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I often get asked how to keep a tarot journal. Of course, you can do it any way you want, and there are dozens of things you can include and mediums you can use: notebook and pen, computer files, blogs, etc. A blog is nice in that it is set up for a sequence of dated entries, and you can choose whether to keep it private, make it public or only allow a few friends in.
I just happened on a “Tarot Book of Days” called Quirkeries by Sharyn Mallow Woerz. It’s practically perfect in its elegant simplicity.
Often there are no more than a half dozen sentences. Entries begin with a title, the deck and the card. These are followed with three brief paragraphs: 1) first thoughts on card image, 2) personal associations regarding card meaning, 3) an inspirational quote on a related topic. The card is pictured in a space to the right. Sharyn switches to a new deck every Sunday and usually adds a brief deck overview at that time.
I’m so glad I found this blog. I wrote Sharyn asking her some questions about the blog, which she kindly answered in the comments. I recommend reading what she has to say. I find her whole process inspiring. She’s given me permission to post this sample clip from her blog (click here to get a readable size). Imagine doing one of these every day!
Feel free to add your own experiences with keeping a daily tarot journal, and tell us what medium you use.
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!
- Be guided by the HOLY Spirit (The Whole (holy) Picture).
Combine right brain/left brain work: analysis and imagination/story.
- Both the universal and the personal 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 (Option 1).
- 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?
One card at a time (Option 2).
- 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.
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.
- Are they back to back, or facing each other?
- 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?
- 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 seem to carry all the others? Or a card at the top lead the way?
- 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 for combinations. Find the patterns and connections among cards and positions, then mush it all into a composite idea (position + card is too limiting).
Where to Start
- 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.
- Reversed means one might not be perfectly comfortable with the situation, something needs to be adjusted.
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.
- Sometimes the message is clear and will form a ‘seamless sentence’, but, at other times, only one card may stand out.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- How are two or more cards 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 repetitions of numbers, images, suits/elements, colours, symbols, themes, 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?
- Notice things like Gate cards, or which suit is prevailing or dominant.
- Check for a progression among the numbers as a sequence of development.
- What colors dominate? What color stands out as different than the others?
- 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.
- 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 ____.”
Use Occult Systems.
- 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. Or most of the cards are on one pillar making the situation out of balance.
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 or that are trine or square using the meaning of that astrological aspect.
- 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.
Here is the advice of 45 experienced reader and teachers of tarot and a few newbies. The contradictions are intended to foster respect and understanding for alternate views.
History is based on facts and therefore can express only what can be demonstrated with evidence or carefully deduced from an in-depth understanding of the facts, the culture, the period and the people. New facts can totally change what was formerly thought to be true.
Myths are false stories that reveal some kind of inner Truth. That Truth is often not what the myth conveys on its surface. Someone called them “the Great Imaginings behind this World.” However, they can lead us along paths that aren’t real or can even be harmful, for instance when they become “rules” that unnecessarily limit our experience.
It’s been said that history is true on the outside but a lie on the inside (for instance, we’ll never know what people actually felt and did). Whereas a myth is a lie on the outside and true on the inside (however, discerning the truth it points to can be tricky).
There are at least two kinds of tarot myths:
- Stories of tarot’s origins (mostly romantic and mystical stories with great inner significance),
- “Rules” that should be followed only if you find them helpful and meaningful.
We actually know quite a bit about tarot history. It originated sometime between 1420 and 1440 in Northern Italy, probably Milan or Ferrara or possibly even Florence, amid other experiments in creating sets of “triumph” cards. We also know fairly precisely what the images signified in the late Gothic, early Renaissance North Italian culture. For the first 350 years ‘Il Trionfos’ were known almost entirely for playing games similar to bridge.
There are indications early on that both playing cards and tarot were used for divination and character delineations, but such practices were not widely known until the late 18th century. This is when Antoine Court de Gébelin, Le Comte de Mellet, and Jean-Baptiste Alliette (Etteilla) wrote about tarot and fortune-telling and made up stories about their being brought to Europe by the gypsies from their mystical place of origin in Egypt.
