If you have ever done a tarot reading with the Celtic Cross spread, you are probably familiar with that "moment of truth" feeling as the final Most Likely Outcome card is revealed. It's like playing the old Mystery Date game: when you open the door will your mystery date be a dream or a dud? Excellent advice is available for how to deal with seemingly negative cards. They are not to be feared and can offer powerful nuanced insights into our issues.
Let's continue with the Mystery Date analogy: what if you got the guy dressed for the beach but you really wanted to end up with the guy going skiing? Both results are fine, but your preferred result didn't show up at the door. Are we allowed to say, "No thanks, that's not what I want," and try again for something better? (Okay, the dating analogy is over now.) Adding some clarifying cards can make the lessons of an unwanted Final Outcome card easier to understand and deal with.
In addition to clarifying cards and an unflinching look into how an unwanted Final Outcome card fits into our situation, I feel that another option in our tarot toolbox is to take agency and respond with our own desires for what we want the outcome to be. This involves intentionally selecting cards, face up, and adding them to the spread, either next to or on top of the outcome card you received. Meditate on this card (or cards) and send your intentions out to the Universe or whatever force you understand to be working within the tarot. You are now in a two-way dialog with these forces and not just a passive recipient.
Some situations fit naturally with the concept of activating a reading with intentionally selected cards for your preferred outcome. When we are doing a health-related reading, our question is often something like, "Will they be okay?" Even if the results are telling you to prepare for the worst, you can still add cards that you've selected to reflect your positive intentions for good health. As another example, perhaps you've done a branching Two Paths reading and you greatly prefer one of the options presented. Your first proactive step in turning that pathway into a reality could be to intentionally select a few cards that represent your desire for that branch and add them to that part of the spread.
I have taken to calling this method of using the cards Intentional Tarot. When used with a traditional tarot reading, this method allows you to have agency and participate in your own destiny. Before you even leave the table, you have taken an action toward your goals. It feels very empowering to take the step of responding to a reading with your own self-selected cards. We become one with the energy and mystery and magic that we feel when we do a reading. It's no longer a one-way street.
Intentionally selecting cards to activate your desired outcome for a reading can be done in several ways. If you have more than one tarot deck, you may want to select your cards from a second deck and leave the original spread untouched. This allows you to use the same card twice, both in the reading and in your activation of the reading. A majors-only deck can be a powerful resource for activating your readings with your intentions because the themes presented in the Major Arcana are very focused and comprehensive. With Intentional Tarot you can even hand-pick your own clarifier cards (for me this includes venting my frustrations about a topic) before selecting the cards that represent your desires. Select as many cards as you need to in order to express your thoughts.
Cards can be selected based on your understanding of their meanings or based on your gut reaction to the whole image or a single element of the image. So far in my tarot journey, I have only become familiar with the images on Rider-Waite-Smith- (RWS) type decks. With that as a touchstone I can usually flip through a deck and find a few cards that embody the concept that I want to present to the Universe. However, as I practice more with Intentional Tarot, I've found it really refreshing to use some of my other decks and select cards based only on their images. Looking at all the cards at once helps me exercise my long-dormant intuition muscles as I reach for cards that feel just right for the situation. I have no doubt that this practice will help me improve my interpretations when I do traditional readings with non-RWS type decks in the future.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what you want, to know what to ask for. Your question for a traditional reading might be, "Should I look for a different job?" or, "Should I accept this job offer?" Knowing that you will be adding your own intentional cards after the shuffled cards have been read can add new dimensions to how the cards are interpreted. In the past, when I would get a traditional reading, I would often wonder what to do with the advice or insights I'd been given. Now when I do a reading, as each card comes up, I think, "Interesting. Thank you. How will I choose to let this card impact the intentional cards I will lay down after the reading? How does this card reflect on my desires for this topic?" At a minimum, you can always ask for a generally beneficial outcome and let the Universe take care of the details.
When we activate a traditional reading with our own cards, the energy of the moment is like a wheel. We ask a question, the tarot replies, then we respond to that reply. To further turn the tarot upside down, you can even skip the traditional reading altogether. Starting with an answer or a solution, you can lay down a spread filled with your intentions to make a difference in your life or in the world.
Denise Hesselroth (Minneapolis, MN) has been a student of tarot for more than forty years. She is an active member of the Minnesota tarot community and presents at the North Star Tarot Conference. ...