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I asked a group of tarot readers on Facebook to give their top advice for how to combine and integrate card meanings in a spread. It’s one of the things that beginners find most bewildering, but we can all learn more about. Forty-nine people responded (see list of contributors at the end). I combined, edited and grouped the advice to form sets of approaches, moving roughly from the most intuitive to the most analytical. Share this material freely but please include the list of contributors and a link back to this post.
There are no rules to interpretation.
- Be intuitive.
- Look at the cards from an internal perspective.
- TRUST in your intuitive awareness and reactions to the cards.
- Go with the flow!
Combine right brain/left brain work: analysis and imagination/story.
- Be guided by the HOLY Spirit (The Whole (holy) Picture). Both the universal and the personal or the Whole must be understood. Use both the Intellect and Intuition.
- Use analysis to “check” the intuition which can sometimes get clogged or confused.
Look at the big picture.
- Step back and look at the spread from a larger perspective, not simply focusing on individual cards and their individual meanings.
- Become unfocused and blurry eyed (take off your glasses) and feel the energy flows as an energy picture: wands are direct and immediate, swords reflexive, turning, twisting, cups are energy accuminlations and coins ground or build up energy, etc.
- Look at the whole picture of the layout and then tune into a “knowing” of the entire spread before anything else. See it as a snapshot of the unconscious mind made manifest. After the initial “feeling the meaning,” look at the individual cards and symbols.
- Sense the *vibration* of the *whole* spread.
- Pay attention to any movement you can actually feel or see.
- Quickly glance over all of the cards at once and jot down the immediate thoughts that come to mind – words, images, feelings, messages, etc. that jump out. How do the cards feel together? What kind of feeling do they invoke in you?
Notice overlaps among the cards’ meanings.
- For instance, several cards can mean “new” or “let go.” Such ‘blended’ meanings are very potent, sort of like the overlapping gray area between black and white.
Look at how the images and figures interrelate with each other.
- Determine the direction the figures on the cards are looking or moving; their body-language.
- Is the Knight of Wands galloping towards the Queen of Swords or galloping away? Is he riding towards a tomb entrance? Or a family gathering? Is the Emperor turning his back on the World, or facing it?
- Are they back to back, or facing each other?
- Look at the direction symbols are pointing.
- Does each card point to another card in a sequence?
- Are they actively engaging in something or inert?
- Does a card at the bottom seems to carry all the others? Or a card at the top, lead the way?
Find the story within the cards. “Every Picture tells a story.” –Rod Stewart
- The cards always tell a story.
- Let a story flow from your interpretation of the cards.
- Let that story flow from picture to picture. The cards will show you the weavings and patterns. The numbers, the titles are road maps or signs along the road.
- Read the cards in the order you laid them out in the spread and create the tale of what they are all doing, interacting with one another, and how that relates to you.
- Let the story, the narrative of the reading, jump out at you. “Make up” the story as you go along. If you can’t “see” it, check a few cards with the querent for verification.
- Sometimes the message is clear and will form a ‘seamless sentence’, but, at other times, only one card may stand out.
- Build off of what is obvious first.
- Start by talking through the stuff you do understand and it’ll come to you or not; usually it’ll come to you.
- Read the cards/positions that stand out to you; the rest of the cards in the spread are filler. If you can understand the noun and the verb of a sentence you can deduct the rest.
- Look for a card that you intuitively feel is driving the reading, i.e., the one that seems to be directing events a little more than others. Ask what the character in that card is saying to the characters in the others.
- Link cards by finding correlations among them (more later).
- Look for combinations. Find the patterns and connections among cards and positions, then mush it all into a composite idea (position + card is too limiting).
- Turn each card one at a time and watch how each builds on the last in terms of a pattern.
- Build the relationship between cards and positions as you move through the spread, one card at a time, until all is revealed.
- Turn the cards over one at a time, gaining a tiny ‘clue’ from each, so the story builds and changes, letting the cards talk to each other as the “new kid on the block” gets turned over.
- Reversed means one might not be perfectly comfortable with the combination, something needs to be adjusted.
- The story is the intuitive weaving of the nature of the cards. Alfred Woolard once said in his poem, “My life is but a weaving … when I reach the other side can I truly see the whole design” (paraphrased).
How the cards in a spread relate to one another is like the relationships that we have with others or how the characters relate in a story.
- Think of the reading as a conversation. Let the cards “talk” to you, and talk back to and through them. Imagining that the cards are “talking” to you opens your mind to “hear” the message. PAY ATTENTION to it.
- View the cards as a council circle: lay them in a circle and let them interact with each other and advise you in a sacred space-circle kind of way!
- Think of two cards interrelating from their respective positions, much like having a conversation or discussion, until there is greater understanding.
- Ask what each card (or figure in a card) thinks about the other(s)—what’s the attitude of each to the other and to what they’re thinking and doing?
- A reversed card can mean it is not ‘playing well’ with others.
