s going to teach you tarot.


“Because, you know, sorry Benebell, but your book is kind of pricy.”

“Because, you know, sorry Benebell, but your book looks like it’s a doozy. I just want to learn tarot basics, not obtain a doctorate degree in it.”

Okay. That’s fine. I’m not offended. ::silently seethes and emits steam from ears::

But no, I get it. Folks have said HT may be a bit daunting for some beginners. Personally, it’s the book I would have wanted to learn beginner tarot on, but I’m also an enormous nerd.

So if you are a beginner tarot learner and HT isn’t your cup of tea, here’s what I’d do:

  1. Get a Rider-Waite-Smith based tarot deck. It doesn’t have to be the RWS, but it helps to find one that stays close to the symbolic imagery of the RWS, what I like to call an RWS dupe (or RWS clone). For me to finally learn tarot to a level of proficiency, I worked on The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr (even though that’s sort of a hybrid of RWS and Thoth). The Robin Wood Tarot is very good. I also like the Llewellyn Tarot, Tarot Mucha, Golden Universal Tarot, or give the Smith-Waite Centennial version of the RWS a shot.
  2. Create a set of tarot flash cards. Use this template here (hyperlinked, DOCX file for MS Word), but delete the default card meanings on there and work on writing in your own, based on your own research from various card meaning glossaries. If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you’ll find several good online resources for tarot card meanings. Incorporate card meanings from the little white book or guidebook that came with your tarot deck. Note about my template: While I had no trouble printing double-sided and then using a paper cutter to cut these cards, some have expressed formatting issues, so do a few test runs first, before you print out everything.
  3. Work with your tarot flash cards daily. Try to make time to go through all tarot flash cards at least once a day. Note that in the template I’ve provided, there is imagery of the cards both upright and reverse. If you opt not to read with reversals, then simply delete the images of the reverse cards.
  4. Keep a tarot journal and log your readings. Like a diary or lab book, date and log your tarot readings. Draw out diagrams of spreads you’re working with, each card position’s meaning and then the resulting cards you drew. Write out notes and ruminations on your interpretation of the readings. In case it interests you, I talk a bit about keeping a tarot journal in a blog post here.
  5. Build up a repertoire of five tarot spreads. Sift through books and, heck, the interwebs and practice on a number of different tarot spreads you find. Make notes in your journal on the ones that really resonated with you and do multiple readings with those spreads to confirm. Then slowly build up a repertoire of five spreads that you can use for general readings (where no question is asked) and specific question readings. I would insist that you learn the Celtic Cross. Even if you never use it, it’s just one of those basic spreads that every tarot reader worth her weight in salt happens to know. This PDF reference is one of the Holistic Tarot study guides that you can use without the book. It’s a collection of various spreads you might want to try out and see which resonate with you most to adopt into your repertoire. For the creative, here’s a PDF reference to help you design your own tarot spread.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Do tarot readings for yourself, do daily card draws, weekly readings, do readings for your friends and relatives, and as I’ve been infamously cited as saying, do readings for your stuffed teddy bears. Log your reading experiences in your tarot journal. Your tarot journal becomes the tool for learning tarot. As you do readings and gain in experience, you may find yourself also gaining new insights into the card meanings that deviate from what you wrote initially on your flash cards. Great! Time to go into those flash cards and edit! Revise your flash cards constantly and update them to your latest understanding of and relationship with the cards.
  7. Join an online tarot community. Facebook is great for this.  There are lots of great Facebook groups. Tarot Readers Academy, The Tarot Readers Development and Study Group, the Holistic Tarot Study Group, and Tarotholics Anonymous are some I like and am part of. There’s also
  8. Consider getting a second tarot deck or an oracle deck to supplement your readings. Once you’re feeling pretty comfortable with your one deck, maybe consider getting a second tarot deck to work with. I have found that this is not only fun, but it also helps augment and enhance your understanding of the tarot structure and card meanings, by gaining an alternative perspective. Maybe you might also want to get an oracle deck to play around with, to integrate into your tarot divination practice.

And that’s how I’d begin my tarot studies. But may I be biased and self-promotional by recommending Holistic Tarot and then working through the study guides and supplements I’ve provided on this website, which are intended to help you go from learning the tarot basics to mastering it to, if you want, going professional.


If you’re really on a budget, print out your own tarot cards. The below links will take you to a few cool resources on the web that provide all 78 cards for download.


