In this post I will show you an easy technique which will enable you to do a powerful intuitive tarot reading – the ‘Awake Dream’ method. Being able to read tarot intuitively is important for many types of tarot readings and will make it easier to start using tarot quickly and to help you work through everyday situations.
There is a common myth that in order to be able to read tarot you need to learn Qabalah (Jewish mysticism), astrology, numerology, elemental dignities, various card meanings etc. While knowledge of these things can certainly help you read the cards many people read tarot without ever doing any formal study. You can read more on this myth – and other tarot myths – in the post ‘9 Tarot Myths – False…Or True?‘ which you can read here.
You also don’t need to be psychic. But, intuitive tarot reading will strengthen those intuitive muscles generally. The more you use tarot intuitively, the better your intuition will become.
Which decks to use?
The technique I am going to describe was first presented by tarot author and deck creator Robert M. Place in his book ‘The Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism.’ Place used one of his own decks to illustrate the method but the technique works well with the ever popular Rider Waite Smith Tarot (RWS). Other classic tarot decks that can be used include the Morgan Greer Tarot and the Aquarian Tarot.
Place’s own decks, The Alchemical Tarot and the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, will also work very well if you can get hold of them.
The main features that determine if the deck will be right for this technique are:
The deck should have human figures and/or animals which face mainly straight ahead, to the left, and to the right. The art work should not be too ‘busy’ or cluttered which will make interpreting the pictures less effortful.
This means some decks, including the esoteric Thoth Tarot and pip decks, are completely unsuitable. However, the Tarot de Marseille Major Arcana work very well. For more information on choosing a tarot deck and the different tarot systems see the post ‘Choosing and Buying a Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which you can read here.
The Awake Dream Tarot Reading
This type of reading uses 3 cards and does not use reversed tarot cards. When you lay out the 3 cards, put them close together and view all 3 cards as forming one picture, or painting, which tells a story. Essentially, the picture will form the sort of image you may get in a dream, hence ‘Awake Dream.’
Forget any card meanings you may know for now. But, you do need to have a clear question in mind to get any benefit from the reading. For more on the importance of a clear question see the post ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which you can read here.
What is important to look for are where people are looking or gesturing. For instance, is one person turning their back on another person so it looks like they are ignoring the second person? Then that’s what they are doing. If someone is gesturing with their hands or gazing, look to see where the gesture or gaze is focused on. Are two people looking at each other? This could signify a meeting.
Here is an example to illustrate the Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading. The question I asked was ‘What do I need to know about work?’
The 3 cards have formed one ‘picture’ and there is definitely a story here. All you really have to do is describe what is happening in the context of the question. There are several ways I interpreted the reading:
‘I have to put being comfortable at home behind me and focus on finding work that pays well.’ ‘I need to search thoroughly online for roles that will pay me enough so that I have no financial worries at home.’ ‘When it comes to work, I want to have a good balance between providing for the family and having a great home life – finding a work life balance.’
I didn’t draw on my knowledge of card meanings or suit elemental energies to do this reading – I just interpreted the cards with my question in mind. If you want, you can use the card meanings to help deepen the reading but do this after the intuitive part.
One example of using the meanings in this reading is:
‘To have a very satisfying home life I really need to be in full control of looking for good paying roles, so I need to put enjoying time at home behind me for now.’
3 cards are all you really need to gain insight into many situations. But, if you want a more detailed tarot reading, you can use this method in a tarot spread.
Using the Awake Dream with a spread
If you want to use this method of intuitive tarot reading with a (small) tarot spread, you can. Instead of using 1 card in each spread position, you use 3 cards in each position to create the picture.
Here is the same reading as above but I have made it a ‘3’ card spread with 3 cards in each spread position. This is essentially a 3 card ‘Situation, What do I need to know, Advice‘ spread with 3 cards in each position instead of 1. So now we have 9 cards!
The bottom row is the ‘Situation‘ position and is the same as my first Awake Dream reading. The second row is the ‘What do I need to know‘ position and the top row is ‘Advice.’
For ‘Situation’ I kept the interpretations I described above. For ‘What do I need to know‘ my intuitive reading told me that the soul destroying nature of looking for work plus dealing with the strictures and regulations in organisations is going to lead to disappointment.
My advice to myself for the top ‘Advice’ position? To find fulfilling and rewarding work, I need to network with other people and then really act vigorously on what results from that.
For another, more detailed, example of an Awake Dream intuitive reading, see the post ‘Tarot For Self-Reflection And Action‘ which you can find here.
More tips on the Awake Dream intuitive reading
With the ‘3 card as one picture’ method of the Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading, don’t simply start reading the cards from left to right. Instead look at the picture as a whole.
In the example I gave above, the top ‘Advice’ row looked as though the reading progressed from right to left with the gardener in the 3 of Wands looking to his left. Same for the middle row.
Sometimes, the direction someone is facing can indicate whether the past or the future is involved. If a figure is looking to the left that could indicate the past; if they are looking to the right that could mean looking forward to the future. Looking straight ahead may mean ‘right now.’ This may not apply for every reading.
