I’m aware that not everyone who reads my blog will be familiar with tarot, so I’ve made an effort not to include prohibitively complex or widely unfamiliar terminology here. The post begins with an explanation of some different ways in which people may approach reading tarot cards, followed by an explanation of my own approach, developed over more than two decades. If you have any questions, you’re more than welcome to leave a comment after you’ve read the post. I love chatting about this stuff with like-minded friends and curious visitors!
Some different approaches to reading tarot cards
There’s more than one way to read tarot cards. It’s a bit like playing the guitar. There are strings and notes and chords, and many of those things are common to all, or at least most, guitars and players, but there’s a huge difference between flamenco and death metal. In tarot, there are multitudes of different decks. Some of these can be loosely categorised as being based on the same system in terms of card meanings and symbolism, and others are quite different. Even within decks based on the Rider-Waite system (if you don’t know much about tarot but sort of recognise some card names and pictures, they’re probably from some variation on Rider-Waite) there’s so much variety.
Not only are there differences between decks, but there are also differences in how people lay the cards out for a reading. Some people use pre-existing spreads, putting a set amount of cards in specific positions which determine what each card’s message relates to. Some people create their own spreads that they use regularly and some people don’t use spreads in that way at all.
Some readers view the cards’ meanings and symbolism as absolute, or almost absolute. For example they may see a specific card as indicating that you will meet a person or (whatever) gender and (whatever) age, who looks like (whatever), and they will have (whatever) impact on your life. Other readers view the cards’ meanings and symbolism and less specific and more adaptive, depending almost entirely on the context of the person being read for, their life and the issues they seek guidance about. Readers may ascribe different meanings to cards that appear upside down compared to the right way up, or they might not believe this makes a difference to the card’s message.
Another factor that varies wildly between readers is what the cards are used for. Some readers view the cards as prediction tools, offering information about what has happened, is happening and will, or at least might, happen in the future. Other readers view them as tools of inspiration and direction, suggesting ways to view and approach an issue, with interpretations offering insight into the workings of the subconscious mind. Some readers believe they are channelling messages from the spirit world, from their ancestors, or from angels or other distinct beings when they read tarot cards, and others view their readings as an entirely human process, rooted more in the psychology of archetypes than anything otherworldly.
Within these ways of doing things, there are more than just the examples I’ve given. There are in-betweens and neither-nors and entirely-differents.
There is no right or wrong way to work with the cards
Before I go any further, and especially before I describe my own approach, I want to make it very clear that I do not believe there is a right way or a wrong way to read or interpret tarot. There are ways that resonate with me and ways that do not fit with my own practice, but to each their own, you do you, all that good stuff.
If anyone tries to tell you that there’s only one real or right way to work with tarot cards, they’re probably claiming that they know the one real and right way better than anyone else and they’re trying to sell it to you. If you’re interested in learning tarot, read a lot, take courses if you want, but don’t buy into (or literally buy) the idea that there is only one right way.
How I use tarot cards as a tool for insight and understanding
OK, so my approach. I’ve been reading tarot cards for over twenty years. My first deck was a gift from my mum when I was a teenager and while I’ve been through the whole “learn all the meanings, read all the books, do it all this way” process, I long ago reached a point in my practice where I began to work more intuitively. As soon as I started doing that, it felt like a door had opened that I didn’t even realise was there before. I had found my way, entirely by accident.
I tend to use decks based on the Rider-Waite system (my favourites are the Thelema tarot and a deck designed by my wonderful friend Laura Jeacock) but I never use pre-existing spreads. I ask the querent (the person who I’m reading for) to shuffle the cards while concentrating on a specific issue or question. If any cards fall out during the shuffle, I ask the querent to leave them where they fall. Then, when the querent feels ready, they are invited to take between two and seven cards from anywhere in the deck and lay them in whatever arrangement feels right.
I consider the meanings of the cards to follow generally accepted themes but to be flexible rather than fixed. For example, a reading with me will never involve being told that you’re going to get a promotion at work within the next year. It’ll be more like understanding why you seek growth and progress in your career, analysing what you may view as barriers to that, and considering ways in which you might approach achieving your goals. I don’t include reversed meanings in my readings, so a card appearing upside down doesn’t have a different meaning from if it appears the right way up. I absolutely, definitely, one hundred percent do not believe that tarot cards, or any other divination tool, can literally predict the future.
I almost didn’t include the next two paragraphs because they relate to something that I find it difficult to wrap words around, but without them it wouldn’t feel like a full explanation of how I read, so here goes.
I often read the person themselves as much as I read the cards. Reading people is a whole ‘nother post that I may write at some point, but for the purpose of this one I’ll leave it at a short(ish) explanation. It involves sensing information about the person’s emotions and situation, and can take the form of a vague feeling, very specific details, or anything in between. My personal feeling about this ability/skill/whatever you want to call it, is that it has something to do with interpretations of body language, facial microexpressions and the myriad other unconscious ways that people project and receive information between each other. Other people may view it entirely differently, but I view it as simply a form of empathy. I don’t fully understand the hows and whys of it, but I’d rather accept an as yet incomplete picture than attach words or claims to it that may or may not be accurate.
At the risk of contradicting myself, which is why I do’t like attaching words and claims to things, that sense of empathy, perception and intuition also functions to an extent not-in-person, meaning that if I’m doing a tarot reading for someone who isn’t in the room with me at the time, I’ll be able to provide a much more insightful reading if we’ve had a bit of a chat first and I’ve seen a couple of recent photos. Again, I don’t know why this is. I can’t fully explain it. I just accept it as long it’s useful.
Because I view tarot as a tool for understanding, suggesting and analysing, I do not see it as a thing to be tested. I’ve had people ask me to read for them only to demand that I tell them some secret about themselves to prove that the cards are effective, or that I’m genuine in my workings. I don’t do this to prove anything to anyone and I guarantee that a reading will never be relevant, appropriate or useful if you’re trying to test or trick the cards or the reader. Chances are, you’ll just get results based around duplicity and dishonesty, or absolute nonsense.
I like to talk with the querent about their question or issue before the reading begins because it helps me to understand their situation more clearly and to offer the most constructive, insightful and helpful reading. Both reader and querent should approach a tarot reading with openness, honesty and respect. Actually, that’s just a good rule for life ❤