Look at what’s there and what isn’t.
- Look indeed for what is not there as much as what is.
- Notice what’s NOT in the spread.
- Which cards didn’t come up can tell you as much as the cards that did. For instance, if The Lovers, 2 of Cups, King/Queen of Cups are absent from a love reading, that’s telling you there is no love relationship over the time period specified by the reading.
Look for prevalent themes, groupings, colors, or shapes.
- Notice things like Gate cards, or which suit is prevailing or dominant.
- Check for a progression among the numbers as a sequence of development.
Look for repetitions of numbers, images, suits/elements, colours, etc. (Correspondences).
- Use the correspondences as a base and go from there.
- Start with the foundations: suits, numbers, Majors, Minors, Courts.
- Look at the suits/elements to know what world you are dealing with: work, money, practical stuff, or something emotional or mental?
- With the elements, if there are two fire and one water, for instance, the fire cancels out that watery influence. [referred to as Elemental Dignities.]
- Look for a predominance of Major or Minor cards to get a feeling if the reading is depicting a key event/change/issue for the querent (majors) or a more minor everyday event (minors).
- Trumps [Major Arcana] can be an over arching theme or a life passage and the rest are everyday life stuff.
- See if Minor Arcana cards repeat a Major Arcana card in the spread by number or other similarity.
Compare and contrast, looking for both how cards are alike and how they are different.
- Are there similar scenes in two or more cards? What are the interactions among these factors.
- Place cards next to each other (not necessarily in a straight line) to see how they relate.
- For instance, see how, in the example to the right, the churning waters of the Moon become a cloak that is almost too heavy to wear. [Trimmed decks work best.] The deck is the Revelations Tarot by Zach Wong.
Find two to three keywords for each card and put them into a sentence. First reactions are best; you don’t have to go to the core of the cards existence.
- Read them as a sentence. For example: First card—Hermit and the flicker of his lamp catches my attention, so I think, “ah, a new idea.” Next card—Chariot, and the black horse going the other way catches my attention. Linking the two cards to form a sentence, it becomes “ah, a new direction going against the norm.”
- The position is the “noun” and the card is the “verb”. Tense (past present future) is supplied by the positions relative to the Querent (now).
- View the positions in a spread as the framework of a sentence. Insert keywords or phrases for each card into the basic sentence format and then embellish it based on symbols and correspondences. “While I am conscious of ____, I unconsciously need ____, in order to achieve ____ and meet the challenges of ____.”
Figure out where cards are on the tree of life and what paths or sephiroth are involved.
- For instance, the Ace, 6, and 9 of Cups are on the middle pillar and not yet grounded in Malkuth, but they are an indication that energy is flowing.
Look for astrological relationships.
- For instance, the Empress and Hierophant are Venus and Taurus and Venus rules Taurus. Or, the 5 of Swords and The Fool are both Air.
- If you are doing a horoscope spread you can combine the meanings of the cards that fall in the opposite houses.
- Determine the speed of the cards to determine how much light they shed on your reading of the images. This way, even a shadowy situation can emerge as crystal clear.
- Switch decks periodically as a conduit to “open” your attention.
- A few cards in key positions can determine how you read the rest of the spread. If they don’t tell the story right away, then use all the other techniques.
CONTRIBUTORS: Hildegerd Haugen, Sophie Nusslé Falco, Maureen Aisling Duffy-Boose, Jon Kaneko-James, Fiona Dilston, Stephen Russell, Jean Foster, Jeanne Fiorini, Lisa Bruno, Kevin Quigley, Nadia K. Potter, Mary Mueller, Paul Nagy, Tero Hynynen, Virginia L Beach, Gwydion LosAngeles, Paula Gaubert, Gloria Scotti, Berthe van Soest, Lynda England Bustilloz, Bertrand Saint-Guillain, Greg LeFever, Carola Meijers, Steph Myriel Es-Tragon, Kustiana Murtjono, Terri Bivona, Jera-Babylon Rootweaver, Diane Brandt Wilkes, Rosie Grace, Nancy Antenucci, Sue Clynes, Sandra M. Russel, Camelia Elias, Christine Payne-Towler, Lorrie Kazan, Stacy LaRosa, Toni Gilbert, Vyvien Starbuck, Sherri Glebus, Flash Silvermoon, Judy Nathan, Helene Martz, Stephanie Arwen Lynch, Monika Sanders, Katrina Wynne, Rana Fakhouri George, Robert Moyer, Dancing Bear, Mary K. Greer.
Updated 7/18/11: See Mic update at the end and helpful recommendations in the Comments.
Imagine that a client comes to you for a premium reading. They spend an hour and a lot of money, but when they get home they can hardly remember a word of the deep wisdom and insights they just received. I like to trust that their subconscious is making use of it, but I know from experience the value that comes from reviewing a reading in depth. What to do?—No one uses audio cassettes anymore.