If you have one person on one card smaller than a person on another card, the larger person may indicate greater importance. For instance, in the middle row of the reading above, the Emperor is much larger than the figure in the 5 of Cups. This told me that the structures and regulations in the organisations may be overbearing and too much to handle. At least in the context of this reading about work!
Sometimes the people may represent actual people, other times they may represent behaviours to adopt.
A good way of practising this style of reading is to do a daily ‘Awake Dream’ reading in the morning or evening instead of the normally recommended 1 card draw.
I do this myself and I usually ask the question ‘What do I need to know about today?’
Practice regularly, daily if possible. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Using the Tarot de Marseille (TdM)
Traditionally only the major arcana of the TdM are used in readings. The Awake Dream intuitive tarot reading style is also known as the Open Reading method when it comes to using the TdM. The Open Reading normally only uses 3 cards which is often more than you need.
Here is an example of a majors only TdM Awake Dream/Open Reading on the same ‘What do I need to know about work?’ question.
The same things apply: look which direction people are facing; look where the people are gazing or gesturing to; are the people looking straight ahead; etc.
Again, the 3 cards form one picture. Think of it as a painting with 3 panels which tells a story. Don’t read the cards individually and don’ t use meanings – treat the cards as if they do not have meanings. Just let the pictures on the cards describe themselves.
For this reading I interpreted the answer as:
‘Setting out to look for work I really need to weigh up and be critical about what is going to give me the best chance of improving my circumstances. Don’t necessarily take the first role that comes along.‘
That in a nutshell is how you can easily read the Tarot de Marseille!
Exercise your Intuition
It’s worth repeating what I wrote earlier, the more you practice this way of intuitively reading the tarot the easier it becomes and the more intuitive you will become.
You may already naturally be very intuitive but if you are not you can improve. Think of your intuition as a primitive, instinctive ‘muscle’ that needs regular exercise to make stronger. Our modern society has dulled our intuition to a great degree but we are all capable of developing this instinct further.
You can ask the tarot questions on a wide range of topics but some questions are more effective at producing useful answers than others. How you ask or phrase the question can be as important as the topic. This post will discuss the types of tarot questions that work best; why yes/no type questions are not great at producing an answer you can act on; and we’ll look at the topics that are ethically challenging to answer with the tarot.
Having a very clear question in mind is really important when you use the tarot; a clear question provides a meaningful answer. I discuss the need for a good question in the posts ‘Reading Tarot for Yourself – 7 Things to Avoid‘ – which is here – and ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which is here.
Open Ended Tarot Questions
Whether you read tarot for yourself or someone reads the cards for you, the tarot provides the most benefit when it gives an answer that allows you to think about the ins and outs of the issue. This will help you plan the best course of action to enable you to move forwards. Open ended tarot questions are really effective at allowing you to do this.
Open ended questions usually begin with Why; What; Where; When; Who; and How. For instance, assume you are having an ongoing argument with your partner and you want to know how to resolve it. Examples of good tarot questions include ‘How can I resolve this issue in my relationship?’ and ‘What do I need to know to help resolve this issue?’
Asking open ended tarot questions gives your reading a context to help you think about the situation and the way ahead. Your tarot reading then become a practical and helpful way of dealing with the sorts of issues you might encounter every day. This moves tarot away from just being a fortune telling method towards something that can provide you with actual guidance.
Personally, I have been using open ended questions for many years. This has made the tarot an immensely valuable means of helping me think through situations and guide me to answers. I can’t stress that enough. For the people I read for, this approach has really resonated as well.
So, if open ended questions makes the tarot a powerful instrument of advice and guidance, what types of questions prove to be less helpful? Time to look at yes or no questions.
Predictive Yes or No Tarot Questions
Closed tarot questions are ones which lead to a yes or no answer. I’m sure there are tarot readers out there who do predictive readings who would disagree with me but I have never found these types of questions to be useful. Why not?
Firstly, the future is not set in stone. Every decision we make, even the smallest and most inconsequential, can change a prediction. Any tarot reader who claims they can predict something will happen with 100% certainty is essentially talking nonsense.
When we do a tarot reading, the answer we get is not the destination at the end of a fixed track we can’t leave. I have had predictive readings done for me, more for my curiosity then anything else. The predictions did not happen.
More spectacularly, I recall someone predicting that Hilary Clinton would become the President of the USA after the 2016 election. Guess what? Nope.
Secondly, a yes or no tarot question does not give the querent agency to affect the outcome. If you get a yes or no answer from a tarot reading then what? If the answer is ‘yes’ then people who believe in fate will just sit back and wait for the prediction to come true. Sometimes the prediction does come true due to coincidence. More likely, nothing happens because no action was taken.
What’s worse is that the querent may have an external locus of control. This means they believe their life is controlled by external forces and they cannot do anything to change their destiny. Such persons won’t attempt to avoid a ‘no’ result – which could have a negative effect on their lives – therefore the no outcome becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
To be clear, while I do not believe that tarot can predict something with absolute accuracy, I do believe it can forecast a potential, possible, future if current conditions are unchanged.
