When you’re learning how to read tarot cards, many of us are warned to not read for others until we have a good understanding of the cards. But on the other hand, we’re told not to rely on memorized definitions for the cards, because every time we flip a card over, the meaning changes. Also, the surrounding cards can influence the meaning of a card. So – if we’re not encouraged to read for others, how are we supposed to get a good grip on how tarot works in an actual reading situation? How do we develop techniques to help us read effectively from the beginning?
There are a couple different techniques for this – today I’ll just be sharing one so that I can keep these segments from getting too long.
The first and most common one is to pretend you’re reading for other people. Grab a teddy bear (or a soundly sleeping pet) and lay your cards out in front of them. “Help” them think of a good question; you can imagine you’re reading for someone you know, or if that feels a bit like spying, you can try reading for someone you don’t know. You could even read for celebrities.
I liked to read for characters I had created for my own stories and a few of my favorite classics, like Harry Potter and Gemma Doyle. When you do this, it can be quite enlightening. You may find this awkward or embarrassing at first, but in the privacy of your own home or bedroom, this can actually be a really good place to start practicing the very basic part of tarot reading – communication. It’s absolutely crucial that you allow yourself time goof off and have fun when you’re learning the meaning of the cards.
To start off with, grab a book you’re familiar with. Set it aside so you can have it as a reference. Then ask your cards a question about anything in the book. For example – I plucked Twilight off my book shelf and pretended I was doing a reading for Bella Swan, who asked me about what was going on in her life. (For the sake of consistency, I imagined myself as a fortune teller hidden on the outskirts of town, with no TV, and that Bella Swan had been exploring after a day at school and happened to break down a mere hundred yards from my home, so it was only natural that we’d have time for a quick reading before the tow truck retrieved her truck.)
After you have the question in mind, shuffle, cut, and select the cards as usual. It may be beneficial, if you are a beginner, to write down the question, the characters involved, and the book before you get started, and to continue to write down any observations as you interpret the cards. Below I’ve provided a full reading which is an extension of the question I/Bella asked in the previous paragraph.
I drew the 4 of Swords reversed, the King of Wands, and the Page of Cups reversed. As I look at the first card, I notice that the man is attempting to sleep on top of the swords. There’s also a bird hovering above (below??) him, carrying a red and a yellowish flower.
“Well, Bella, the 4 of Swords is an interesting card, because upright, it’s usually about resting, taking a siesta, even letting life go on autopilot. But with it being upside-down, it makes me think you’re leaving this behind and starting something new, more of ‘waking up’ than ‘napping through life’. I also get the feeling this was a kind of ‘going against the grain’ situation where you picked a more difficult path; perhaps the entire experience was pretty awakening and kept you on your toes?”
I look over to the next card – the King of Wands. I see that this is the only upright card in the entire spread. Since I know that reversals indicate blocks, it reminds me that this center card is the most positive card in the spread, and probably the best part of the entire situation.
“The King of Wands is a man you are attracted to. He’s an attractive, compelling man – he’s intelligent but he also has a bit of a bad-boy vibe, so he’s someone you have to be careful around. He’s also not a young man – this is someone who’s been around the block a time or two.” Since I know wands are about passion and associated with fire, I can guess a few more things about this card. “He’s definitely powerful in his own rights – and there’s something about him that draws you to him. There’s a huge potential for a relationship with him to be a bit of a roller coaster as he can be quite the romancer, but he’s also prone to his moods. Like I said, he’s got the bad boy vibe, even though one might not call him a ‘boy’.”
“The last card is the Page of Cups, also reversed. Pages are about youth and innocence, and cups are associated with relationships and emotions, so this makes me feel like there is a sense of naivety in the situation – and a lack of experience with relationships. There’s certainly an insecurity which feels like a new problem, definitely not something you are used to so you’re probably feeling really out of your element.”
As I look at the Page of Cups card a bit more, and compare it with the previous cards about an older, attractive bad boy, and coming out of hibernation and staying on your toes, the facts start coming together. “The Page of Cups has a bit of a fascination. He or she is always admiring or appreciative of something wholesome. Since you’re ‘waking up’ to some changes in your life and this man has come in, I’d wager you have a crush on a man that seems out of reach. You’re possibly also feeling insecure and gawky, even immature for the first time in a while.”
So when you’re all done taking notes and observing the cards, feel free to flip back through your book to see how you did (in case, unlike me, you can’t remember what happened). Compare your notes to what happens in the book and how the characters interact with each other.
For some more challenging twists on this exercise;
- Attempt this type of reading on a book you have read before, but can’t remember what happens in it.
- attempt this type of reading in a book you haven’t read yet. Use the information on the back of the book to help you come up with a question.
- Try doing a reading about the history of a character other than the main character of a book. For example, in the Twilight series, a good candidate for this would be Carlisle. Ask the cards to tell you about this vampire’s history before Bella came into his life, and see how the cards match up to his past which is revealed later in the series.
Do you have any exercises for beginning readers who need practice using their cards in a reading situation? How do you feel about this exercise? Did you try it and have good results? Bad results? Please share your thoughts!