Though I am primarily an astrologer, I also work with the tarot. Astrology and the tarot are perfect partners, complementing each other in many ways. If you work with the stars and not the tarot, chances are that the cards of the tarot will pique your interest once you begin to investigate them.
Having an astrological perspective when working with tarot cards gives a reader a definite advantage when it comes to card interpretation, but it does mean familiarizing yourself with two separate systems. Of course, I have found that some cards don't necessarily have an astrological interpretation—which can actually make them helpful "utility players" in a card spread.
Below are a few examples of tarot cards that do have a strong astrological association.
- The #8 card, Strength, shows a beautiful woman gently examining a lion's open mouth (which illustrates the concept of "bravery in the face of fierceness," although I like to jokingly ask my workshop audiences if they think she's instead a vet dentist). Lions represent Leo in astrology, so when that card shows up, you have to ask: is there a Leo, male or (probably more likely) female who has an important role in your life?
- The Empress card (which represents universal fecundity and feminine essence) shows the Empress sitting peacefully, with a shield at her feet. The shield is in the shape of a heart decorated with a simple symbol for the planet Venus (a circle with a cross beneath, representing Venus's mirror). Since Venus is the ruler of Taurus and Libra, you can see whether those signs are significant. The Empress is also a dead ringer for Demeter, a stand-in for Virgo. So, there are three possible astrological interpretations for this card.
- The Emperor shows the Emperor in kingly robes over a suit of armor. His throne has ram's heads on the finials and arm rests. It's really quite hard to look at this and not immediately think, "Aries warrior."
Other major arcana also immediately suggest a sign are the Moon card (which shows a dog, scorpion, and wolf drinking from water; this could represent Scorpio or any of the water signs); the Sun card (again, the another obvious Leo representation); the Wheel of Fortune (this card shows a bull, for Taurus, an eagle for Aries, a lion for Leo, and an angel); and both the Temperance card and the Star card show images of pouring water, making it easy to see these as an allusion to Aquarius the water-carrier (even though it is actually an air sign).
As for the suit cards, the Wands represent the fire signs (Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius); the Pentacles represent the earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn); the Swords represent the air signs (Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius); and the Cups represent the water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces).
Limiting the Number of Cards in a Spread
This is a technique I've used to help teach others. The 78 cards of the tarot deck really are a LOT of cards. Why not use fewer? Ask the querent (the person asking the question) their birthday. Separate the suit cards that are appropriate (for example, an Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius—the fire signs—would have a reading just with the Wands) along with the Major Arcana, so you have a good-sized pile. This way, your fire-sign querent will be well-represented with 14 Wand cards, and there are 22 major arcana cards to add some space.
Another technique is to ask the querent whether the question concerns love or work. If the question relates to love, separate cards so that you only have the suits of Swords and Cups. If the question relates to work, use only the suits of Wands and Pentacles. This again limits the number of cards you use for a reading, which gives you a more limited scope and is an easier way to learn how to use the cards.
Handling the Cards
Two questions I frequently hear from those new to the tarot are, "How do I shuffle?" and, "Are you supposed to cut the cards?" My advice is do what's comfortable, and be consistent. My cards are a set of Rider-Waites, given to me at age 12 by my grandmother (she thought I would find them interesting, which I did). The card box is long gone, so I have kept them wrapped in an all-silk Liberty scarf in a wooden treasure box that belonged to my mom. I shuffle by fanning cards on a cloth (over a wooden surface), or if space is constrained, in various ways. I cut three times to the left and draw the top card by drawing it towards me and flipping it over. You can also lay out cards face down, but I get distracted unless I'm only looking at one card at a time.
Simple Spreads to Start
The easiest spread is of course one card. Have your questioner shuffle the cards and hand them back. Have them ask a question and flip over the top card.
Three card spreads allow for a little more conversation. A simple reading could involve just three cards in a horizontal line: they can represent past, present, future. I could have had the clients sit and go through the deck and pick a card that "speaks" to them, but I didn't want them to feel the time-pressure; instead I just had them shuffle and cut the cards.
Depending on your intuition and level of interpretation, you can also do a reading that's asking a question and turning over a card. Here's an example (this example does use all 78 cards of the tarot deck):
Libra querent: "Should I go on vacation this year?"
Card: 8 of Swords (Swords represent the air signs Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.)
One interpretation: You are in temporary bondage.
Libra querent: "Okay, so I should definitely take a break. Should I go to the mountains or to water?"
Card: The Lovers, major arcana card #6. The card shows a mountain in the background, with Eve in front of an apple tree ornamented with a serpent, and Adam in front of a fig tree (he hasn't yet grabbed a leaf to cover himself).
Interpretation: Go somewhere sensuous, where you and your partner can relax and enjoy one another again.
Libra querent: "When should we go?"
Card: Seven of Cups. This card shows a person beholding seven cups, each with a gift (laurel wreath, devil, jewels, etc.).
Interpretation: Cups represent the element of water, so this reinforces the idea of lake or ocean. Cups also rule the water signs (Cancer—June 20 to July 23 or so; Scorpio—October 24 to November 19 or so; and Pisces—February 20 to March 20 or so). Take the vacation during those time periods.
