On of the things I like about The Ultimate Guide to the Rider Waite Tarot by Joannes Fiebig and Evelin Burger is their lists of “10’s.” There list of The 10 Most Important Rules for Interpretation inspired me to write my own list:
7 Tips for Interpretation
Because any one tarot card has such a wide variety of meanings, these are tips I use to zero in on the right one for any particular reading. My list only has 7 because that’s all I have and I didn’t want to make things up just to have 10, even though that would have been nicer.
1. Consider the basic card meaning. For me, this is almost always the starting point for interpreting a card, although it often happens simultaneously with the next two.
2. Consider the card position. This is especially helpful if the position is something like “negative influences,” “something to avoid,” or “roadblock.” These would lead me to look to the negative extreme of a card meaning first. It is not a guarantee that you should go with the negative extreme, but it leans that way. Conversely, something like “positive influences” or “advice” would lead me to consider the positive extreme of a card first.
3. The question. The nature and subject matter of the question will help you focus on the interpretation for the card in that reading. The Knight of Cups in a romance reading might be read differently than the Knight of Cups in a career reading.
4. The querent. The querent’s reaction to the card can help, as well. I remember doing a reading for someone and the Tower came up. She exclaimed in delight, “oh, that looks like a party!” Different from my normal range of interpretations for the Tower, but in this case, valid.
5. Surrounding cards. Whether you use elemental dignities or not, the surrounding cards can shape a card’s meaning. Imagine the 3 of Swords surrounded by bright, sunny, energetic cards. Then imagine it flanked by, say, the 10 of Swords and the Queen of Cups. In the first case, we might see a deeply private sorrow hidden from the rest of world. In the latter, perhaps a drama queen who is using an unfortunate situation to gain attention.
6. Your intuition. Sometimes we get a gut feeling or an intuitive hit that isn’t within our usual range of interpretations. Perhaps a detail or symbol that you don’t usually notice seems like it’s screaming for attention. It’s usually a good idea to give voice to those flashes.
7. Literally. Sometimes a card is very very literal… perhaps the 6 of Cups is about receiving a gift, the 9 of Swords is about insomnia.