I got myself an iPad 2 and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve been waiting a year for the next generation and I’m thrilled to have it. One of my main intentions was to use it as a fancy digital recorder for tarot consultations. And by fancy, I mean FaNcY! Nothing else offers the bells and whistles this does [except the iPhone, which can do most of these things, too].
In one, relatively small package, you can record a reading, take notes on it, create an annotated sketch of a personalized layout, and include photos of the completed tarot spread and even of the grinning querent and reader. And, at the end of the session, you can instantly email the reading to clients so it’s waiting for them on their computer when they get home (or on their iPhone or iPad for their immediate viewing and listening pleasure). Talk about moving into the 21st century! Now, there can be a few glitches in this otherwise perfect scenario. Occasionally an app crashes. Audio files can get really big and cause problems with mail. And one app even caused my whole iPad to crash (boy, is that app going to get a thumbs down!). Additionally, you can’t email unless there’s a WiFi connection or you have G3, but even if you have to send the file later that’s hardly a deal breaker. Here’s a couple of apps that make the whole process irresistable.
NOTABILITY – This app does it all and the new price of $2.99 is a still a steal. Since I originally wrote this post, Notability has been upgraded, and they added all the features I asked for (thank you very much!).
- Type notes such as the question or subject of the reading, aspects of the issue that could be the basis of a personalized spread, recommended resources. You can use a variety of fonts & colors and can indent to create outlines.
- Record the conversation. The audio recording will continue even while you perform other functions within the app and outside of it, and you can pause it.*
- Insert a photo of the actual spread. You can resize the image and move it on the page and now place images side-by-side.
- Create a sketch of the spread or layout (basic shapes included as well as freehand drawing and text). You can also draw on a photo to circle important symbols or lines of sight and emphasis. No other app that I know includes all these features.
- The Send options are excellent since you can mail as a zipped PDF + separate Audio file; or, to other Macs only as an RTFD (opens in TextEdit). It also works with Dropbox (cloud computing).
*If you are recording your own readings—talking to yourself as you look at a card or spread—this app can be fantastic. Just type a few keywords as you speak to indicate ideas you want to return to, then, when playing back the audio, if you tap on one of those keywords or phrases, the audio will jump forward or backward to that part of the recording! This would be a great way to journal the exercises in 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card!
AUDIO MEMOS 2 – Free for the basic app, which is adequate; pay for upgrades.
This is a professional level audio voice recorder. You won’t get the photos or the notes, but you will get great recordings even with only the built-in mic (either .wav or for smaller files – .aac). You can do button or voice activated recordings and you can pause and restart. You can also do some basic editing. When played back on Audio Memos it can jump to annotatable position markers that you set when recording. Unfortunately, the position markers don’t work if you playback via a different application. End the recording and email it in seconds (if you are net-connected) or save it to mail later. CONS: Photos and sketches have to be created in another app and sent separately; you can only mail up to 15mb and the best quality files are BIG. You should be able to record an hour on .aac setting. If you want .wav use the included timer and start a new recording when the file gets too big. You can export to Dropbox or Evernote.
GARAGEBAND - $4.99. I don’t use this myself as I find it overkill for simple recording, but others love it. Great editing features.
EVERNOTE – Free with limited space on its server; a monthly charge for more space.
This note-taking app saves everything on its own server, making it accessible to you from any computer or mobile. You can also give others access to some of your files. You can type, record and take a photo without leaving the app and it’s designed to easily insert webclips (like a spread from tarot.com). CONS: You can’t sketch; if you stop the recording you have to start a new one; the emailer crashed the app and froze my iPad! PROS: I discovered, after recording a Skype interview with someone in Italy, that I could transfer the giant AudioMemos .wav file to Evernote and then access it through my Evernote web account on my home computer and mail it via SendThisFile—problem solved.
Added: A MUST HAVE for Professional Tarot Readers who do face-to-face or phone readings is a Credit Card App (PayPal works well for internet consultations). A credit card app will work with both the iPhone and the iPad. It allows you to accept charges and the money is then deposited in your bank account (or a check can be mailed to you). The most handy and reasonable app, that has no hidden fees or monthly charges, is Square, which is perfect for those who only need to take credit cards occasionally. See recommendations in the Comments section by people who have used it.
There are other Notes+Audio apps that I haven’t checked out yet like AudioNote, SoundNote, Sundry Notes, ClassNotes, PaperDesk, some of which may be better if you prefer handwriting and sketching to typing. If anyone has any suggestions, please let us know in the comments. Added: My Notebook! app has all the functions I’ve recommended, including a great handwriting/sketching option—smooth & with the best arrangement for color choosing I’ve seen. But the interface is unnecessarily complicated and the free Lite version has quite a few limitations, like not being able to try out any of the many Send features.
And, of course, iPad/Phone comes with FaceTime, which, like Skype, gives you the option of face-to-face calls for readings at a distance. Read suggestions for Skype recording in the Comments.
