7 steps to reading the Tarot

Tarot deck shown is the Rider Waite Smith published by US Games. Photo by Magenta

Firstly, everyone has their own way of reading the cards…so our way is not the only way, and to be honest it might not be the “right” way for you. But we’ll share what we know and you can take it forward if this fits with you. We will share some thoughts at the end about how you can develop the right way for yourself. 

Secondly, for us it seems to be that cards aren’t “good” or “bad”…the clues as to whether the information in the card is intended to be read positively or negatively is where they appear in the spread. Over the years we have noticed that even the most positive cards can be blocks if that’s where they have popped up in the spread. The same it seems is true of the so-called ‘bad’ cards…(yes Three of Swords we’re looking at you)…if a ‘bad’ card appears in placement reserved for good news or for taking action, it doesn’t mean all is lost. For example, in the case of the Three of Swords, the card could be inviting you to not to take things too personally, or that you have three difficult choices.

Which brings us to our third step. Working out the spread before shuffling the deck means we can interpret the meanings as either positive or negative depending on what the placements will be and of course, how the cards interact with each other in their placements. There are hundreds of spreads to choose from, or you can just make one up, but we found that deciding how many cards we’ll have and what the placements will be before we start brings their meanings into focus. 

Fourth, asking open questions is better for Tarot readings. It’s not that ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or other types of closed questions can’t be answered by the Tarot, but we have found that framing the questions around “how can I move forward…?” or “what am I not seeing about…?” gives the meanings in the cards a richness when compared to questions like “When will I…?” or “Should I do this?”.  Asking open questions also means the spreads can be more interesting. There can be card placements for “what is getting in the way?” or “what are sources of strength?” and card placements for “what steps can be taken next?” or “what needs to be a focus point?” 

Number five…. the direction the cards are facing tells us whether this is external world stuff or internal world stuff. We understand that not everyone wants to work with upside down cards but if you do want to, interpreting the cards in their upside down – reversed – position can be a tricky area for lots of people. For us, we have found that an upside down card usually means one of two things. Either this is how we feel about ourselves or there is some internal work we still need to do. For example, maybe there’s something we haven’t quite got right and we need to spend more time learning. Cards facing the right way up usually mean this is something going on in the external world, and usually involves other people. 

Which brings us on to number six…The people cards aren’t always other people and other people aren’t always shown by the people cards. For us, court cards and what they mean goes back to the spread again. If we’ve got a placement for people, the meaning of the card in that placement will shed some light on who it is,  even if the card is not a court card. For example, if we have a placement for “external factors” and a number card shows up here, this could be a person with those traits. If a court card turns up in a placement that has nothing to do with other people, then for us it will usually mean it’s an aspect of our personality. If a court card is upside down, this is usually how we feel about ourselves. If it’s the right way up it’s usually how we are acting in the external world. 

Finally number seven. The meanings are whatever they are at the moment you turn the card over, in relation to three things. The question being asked, the placement in the spread and what the other cards are saying. For us, trying to stick rigidly to the book meaning didn’t work so we resigned ourselves to the fact that the same card won’t mean the same thing everytime we see it. Which was equal parts annoying and liberating when we figured out that Pentacles can mean emotional stuff, and Swords can mean money stuff. This is because for us, there’s more going on in Tarot in order for a card to be interpreted in the right context. There’s the Suit, the Number, what might be happening in the Picture as well as the elemental aspects and astrology stuff. So any part of the card can be giving the answer to the question in relation to where it has popped up in the spread…not just what the book says!

So that’s how we read Tarot…and of course many people will have disagreed and that’s totally fine. The most important thing is to figure out your relationship to the cards because that will bring you closer to the “right” way to read Tarot for you.

You can do this by choosing a deck you like the look of. For us, we chose a Rider Waite Smith deck when we first started learning, and we have a special affinity for it because it was our first deck (and the fact our deck is, at the time of writing, potentially not under copyright in the UK or US which means we can post pictures about it without worrying about all that is all the better!).

Another thing you could do to help build a relationship with your deck is play about with what the cards mean. We actually didn’t buy a deck that came with a book so we wrote all our meanings down in our own book. We spent many years doing this through readings and spreads, pulling a card for the day and journaling about what it all means. Not suggesting this is the quickest way to build a relationship of course, and many people would much prefer to have the book meanings to hand, but it helped us build a deeper relationship.

Building a relationship with a deck is about connecting the meanings to events, to the questions being asked, to advice we’d like….we discovered that pulling a card for the day in the morning and trying to work out what might happen in the future was the wrong way round for us. Instead we found that pulling a card for the day in the morning, and reflecting on it in the evening was a better way to connect how the card’s meaning showed up for us that day. If you follow us on Instagram you can see that we still do this, even all these years later! We do the same thing with our longer term spreads. We record the question asked, the spread used, the cards that showed up and where. Then we go back and check in with that spread and what we have learned since. It all deepens the relationship to the deck. 

If at the end of all this it is still frustrating, it might help to think about the bigger picture. Potentially thinking about building a relationship with Tarot rather than one deck. The Tarot has got your back, even if you miscommunicate with the decks from time to time. If you discover you just don’t get along with your deck, swap. Tarot just wants to build a relationship with you through whichever deck you feel comfortable with. 

Good luck peeps!

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Published by Magenta School of Magick

We are a magick school for spiritually minded people who want advice and resources about, plus training on, using our ‘philosophy and art of affecting intended change through unseen causes’ (known as humanistic magick) in order to make changes that improve their work and lifestyle.

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