How to Read the Cards

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Reading tarot cards is a little bit like putting together a puzzle. When you work on a puzzle, first you gather all the pieces, and then you put them into connecting order, and eventually a picture will emerge. With tarot, once we gather all the information from the cards – their images and symbolism, their suit, their number, their orientation (upright or reversed), and their position in the spread – then we can develop the narrativeor the story of the reading, and discover the meaning of the reading

by relating it to our original issue or concern.

 

Here is a common process for doing a tarot reading for yourself: 

  • Get ready:

    • Allow yourself to take this time to focus on yourself and your inner world; go slowly and stay as present as you can.

    • Create the space. Choose a physical location to lay out the cards and prepare the surroundings -- some people use a special cloth to lay the cards on, or play gentle music or light a candle. Clear your mind or take some deep calming breaths.

    • Choose the issue or question you’d like to focus on. Clear and open-ended questions tend to work best.

    • Choose the card spread. You can use one of the spreads on this website, or listed at the back of the Guidebook, or you can pull a few cards randomly. The internet is also full of great tarot spreads.

  • Shuffle and lay out the cards:

    • ​First choose a method for shuffling: shuffle as you would a regular pack of cards, or cut the deck repeatedly, or use the “messy pile shuffle.” While you shuffle, keep your energy focused on the issue or question you’ve chosen. When you feel ready (that you've shuffled enough), gather the cards back into one pile.

    • Cut the cards: the method I use is to cut the deck with my left hand in two piles to the left (three piles total), then gather them back up into one, again with my left hand. But you can use any method of cutting -- or don't cut at all.

    • Lay out the cards according to the spread you chose. Some people lay out all the cards face down and turn them over one at a time as they read each card; other people lay out all the cards face up and look at the reading as a whole before they begin individual card interpretations. Try each, and choose your personal preference.

  • Read the spread:

    • Take your time, enjoy the process!

    • ​Look at each card image, and notice any feelings, body reactions, or memories that come up.

    • Try embodying the card image – put your body in the position of a figure or symbol on the card, and see if you have additional reactions.

    • Once you have a sense of the card, use the Guidebook (or another tarot card meanings guidebook) to discover the specific card meaning (including keywords, suit and number information). Then relate that meaning to the card’s position in the spread.

    • ​Note the general emotional tone of the reading – is it empowering? Cautious? Joyful? Realistic? Does it hang together and make sense? (If not, check out "What If a Reading Doesn't Make Sense?" in the General Tarot Information section above).

    • Note any repetitions – several cards of one suit or one number, several Major Arcana or Court cards, several reversals – these can be hints toward the meaning of your reading.

  • Relate the reading to your question or issue:

    • Create the narrative, your interpretation of what the reading is telling you about your issue. This part of the process can be difficult for new tarot readers, but it helps to think of the spread as telling a story -- use your imagination and intuition to find the links between the cards, so that they tell a cohesive tale.

    • Use your personal history, memories, reactions to inform the details of your story.

  • Record and reflect:

    • Many tarot users keep a tarot journal where they record the date, the issue, the spread name and the deck they’re using, any pertinent details that might have affected the reading (such as a particular trigger or life situation), and the card meanings and narrative. It can be very helpful to go back occasionally through the journal and reflect on life changes. 

 

A more traditional tarot reading, done by one person for another, can be performed in a very similar way: you can visit a professional tarot reader, or you can do a reading with a friend where you take turns being the reader and the “querent” (the person with the question or issue). Sometimes the outside viewpoint of another person can bring a new level of clarity to the reading.

(For sample readings using this deck, go to "About The SPIRICAL Tarot" above!)

Reversals

reversal means that a tarot card’s meaning is different if the card is upside down, or reversed, rather than upright. Some tarot readers use reversals – and some don’t, believing they tend to be negative and their additional information is unnecessary. In basic terms, the reversed meaning is the opposite of the upright meaning. Reversals can be interpreted in many ways, including that the energy described by the card is blocked or out of balance, that the card needs some extra attention in the reading, or that the source of the influence is internal rather than external.

 

I used to interpret a reversed card as signifying that that card’s energy was being blocked or interrupted, in an either/or way – but now I’ve come to see reversals as representing more of a continuum, a both/and. We contain all of these card energies, upright and reversed, and at any given moment we are expressing some part of them as we spiral through our life circumstances.

 

What’s more, I’ve come to believe that in order to heal from trauma, it is most effective not to “fix” or undo what we see as our blocks or faults, but instead try to witness the situation as what is real in this moment, and to accept it with self-compassion. In this way, a reversed card is providing information about our wounds and our shadow, and gives us a window into our pain.

 

The challenge of reversals, as I see it, is whether we can accept the invitation to hold the tension of these opposing qualities, as they each exist within us, and allow the dark as well as the light. In my experience, when we can do this we free up a lot of energy and we naturally move toward healing.