UPDATED note on External Mics:
Under most circumstances the little mic in the iPad will do okay for face-to-face readings if you don’t mind the hollow tone and a bit of a lisp in your voice. Don’t speak directly into it.
If you want an external, portable mic, then I highly recommend the Samson Go Mic. It’s very small (though surprisingly heavy), clips onto your iPad or stands alone, and works with the iPad USB camera connector. You can also plug headphones directly into the mic. It’s good enough for podcasts-on-the-go, although a pop-filter helps for optimum sound when in uni-directional mode. This video review is very helpful for understanding the three sound settings and hearing it in action.
Some Blue USB Microphones work through the iPad USB camera connection kit. The Blue Yeti is supposed to be the best of its class (+/-$125) but requires a powered USB hub. The Snowball and Snowflake are cheaper, more portable and don’t require the powered hub, but the quality goes down. If you are doing podcasts then go with the Blue Yeti (I would). I understand Blue is working on more portable mic solutions for the iPad/Phone.
See the Comments for other great suggestions for recording, including internet video and audio recording via Skype and Conference Calls.
This is a press release from the ACLU – I’ve marked a few especially important passages in bold:
BETHESDA June 10, 2010: The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland hailed a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals that strongly defends fundamental free speech rights in a case involving fortunetelling in Montgomery County (Maryland).
In its decision, the state’s highest court, in keeping with rulings from the Supreme Court and courts around the country, ruled that a Montgomery County ordinance banning fortunetelling is an unconstitutional restriction on protected speech.
“This case has never been just about fortunetellers, but about the fundamental right to free speech,” said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “While individual fortunetellers can be punished if they fraudulently exploit their customers, banning all fortunetelling is overbroad and unconstitutional. It is not the role of government to decide that broad categories of speech can be banned merely because it finds them distasteful or disagreeable.”
The unconstitutional Montgomery County law provides that “every person who shall demand or accept any remuneration or gratuity for forecasting or foretelling or for pretending to forecast or foretell the future by card, [or] palm reading Š shall be subject to punishment.” The Court of Appeals found that fortunetelling for pay is due full First Amendment protection rejecting the County’s argument that such speech is “commercial speech”, like advertising. The court ruled the statute’s restriction on payment for fortunetelling is equivalent to a ban on protected speech. In addition, the court explicitly rejected the County’s arguments that fortunetelling is inherently fraudulent:
“Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future, or it may be hokum. People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or value of the speech that fortunetelling entails. If Montgomery County is concerned that fortunetellers will engage in fraudulent conduct, the County can enforce fraud laws in the event that fraud occurs.
The County need not, and must not, enforce a law that unduly burdens protected speech to accomplish its goal. Such a law will curtail and have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.”
The lawsuit was originally brought by Nick Nefredo in 2008, represented by attorney Edward Amourgis of Edwards Phillip Amourgis, PC, after he was denied a license to open a fortunetelling business in Montgomery County. A lower court acknowledged that fortunetelling is protected speech, but nevertheless upheld the law as constitutional. Due to the First Amendment issues at stake, the ACLU of Maryland became co-counsel for Nefedro on appeal, as the case was to be considered by the intermediate appeals court.
The state’s highest court took the case up on its own motion in July of 2009.
As the Court of Appeals found today, courts across the country have consistently held that fortunetelling is protected speech, and absolute bans on it, like the Montgomery County law, are therefore unconstitutional. In addition, the Supreme Court has held repeatedly that the mere fact that speech is for profit does not reduce the level of protection it is due.
Nefedro is represented by attorney Edward Amourgis of Edwards Phillip Amourgis, PC, and Ajmel Quereshi and Deborah Jeon from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
This is only one example among many in which the ACLU has acted to protect the free speech of fortune tellers. So far they have won every case of this type. [Thank you, ACLU!] More information on the Montgomery case is available here and here.
St. Louis is reconsidering its law. A humorous article about it in the St. Louis Suburban Journals quotes a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike down a Lincoln, Nebraska fortune telling law, stating:
“If the citizens of Lincoln wish to have their fortunes told, or to believe in palm-reading or phrenology, they are free to do so under our system of government, and to patronize establishments or ‘professionals’ who purport to be versed in such arts. Government is not free to declare certain beliefs – for example, that someone can see into the future – forbidden. Citizens are at liberty to believe the earth is flat, that magic is real, and that some people are prophets.”
Meanwhile, in Warren, Michigan, laws restricting fortune telling are becoming stricter, while San Francisco has an outrageously convoluted licensing system for fortune tellers. Such laws have little to do with actually protecting people from fraud (anti-fraud laws do this adequately) and more to do with ameliorating complaints and protecting special interests (see quote below).