Modified Celtic Cross
When I began reading tarot cards, the only person I knew who had experience was addicted to the Celtic Cross. Granted, it's probably the most famous and traditional spread out there, but it involves 10 cards in a specific structure, and it's hard to keep track of all the interpretive meanings. However, it is the most famous and traditional spread, so it is useful to have it in your back pocket.
For the purposes of this piece, I offered a reading to an astrology client, "J," who was a young widow and currently experiencing financial anxiety in the wake of dealing with her husband's protracted illness and the ensuing costs. She's an Aries, and has had her own business, as well as heading up divisions in the health care industry (Aries is a born leader). She has a Pisces moon conjunct Venus, and is sensitive and artistic.
The first card we put down was the focus of the reading. This was the Emperor, which, as noted above, suggests the sign of Aries, as well as an autocratic figure who will not broach uncertainty. This card was reversed, and we decided that the interpretation had to do with her resistance of being oppressed by the circumstances of her financial challenges, and her own rebellion against the status of "widow." The card that "crossed" this card (which creates tension) was the nine of Swords, reversed, which seemed to speak to her feeling trapped by financial anxiety as well as feeling that she needed to put distance between her emotional response and coping with a situation.
The third card I placed to the left of the pair of crossed card. This card showed us the past—and the circumstances leading to the situation. The Queen of Pentacles reversed can be a card that says "living large," or "spending a lot," and it seemed that this Queen definitely connected to J's decision over the years to spend what was needed to adequately care for her husband (who had cancer) as well as her father before that. "I spent a lot on health care for them both," she said. Since she has vision issues and doesn't drive, she also needed to spend money on transportation, after her husband was no longer able to drive.
The next card went below the two crossed cards. This was the three of Wands (this position in the spread represents "causes and concerns"). That card shows a man looking out on a distant horizon. "I could have left him when he first got sick," J. said. "I had people advising me to do so, because he did have a drinking problem, but I knew I couldn't do that," she said. Instead, she had focused her energies on getting him the best care she could, and looking for alternative treatments when it seemed a change was in order (dynamic energy is pretty typical of Aries, as well as a willingness to move on sooner rather than later).
The fifth card (this position in the spread represents "what helps") went above the crossed cards. This was the two of Pentacles; "what things cost" is one interpretation, as this card shows a man juggling a pair of pentacles that are wrapped in an infinity symbol. Twos are about decision-making (or weighing alternatives). J explained that during the time of her husband's illness, she took his health as her first concern, and didn't think about money in the bank. She literally "juggled" finances to make ends meet during this time.
What we thought would be the last card, put down to the right of the crossed card, was another two, this time the two of Swords. This card shows a blindfolded woman sitting in a chair at the beach. Her back is to the ocean, and she holds a pair of crossed-swords. It is a card of waiting on a decision, but it's also a card about finding some stillness, and tuning out noise. Since we did our reading in April, the next time the sun would be in an air sign (again, the suit of Swords rule the air signs) would be in late May, when it moved into Gemini. Therefore, J might find that a possible set of solutions (not just one) would present themselves anytime from late May into June.
Looking at the spread of cards, she received cards that were heavy on the Swords and Pentacles, with one Wand card thrown in. Having an intellectual response versus an emotional reaction seemed to be one message.
"I'm used to making decisions on an emotional level, and I've had to learn a lot of hard lessons on about financial management," she said. "I'm trying to let things go—and just ask myself, is the fridge full? Is the roof leaking?" She laughs. "If the fridge is full, and the roof isn't leaking, we're good."
Just for fun, since I think a reading that ends with a non-committal "two" card leaves everyone hanging, I turned over a final card. This was the Ace of Cups, the first cup card. So just as we'd been speaking about having an intellectual response versus an emotional response, along comes an Ace, which is about a fresh start, a new project, or some kind of renewal.
"Oh, great," she laughed. "A new relationship." We agreed this wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, and since cups rule the water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces), there might be someone coming into her life—or making themselves known as a love or friendship interest—when the sun moves into a water sign (most likely Cancer, which begins in late June and runs through July). Or, the card could indicate a water-sign birthday person as the new love interest.
Postscript: J. heard back from a potential employer who is looking to hire in late May or in June. The cards forecast again!
Your Sun Sign and Reading Cards
I've always found that reading cards during the time of the full moon is a more easy reading to interpret than one at other times. Reading during the time of the new moon requires more meditation on the images, and making time to let your subconscious step in.
Here are some suggestions on practicing tarot readings for yourself (you are indeed your most readily available client!) depending on your sun sign.
- Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius: Try "one card" readings, where you ask a question and turn over a card.
- Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn: Try a reading where you arrange the cards in a square, and ask questions about process, or financial management.
- Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius: Try a reading where you focus more on the future than the past.
- Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces: Try the Celtic Cross, as water signs will be sensitive to the reactions of others as well as their own.
Astrology and Tarot are definitely compatible bedfellows, and you may find—as I did—that interpreting cards is easier once you have a basis of archetypes and interpretations, in terms of the twelve signs, which represent four elements. My first book, The Astrological Elements, simplified astrology by having the reader think about four kinds of folks: impetuous and excitable fire signs, steady and financially-focused earth signs, curious and ambivalent air signs, and sensitive and psychologically complex water signs. Each tarot suit portrays a journey, and the Major Arcana takes the idea of a journey and magnifies it to include everything one might need, everyone might encounter, and possible avenues of behavior.