Am I contradicting everything i’ve just written above? I don’t believe so. Economists try to forecast how the economy will act and weather forecasters can predict likely outcomes if things continue as expected.
While both of these examples are based on mathematical models, the tarot can be used to forecast what is likely to happen if you don’t take action to change the current situation. My experience with tarot has shown this to be true pretty often over the years. Action is required to achieve the results you want – as is true in life generally.
Overall, as you can tell, i’m not a fan of yes no type tarot questions. They do not help you to think about the issue and what you can do about it. But people want yes no questions from tarot quite often.
If you read tarot for yourself and a yes no question springs to mind or if someone asks you a yes or no question, how could you respond to this?
How To Respond to Yes Or No Tarot Questions
When reading tarot for myself to answer a serious question, if it seems like a yes or no question, I will re-phrase it to encourage a constructive answer. For instance, I would re-phrase the question ‘Will I get the job?’ to ‘What do I need to know in order to get the job?’. This approach has always proved to be the most helpful for myself. If i’m reading for other people and they ask me a yes or no question I gently encourage them to rethink their question to make it open ended.
Most of the time this works. The person i’m reading for leaves the reading satisfied and with ideas they can consider to help them with their issue. Sometimes though, all they want is a yes or no answer. What I do then is the following type of yes no spread from ‘Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower Your Readings’ by Barbara Moore
It’s a 3 card spread. Choose any 3 card spread you like: I like to use Situation; What You Need to Know; Advice. The spread does use reversals; if you want to know how to easily interpret reversals read the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With W.I.N.D.‘ which you can find here.
An upright card means ‘Yes’, a reversed card means ‘No’ with the middle position counting double. You then simply count the number of upright and reversed cards. For instance, if the first and second cards are upright but the last card is reversed, the answer is Yes (3 Yes to 1 No). If the first card is upright but the middle and last cards are reversed, the answer is No (1 Yes to 3 No). If the first and last card are upright but the middle card is reversed, the answer is Maybe or Uncertain (2 Yes to 2 No),
Since I don’t like simple Yes or No answers I use the spread I chose to actually interpret the cards. If the overall answer is Yes I would try to interpret the result as ‘The answer is Yes if….’. However, if the answer is No – and this is an undesirable result – I would interpret the result as ‘The answer is No but….’ So, you get a Yes or No answer (or Maybe) but the spread would give a constructive message as to how to ensure the yes result or how to avoid the no result.
I’ve used this approach to Yes No questions a lot and it seems to work well. It gives the querent an indication of the likely result if nothing changes but then gives some idea of how to reach the Yes result or avoid the No result.
Ethically Challenging Tarot Questions
I personally do not answer tarot questions related to health; legal issues; or finance. This is a topic hotly debated between different tarot readers.
I strongly believe that these three areas are too important to be left to the cards. Issues in these areas can have major life altering consequences and I would strongly recommend seeing the relevant appropriately qualified professionals if you have serious concerns. Tarot is an art not a science and, as I mentioned earlier, the tarot cannot accurately predict the future with certainty.
There are many tarot readers who would disagree with me and don’t believe there is any harm in answering tarot questions on health; legal matters or money concerns.
The following is one actual example of why I do not believe it is ethical or wise to read the tarot on these issues.
A querent told me she was having tissue from a breast lump analysed. She wanted me to use the tarot to tell her if everything was going to be O.K. or not – a Yes No question. I asked her if she believed in fate and how would she feel if I said ‘No, things were not going to all right.’ She told me that she believed the future could not be changed and that she would be worried if the reading provided a No answer.
I could have suggested she rephrase the question to make it open ended but I really didn’t feel that would be advisable in this case. I told her that I could not use the tarot to answer this question. She accepted this and asked me a different question for which I did complete a reading.
This example raised some warning signs for me at the time. I am not a doctor so am not qualified to talk about medical issues such as testing for the presence of cancer. Also, as she told me she would have been concerned if the reading had a No outcome, I did not believe it ethical to leave someone in distress. This is something that has been part of my professional therapy practice and it feels right to apply that to tarot readings too.
Also, because she believed in fate, she would have felt powerless to take action. In reality, there wouldn’t have been much she could do except have a consultation with the specialist clinician. The only sensible thing to do was advise her to await the test result and discuss it with her doctor. Which is what I did.
If you are reading for someone else then you need to be aware that they will likely come to you for advice and guidance when they are troubled. You have a responsibility to treat them with care and compassion and sign post them to the relevant professionals where necessary. And remember, depending on the laws where you live, you could be liable to legal action if a querent decides to sue you.
I will not read tarot for myself on health; legal matters or finance either. Although I have some medical knowledge due to working as an occupational therapist, I will not trust tarot to provide answers to health issues – off to the doctor I go! Same for legal or money matters. The consequences of things going wrong are far too serious.
I believe it is O.K. to ask the tarot a question such as ‘What do I need to know about this health/legal/finance issue?’ This could give you a general overview of the situation which can be helpful. But please go and see the relevant professionals!
Third Party Tarot Readings
Third party tarot readings are where you answer tarot questions relating to another person who is not present at the reading. This is either reading for yourself or for a querent. A typical third party question might be ‘Why isn’t he contacting me?’ or ‘What is he thinking?’