Many states and city or county ordinances require licensing for fortune-telling, and they are very inconsistent with the range of fields that require such licenses as summarized here. An article, Occupational Licensing: Ranking the States and Exploring Alternatives by Adam B. Summers (of the Reason Foundation) concluded:
Occupational licensing boards and laws should be continually evaluated for their relevance and perceived need. These reviews should, first and foremost, evaluate whether licensing laws pass the “laugh test” (fortune tellers and rainmakers?). They should also ensure that regulations are narrowly tailored, and that they are providing at least some measure of public benefit, not merely a gravy train for special interests and bureaucrats. Reviews should, furthermore, analyze licensing board performance by evaluating enforcement actions against licensees. Reviews could be conducted by a special commission or an existing agency such as an audit bureau or legislative analyst’s office. [parenthetical remark and question mark is Summers', bold emphasis is mine, mkg]
Robert Lederman offers excellent advice for fortune tellers in NYC which may help others with similar regulations regarding fortune telling-as-entertainment-only. Check out the Law and Magic Blog for updates on fortune telling and other related issues.
As I’ve mentioned before, it is incumbent on all professional tarot readers to know your local laws and establish yourself as a bona fide, legal business in your area.
I advocate supporting the ACLU and being willing to act locally to challenge laws that limit our freedom of speech. I also think that this information should be better understood by anyone who is thinking about certification or licensing for tarot readers. It is a slippery slope to government control that probably poses more liabilities than it does benefits! Comments and polite debate are welcome.
I was reminded in the previous post of people who ask what they need to do to become a professional tarot reader. After you feel comfortable reading for self, friends, and friends-of-friends, here’s my number one suggestion for when you want to make the transition.
Your Rite of Passage
The ideal “rite of passage” is to volunteer for a full day (or better yet, a weekend) at a charity or benefit event and donate everything to the cause. If you keep the price reasonable ($5-20 or sliding scale depending on the length of reading and the venue) then your schedule should be filled. The point is to read non-stop (except for necessary breaks), even to the point of exhaustion (drink plenty of water!). There’s a point beyond which a part of you doesn’t care what you say anymore, and you totally let go. You’ll be surprised at what happens then and how accurate you become when you finally bypass your critic. I can’t even begin to list the number of things you will learn from such an experience, but here are a few:
- Letting go of the critic and trusting the process.
- Explaining what you do and/or don’t do in one short, concrete statement.
- Guiding people efficiently through the question, shuffling, etc.
- Learning to listen as well as speak.
- Realizing you can’t “fix” someone & letting go of the need to do so.
- Releasing the need to be “right.”
- Getting your timing down (how many cards for the time allotted).
- Learning how to end a reading (especially with a clingy or argumentative client).
- Discovering the things you’ll need in a “reading kit.”
- Arranging breaks, keeping hydrated, eating, etc.
A few basic accoutrements for reading at fairs and events:
- One or more tarot decks, appropriate to the clientele and occasion.
- A spread cloth. (Busy designs can interfere with the card images.)
- Business cards & promotional handouts.
- Water! Plus an emergency snack—in case you can’t get away for a meal.
- Clothing to put you and others in the mood, and in layers so you can adjust to temperature changes.
- Knowledge of local laws! If necessary have the organization collect the donation and give the person a token for a free reading.
- Watch, clock or timer.
- If outdoors, healing stones to keep the cards from blowing away (plus nice to have for the energy).
- Flowers, statue, other decorations. Don’t overdo it.
- Reading sign-up sheet on clipboard & pen.
- Mailing list (if appropriate).
- Cushion for folding chairs. This extra bit of comfort helps.
And, if you continue to do fairs:
- A professional looking sign. This probably will not be necessary for your first charity event.
- Code of Ethics written by you and to which you adhere. (Google for examples.)
- Optional: Tent.
- Optional: Tackle box with pens, permanent marker, index cards (for mini-signs), tape, tacks, clips, extension cord, etc.
- Optional: A Recording device. It’s ideal if the client doesn’t have to write stuff down. Here’s a post on great ideas for recording in person & online.
After doing this myself and making this suggestion to others for more than 30 years, as well as doing mini-events like this with my students, I’ve gotten tons of feedback from people who said it was the best thing they ever did to catapult them into the beginnings of professional confidence and expertise. Please, anyone who wants to add to these lists (and I know there’s more to say), do so in the comments.
Part 2: Hijacking What It Means to Be Human
(Read Part 1 to learn about mentalists, skeptics and cold reading.)
Imagine my surprise when I discovered there are at least a half-dozen extremely expensive books marketed by mentalists on tarot, of which I’d never heard in my forty-plus years collecting tarot books. And, they were written by and for professional tarot readers that I didn’t even know existed as a self-identified group. Of course, I was aware there are fraudulent tarot readers who deliberately used cold reading techniques to con their marks. Naively, I had assumed, though, that cold reading was used mostly by fake mediums and clairvoyants (as in the 19th century) and by mentalist entertainers. I had no idea that tarot was regularly taught as a scam except among some phone psychics and those storefront psychics who used it to extort money for removing curses, etc.—a whole different, albeit related, enterprise. [Note: some mentalists are also ethical tarot readers, and not all mentalists deny the paranormal. I am also not referring, in most of what follows, to ethical mentalists who are honest about using mental tricks.] Read the rest of this entry »
Part I: Skeptics, Mentalists and Tarot Readers
For purposes of this article let us assume that there is no paranormal or spiritual aspect to tarot readings. Let’s pretend, for the moment, that all tarot readings have a rational basis in easily explained normal human skills.
