Have you ever had a Tarot reading, or pulled cards for yourself, and been surprised or even spooked because the cards were so uncannily relevant, even spot on? The images and meanings contain great emotional power. But how do Tarot cards actually work?
The Tarot Basics
The Tarot cards themselves are simply 78 pieces of illustrated cardstock. Their meanings need a reader to help them come alive. Tarot is only one of many other systems of divination, including astrology, the I-Ching and runes. But all these systems use symbols and all could be said to rely on this same idea of synchronicity. That we are like bees or ants or birds, and that we pick up things, sense more things about other people than we realize, going about our daily lives with our ‘psychic’ volume turned down.
In a Tarot reading, both the reader and enquirer sit down together, and in essence, converse by telepathy, with the cards helping the reader to decode the telepathic signals coming from the other person.
This is a natural ability, part of our soft skills repertoire, but it can be trained, and learning how to read the Tarot is just one possible way of training this ability for more conscious use.
OK, but how exactly does this stuff WORK?
There is no one single, neat and tidy answer. A Tarot reader uses the imagery and numbers, all their embedded symbolism in the cards and the positioning of that card provides the context prompting their own imagination, and the knowledge stored in their subconscious or unconscious mind to help them articulate their instinctive impressions more precisely.
The psychologist Carl Jung never learned to read the Tarot himself but was fascinated by its amazing ability to reflect what was going on. Jung theorized that Tarot works by means of a phenomenon he called “synchronicity”, or meaningful coincidence.
Jung was fascinated by what Tarot could tell us about real people we know as pictured through story archetypes, e.g.; The King, The High Priestess, the Hermit, and the workings of the conscious mind working in tandem with the unconscious mind.
The Tarot Draw
The reader draws cards blindly and at random, and lays them out in a pattern or spread, using the placement of the cards, the imagery and associated meanings of that card, and their own intuition to interpret that card, sharing what they sense about a given person, situation or question, past, present and possible future.
The thing that amazes and can even startle the person being read for, and the readers too at times is the total, immediate and undeniable relevance of cards drawn blind and at random then organized into a pattern or spread for interpretation.
The cards were drawn at random but the results do not seem random at all. They fit.
The enquirer feels that they have been seen and heard by some invisible presence. This is where the ‘spookiness’, and the apparent miracle of synchronicity manifests.
The Oldest Divination System
Tarot is only one of many available systems of divination and by no means is it the oldest. Divination with playing cards is a far older practice and other systems including the I-Ching.
But all systems of divination share this in common. They all use symbols and all could be said to rely on this same idea of synchronicity. That we are like bees or ants or birds, and that we pick up, sense more things about other people than we realize, going about our daily lives with our psychic volume turned down.
In a Tarot reading, both the reader and enquirer sit down together, and in essence, converse by telepathy, with the cards helping the reader to decode the telepathic signals coming from the other person. This is a natural ability but it can be trained, and reading Tarot is a way of training this ability for conscious use. The reader ‘uploads’ this ‘programme’ by learning the meanings and associations of the cards. With much repetition and practice, this programming becomes almost second nature, and the cards may act now, not only as technical support but as a springboard for insights prompted by lateral or associative thinking, backed up by instinct.
Each card has many keywords attached. These represent the basic building bricks of the reading.
The Chariot card, for instance, signifies a vehicle, a driving test, a garage, a road trip, travel. Also, ambition (yours?) progress on a project, teamwork, discipline, and also the zodiac sign of Cancer and the dates associated with this sign (June 21-July 22)
John William Waterhouse – Sketch of Circe, 1911-1914 (public domain)
But how does the reader
1: choose cards which so appropriately describe things you have not yet told the reader?
2: choose which of the many possible card interpretations to go with
The answer is, the reader doesn’t know; they simply make a judgment call and go with their first impressions, trusting the unconscious process.
There could be a form of telepathy at work between the reader and the enquirer. Tarot reading is only one activity illustrating a natural talent of the normal human mind.
Intuition is your inner understanding. We all possess it to some degree. Tarot helps us give it words.
Sometimes these words are so specific, many call it ‘psychic’ and psychic ability and intuition are often seen as “supernatural.”
But we all have intuition, and anyone can learn to read Tarot cards.
Tarot is not like a machine. You clearly see there’s a process at work, but you can’t dismantle the mechanisms. It is an art, not a science. It is based on feeling and sensing. Becoming proficient at reading the Tarot demands study and practice, and the more you work with the Tarot, the more confidently you will be able to tap into your intuition, but you do not need to think of yourself as psychic in order to learn to read the Tarot or to become fluent and proficient.
There is a kind of native wisdom beyond your conscious awareness and control. Whether you happen to think that wisdom comes from your subconscious, the collective unconscious, God, your guides, or your higher self is not important. It doesn’t matter.
The Tarot works according to the reader’s way of using it, commensurate with their skill, experience, and innate intuitive talents. No faith or belief system is required.
We may never understand exactly how the Tarot works, but its scope and degree of accuracy depends to a great extent on the skill of interpretation of the individual reader.
The results are proof, while it is an ancient truth – we all possess intuition.
We all know more than we know.