Anything wrong with third party questions? Well, yes, I believe there is.
Imagine this scenario. Someone close to you, perhaps a partner; close friend or even a relative, suddenly starts to behave differently around you. Maybe, they are becoming more distant, remote, actively avoiding you. Then you discover they went for a tarot reading about YOU. And didn’t like what they heard. How would you feel? Annoyed? Angry? Upset? I wouldn’t blame you.
Maybe if you had been present at the tarot reading as well things could have gone differently. You might have had an opportunity to correct some inaccuracies about you that the tarot reader was seeing in the cards.
The point is that you did not provide consent for the reading that was all about you; you didn’t know about it.
Whether you do a third party tarot reading for yourself or answer a third party tarot question for someone else, the fact is the answers you get can seriously influence how the querent interacts with that third person. That person may be negatively impacted by this and they were not present to provide consent. It is absolutely unfair on that person; they should have been present at the reading. Better still, the question should not have been asked.
Of course, there are plenty of tarot readers who will answer third party tarot questions. But is it right? Only you can answer that question. I always recall this phrase ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you.’ If you don’t like the idea of someone treating you differently because of a tarot reading about you, you have your answer.
Tarot Questions Wrap up
Hopefully this post has helped you to think about how to ask tarot questions that provide meaningful answers. And which topics can cause serious problems if you get things wrong. It took me a long time to learn some of these lessons. In my earlier tarot days I did ask questions on health and about other people. The stress and worry it caused was simply not worth it. I made these mistakes so you don’t have to!
To get the most out of reading tarot cards requires more than just whipping out the deck whenever, wherever. In this post I cover 10 steps on how to read tarot cards that have helped me to get the clearest, most accurate tarot readings possible. I have developed these 10 steps after many years of my own experience reading tarot plus knowledge gained from other experienced readers. This post is mainly aimed at people new to tarot but if you’ve been reading tarot awhile you may find some interesting nuggets! In this post I refer to people seeking a tarot reading as querents – the traditional term.
Of course, as with all tarot content I post on this blog, take what works for you and leave the rest!
This post is very much a companion piece to my post ‘Reading Tarot for Yourself – 7 Things to Avoid’ which you can read, here. This post does cover some of the same ground as that one but I go into more of what I do to create a great reading experience whether reading tarot for myself or others. Taking both posts together should provide a good primer on how to read tarot cards.
1. Set a time and place for your tarot reading
To really be able to focus on the reading ideally I recommend allocating a time and special place to throw down the cards. A quiet place where you will not be disturbed is great; some people fortunate enough to have the space devote an entire room for just reading tarot. Other people who use tarot as part of their spiritual practice create altars and read tarot there. A particular time when you will not be disturbed is also important and you want to make sure the time is long enough to get what you need from the reading.
Personally, my own readings usually last 20 to 40 minutes or longer depending on the complexity of the issue but you will find your timescale. I tend to do my personal readings early in the morning or late in the evening in the privacy of my room – it’s quiet, I won’t be disturbed and I have the time I need to absorb the message provided by the cards.
What if you are travelling and what to do a quick reading on the train? Or what if you are at work and just want to do a reading during a break? Of course you can read tarot where ever and when ever you like! I’m not saying you can’t but it is not the best way to really reflect on the reading.
Before the current coronavirus pandemic, I would often attend tarot Meetups here in London where I would read cards for others in a really busy pub. I also took my cards into work where I would read for myself and other interested people during lunch and sometimes after work. Those readings were valuable but the distractions and time constraints meant I couldn’t really achieve the focus and time needed to really dig deep into the reading. I reserved my most important questions for when I could give the tarot my undivided attention.
2. Be sure you are emotionally ready for tarot
For a clear, unbiased reading I definitely recommend not reading the tarot for yourself while you are experiencing strong emotions. Reading tarot, particularly for yourself, when you are experiencing strong emotion can skew the message you receive from the cards. If you want to be objective as possible, wait until you are feeling calmer!
Also, if you are feeling tired and you want to do a reading on an important issue, it would be better to delay the reading until you are rested. If you are tired you will not be able to concentrate on the messages the cards provide.
So there you go, i’m writing in a tarot blog about when not to read the tarot!
For more information on how to be objective as possible when reading tarot see my ‘Reading tarot for Yourself’ post linked at the top.
It’s actually easier to read for other people if you are feeling emotional since you focus on the other person’s needs and not your own but it is still a good idea to begin the reading in a calm state. Meditation is a good means of feeling calmer and more focused on the reading ahead.
3. Have a clear question in mind
Have a clear question in mind when you are going to do your own tarot readings. This is important to provide a context for the cards you draw. It is O.K. to ask general questions like ‘What is the energy today?’ but you need to have something in mind. If you don’t have a question and just pull out the cards you won’t be able to relate them to any situation and the messages will be vague and unhelpful. Not very useful!