Skeptics and mentalists reduce tarot reading to just this level. Mentalists utilize skills to make money in public performances, while skeptics denounce any tarot or psychic readings that don’t acknowledge they are merely mental tricks. They claim “pseudo-psychics” exploit human weaknesses and take advantage of the desire to easily gain benefit from something. Pseudo-psychic readings are seen as “too-good-to-be-true” and as giving false hope just to make money. Skeptics claim that psychic and tarot readings can be explained by techniques gathered under the terms Cold and Hot Readings. We will ignore hot readings (that fraudulently use information obtained ahead of time) as our purpose is to examine readings where nothing prior is known about the client. Read the rest of this entry »
Some tarot readers advertise themselves as psychic. Psychics often use tarot cards in their readings. There are a number of books and decks that use both psychic and tarot in their titles. They are seen together often enough that many people think you need to be psychic to read tarot. Yet few, if any, books give specific instructions for reading tarot psychically, nor do they describe how it differs from reading intuitively or by using fixed meanings. The vague discussion of psychic techniques in tarot reading has led to the comment, based on advice found in some books (but used pejoratively by detractors) that this is the “look at the card and just say anything that comes to mind” school. If it were this easy, why wouldn’t all our “unthinking” pronouncements yield lottery wins and ideal decisions? And why any need for psychic development classes?
Earlier, I talked about the difference between psychic and intuitive abilities. Here, I want to present a few thoughts on what is actually involved in the psychic aspect of reading the cards. Primarily it involves putting yourself in a state or framework conducive to psychic insights as well as using techniques that help you recognize and capture accurate insights (ones not tangled up with personal projections). In essence, it involves getting all your own stuff—everything that colors and distorts—out of the way of the raw information that is available to “other” levels of awareness. These techniques also aid in intuition.
I previously defined psychic as a paranormal, extrasensory perception or sixth sense. Psi involves accessing information beyond the reach of our normal input, though it may be associated with any sense. For instance, clairvoyant means “clear seeing,” clairaudient is “clear hearing,” clairsentient is “clear feeling.” There’s even a “clear smelling.” The field of ESP or psi also includes telepathy, mediumship and precognition.
Everyone is psychic. Some (as with artists and musicians) are more talented then others. Almost everyone can be taught to recognize and use psychic abilities to some extent. Basically it involves turning off or sidestepping the logical, analytical mind and the flow of negative and critical thoughts about being wrong. Instead you learn to open yourself to other modes of awareness. Stress and anxiety, though they can sometimes increase psychic sensitivity as part of a survival mechanism, more often inhibit psi. A positive attitude and belief certainly helps to increase psychic awareness.
The first instruction is usually to learn to meditate. By meditate, I mean to relax the body, breathe deeply and evenly (oxygenating the blood), and quiet the mind’s incessant chatter so as to quickly and easily reach an alpha and, eventually, a theta state (brain-wave frequencies similar to that found during dreaming and hypnotic trances). As the Buddhist meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn observes, a meditation practice is precisely that—practice to enable you to quickly access these states when you need to. Such practice sessions are used, for instance, by Christian mystics who find that meditating on a spiritual text clears away irrelevant details and allows an image or idea to arise, as if out of a still pool, that captures the essential nature of the text. Other explanations are then recognized as superfluous ornamentation to this core message.
Meditation can result in a sensation of floating around in the ozone and coming back “spaced,” so along with it comes a whole variety of ways of centering the attention:—staring at something, concentrating on a word, or using a visualization whose intent is “grounding”. There is also a sense of being able to move through different “layers” of reality or consciousness and to widen or narrow one’s focus. These have been defined in each culture or group to fit in with their particular stories about what is happening—whether it’s Theosophy, shamanism, spiritualism, mysticism, or ceremonial magic. For instance, imaginative routines have been developed that help you choose and identify a layer or plane of consciousness that is most ideal for a specific task and to move energy from one plane to another, and even to effect physical world changes (known as “magic”). Some systems make use of an interior movie screen or crystal or library or a guide or ally to help bring the information through more clearly.
The fact is, if you’re psychically talented you probably don’t need to go through all these processes to get psychic impressions, but you may not be able to turn the impressions off when you want, or you may be unable to tell when information is for you or someone else. Additionally, if you are not especially talented or are walled off from your psychic self, then these techniques are the basis of an effective training program. The meditation and visualization techniques are designed to enable you to control when and how the psychic information presents itself to you.
