Hi greenandroses! I can certainly understand and remember that feeling of being overwhelmed as one approaches the Tarot. I will begin by saying that, for me anyway, there is no real end to "learning" the Tarot. I don't mean to discourage at all, but to let you know that in some respect, I'm still right there with you. The thing is, the more I learn about Tarot, the more that those insights lead me to learn even more things about Tarot.
There are a lot of different approaches to learning the Tarot. For me, I approached it largely from a memorizing aspect; I started with a book that had good explanations of the main symbolisms seen in each card coupled with the upright and reversed meanings of each card. I would look over a card and see what struck me initially, then read the entry in the book while examining the card. Then add in the meanings (reversing the card when reading the reversed meaning). I'm a child of the '50's and '60's and this is how we learned when I was in school - you memorized, then put it into practice.
Now, having said that, it worked for me, but there are a lot of other ways of learning. I have to say that trying to learn both the upright and reversed meanings of the cards may have taken me a bit longer. But for me, it meant that I was learning both "positive" and "negative" aspects of the cards which, I feel, gave me a pretty good knowledge base. (The book I used was "The Complete Guide to the Tarot"
by Eden Gray. It is an old book but I feel a very good one to start with. I also found "78 Degrees of Wisdom"
by Rachel Pollak to be an excellent one as well.)
Since then, I've learned in other ways. For example, studying the "Fools Journey" to learn the Major Arcana. And when I mentioned to an acquaintance of mine that I was struggling with the Court Cards, she suggested I look at them from the point of view of a dragon being seen in each "Kingdom" (each suit being a "Kingdom") - how will the Pages report the news to the Knights, how will the Knights react to the news, what will the Queens have to say and how will the Kings decide to handle the situation. Then too, I just recently (after 25 years of learning) had a whole story line pop into my head for the Ace through the Ten of Wands (it's posted here
if you'd like to read it).
So, I personally would suggest that you give yourself a good grounding in the Rider-Waite symbolisms and the "standard" meanings of the cards. This will give you a solid foundation to build on as you start doing readings for yourself and others. So, while it may seem a daunting task at first, if you start with small steps and work through the deck it will get easier as you go along. As you learn what a symbol means in one card, you'll have an idea of what it means when you see it in another card. Also, as you go along, just learning one card is not such a big task - one card at a time is what worked for me to start with.
Another good place to start is Thirteen's Tarot Card Meanings
here on Aeclectic Tarot. You'll find the Fool's story there (start with the Fool card, then the Magician and so on). It should help give you some insight into the Majors. Then work through the suits and so on. There is also Thirteen's Introduction to Tarot Card Meanings
which discusses some approaches to learning.
Finally; start a "journal". For me, that has been a couple of things. One is a notebook where I can write what I'm learning about the cards. Do one page for each card ... maybe even the front and back of a page. Write the initial meanings you learn, then as you think of other, expanded meanings, write those down too. Writing helps you to learn. My journal pages have a few notes at the top of the page concerning prominent symbols on the card, then a section for upright meanings and then a section for reversed meanings. I expand these on a semi-regular basis when I learn a new way that it applies to real people and situations. My other journal (well several now) is notes on readings I've done, especially my self-readings - the question, deck used, date and what cards I pulled and what interpretations I came up with.
Oh, and don't forget, you can come to these forums with your questions! The people here are very helpful and I've learned a lot here.
Learning Tarot is entirely worth the journey. Just studying it can open many new ways of thinking and looking at the world. Then there is being able to use the Tarot to help yourself to look beyond the day to day existence, and being able to help others to see other ways of looking at things.
Yep. Sorry. This post got a bit longer than I intended. But I hope it helps. Try not to be discouraged, it seems like a big task, but it is very doable.