Sometimes when I read for other people they just ask for a general reading – that’s all they tell me! I explain to them that they will get more out of the reading if they can at least narrow the focus of their question down to a particular area of their life that they are concerned about at the moment. For instance, career or relationships. This isn’t about changing the querent’s question, it’s about providing a reading that will be more helpful to them by providing a better context for the cards.
If you are just starting out reading for other people don’t be afraid to gently help them narrow the focus of their questions. They will get more out of the reading and the reading will be much easier for you too!
For more on which kinds of tarot questions are most helpful – and which to avoid – see the post ‘What Tarot Questions Can You Ask?‘ which you can read here.
4. Make sure the reading space is private and comfortable
Privacy is really important when reading the tarot for someone else. I find that people really open up during a tarot reading divulging all sorts of personal issues and feelings they wouldn’t tell anyone else. In essence you almost become a counsellor. They confide in you and you have an obligation to respect that trust and make sure that confidentiality is maintained. A private, comfortable space will relax your querent and encourage them to open up.
As I mentioned previously in point 1, I used to do readings for others in pubs. Even then, though, I would ensure we had a table to ourselves and that we could not be overheard easily.
If you are reading for someone online or even over the phone, this privacy is still important. Make sure you will not be disturbed during the reading. Pets excepted! And young children in an emergency!
5. Ask Questions
Related to some of the earlier points, when you are reading the tarot for someone else, don’t be afraid to ask them questions! Some people seem to think that tarot readers are also psychic mind readers and don’t need to provide any information. Unfortunately, like most people, I am not a psychic mind reader and information is crucial for any productive and meaningful tarot reading.
As well as asking your querents to, at the very least, narrow the focus of their question to a particular area of their lives, also ask them questions during the reading. Practical, useful, tarot reading is almost more of a conversation and counselling session than an exercise in psychic ability.
Asking people questions during the tarot reading is not cheating, it will help you to understand the messages the cards are giving you. You should explain to the querent that you will be asking them questions during the reading and this is to help them get the most out of the reading.
6. Choose your Tarot deck
If you are fortunate enough to own more than one tarot deck you have the luxury of choosing the appropriate deck for the reading. Some people have particular decks they like to use for particular questions. Other readers have favourite decks for use at particular times of the year. For instance, some decks work well during the spring as they have that new growth energy; other, darker, decks may be more appropriate for shadow work or for readings during the autumn (Fall).
If you have several decks and you are reading for someone else perhaps give the querent the choice of what deck they would like you to use; it gives them a greater investment in the reading if you use a deck they like.
Personally, I do choose the deck I want to use based on the question. Certain decks have an atmosphere or vibe that resonates particulary well with certain questions. The Bianco Nero tarot pictured above is a deck I favour when I want a clear, no nonsense reading due to the starkness of the black and white imagery.
However, if you only have one or two decks then don’t worry! Your readings are not going to be any less effective because you don’t have a library of decks to choose from. If you do read for other people I personally recommend having a deck just for yourself and one for reading for others. A public deck is likely to get grubby and damaged and you may want to keep a pristine one for yourself. Also, if your favourite deck happens to be expensive and/or out of print you probably don’t want that deck to get ruined.
7. Shuffle and cut the deck
Shuffling the tarot deck is vitally important. If you believe that a deck can absorb the energies of the person using it then getting the querent to shuffle it will mean the deck absorbs their energy. This means the deck will be more attuned to the querent resulting in a more focused, accurate reading. Even if you don’t believe in this, a good shuffle will randomise the deck and prevent the previous reading from contaminating the current one.
See my post titled ‘How to shuffle a tarot deck‘, which you can find here, to discover my technique for shuffling a tarot deck regardless of the size or thickness of the cards – riffle shuffling is not required!
Some tarot readers don’t like the querent to shuffle the deck, preferring to do that that themselves. But the querent can still cut the deck.
Cutting the deck is very important. For me, this is really the point where the energies of the person – their psychic state – may have an influence on the reading. The traditional method is to use your left hand and cut the deck twice to create 3 piles before then recombining the piles into one deck. There are several reasons why the left hand is used – my favourite is that this is the hand closest to the heart and so allows the person’s emotions to affect the reading.
If this helps you get into the mental state necessary for the reading then follow this traditional method. You don’t have to of course – so long as you cut the deck using some other method. For me, I do cut the deck with my left hand; it’s part of the ritual involved in tarot reading useful in that it helps mentally prepare me for the reading ahead.
Of course, at the time of writing this post, we are still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. If you are, by some chance, managing to read safely for other people face-to-face or online, how can you get the person you are reading for to safely cut the deck? Answer – use Pick a Pile:
Popular on YouTube tarot channels, the pick a pile reading enables the querent to effectively ‘cut the deck’ and have an influence on the reading. You simply give them the choice of which pile they want to use based on intuition and then do the reading only using the cards in that pile. Not as good as physically cutting the deck themselves but it’s a pretty good alternative.
8. Make note of everything that happens
This is a really, really important part of any tarot reading. What do I mean by noting everything that happens? Exactly that.