If you’re looking for free resources for card meanings online, here are some of my favorites:

<< Why Tarot?

Tarot Worksheets for Free Download >>

16 thoughts on “Self-Study Tarot

  1. Pingback: Hello! An Introduction. | Benebell Wen

  2. Dear Benebell, I’m enormously grateful for your wonderfully concise and well organized help in attempting (!) to understand the tarot and I’m about to order your forthcoming book…..I live in Australia, ten minutes from Byron Bay, and would welcome you to visit if you are ever in this part of the world. Warm and loving thanks to you, from Anjali walsh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anjali, my apologies for this late reply. I didn’t see your comment until now. Would love to visit Australia and if I do, we should definitely get coffee or tea! I’m glad the website has helped you in some little way and I’m even more grateful for your support in getting my book! – B


  3. Hi Benebell,

    Nerdaste (the nerd in me recognizes, celebrates and greets the nerd in you). I value your insights here regarding learning tarot. I completely love the size of Holistic Tarot and the depth of the content therein. This is precisely the type of book I would have wanted when I first started learning tarot in my teens. I am in my 40’s now. I feel like every Tarot topic that should have been covered, was. I especially appreciate your description of tarot analytics. I have read many (many, many) books about the tarot and what I love about yours is the no nonsense approach to what it is, how it works, and how it can enhance one’s life and well being. Holistic Tarot is incredible in its’ practicality and remarkable in its’ spirituality.

    I felt I discovered some common ground regarding tarot ethics, what a tarot reader can and cannot do as well as what a tarot reader should and should not do. I have seen a number of individuals develop unhealthy dependencies on readers and psychics while many of those readers and psychics developed unhealthy egos over the whole bit. I believe we all have a direct line of contact with source; some of us are just a little more tuned in on a given day.

    Regarding your preferred starter deck, the RWS. I have to say that while I have had several clones and appreciate the symbolism, I seriously DISLIKED the deck itself. Then, something kind of cool happened…I discovered the Radiant Rider Waite. Funny how something as simple as the intensity of color can make or break our choices about using certain decks. It would definitely be worthwhile for tarot students who dislike the Rider Waite aesthetically to explore some of the recolored versions. There are soooo many books out there which use this version that it just makes sense to have a copy that you will want to use.

    Once again, thanks for the amazing work you put in to creating and writing Holistic Tarot as well as continuing to put out a blog which seriously blesses me. Enjoy your now!



    1. Regarding your comments on the RWS, I felt the same as you until I got my hands on the Centennial Smith-Waite. The coloring on the cards really changes the tone of so many of them for me. They remain my favorite minor arcana, although I have mixed feelings about some of the majors.


  4. Benebell,

    I just discovered your book, and website, a couple of days ago, from a tarot Instagram challenge in which I am participating. I have to say, I have developed a huge nerd crush on you in those couple of days. I am going to get your book, I am going to download the study guides. I’m going to make flashcards and put together binders with brightly colored tabs. All of it. Thank you for writing the words that can help me explain to my friends why a person, whose studies focused on sciences, would also value working with tarot.


  5. Hi benebell,
    thank you for introducing my “A 1910 version of the Rider Waite Smith deck” to your readers:-)
    I have moved the webpage for their images to the following site. Could you make modification about that?
    Thank you in advance.

    BTW my alias “夢然堂” reads “Muzendo”, not “Yumeshikado”…;-)
    Anyway I suppose my real name in alphabet might be more appropriate to be put here, than the Japanese alias of mine above.


  6. Pingback: To the New Seeker: Advice for Beginners – benebell wen

  7. I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of HT when finances allow! It looks like it has all the information I want in one place. I’ve looked at other books but a lot were just focussed on card meanings and that’s not what I want. Any other book recommendations please?


  8. Pingback: How to Read Tarot Cards for Yourself - Happy as Annie

  9. Tish

    Aloha Benebell,
    I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing and organizing a wealth of knowledge that is so important. I have a passion for helping myself and others with Astrology and recently decided to learn Tarot. Between your book and website I can’t express how grateful I am for these tools, you are truly inspiring!


  10. Pingback: Learn more about me and my ways of introducing myself. You can also find me on Instagram @bellwen and YouTube as Benebell Wen (oh yeah, I have a YouTube channel) and Twitter - Professional

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