Tarot: You Know the Basics, Now What?

Tarot: You Know the Basics, Now What?

Recently, I wrote The Beginner’s Guide to Tarot Readings to help others who were just starting to work with tarot decks.  Well now that I’ve spent a solid 2-3 months doing readings on myself, I decided to attend a tarot class this week at a local bookstore.  See, I’ve been wanting to go to the next level and start reading for family and friends.  But to be honest, I’ve been pretty insecure about it.  It’s only within the last week or two that I’ve been able to actually remember what certain cards mean without looking at my book for their definitions.  So I didn’t know how I’d get through a basic reading for someone else without it taking hours.  Still, I could tell I was improving and was eager to spend my Sunday hearing from someone who’d been doing this professionally for decades.  Now, I can share that knowledge with you guys too!

Here’s what I learned:

1. Stop memorizing.

My instructor did this for a living.  And you know what she said within the first few minutes of class?  “I don’t know the actual definitions of any of the cards“. She also didn’t know by heart all the potential suits – wands/rods, pentacles/worlds, swords/crystals, and cups, or their corresponding elements, or their corresponding mind/body/spirit/emotion connections.  At first, I wondered if she was worth her salt.  But three hours later, not only was I convinced she was but I also understood how a person didn’t really need to have these things memorized. Now that I was actually doing a reading for someone other than myself, I found I didn’t need the definitions either.  Because…

2. The images speak for themselves (mostly).

I’d never thought about it before, but there’s a reason tarot cards are 99% imagery.  It’s because it’s less about whether your card says “death” or “fortune” and more about what speaks to you within the imagery of the card you’re looking at.  Some decks are more detailed than others.  For example, I have a deck that is beautiful but is somewhat simple compared to other decks that have details seeped into every inch of the card.  When I let go of having to know the literal definitions of the cards and allowed myself to speak based solely on the imagery that was standing out to me, I was able to speak about the situation my peer was having and actually give her meaningful advice despite having never met her before.  So shift your thinking from “What does this card mean?” to “What stands out about this card?” and “What emotions am I getting?”  Keep an eye out for colors, shapes, symbols, and the person or animal being shown.  And when you need a little extra push then rely on your basic knowledge of the suits.

3. You don’t have to be perfect.

I felt like I did a good job of reading for my partner in class.  But there were still times I got stuck on a card that I didn’t know very well and couldn’t glean much off of with imagery.  You know what?  That’s totally okay.  There’s nothing wrong with using a book to lookup the definition of a card when you’re at a loss.  You just don’t want to rely on the book first, as opposed to relying on your own intuition.  Plus, you can always…

4. Add cards to the spread to gain more information.

This might be a no brainer for some, but when I’m learning a new skill I tend to stick to the rules.  I never thought about pulling more cards to help understand another card that was already in a spread.  Giving myself the freedom to say, “Huh.  I need more information about this one” was not only liberating but it gives more clarity to the person asking the question as well.

My partner was in a predicament where she was juggling a few different projects, and needed guidance about which one to devote more of her energy to.  The cards were already indicating that she should focus on the project she felt most excited and passionate about, as opposed to the most logical option.  But still, we wanted more information and clarity about the actual choice she should make.  So I pulled another card to back up one of my original three.  At first, it didn’t make much sense to me.  But as I was thinking about it out loud, it did resonate with my partner.  She knew exactly what she thought it meant and which choice it was reaffirming she make.  Which also leads to one of the most important things I learned today, #5.

5. Tarot readings are a conversation.

Readings should be a dialogue.  Ask the person you’re reading for if any of the information is resonating or if anything about the cards or what you’re saying is standing out.  This isn’t in an effort to trick them into telling you information that you can then recycle back to them to seem all knowing.  It’s instead because tarot cards are not black and white when it comes to their meanings.  If you’re pondering two different situations in your life, a card that is pulled might mean one thing for say, a work predicament, and something entirely different for more of a relationship based question.  It’s helpful to know just a tad more about a person’s situation to put those pieces together and provide a clearer picture.  It’s like visiting a doctor.  Would you go into the office and not give them more context about the issue you’re having?  Would you stay quiet and make them guess to test their expertise?  Probably not.  The tarot readings are still useful without much information (just like a doctor can eventually find a problem without you explicitly telling them), but the more dialogue, the easier and the better the reading can be.

6. Get out of your head.

This means multiple things.  For one, stop overthinking the meanings of the cards and the memorization you want so badly to remember.  If and when you do retain some of that information, great!  But even the definitions of the cards are not the absolute truth.

Secondly, it means coming to a place of neutrality.  To help facilitate this, it’s nice to meditate before a reading and burn sage in between them to clear the energy.  But when you read for someone else, you might have to give hard information to a person who is in a vulnerable position.  After all, you could touch on a topic they didn’t voluntarily share with you.  Not to mention, there are cards that have a bit of a negative connotation to them.  As the reader, you don’t want to have a strong reaction to that.  You want to instead give as neutral advice as you can about what the card means for the person.

Lastly, getting out of your head means not thinking too much before you speak.  Which is the exact opposite of me. Yet, I find my most successful readings happen when I just allow myself to essentially word vomit.  I literally just think out loud.  I’m not worried about sounding dumb, or saying something wrong, or misinterpreting a card.  If that’s hard, just start by saying out loud the things you notice because that will lead to more very naturally.  Ex: “I’m noticing that this card has a lot of color, but it’s just reds and yellows which to me represents a lot of passion and high energy…

7. Tarot is less about rules, and more about feeling.

There’s no right way or wrong way to do a tarot reading.  Do a specific spread, make up your own, or stick to the basic three card structure and add on to it as you do the reading.  Use reverse cards, or don’t.  Shuffle cards side by side, or in the more traditional way.  Cut the deck or don’t.  Have the person shuffle for their reading or, you guessed it, don’t.  There’s a thousand and one ways to literally do almost every step in a tarot reading.  Instead of focusing on how you should do the reading, just focus on what feels right to you.  Because that is the way that you should do your reading.

Overall, I learned a lot in a short, three hour class.  But the best lesson of all was seeing how much I actually already knew.  I had the basics down, I just needed the courage to get started and stop second guessing myself.  Now that I have it, my next wine night will have the added fun of tarot!

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