From the time you sit down and prepare yourself for the reading – through shuffling the cards; laying them out; and interpreting the reading – make a mental note of anything that occurs. This can be sounds during the reading like a creaking house; cars beeping outside; pigeons landing on your window sill. Any sensations you might experience like a twinge of pain that suddenly occurs; perhaps a sudden itch. You get the idea.
Particularly important, make a note of any cards that fall out of the deck while shuffling – commonly known as ‘Jumpers’. Even if these cards don’t actually appear in the reading they may have some relevance you should consider. If they do appear in the reading pay special attention to them because there is definitely something you need to know about the message that card has.
Why do I talk about noting what happens during a reading? As it happens, through personal experience both related and unrelated to tarot, I have come to believe in the concept of synchronicity.
Synchronicity is a term coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. He used it to describe observed events occurring at a particular time which appear to be meaningfully interdependent to the observer but which do not have any causal link. A classic example of this is where you are thinking about someone you haven’t seen for a long time and then that person calls you. This is meaningful to you but other than just having thought about that person there is nothing else to have caused these two events to happen together.
Synchronicity has been claimed to be nothing more than coincidence or confirmation bias where a person merely chooses the information that fits their beliefs.
With regard to tarot, I have gradually come to believe in the concept of synchronicity over many years. I’m aware of confirmation bias but, rationally speaking, I don’t believe that explains many instances where you draw the exact card that explains the situation. Or when the same card appears in the same position in the spread over and over again.
Quantum Physics May Explain Synchronicity
How to explain synchronicity? Well, quantum physics teaches us that reality doesn’t work the way we think it does. Quantum physics experiments have demonstrated that objects can instantly connect and influence each other over huge distances – with no causal link. Theoretical quantum mechanics hypothesises that the unconscious can influence the conscious world. I personally would like to believe that this is part of the answer as to why the tarot works – your psychic state can actually influence the reading!
Will we ever prove this is true? Who knows. But keep your eyes peeled and ears straining while doing a tarot reading.
9. Reading the Tarot cards
A very important aspect of knowing how to read tarot cards is using a tarot spread. Tarot spreads will help you get the most accurate and useful answers. A tarot spread consists of different positions, each one with a different meaning, in which you place the cards. You then read the card in the context of that position and then bring the whole reading together.
Ideally, you should know a selection of different spreads to cover a range of possible questions. There are many sources, both books and online, where you can find spreads. There are spreads for most of the popular questions, including general spreads. Even better, if you feel confident, you can create a custom spread tailored to exactly answer the question to be asked. It’s not difficult.
Here’s a brief example of creating your own spread to answer a specific question.
How To Create Your Own Tarot Spread
I want to keep things pretty light and cheerful so we’ll create a spread to answer a frivolous question.
The question is: What should I feed my cat this evening?
If you own a cat – as I do – you will know that this can be a challenging exercise because cats are connoisseurs when it comes to food!
The way to create a custom tarot spread is to break the question down into all the aspects you want to know. These aspects then become the positions in the spread.
So, for instance we might want to know the following:
What do I need to know about feeding my cat Tuna (Option A)? What do I need to know about feeding my cat Salmon (Option B)? What does my cat feel about Option A (based on previous experience)? What does my cat feel about Option B? (based on previous experience)? Overall advice
This creates a 5 card spread where you can essentially think about what your cat might like based on previous experience with some general advice to help guide you.
That was a fun little example but the general idea can be applied to any question: think about all the aspects of the question you feel are important and include a position for overall advice or action to take. These become the positions in your spread.
Try practising this: Carry a little notebook and a pen or pencil with you and when you have a question you want to ask the tarot, think about it, break it down into all the aspects you want to know and create your own spread.
Reading The Tarot Spread
The various methods of actually reading all the cards is a topic too huge for this post alone but here are some pointers.
Some tarot readers like to get an overview of the whole spread first noting how many major arcana cards are present and whether there are a lot of any particular suit present. This will help determine the energies involved in the reading.
For instance, many major arcana cards indicates that there are major forces at work in this question and you may not have much control over how the situation develops. If there are many pentacles or coins present this indicates that the energies mainly involve work, money, health or other material concerns.
Having done the overview, the readers will then pay attention to the individual cards before tying the whole reading together to create a story, or summary, of the reading.
Of course, other readers may do things the other way around; giving individual cards attention before moving to an overview of the reading.
Personally, I use the first approach – I look at the big picture and then narrow the focus down to the separate cards. Do whatever works best for you including ignoring all of this if that works for you!
When talking about how to read tarot cards, the ability to connect the cards in the spread is important to create a solid summary, or story, of the overall reading. Whatever you do, don’t just read each card in the spread in isolation and just leave the reading there – the reading will be disjointed and confusing! Developing your intuition in tarot reading is crucial here.
For more on developing your tarot intuition and an easy method to read tarot intuitively, see the posts ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which can be found here and ‘Starting With Tarot: A Guide For The Beginner‘ here.
10. Finish the reading
Once you have finished the reading I strongly recommend making a note of the reading in a journal so you can reference the reading again in the future; particularly valuable if the reading was very important.
If you’re like me, you tend to forget readings over time so a tarot journal is actually really valuable. See my post ‘Reading Tarot For Yourself – 7 Things To Avoid‘, which you can read here, for more on tarot journaling.
