How to Read Tarot Cards
by Darren Shill
Congratulations! You’ve chosen your deck! (Was it The Wild Unknown, RWS, Starchild, Thoth or an interesting Kickstarter? Do tell!) You’ve studied the meanings. You’ve told your friends that Destiny’s map is within your hands… But how do you actually read the tarot?
What follows is a little guidance in the art of cartomancy. For simplicity, this is divided between Prep-work, Reading and Development. For an introduction to the cards or some tips on how to improve your reading skills, or even just a little aid in remembering their meanings, you could do much worse than visiting our earlier posts.
1. Make them special
Before your very first reading of a new tarot deck, it is always worthwhile to make a connection. For some this might be a blessing or prayer within their faith, or maybe it is leaving the deck for a while in a sacred space or performing some form of energy work. It can be elaborate or simple, and there are plenty of examples online, but all it essentially needs to be is personal. What will make the cards feel special to you?
2. Keep them special
Well-used decks are wonderful, just like a worn-in armchair. But decks with red wine spilled over the back of Temperance and The Fool card gone wandering are less so! If you want to maintain that special energy that you created above, why not store them in a pouch or box between readings, place them on a high shelf and try not handle them after having a particularly greasy bag of chips?
3. Get your head in the right place
Breathe gently and consciously and get comfortable. You need to be receptive to what the cards suggest and an agitated, busy mind will not help. So, take your time and go slow. Your calmness will rub off on the querent if you are reading for someone else and will therefore help them too. Pause before explaining the cards; let them settle a bit in your mind.
On a related point, there is no reason you cannot do a reading for someone who does not ‘believe’ in the tarot or who is sceptical, but if that person makes a strong effort to express their scepticism beforehand, you are going to have a tough time doing a natural reading. Maybe your confidence will swerve, or you will find the need to prove yourself… but either way, your headspace has been tampered with.
4. Ask the right question
It is unlikely a three-card spread is going to be much use in telling you what numbers to pick for the lottery. Just as the Celtic Cross is very elaborate way to choose tonight’s takeaway option. So bear in mind the type of answers the tarot can provide when asking a question and choosing your spread. Avoid yes/no type queries, ask a more nuanced questions and have a few different spreads in your arsenal for different types of queries. If doing a reading for someone else, do not be afraid of helping them to re-position their query to something that works.
5. Tell the story
What happens in a particular card at a particular position in a spread is but a fraction of what the cards are telling you. Try to see the relationship between the cards. If they are sequential, try to understand how one set of circumstances led to another. Look for how cards interact, do they reinforce one another or negate? A spread is very much like a comic, it tells a story through pictures. See the story.
6. Anything more?
If a reading leaves you with more questions than answers, then do not be afraid to ask for advice. This is done by drawing an additional card and placing it diagonally over the card you are struggling with. You can do this on several cards if you wish and if you still cannot see it then try placing another.
7. The importance of friends, and friends of friends
Doing a reading for yourself is great. You can do it exactly when you have the need and just when you are in the right mood. But there is a lot to be said for reading for others. That distance can give you a clarity of thought. And you may find greater clarity through distance and what you know of that person’s life.
This also connects to tip 5; having to read the cards out loud to another person can sometimes help you to form a narrative. You will find your rhythm and flow.
8. Support your local psychic
We have mentioned this before, and certainly will again, but having your cards read for you by a professional is invaluable. There will be something in the way they ask you to shuffle, the type of spread used or how their reading flows that you will reflect on and will soon be incorporating in your own readings. There is also something that connects to tip 7 – reading for yourself can sometimes be quite tough. An outsider might see an angle that you could not.
People read in different ways using different spreads. So what is the best way to read the tarot? Unless it clicks right away, then the only way to answer this is to experiment. Try varying the following:
- Different spreads (make your own)
- Reading at different times of day
- Varying degrees of familiarity, from yourself to a total stranger
- Try holding a personal item belonging to querent
- Vary the deck you use
- And so on…
I left this until last, as it is hopefully the point that stays with you. The only truly way to develop is to keep reading the cards. The meanings will come to you more easily, your confidence will grow and your intuition will develop. I know, it’s obvious! But that does not make it less true!
I very much hope some of this helps and the bits that don’t are soon forgotten. Happy reading!