Tarot Cards

Instead of telling you the one way to read tarot, Your Tarot Your Way embraces the reality that tarot has evolved continuously since its creation and that there is no one way. Each reader must discover his or her own way. To do that requires a lot of self-reflection and asking of some hard questions. Because tarot is a tool and not system unto itself, we—those who use the cards—impose our systems on tarot. So before you accept someone else’s belief system as seen through the cards, maybe consider your own and how it would find expression in the cards. Here are two of the many questions that Your Tarot Your Way asks you to consider.

How does the tarot work?

Your Tarot, Your WayThis is a big question with no one right answer. For most, the answer will be rooted in spiritual beliefs, but not always. There are some who read tarot with no particular spiritual connection (this is not to say the readers may not be spiritual, but that they don’t attribute any spiritual influence to readings) but instead take a psychological approach. Although I’m using the word “spiritual” here, I’m using it broadly and including any kind of metaphysical explanation.

The psychological approach will likely involve less emphasis on prediction and more on accessing the wisdom of the subconscious mind as a way of gaining understanding about a situation. Many with a psychological approach say that it is Carl Jung’s idea of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidences, that drive the process.

A spiritual approach may also have less of a focus on prediction or it may include specific predictive messages and advice, depending on what you think the goal of a reading is (more on that momentarily!). If you think you have a more spiritual approach, think about where the messages come from. Are they from a Divine being and to be considered absolute? Is your role as a reader more of a channel? Are the messages from your higher self or your intuition? If you are reading for someone else, are they from that person’s higher self or their intuition? Is intuition always right? Or are the messages from other types of guides or ancestors or angels?

When you were doing your reading, did you have any of these ideas in mind? Did you say a prayer or calm/ground/focus your energy in some way? If so, what do those actions say about your beliefs about a reading? Maybe for you, it is a combination of psychological and spiritual. Or something else entirely.

Nobody can say with one hundred percent certainty how the tarot works. We can only say how it works for us, how it fits into our understanding of how the world works. Answering the question “how does the tarot work?” will help shape so much of your work with the tarot.

There are also those who think tarot “works” because readers “read” their clients, starting with generalizations then asking questions and watching for clues. This is called a cold reading, and I know you are not reading this book because you are interested in that process. You can learn it but not from me. Another reason that some think tarot works is that the predictions given influence the person so that they take the actions necessary to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that this can be true. I know from my days as a college tutor. With some students, I could push them simply by telling them that I knew they could do better. Mostly, then, they did, even to the point of professors checking with me to see if I had any idea why the student was suddenly doing so much better. As a reader, you have a lot of influence, which means it is very important for you to think about what you are doing and why.

Tied into this is, of course, your worldview. For example, if you think that the future is predestined, then you would very naturally be confident in asking predictive questions, even far out into the future. Someone who does not believe that the future is set in any way, would never ask predictive questions because that is contrary to their worldview. If you are like most people, you probably fall somewhere in the middle. I think of this as the weather-forecaster approach. That is, the future can be predicted to an extent, just as the weather can be. But the thing to keep in mind with this approach is that the further out into the future, the less accurate the prediction and also anything can happen to change the current weather pattern. I think too many people, both readers and those who get readings, are too quick to relinquish their beliefs. It is surprising how many people who normally would say that they do not believe the future is predestined and yet expect detailed and predictive answers. This is very normal, though. Humans don’t like change, generally, and we usually turn to the divinatory arts when we are facing uncertainty. We crave prediction then, hoping to be told that everything will be okay. We will come back to this when we explore the purpose of a reading.

Where did the answer come from?

This question is an extension of “how the tarot works.” I’ve pulled it out as separate because I want you to really think about this. I’ve met so many people who get readings or even give readings without having an opinion or belief about where the answers come from. Add to this, “how do the answers come?” When you “read” the cards, what are you doing? Are you accessing Divine wisdom? If so, does it come from saying “the first thing that comes into your head?” Does it come from a careful analysis of the symbols? How trustworthy are the answers? How does your involvement as a reader and as a human (I assume you are a human…if you are a super being, my apologies!) help or hinder the quality of the answer?

Here’s an example of how answering these questions will affect your tarot practice. Let’s say you believe that the answers do come from a Divine being and that you are a channel for that wisdom. Humans have lots of prejudices and biases that we aren’t even always aware of. If you are a channel, then is it your responsibility to be as clear a channel as possible? If so, what does that mean? For some it means that as part of your spiritual practice, you include things that help keep you clear and open, whether it is meditation, chakra work, chanting, etc.

If the answers are from the Divine, then that may affect how you think about the information given in a reading. Many readers spend a lot of time studying how to counsel people. It is important to think about how you will handle what you might perceive as bad news. If the information is from the Divine, does that mean that you are obligated to tell the querent all the information that you see? If not, how do you know which information is just for you as a reader and which information is meant for the querent? Not all readers feel that they should disclose everything they see in the cards. This also ties into what kind of questions you will answer and ethics, which are discussed below.

If, for you, the answer is from the Divine but is instead a synchronistic expression of your subconscious, then what does that mean regarding the nature of the answer? Can answers from your subconscious be predictive or are they reflections of what is deeply desired and possibly not “true?”

Here is a final thing to think about, and it is something I’ve been struggling with recently (you never master tarot!). I happen to think that the answers come from the Divine. And here’s my thing. I don’t think that the Divine is an answer machine that pops out answers like a gum ball machine. I don’t know if the Divine always tells us the “truth.” Instead, I wonder if the Divine tells us what we need to know in order to have the life experience (and learn the lessons) we are meant to learn. This is, after all, what happened in the movie The Matrix, when the Oracle told Neo that he wasn’t The One (and we should all take our deepest spiritual teachings from movies, right?). After it became apparent that Neo was, in fact, the One, Neo tried to argue with Morpheus about it:

Neo: “Morpheus. The Oracle, she told me I’m…”

Morpheus: “She told you exactly what you needed to hear, that’s all. Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

I’m still chewing on this, though, and I hope you do, too.

Written by Barbara Moore
The tarot has been a part of Barbara Moore’s personal and professional lives for over a decade. In college, the tarot intrigued her with its marvelous blending of mythology, psychology, art, and history. Later, she served as the tarot specialist for Llewellyn Publications. Over the years, she has ...