Learning to read the Tarot is like learning to drive a car. To begin with, it’s faintly alien and each journey is a focused stagger of ensuring that you get the mechanics right when you need them. At this stage, driving is more of a chore than a pleasure and a great tax on the memory banks.
However, as you become more familiar with the process the mechanics become second nature and you’ll find yourself having completed a journey whilst your mind has been busy doing other things. The actual minutiae of how to operate the car are so embedded that you can actually enjoy the drive – because you’re not thinking about driving! The same goes for reading the Tarot. Once you’ve mastered the basics of the meanings behind each Tarot card, you’re halfway to experiencing that unconscious style of driving.
Why do the cards have meanings?
There are 78 cards in the Tarot deck and together they tell an allegorical story known as The Fool’s Journey. This tale is used to describe our own journeys through life towards spiritual enlightenment. The Fool represents the querent and each card depicts a lesson he must learn or a challenge he must face, in order to move forward.
Novice readers pay a lot of attention to the meanings behind the cards - the episode of the Fool's Journey that each one portrays. However, the imagery used in the Tarot deck is incredibly multi-layered, using symbols, astrological signs and abstract-looking pictures to cram in as many clues as possible, so that the reader can give the querent a detailed an overview about their situation.
It is these meanings and sub-meanings that often prove a stumbling block for novice readers. They are so preoccupied with learning the minutiae of each card that they forget that the Tarot is an intuitive science that doesn’t necessarily rely wholly on the information that is displayed in front of them.
When learning is too much
The good news for novices is that once you have learned the basic meanings behind each card, you don’t have to learn the finer points in order to expand the accuracy and relevance of your readings. There’s much more to using the Tarot deck than being able to repeat parrot-fashion a load of facts and figures about some arcane-looking drawings that are, fundamentally, someone else's interpretation. While brushing up on your card knowledge certainly won’t hurt, it’s not the key to being a good reader and getting beyond the basics. There are other skills that will help you get more out of your deck.
The traditional preconception of a Tarot reading is one in which the querent sits silently, trying to give as few clues about himself to the reader as possible. While this may have been true in the Victorian era, Tarot readings have changed from a parlour trick into an intimate exchange between two people. And just as the mechanics of the reading have changed, so too have the relevance of the meanings of the cards. It pays to remember that the cards were created a long time ago and what may have been important then, may not be so now – which allows a certain amount of fluidity and interpretive licence when we are divining the messages that the cards are revealing. As a result, it’s often better to trust your instinct when it comes to imparting information. That instinct may be guided by your basic knowledge of the depictions, but allowing a card to resonate with your heart, rather than your memory, can be a surefire way to give a relevant and dynamic reading.
An intimate exchange
What’s also changed is the interplay between the querent and the reader. Rather than being a one-sided guessing game, more and more querents come to readings ready to explain what their problems are, to tell a little about themselves and to announce just what it is they want; both parties communicate. As a result, part of your remit as a reader is to make sure that your communication skills are up to scratch.
Communication doesn’t just mean talking – although that is an important part. It also means listening. However, where the Tarot is concerned, listening isn’t just something you do with your ears. When you are engaging with a querent, you need to utilize your subconscious mind to pick up on the things that aren’t being said. You need to listen empathically. Apart from giving you more clues as to what it is the querent really wants, listening on a subconscious level will also help you discern the most pertinent messages within the cards. In fact, some that may not even be meanings that you have learned. As you practice listening in this way, you’ll find that the cards offer up more meanings than you were first aware of. Your job is to then use your intuitive skills to divine which of those messages is the most important.
When it comes to talking, the reader has a difficult job. Each person has their own way of saying things, based on their life experience. Consequently, a reader can have three clients ask him for the same thing, but in different ways. The job of the reader is not only to translate those words so that he fully understands what is being asked of him, but to be able to reply in either the client’s own ‘code’ or in a neutral state, so that the client fully understands what it is that the cards are telling him.
What can be a great help is to learn the elements that the cards are associated with. Instead of learning the specifics of each card, knowing whether they are aligned to Air, Water, Earth or Fire will give you a good ‘feel’ as to what it is the card is trying to impart. Combine this with empathic listening and your intuitive abilities and you will find that messages from the cards become clearer and more detailed than you think your basic knowledge will allow.
While being familiar with your deck will certainly inform your readings, you don’t have to be a slave to the literature written about each one. Tarot is an instinctive practice and the more attuned you are to your instincts, the more detailed your readings will be.