On its own, psychic sensitivity often operates in cycles through your life. Certain circumstances, which you probably won’t be able to identify, will trigger a phase of being more or less psychic. “Psi tech” can even these fluctuations out. Fluctuations in ability are one reason why many psychics and mediums have resorted to fraudulent practices. It’s bad for business when you aren’t always psychically “on.”
Now, when it comes to tarot, a psychic will usually approach the cards differently then someone who reads them primarily through symbolic meanings. When using symbolic meanings we learn that “ones,” for instance, indicate new beginnings, a focused will and individuality, and that flowers mean a “flowering” or cultivating something beautiful, and that red is about energy and passion. We put these things together to come up with an interpretation of their melded meanings. It’s in the “melding” that intuitive and psychic insights often make their way in.
By contrast, when working psychically (and there is much variation in the way this can be done), you don’t focus on the details at first. Rather you use what I call “diffuse awareness.” Let me give you an example and a practice technique.
Ideally, you would have someone you don’t know well sitting across from you who thinks of their question while shuffling but doesn’t say it aloud. If practicing by yourself, try to not think of anything. Use breath and relaxation to center and ground yourself.
Instead of using a spread, take the shuffled deck and throw the top five cards face up onto the reading surface so that they overlap each other slightly and at random angles. Keep your awareness open and diffuse—as if trying to be aware of what’s at the edges of your visual range without actually looking there. It may help to keep your eyes only half open. Glance at your “pile” and catch a sense of the color emphasis. Look away keeping your eyes unfocused. Was one area more red then another? Did blue peep through on the right side? Was a predominantly yellow card separated from the others? Look again quickly if you need to. Then, let your mind be filled with these different areas of color. How do they feel? What do they want of you? Notice any sensations that arise in your body. Speak these feelings and impressions out loud without censoring anything. In fact, try to reel in anything that flickers at the edge of your awareness or that you find yourself resisting or negating. Be a little silly. Say the ridiculous.
Now glance at the cards again and notice what images catch your attention. Look away and do the same thing with the symbols and images that jumped out at you from the cards. Occasionally, as you speak, look back at the cards to catch another impression from them. Don’t get caught up in reading an individual card but rather try to keep a sense of them as a field.
Close your eyes, deepen your breath. Let yourself sink into the center of yourself. If there were a message in everything you’ve seen, said and felt, what is its essence? What do all these impressions want you to know? Finally, tell yourself you will remember everything that has occurred.
Take a deep breath and on the exhale deliberately come back to normal, waking consciousness. Stretch back into your usual self. If alone, write it all down. If with another person, now is the time to become analytical. Ask her what you said that seemed to work and was most accurate. Note what was going on when you said those things. Then ask her what seemed most inaccurate. Note if there was any difference in where that came from. Ask the person for any other impressions she had or things she noticed. If possible, write down what the person says and get an update in a couple of weeks and/or months. This is a way to discover and refine from where and how the most accurate information comes.
What I’ve noticed most about truly psychic, rather than intuitive, information is that it appears as well-known facts and so obvious that it’s not even worth mentioning. In fact, it’s so blatant and obvious that it would seem manipulative or embarrassing to state it and yet the thought doesn’t go away. For instance, once at a lecture just before the break, the speaker offered to give a book to anyone who knew the four-digit number she was thinking. I thought it was silly since the number was too obvious for words, but I wrote it down on my piece of paper and handed it in. After the break, but before the number was announced, she asked if anyone knew what the number referred to. Again, it seemed totally obvious it was her birth year. It mean, what else could it be? It was so silly I didn’t even bother to speak up. Well, I won the book and it was her birth year. It was only when I realized that none of the other 80-odd people had gotten it right that I realized anything out of the ordinary had happened—but it still felt absurdly obvious.
For me, psychic information comes without any emotion—it just is. I’m more strongly empathic (which is related but different), but even the “emotions” I sense have a certain charge-less quality to them. One other example happened at work in an office with several other people and one phone. The phone rang and I said, without thinking, “I’ll get it. It’s Terry (my then-husband), and he’s been in a car accident.” It was simply a fact, plus I knew he was all right. The problem was, he never forgave me, because the first words out of my mouth after he told me was, “How’s the car?” It was totaled, but he took my question as my caring more about the car then him, rather than my already knowing absolutely that he was unharmed.
Here are a couple of things to watch for. The points may seem to contradict each other, but part of the psychic character can be a certain paradoxical quality like perceiving something as both a wave and a particle.
• Watch for images, thoughts, impressions, smells at the edge of awareness.
• It may seem too obvious and ordinary a fact to be significant. Doesn’t everyone know it?
• The impression keeps slipping in, getting in the way of other things, though a part of you insists on ignoring it or telling you that you’ve made it up or that it’s irrelevant.
• There’s no emotional impact; it simply is (even when part of the impression is of an emotion). Occasionally psychic information can only reach you by making you sick but, usually, if you are anxious and afraid that something will happen (like your child getting hurt) it’s not a psychic insight but your own fears. I’ve used this last point as a test for years.