If you are reading for someone else online or over the phone make sure they are happy with the reading and if the reading has answered their question. I have found that you need to ask this as some people will remain quiet but still aren’t sure about certain aspects of the reading. By asking them you give them the opportunity to speak up.
If you are reading for someone else it is important to maintain boundaries, especially if you are reading tarot professionally. You are not beholden to your querent, you are providing them a service. And the service ends when the particular reading does!
I hope this post on how to read tarot cards is helpful, it’s certainly helped me achieve focused, accurate tarot readings over the years.
Reading tarot for yourself is very rewarding. It is a method of self reflection and considering potential decisions when thinking about what to do. However, personal tarot reading is not easy. In this post I am going to talk about 7 things I have personally experienced that make reading tarot for yourself difficult and how to respond to them. It is because of these issues that some people say you shouldn’t read tarot for yourself; you can read more on that in my post on tarot myths, here.
For more on how to read tarot cards, including for others, please read my post ‘How to Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps for Great Readings‘ which you can find here.
As with all things I write, take what works for you and leave the rest.
1. Not Having a clear question
Some people simply lay out the cards without a question in mind to get a general idea of the energies present. I personally find this too vague. Without a clear question in mind, you cannot give the cards a proper context and your reading will also be vague and difficult to interpret. Which is just a waste of time.
Arguably, the most important thing to do before you ever get out your tarot deck is have a very clear question in mind. Figure out what it is you want to know. If possible avoid Yes/No questions but rather ask open ended questions such as ‘What do I need to know about…’ or ‘How can I…’
Once you do this it is much easier, in my experience, to interpret the cards and actually gain some practical benefit from the reading. I personally advise against Yes/No questions because these type of questions remove any agency you may have. If you believe that the answer is yes or no then why would you take action if you believe the answer is preordained? I do not believe the future is set in stone so I personally avoid asking yes or no questions for myself.
2. not using the most appropriate tarot spread
Ideally, to really answer the question you have, you should create a custom spread for that question. However, I am aware that some people are not comfortable or confident doing that. In that case I do believe that you should take care to find the most appropriate tarot spread for your question. This will give you the clearest answer. Easy, right?
Maybe not. The Celtic Cross seems to have burned itself into the tarot reading consciousness as the only tarot spread available. This 10 card spread (11 if you use a significator) is good for giving an overview of the situation but that’s about it; it’s a general spread so it’s not very specific. Also, if you are a tarot newbie, then a 10 card spread can be overwhelming.
I would recommend a 3 card spread for most situations; 5 cards at the most. The 3 card spread is very flexible. You should not be afraid to assign any meaning you want to the 3 positions. Here are just some examples:
Position 1: Past Position 2: Present Position 3: Future
Position 1: Situation Position 2: Challenge Position 3: Answer
Position 1: Problem Position 2: Advice Position 3: Action
Position 1: Option 1 Position 2: Option 2 Position 3: Advice on option to choose.
And so on. You get the idea.
There are many books on tarot spreads. One of the very best I have come across is ‘Tarot Spreads: Layouts and Techniques to Empower Your Readings‘ by Barbara Moore. This book not only contains loads of different spreads for any conceivable situation but also advice on how to modify existing spreads and on how to create your own spreads. This book is essential reading.
This advice on choosing the best spread really applies only to readings using a Rider Waite Smith based deck. For people using the Tarot de Marseille (TdM) I fully recommend ‘The Marseille Tarot Revealed‘ by Yoav Ben-Dov. This book will show you how to get the most out of your readings using the TdM.
3. Bias due to strong emotions
So, when should you not read tarot for yourself? When you are experiencing strong emotions, particularly the more negative emotions: anger, jealousy, hate. However, if you are feeling strong positive emotions such as joy then I also suggest you leave the tarot reading until you are calmer.
When you experience strong emotions these will definitely bias your tarot readings. For instance, if you believe your boyfriend or girlfriend are cheating on you then you may be subconsciously predisposed to read the worst outcome in your reading. Leave the tarot deck alone.
Reducing The Chance Of Bias
Two things you can try to do if you really want the tarot to give you some genuine clarity.
Firstly, try some mediation before you do the reading to calm yourself. Personally, I find meditation challenging but a simple technique I have found works is, first, to find a quiet space. Then, take a deep breath in to the count of 4, then breath out to the count of 4. After that, simply focus on your breathing and nothing else. If something enters your mind and distracts you repeat the breathing in and out to the count of 4 and return to focus on your breathing.
After a few minutes I usually find myself calmer and my mind clearer.
Secondly, and this is a good technique for self tarot reading at all times, is to imagine you are reading for someone else. If you have a pet imagine you are reading for them. Or imagine you are doing the reading for a friend. It may seem silly but it does work because it helps you remain objective.
However, in the end, if you are still experiencing those strong emotions then it’s a good idea to just not do the reading – it won’t be any benefit to you at the very least and may lead you astray at the worst.
