I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became interested in tarot, but I know when I finally allowed myself to take a first step. Just after the New Year, I began exploring this form of cartomancy, from reading articles to reading the cards to recently getting a professional reading. Discovering how tarot — a 15th-century Italian card game turned divination tool in late 18th-century France — fits into the modern world of therapy and self-care has been a beguiling process. Here’s a beginner’s guide to tarot, written by a true novice.
After several intro to tarot podcasts and articles, I decided to get a tarot deck. I heard tarot cards should be gifted, not purchased (to avoid any appearance of “arrogance”). Not wanting to ask someone, nor wait until my birthday or a holiday, I settled on purchasing the cards as ethically as possible from an independent online store.
Finding a deck I connected with was important. I chose Neo Tarot by the writer and healer Jerico Mandybur. The deck is paired with a helpful guide that combines tarot and self-care activities. Its Matisse-inflected artwork by Daiana Ruiz includes a variety of skin tones, body sizes and gender expressions, a far cry from the medieval Christian imagery of the iconic Rider Waite cards.
A tarot deck is 78 cards. The 56 Minor Arcana cards deal with day-to-day concerns. They are divided into four suits with individual associations: pentacles (finances, material possessions); wands (motivations, passions); cups (emotions, intuitions); and swords (thoughts, actions). The 22 Major Arcana cards are the biggies, speaking to major life events: The Fool, The Lovers, Death and The World.
Each card also has astrological, numerological, and elemental meanings, too, adding multiple paths for interpretation.
As much as I love language, getting comfortable with tarot’s vocabulary, which evokes something ancient and magical for me, took weeks. Now I love it.
I pull one card each morning and journal about how its meaning might be showing up in my life. Recently, the Queen of Wands — signifying optimism, focus and collaboration — made me reflect on how I’ve historically navigated some of my busiest days. Still, I am a long way from doing a full reading myself.
I had never been to a psychic before. Even after starting to learn tarot myself, I was skeptical. Or maybe just uninitiated. Naive. I grew up in a practical, Protestant household, though metaphysics were subtly supplied by my parent’s Gregorian chant and New Age CDs. Not knowing where to start, I turned to a more familiar incorporeal support — Google.
That’s how I found Charley, founder and owner of Psychic Shop, located in Dupont Circle. A seventh-generation spiritualist, Charley has performed tarot, palm and aura readings, as well as reiki healing, for over 30 years.
“Look into the shops in your area. Gotta love Google,” Charley advises. “Call and talk with the person who does the reading and try to pick up a vibe. You have to feel comfortable with that person, like you can connect with them. If you’re not, that’s going to change the energy of the reading.”
I agree. Charley’s warm, present energy, as well as her keen sense of humor, was obvious even over the phone; any lingering hesitation quickly evaporated while we spoke.
Her bright, second floor shop further erased my preconceived notions of a candle-lit room swathed in dark, heavy fabrics. Psychic Shop — where Charley also sells crystals, tarot decks and more — is full of plants and colors. A bubbling fountain and classical music gently score the room.
The reading takes place in a small, inviting room. Charley emphasizes that all readings are private and confidential. I opt for a half-deck reading, which takes about 15 minutes. Unlike my cards, Charley’s are beautifully broken in after decades of use.
“I let [the participant] know that positive or negative, I will only speak the truth. If they have questions as I go along, please feel free to ask,” Charley explains.
“The cards will always give a little bit of insight into each aspect of your life, but they will always stick to whatever’s most significant. The energy from the cards is not always what you want to hear. This is not under your control, or the reader’s control, for that matter. It’s what the cards want to reveal, what they feel is important to you.”
Charley asks me to focus on a question — I choose an upcoming creative project — and begins. The cards, through Charley, tell me to expect some chaos, but I will flourish through it if prepared, among more personal observations. It’s surprisingly specific, even without my interpretations.
The experience is therapeutic. Charley understands. Many people, she says, find the card’s messages both validating and fortifying.
Her clients, representative of D.C.’s melting pot, come to her for readings about “a mighty range of questions. Through the cards, we can talk about yourself, your personal life, your career path, finances and also significant people in your life, like lovers, coworkers and family.”
She also reminds me that tarot is not just fun and entertaining. For many, it’s a place for real answers to hard situations. Charley recommends getting a reading every three weeks to three months, so the reading has time to manifest.
Keeping My Cards Close
A friend and longtime tarot reader recently asked me my goals with tarot. I couldn’t honestly answer her question, because so far, I’ve been enjoying the process of exploring its rich world without a thought of an end. For now, I appreciate having one aspect of my life that’s simply about rewarding practice, intuition and curiosity.
The Chakra Room: 1669 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; mrswhiteofgeorgetown.com
Mystic Shop: 609 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; mysticshopdc.com