If you're reading this post, it's because you're drawn to the art of tarot, for whatever your reasons. Whether you're looking to get some answers for yourself, or for someone close to you, you're probably wondering where to begin when it comes to this classical divination art. Here, then, is our step-by-step guide to reading tarot.

Tarot: A Brief History

The first known set of tarot cards was used between 1440 and 1450 in northern Italy, in the towns of Milan, Ferrara, Bologna, and Florence. Italians referred to these decks as the carte di trionfi, which translates — literally — to "trump cards." Originally used for card games, the trionfi was eventually commissioned by various dukes and duchesses throughout Italy. When they spread throughout Europe as a result of the Italian Wars — ultimately making their way to France and Portugal — they began being used for divination purposes. In fact, the oldest surviving tarot deck — the Tarot of Marseilles —  was originally created in Milan. 

Today, however, men and women from all backgrounds use tarot for divination — and Black women, especially, have found solace in the decks. “Tarot [itself] is not a spiritual practice,” Nefertiti Harris, a priestess and oracle card reader, who has used the decks for more than 20 years, “but it is a good tool that can be used in practice.”

First Stop: Your Deck

To get started on your Tarot journey, the first thing you need to do is get a deck that resonates with you. And you don't need to get the Rider-Waite deck or the Tarot De Marseilles (although the latter is very pretty). I use the Golden Art Nouveau Tarot, but I know of a Black Tarot reader that uses the Aquarian Tarot, and a Romani Tarot reader that uses a tarot deck that resonates with her culture. There's no shortage of tarot decks out there, made from all manner of material, so search high and low until you find the deck that best suits you.

Two Basic Spreads

There are two basic spreads that every practitioner uses: the three-card spread (which is the past, present, and future), and the Celtic cross (which is a ten-card spread that is a bit more layered and nuanced). Start out with the three-card spread, and then, as you familiarize yourself with tarot, you can graduate to the Celtic cross to get a better — and deeper — understanding of the situation at hand. Don't concentrate so much on what the booklet tells you is the meaning of each card — instead, focus on the narrative that's being laid out before you, in picture format, and try to synthesize the logical outcomes from there. 

Understand What Tarot Is — And What Tarot Isn't

1. Tarot is a tool. Tarot is used to facilitate a conversation, to open your mind to new perspectives to a tricky situation, and to give you a likely outcome to your situation if things continue on their current course. 

2. Tarot is not the final answer. While tarot can sometimes be used as a divination tool to predict the future, but it's not always the correct answer. 

3. Tarot is meant to empower you. Tarot can focus your mind on a situation in a logical way so you can think things through without the tethers of extreme emotion (either positive or negative). 

4. Tarot is not setting your destiny in stone. Remember: when tarot predicts an outcome, the outcome is based on current events, and the likely outcome if things continue on the current course. This means, intrinsically, that you have the free will to change things if you wish them to be so.

Here's When You Shouldn't Use Tarot

Tarot can be used for a variety of situations, and to answer a wide variety of questions. However, there are some instances when tarot shouldn't be used under any circumstances. 

1. Do not use tarot for legal situations. Whether the pending litigation is civil or criminal, there's no insight that tarot — or anything else — can offer that provides valuable insight. Always — always — consult with an attorney or other legal officials with regards to your matter.  

2. Do not use tarot for medical situations. While there's plenty of cases to be made against invasive Western medicine — and while we, as women, don't use our intuition as much as we should — medical situations shouldn't be divined by the cards. Whether you choose to go to an "Eastern" or a "Western" medical practitioner, take their advice over the cards.'

3. Do not use tarot for financial situations. Really, this shouldn't need to be said...but you'd be amazed at how many people consult the tarot for such things. Don't do that. That's what a financial adviser is for. 

4. Do not use tarot every time you have a question. It can be tempting — but it can also be addicting. Save it for the more complicated questions in your life.

5. Do not use tarot in the hopes that you'll manipulate someone's free will. Yes, I know this sounds like common sense — but you'd be amazed how many folks are misguided out there. (And that's being polite.) 

Final Thoughts

Life can be difficult, scary, and complicated. Tarot can be a tool that will help you navigate through life's scariest, most complex moments. But respect it, and appreciate it, for that and that alone.