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.