. . . there was the Word, and the Word was Good.
Most of us began our tarot journey with books. The more “senior” among us probably found our way to Eden Gray’s The Tarot Revealed first, followed by Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot. I surmise that it’s a rare person who picks up the cards “cold” and tries to puzzle through their often confounding images without quickly resorting to the published “keyword crutch.” I came at it from an esoteric background, so my influences were people like Aleister Crowley, Gareth Knight and Paul Foster Case, but that path isn’t for everyone, at least not in the beginning.
I haven’t fully explored the flood of popular modern tarot books for beginners because I’m well beyond that stage after studying and practicing tarot divination for over four decades, but there are a few that stand out from the crowd. One of my favorites is the two-volume output of Anthony Louis, who was a compatriot of mine from the Astrological Society of Connecticut back in the ’70s: Tarot Plain and Simple and Tarot Beyond the Basics. (He has also authored a recent book on fundamentals, Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot: A Comprehensive Guide). Mary K. Greer has a number of worthwhile offerings, although I don’t own many of them, as does Rachel Pollack, and some people swear by Dusty White and Joan Bunning. Of those I have actually read, I found books by James Ricklef and Paul Fenton Smith to be solid contributions to the Waite-Smith genre (and also available as e-books). Those who start with the Tarot de Marseille are at a disadvantage since there is no written tradition for its divinatory interpretation; Yoav Ben-Dov’s book is a good place to start, and I understand that Caitlin Matthews and Andy Boroveshengra (noted Lenormand expert) are also working on new TdM material. Then there is The Way of Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky that will inevitably appear on the newbie’s wish list since there are so few alternatives, but I can’t recommend it for starters. Aspiring fans of the Thoth Tarot (who may be masochists at heart) have Lon Milo DuQuette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot and the Thoth writing of Hajo Banzhaf and Michael Snuffin to shield them from the Master’s intimidating Book of Thoth. There are also numerous tarot blogs and websites of varying quality. The best ones I’ve found to date are posted on my home page.
As far as actually getting started, most of us perform self-readings first as a way to familiarize ourselves with the cards and the techniques of divination, then move on to read informally for friends and family members. The one-card “daily draw” with a keyword list handy is usually recommended by modern tarot writers as the best approach to learning the card meanings. Party gigs may follow, and eventually the occasional paid performance. But in the beginning, any practice is good practice.