Tarot is a useful tool and can be used in many ways for many things: meditation, brainstorming, creativity, divination, problem-solving, spiritual insight. What they all have in common, though, is the search for an answer of some sort. We ask things like: What is the best way to approach this project? What should I do about this situation? How can I resolve this disagreement? How can I improve my relationship? What is the next step in my spiritual development?
To find these answers, we look for meaning in the cards we draw, whether it is a one card reading or more elaborate spread. According to James Wells, a Toronto-based teacher, consultant, and facilitator and author of the blog Evolutionary Tarot, many elements come together to create the meaning we find in a card. These include the topic that the reading is about, the card position or question, the card itself, the source of wisdom that we draw from, the reader's perception, and the querent's perception.
In April 2008, James led a workshop at the Readers Studio (held in New York every year; learn more at http://www.tarotschool.com/ReadersStudio.html) that focused on one of the elements that create the meaning in a card. In the workshop, we explored the importance of the question in the search for an answer. Most readers do understand the importance of phrasing a question. James has taken that understanding and created a way of thinking about questions inspired by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In James's Hierarchy of Questions, the types of questions at the base are less powerful (or less empowering) and the ones at the top are more powerful (or more empowering). The bottom tier includes "When," "Which," "Can," "Should," "Will," and "yes/no" questions. For example, "Will I get a job?" or "When will I find love?" The second level of questions focus on "Why," "Where," or "Who." As you can see, the question"Why can't I find a job?" is more powerful than "Will I find a job?" However, James points out that "Why" can easily turn into whining. The top level of the hierarchy is the domain of "How" and "What" questions. To continue the example, you might ask the question: "What can I do to find the best job for me at this time?," which is far more empowering and can lead to practical steps toward actually achieving the goal of having a job.
This hierarchy can be useful to readers working with clients or as we read for ourselves. As querents (ourselves or clients) ask a question, we can lead them up the hierarchy and thereby do a reading that will help them take an active role in achieving what they want. Even the act of rephrasing a question up through the hierarchy helps querents realize the role that they can take in creating the answer to their question. Just the shifting of the question from "When" to "Why" to "What" shows that people need not be passive recipients of fate but rather co-creators of their destiny.
So changing the question already starts a change in mindset. Let's continue with the job example and look at the questions in order. Even by saying them out loud, in order, you can feel the increased empowerment and confidence as you progress through the hierarchy.
- When will I get a job? This question creates a feeling of waiting for a job to come to a person. While this does happen, it is not the usual way a job is obtained. It also implies that the person can't do anything to facilitate the situation. There is a sort of helplessness, powerlessness, and kind of desperation to this question.
- Why can't I find a job? It's easy to see why James says that "Why can lead to whining." This question sounds like the querent has done everything possible and still cannot find a job. The implication is almost that someone or something is conspiring to get in the querent's way. The question by itself would show why there is no job, but would do nothing to change the situation. If this question is followed up with a"What" or "How" question, then the querent would have power to change the situation.
- What can I do to find a job? This question implies that the querent can indeed take action to obtain their goal—a job. They aren't waiting around for it; they aren't bemoaning the lack of present success; they are seeking a way to create the change in their lives that they want.
The question, then, is important in itself. Now, how important is it in finding the meaning in a card? Try this exercise: pretend that someone has come to you asking about a job. Use the three questions above. Pull one card from your deck and use it to answer all three questions and notice how the questions influence how you shape the answer. Pretty interesting, isn't it?
Taking this a step further, James created another exercise that the workshop participants found surprising and incredibly enlightening regarding how the question shapes card meanings. He had us pick a topic that we wanted to know about but not necessarily frame a question for. For example, "I want to know about possibly moving to California," or "I want to know about changing careers," or "I wonder about the long-term possibilities of my current relationship."
Then he had us do a reading about our topic using the spread below, inserting our topic in the blanks:
- What resources support ______________?
- What obstacles block ________________?
- What are the advantages of ____________?
- What are the disadvantages of ____________?
- What your wisest self wants you to know about _______________?
You may be thinking, "Well, that's a very nice spread, but how does it illustrate anything about questions illustrating card meanings?" Here's how. You prepare to do the reading. You shuffle your cards. You pull only one card. You use that card in each position. Cool, isn't it?
This spread allows you to explore a card's meaning as a supporting or blocking energy, as presenting an advantage and a disadvantage, and a message from your higher self. These are very different roles and yet all these roles and more exist in each and every card. You find them only if you ask the right questions. See, it is really all about the questions.
May your journey to find answers be filled with fascinating questions.