Finally, for most tarot readers, psychic insights are only a small part of what we do during a reading, and they can occur in ways I haven’t even begun to mention. Almost everyone who reads tarot reports an increase in psychic experiences. However, not all psychic predictions come to pass nor are all insights true in the way you think they are. Reading tarot is both an art and a responsibility so it pays to improve your inner tools and skills in every way that you can so that each ability can become a check-and-balance for the others.
It is assumed that tarot readers use either psychic or intuitive abilities. In fact, these are, almost always, among their skills. Querents usually come for a reading because they are looking for information outside the normal, rational processes for obtaining it. They want that “something extra,” even if it’s just entertainment.
What I want to query today is:
• Why are ‘psychic’ and ‘intuitive’ so often conflated into a single thing? (A web search on psychic + intuitive should convince you that the words often appear together to express the same thing.)
• As tarot readers do we know when we are using psychic rather than intuitive faculties and vice versa?
The terms psychic and intuitive actually describe two different processes that could be seen as opposite ends of a spectrum. One can even trigger another. By using both words together or interchangeably we attempt to cover all bases. Can we improve our skill in using these abilities? Yes. But it helps to differentiate between them— at least while developing them as skills.
Psychic is usually described as “extra sensory perception.” It accesses information beyond the reach of our normal senses. Thus, it is deemed paranormal; a sixth sense. The term psychic was first used by the French astronomer Camille Flammarion in the 1860s and, soon after, by the chemist William Crookes to describe the spiritualist medium Daniel Douglas Home. Originally it implied seership, prophecy or mediumship. Now it refers to a broad range of abilities including telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and precognition.
Psi research (parapsychology) has amassed enough evidence to convince all but a few of the most skeptical scientists, who have examined this evidence, of its existence. Even the CIA and then the military had what they called a “remote viewing” program from the early 1970s until 1995.
Intuition, on the other hand, is the completely normal functioning of human cognition. It is part of a bodily survival mechanism. It has been called gut feeling, a hunch, instinct or insight. It involves intelligence at work without conscious thought. Essentially it is the act or process of coming to direct knowledge without reasoning or inferring. With intuition we sense truth without explanations. Using unconscious forms of analogy and induction we instantly perceive connections and patterns. This sometimes results in a clear direction for action.
Both psychic awareness and intuition communicate to us through symbols, sensory feelings and emotions, which is one reason why they may be so hard to separate. With intuition, however, we can sometimes justify our hunches by backtracking and discerning sensory input and mental connections that only make sense after the fact. By contrast, with a true psychic impression a direct connection simply doesn’t exist, except, perhaps, when interpreting feelings and symbols in which the psychic impression can be cloaked.
I highly recommend two books for understanding and developing your intuition:
• Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer.
• The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker.
Gerd Gigerenzer is a director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. His research was a major source for Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink. In Gut Feelings, he describes intuition as a judgment that appears quickly, whose underlying reasons we are not fully aware of, yet is strong enough to act upon. “It ignores information, violates the laws of logic, and is the source of many human disasters.” On the other hand, as Gigerenzer shows, it can outwit the most sophisticated reasoning and computational strategies.
Intuitional skills can be learned. Gigerenzer explains how it often works through simple rules of thumb that take advantage of cognitive abilities, recognition memory, social instincts, and visual tracking.
Gavin de Becker, in The Gift of Fear, says, “Intuition is the journey form A to Z without stopping at any other letter along the way. It is knowing without knowing why.” True, this book focuses on high-stakes predictions: how to spot subtle signs of danger to avoid violence. Yet, it is one of the best and most compassionate books I know that tells you how to recognize and when to trust intuition.
How do you tell the difference between fear that is true and fear that is unwarranted? “Intuition is always learning,” de Becker tells us, “and though it may occasionally send a signal that turns out to be less than urgent, everything it communicates to you is meaningful. Unlike worry, it will not waste your time.”
Intuition comes to us through emotions, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, anxiety and humor. De Becker’s “elements of prediction,” along with Gigerenzer’s “rules of thumb,” can help you make better decisions than just relying on reason alone.
Intuition can arise during a tarot reading in countless ways. One of these is when symbols in several cards suddenly seem to come forward and link together to reveal a repeating or developing theme. Everything else can appear to recede in the face of the insistence and aliveness of these symbols. In face-to-face readings, subtle clues from the querent—including things picked up from so-called “cold reading”—will echo meanings in the cards, creating a kind of resonance. Words said by the querent can ring with truth, especially when they match keywords for cards in the spread.
Tarot readers can become much more aware of when and how they access intuition in a reading. They can then help a querent recognize when the querent’s own intuitions have been activated and may contain valuable truths.
The picture above is an amalgam of four cards from the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. Can you identify them?
I’ll write later about psychic development and another important ability in reading tarot, empathy.