Action without a name, a "who" attached to it, is meaningless.
-hannah arendt, the human condition
The Way of the Apprentice
Preliminaries: Choosing Your Card
Now's the time to select the card that you'll use through each of the twenty-one ways to read a tarot card. That's right; you might as well jump right in. Choose a deck that has storytelling images on all the cards, and shuffle it thoroughly as you ask, "What do I most need to look at in my life right now?"
Draw three cards and turn them to their faceup and upright positions (see Glossary). Which card is most intriguing? Which one is most unsettling? Which card has the most detail? Which card has the least detail? Decide which one of the three will be your "chosen card." It should have enough symbolism for you to explore in depth and, perhaps, be more interesting than pleasing. Aces are not your best bet or the Eight of Wands, as they usually have few details. It helps if one or more people are actively doing something in the image. If in doubt, pick a Major Arcana card.
You'll be working with your chosen card throughout the book. Do not look up its meaning until you get to Step 10. If you feel truly drawn to do so, you can change your card at any time, but remember: the greater the challenge, the greater the potential growth. If you change your card, go back through the previous steps to get an overview of the new card before continuing where you left off.
Say the name of the card you have chosen aloud:
"I've drawn 10, the Wheel of Fortune."
"You received the Four of Pentacles."
"This card is the King of Cups."
"I got 13, Transformation, which is usually called Death."
That's all there is to this first step. Say the name of the card! It seems obvious but don't overlook doing it. Time after time, I see students look at a card in desperate silence, with no idea of what to say or where to begin.
Saying the name of the card opens your mouth and starts it moving-what I call "priming the pump" or getting the ideas flowing. You'll then find it's easier to say the next thing and the next. Naming something helps you own it and thus connects you to what you know about it. It's like a key that unlocks a gate-sometimes a floodgate-of information.
If you are new to tarot or have just purchased an unusual deck, shuffle it and then examine the cards, one by one, saying their names as you do so. This simple exercise will help familiarize you with this particular pack.
The Way of the Adept
You can continue exploring this step now or come back later, after trying out the other ways to read a tarot card.
Before beginning a reading, you should have psychically grounded yourself, paid attention to your breath, and shuffled the cards. Step 1 establishes an essential quality in a reading: a focused state. Now you bring your focus to bear on a single card and what it has to offer. Naming the card is a formal introduction to the energies before you, an acknowledgment of the players in the game.
The tone and emphasis you use when naming the card will convey a tremendous amount of information in itself. You might surprise yourself with a feeling you didn't know you had. For instance, you might greet the Empress with a sense of letdown-"Oh, the Empress"-only realizing later that you were hoping for a little more dynamic and assertive card. If reading for a querent, you can disarm their assumptions about a card by your manner of naming it. For example, you might greet a disturbing card by cheerfully exclaiming, "How exciting, you've drawn the Tower!" The task then becomes to convey what makes this card so exciting. Don't overdo it and definitely don't fake a response. In general, you are best served by being open and curious about why this particular card appears at this place and time. Always pay close attention to first impressions, both when reading for yourself and with a querent.
When reading for another, empathize with their first response to a card. Acknowledge and support their response before continuing.
Shuffle your deck. Ask the question, "Who am I?" Then turn over a card and say its name. Notice any physical response in your body as you first see the card and name it. Did you hold your breath or did you inhale, as if to take in the card? Did you move subtly back or forward? Was there any tenseness or relaxation? What was your very first sensory impression-a flush, a chill, an increased heartbeat, surprise, disappointment, satisfaction, nostalgia? Try this with two or three more cards.
Have another person draw a card for the same question. Say the name of the card. Simultaneously note the person's initial physical response. Tell the person what you observed and then ask what her first impression was. For example, Amy draws a card and I tell her, "It's the Ten of Coins." Then I say, "You moved forward slightly when you saw it and seemed to smile. What's going on?" Amy responds, "I'd like having that many coins and my own family." Was the response what you expected?