4. Not being able to focus due to distractions
To get the most benefit from your tarot readings you really do need to reflect on the reading and focus on what the cards are saying. Tarot cards, particularly the fully illustrated cards of the Rider Waite Smith and similar decks, are a symbolic language. To understand the language you have to concentrate on what is being said.
This is not easy if you are trying to do the reading in an environment full of distractions. Maybe you are a busy parent with young children running around. Or perhaps you live in a shared house and it is difficult to have complete peace.
What I do to ensure I can focus on my own readings is find a quiet time – either in the evening or early in the morning – where disturbances are minimised. If you live in a busy household, try to find a quiet spot, dedicate it to tarot readings, and let people know you do not want to be disturbed. It is well worth it to make this effort.
5. Asking the same question again and again
Sometimes you do a reading and you may not be sure what the cards are saying. Or, you want confirmation of what the first reading is saying – just to be sure. Perhaps you were not happy with what the cards had to say the first time. So you do another tarot reading on the same question. And then maybe another. Repeat.
This doesn’t work. The tarot is effectively a mirror reflecting your psychological state and situation back at you. All you do if you repeat the same question again and again is get the same answer back from the cards. The cards may be different or they may be the same but you will interpret the reading in a similar way. What is worse, with repeated readings, you may even end up confusing yourself with slightly different reflections. Like this guy here:
Whether or not you understand the reading the first time, even if you don’t like what the cards have to say, do not repeat the reading. Instead you have to try to understand and reflect on that first reading and understand the message it is giving you. The tarot never lies but it does require time to interpret.
Of course, after a suitable period of time you may want to repeat the reading on that specific question. Maybe the situation has changed or other factors have become important. Then absolutely do another reading. I personally try to leave at least 3 weeks to a month before I repeat questions. This is plenty of time for things to have evolved and then it is worth doing another reading.
Talking of reflecting on readings leads us to the next problem with reading tarot for ourselves.
6. not making a note of the readings
As I mentioned in the last point, it can sometimes take time to reflect on readings. This is especially true if the reading didn’t really make sense. I have lost count of the number of times where I forgot to make a note of the cards in the reading so that I could reflect – after a few days I have just completely forgotten what cards were drawn and I have to repeat the reading again.
The answer to this is simple and very worthwhile. Make a note of your tarot reading in a dedicated tarot journal so that you can look back over the reading in the days, weeks, and months ahead. It doesn’t really matter what type of journal you keep; it could be a good old paper journal or an online journal. Maybe even just take a picture of the spread with your phone.
Personally, I prefer a nice hard copy paper journal. I like the tactile feel of the pages and I can absorb information better reading from a page then I can from a screen. The benefit of making a written note of the reading over just taking a picture is that you can make detailed notes of the what the cards were saying to you; any questions or issues you had; things you want to look out for as time passes.
In general I would recommend a tarot journal for any tarot reader, especially if you are new to tarot and you are learning the cards. A journal is great for noting down your interpretations of a card, maybe after a daily single card draw. This helps you understand what the card means for you and this is invaluable for intuitive tarot reading. And talking of intuitive readings…
7. sticking to the card meanings
This is one of the hardest problems to overcome when reading tarot for yourself or for other people. This is particularly true if you are learning the tarot and you are relying on card meanings. The true power of tarot is being able to use your intuition when reading the cards, even if this means you move completely away from what the cards actually mean.
Practice is the only answer but how do you do it? While the subject of reading tarot intuitively is something I want to talk about in another post there are some things you can try to do fairly easily.
Intuitive Tarot Reading Tips
After making sure you have a clear question in mind – see point 1 above – you probably want to choose a small spread if you are new to tarot. No more than 3 cards say. Layout the cards and then completely ignore what the actual card meanings are. Don’t look up card meanings or just pretend the card is a painting and put the meaning out of your mind.
Then simply describe the card literally. Take your time and look at the picture and just describe the picture to yourself and think about it in the context of your question and the position in the spread. Do the same with the other cards. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy – it’s not but this is how you can start to learn to read intuitively.
Another good method of practising reading tarot intuitively is to get your tarot deck and start to make a story with the cards. Turn over the top card and describe the card. Then turn over the next card, describe it, and add it to the story. Keep going. This way you are not thinking about the card meanings but describing the cards in the context of the story you are creating. For instance, with the Fool, Magician and High Priestess I might create the following story just from the pictures alone:
‘I’m taking a walk along the cliff path with my dog and i’m carefree and not looking where i’m going. I fall off the cliff and land in a nice garden where a wizard points up to the cliff and points at me on the ground and says “I can help you get back to the top with magic.” His sister, the High Priestess, is also in the garden near the beach and says “look be quiet, I can’t hear myself think and i’m trying to hear the sea and it’s night time now”‘
Just an example to give you an idea of what i’m talking about.
Of course, if you feel you need to know the card meanings then go ahead but try to read the card intuitively first, then look up the meaning.
For much more on reading tarot intuitively, including an easy method for intuitive reading, see the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which can be found here.
Anyway, I hope some of this has been helpful for you and that you find it useful in your personal tarot readings. The tips i’ve talked about in the points above have definitely helped me so give them a try for yourself.