Every book on tarot has an obligatory section where the author tells you that keeping a tarot journal is the best way to learn. They can’t help it. Someone told them and they passed it along. And you know what? Maybe it was great for them. The person who wrote the book might actually learn best through keeping a journal. Again, this is a person who wrote a book. So that sort of thing comes naturally to them.
You might not be that person. And that’s ok. It’s ok to be you and it’s ok to approach tarot in your own way.
Journaling is a lot of things, but is it the best way to learn to read tarot cards? Maybe not.
We want to be diligent students. We aim to take comprehensive notes. Have you ever seen a set of encyclopedias? Back in the day, instead of the internet, people could have a set of books on their shelf and those books would have entries, in alphabetical order, of just about anything you might need to look up for school. Capital of Maryland. Length of the Nile. Ancient Greek mythology.
There was no way for these books to be comprehensive even though there was a volume for each letter of the alphabet, so you could subscribe to the yearbook. Now you’d have a huge shelf with an A-Z set of encyclopedias, and at the end would be identical books with years on the spine filling you in on what changed since the set was published. Covid-19. Biden/Harris. Myanmar.
Imagine this: you could have an entire shelf of journals like your own set of encyclopedias. One journal per card. 78 journals. Then your own yearly journals of readings. You could buy borrow or steal every book every written on tarot and carefully copy it into the journals. Now you’d have all the information you could find on every card in your deck (or all of your decks).
At the end of the day, did it help you read the cards?
There are correspondences for everything imaginable. Musical notes, Hebrew letter, herb, perfume, astrology. Suppose you compile all of them from all the available literature from the beginning of tarot and you write really super small. Now what? What are you even using those references for?
See, someone somewhere was playing with a deck of cards and came up with those references. Not from a book, originally, but from the cards themselves. A musician came up with the musical note that corresponds with each card and a student of Kabbalah gave each card a Hebrew letter and a gardener correlated each card to an herb. If you’re tone deaf and never studied Kabbalah and don’t know basil from rosemary, how exactly are these correspondences supposed to help you?
People talk a lot about finding a deck that speaks to you, but you also need correspondences that speak to you. If you’ve studied astrology for years, then those correspondences will help you learn tarot. But if you’ve never even looked up your own birthchart and barely know your sun sign, how will copying, “Saturn in Sagittarius” into a notebook help you understand the Ten of Wands?
If you study astrology later, you can look up the astrological correspondences then. And if you don’t, who cares? Just because tarot can be a lifelong study doesn’t mean you need to assign yourself homework in classes you don’t even want to take.
Journaling is a lot of things, but it’s not reading tarot cards.
1. Don’t keep a tarot journal if you’re going to be overly perfectionistic.
Are you trying to get an A on your tarot journal? Do you think a better tarot journal makes you more authentic a reader or proves your years of study or legitimizes you in any way? Don’t do that. It’s just a journal.
2. Don’t keep a tarot journal if you’re going to confuse reading and writing about the tarot with reading the tarot.
Is keeping a guitar journal the best way to learn guitar? It might be helpful to keep a brief log of your practice and jot down a few pointers, but hours on hours with the guitar in your hands is the best way to learn guitar, not hundreds of pages of journaling about guitars.
3. Don’t keep a tarot journal if it makes learning tedious.
Why are you giving yourself too much homework when you just want to play? If you bog yourself down, you won’t want to do it at all.
Perhaps you get an itch to pick up your deck and do a quick spread. But you don’t think you have time or patience to pull out your journal and record today’s date and the moon’s phase and astrological sign and the weather and which deck you used and the spread you used and how many cards are majors and how many are minors of each suit and how many are aces or courts cards. Sheesh. I doubt this is why you wanted to learn tarot in the first place. You wanted to throw down some cards and read them and put them away, not write an entire research paper every time.
4. Don’t keep a tarot journal if it keeps you from picking up the cards.
If you can’t use that deck you want to yet because you’re not done with the assignment of journaling all 78 cards, then something is amiss. Don’t let this idea that you need to journal to be doing tarot “properly” keep you from doing tarot at all.
Doing more readings, not more journaling about the cards, will make you a better reader.
5. Don’t keep a tarot journal if it makes tarot less fun.
Play with the deck.
Play with it some more.
Never lose sight of the tarot’s kinship with other decks of cards. At its root, card decks are games. Shuffle and play.
Is keeping a poker journal the best way to learn poker? Again, jotting down the occasional note might be helpful. Reading a book on poker might also be helpful. But playing a lot of hands of poker, preferably with lots of different people, is the best way to learn.
Suppose you were sitting down to play Monopoly for the first time. So you got a Monopoly journal. First you copy all the game instructions into it and then set aside pages for each property. Then you bought ten more games with different themes and compared them. What is Park Place called in this edition?
Imagine that this is making you not even want to play Monopoly. A lot of people find the game tedious to begin with, but what if you think you need to keep meticulous records of each turn. What did you roll? Where did you land? What happened?
For a certain type of person that sounds fun, but for almost everyone else, it sounds like all the fun has been sucked out of the game entirely. You don’t want to suck all the fun out of tarot.
There’s nothing wrong with journaling about tarot.
A lot of people love journaling. There’s nothing wrong with reading tarot books and jotting down something interesting the author said. It can be interesting to look back at some of your past readings. Some of them. You’ll know the big important ones that need ten pages of thoughts and feelings about them. Listen to your intuition and journal when you want to, not because you think you have to.
Don’t make it a chore. Don’t make yourself feel guilty. Don’t get an idea that you’re inadequate or doing this wrong or failing in some way. There is no way to fail at this. It’s your journal. Whatever you do or don’t do with it is right for you.
Just play with the cards.
Pick up your deck, push aside your books and journal, and play. Shuffle. Lay them out. Shuffle again. Look at all the pictures.
Sort them into piles:
cards you like vs. cards you dislike
cards you usually like but not in this deck
cards you don’t always care for but are stunning in this deck
fast cards vs. slow cards
static cards vs. dynamic cards
cards you’d use to represent love, money, career, acclaim, depression, anxiety, fear
Don’t make detailed lists in a notebook. Just look at the cards, sort into piles, shuffle and sort again by different criteria. If you like, put all the cards in order. Then shuffle again. Or keep them in order when you put them back in the box. Whichever you prefer.
Don’t keep a tarot journal. Unless you want to.
If you want to, keep as many tarot journals as you like over your entire lifetime. It’s your journey with the cards. Do it your way.