Tarot and oracle cards are powerful tools for exploring your inner development, getting an insight about people and situations in your life, and critical thinking. Since the 1990s decks have been published in staggering abundance and there are hundreds in print and currently available through mainstream online and bricks and mortar retail outlets. Thousands more can be found through online used items resellers and bricks and mortar new age shops and used bookstores. They have found their way, though rarely, into psychological practice and high art gallery presentations. More often than not they will appear at some point in the story in a fantasy TV series or movie.
Doing a reading for yourself, getting a reading for yourself, or doing readings for others is and should be a sacred process. This article, and others I write on this subject, will explore the very serious and helpful process of using tarot and oracle cards, both personally and professionally. I have been reading cards professionally since 1992 and have done thousands of readings. Over the period of my professional work, scholarly study, and personal use, I have learned many forms of knowledge about the cards and their use that I want to share with you.
Approaching a Reading
In part of my business, I read cards publicly and weekly on a regular basis at two “speakeasy” style bars. One is rather aptly named Arcana and is in Durham, NC and the other is C Grace, in Raleigh, NC. I get people to sit down for a reading who are sometimes other professional readers, but most often “giving it a try” out of curiosity or at the encouragement of a friend or significant other. These people regularly say, “I have never had a reading done before” and then ask, “how does it work?” Over time I have developed a formulaic response designed to both help them figure out how to have the experience and encourage them to give the reading a try.
Here is what I say: You can approach the reading one of three ways. You can ask a specific question, such as, “I have a job offer in London, should I take it?” You can think about an area of your life you want to explore with the cards without being specific, “I want to know about my relationship or my career or my family or my life purpose.” Or you can just relax and be open. I sometimes joke with the certain clients, “this is a Jeopardy (the game show) reading; you will get the answer and then we will figure out the question it is trying to answer.”
Asking a Specific Question
Now, as you might guess or predict, most specific questions will be about relationship or career, or those will be the favored subjects, or they will be answered in the open reading. Regarding the specific question, I advise people to keep the question SELF-focused. I often have people sit down and say, “I want to know if my partner is faithful?” As it turns out that is not “your” question and needs to be answered by the partner, not the cards. I direct clients to make sure questions are SELF-focused. So, instead of “is my partner being faithful?” I help them reframe the question to “how do I feel about the way my partner treats the sanctity of our relationship?” Instead of “will I get my promotion?” to “how will I feel and what do I need to learn if I do not get my promotion?”
If a client says, “I want to ask a specific question; do I have to tell you what it is?” My answer is no. In fact, I would prefer not to know the question when doing a reading for a client. Even so, I make sure to go over the difference between a question that is trying to obtain external information that is dependent upon the actions of others and a SELF-focused question that keeps the client empowered. Once I explain the difference, the client will often say, “oh, I need to come up with another question then.”
I appreciate that people want to know about outcomes or the inner workings of the people around them, especially the one or ones they are intimately involved with or who have power over their career. I have my moments when I would like access to that information as well. But it is a serious breach of ethics to go down that path, whether you are, in fact, reading for yourself, or for others. Tarot and oracle cards are co-creating tools designed to help us both recognize and actualize our responsibility to drive the creation of the life we seek rather than be pawns on a cosmic chessboard trying to get “secret” knowledge from our “opponent”.
Whether you are asking the question of yourself or someone is asking you to help them navigate a question, do not give up your power or take away their power to see and act as an agent of creation and an empowered individual. Let us briefly consider the first question posed, “I have a job opportunity in London, should I take it?” First, this is your question, and there are really three possible outcomes: no, and why; yes, and why, or maybe, and why. If you want a simple yes/no, flip a coin; it will be faster than working with cards. For this question, we can do a 3 card (past/present/future) reading.
Now, before we look at actual cards, I want to point out that I do something particular in my reading practice. I spread the cards out in a fan in front of my clients and I ask them questions for each card draw, and then I have them draw the card out of the deck and hand it to me. I DO NOT PICK THE CARD; they pick the card. They provide the answer and I help them interpret the answer; I am a guide, not a seer or soothsayer (as much as the person sitting across from me may want me to be). So, let us look at an actual reading.
Question from the Client: “I have a job opportunity in London, should I take it?
We have agreed to do a three-card spread, past/present future.
My first question to the client is, “what do you need to know from your past that will help you with this question?” They draw a card and hand it to me face down.
My second question to the client is, “what do you need to know right now to help you make your decision?” They draw a card and hand it to me face down.
My third question to the client is, “what do you need to know for GUIDANCE going forward with this question?” They draw the final card and hand it to me face down.
Here are the cards in past/present/future order:
From your past: The Tower. You have experienced moments when your career path was completely and suddenly rearranged (or destroyed), either by forces outside you or even by your own choices. This current question needs you to think about how you dealt with that energy because it is contained in this decision.
Presently: The Five of Cups (Disappointment). Something about the opportunity gives you mixed feelings. The decision is likely to upset your emotional equilibrium (perhaps because of its impact on others around) and you need to address your doubts as well as what you hope to gain by taking the opportunity.
Going Forward: The Queen of Swords. If you decide to take the opportunity, you need to make the decision through analysis rather than emotion, and you need to have a strategy for taking or refusing the job. Play out both scenarios as if you were watching someone outside you consider the decision. Based on logic, what would you advise this “other person” to do? That advice is likely the best advice you should follow.
Considering a General Area of Life
We will stick with the same three cards in the same order but let us say the client decides to ask about family.
From your past: The Tower. Think of the times when the family had a crisis; what did you learn? What would you do differently? Has the crisis been resolved or is it actually “still in play”?
Presently: The Five of Cups (Disappointment). There is something emotionally unresolved or disappointing within the family or with a particular family member; now is a time to consider addressing the issue to heal or release frustrated emotional energy.
Going Forward: The Queen of Swords. You need to consider a detached view; look at your family with an objective lens, as if they were a family of one of your friends, but not yours. What do you see? How does that detachment help you address a family issue that is or has been disappointing?
The Open Read
The client was “wide open”, no specific question and no area of focus.
From your Past: The Tower. This represents a shockingly disruptive moment in your past. Which one comes to your mind first; that’s the one we will focus on for the next two cards. (Now this could be career, relationship, family, or a personal critical event; only the client knows.)
Presently: The Five of Cups (Disappointment). There is still some emotional turmoil around this incident, but you are ready to address it in some way. You need to focus on what it taught you and how you have integrated the learning in order to release or integrate the hurt in a healthy way.
Going Forward: The Queen of Swords. It could be very helpful to seek outside counsel from someone detached and logical, who can take you through a process that has a clinical approach, so consider reaching out to a professional counselor or psychologist with a “scientific” and medically approved approach.
The Client as a Self-Actualized Individual
As should be apparent from the interpretations of the three readings, the client must make choices and be responsible for the next steps. The cards are not there to “tell them what to do”, but to encourage and deepen their critical thinking using imaginative art and archetype concepts for framing and/or reframing their question or circumstances. Each approach is a valid and useful way to enter and exit a reading experience, leaving you and/or a client more empowered to believe and act as if they are creating and shaping their destiny.