Please read the TarotL History Information Sheet and my post: “Origins of Cartomancy (Playing Card Divination).” The serious student will want to also check out trionfi.com, taropedia.com, Cultural Association “Le Tarot”, the Tarot History Forum and Tarot History & Iconography at aeclectic, among others. Books are recommended on these sites.
The advice given here by our panel of tarot experts (and a few newbies) wasn’t easy to organize. I’ve done quite a bit of condensing and of merging of similar statements.
• Just starting to read tarot? No, it’s not important to know tarot history and myth. All that’s important to know is that tarot is a divination tool.
• History is not necessary for newbies. Myths and archetypes work even if you don’t know how or what their history is. They are timeless, that is, relevant to all times. Newbies need the Magic first!
Over 60 experienced tarot readers offer their best advice for what every Newbie Tarot Reader should know. Not everyone will agree with everything. Add ideas you think belong, in the Comments. Feel free to post this anywhere, so long as you include the source and contributors (listed at the end).
• There are no rules. All rules are made to be broken.
• You may hear and read a LOT about tarot, much of it contradictory. Listen, read, discuss, try, and decide for yourself. No one knows how you will read or work with the cards except you.
• The more you know, the more options you have.
• Read books, Lots of books.
• PUT THE BOOKS DOWN!
• There is nothing wrong with books. Knowledge gained from them gives you a fantastic starting point and framework and can lead to more assured reading.
• Try to read a card first, before you look it up. You will be surprised by how much of the gist of it you get.
• Get to know your deck – pull a card a day and/or go through your deck and take notes on each card. Write your thoughts and feelings about each card in a journal.
The three-card spread is one of the most basic formats for quick-and-easy tarot readings. Yet, it can be surprisingly deep and insightful. It is perfect for a daily journal or when friends or people at parties want you to demonstrate what you do. Furthermore, the three-card spread is amazingly flexible as I hope to demonstrate. Most of these spreads are laid out in a row, left to right, although any pattern is fine.
Probably everyone is familiar with the basic timeline spread:
Most of you will have used the following inner trinity for a quick diagnostic as it shows what’s going on at three levels of experience:
An interesting variation on this is:
- HEAD – What does my Head want?
- HEART – What does my Heart want?
- SOUL – What does my Soul want?
Three-card readings are also great for evaluating potential actions. To compare options lay out this three-card spread for each possibility:
- The PRO or BENEFIT of a particular choice or action.
- The CON or LIABILITY in that choice or action.
- SOMETHING ELSE you need to take into account.
It can also help you deal with problems via the dialectic imperative:
- THESIS, idea or issue
- ANTITHESIS, obstacle or problem
- SYNTHESIS, integration or solution
Zoe Matoff came up with a more prescriptive version of this that is brilliant when you want to cut through all the nuances and get a (relatively) straight answer with “Zoe’s Do/Don’t Do Spread” (a favorite of both Rachel Pollack and me):
- Card 2: DON’T DO THIS
- Card 1: The ISSUE or SITUATION
- Card 3: DO DO THIS
Zoe wrote me this explanation of her spread: “Often cards two and three will describe such disparate courses of action as to make it very clear what course of action needs to be taken or what decision is to be made. And, of course, card #1 can turn out to be a total surprise, delineating the situation as it really is, or in a light in which the questioner has not yet seen it, or a totally different situation that requires attention but has been overlooked. Last, but not least, all the cards need to be seen together to make clear the urgency or nature of the issue.”
Three-card readings form the basis of all the more complicated relationship readings:
- PERSON A (is, wants, needs, gives, receives, etc.)
- THEIR RELATIONSHIP (as if it were it’s own entity)
- PERSON B (is, wants, needs, gives, receives, etc.)
And, as I was reminded by James Ricklef in the Comments, they are the core of choice spreads:
- CHOICE A
- OTHER considerations
- CHOICE B
Three-card spreads are also great for simple Yes/No questions:
Upright cards are yes.
Reversed cards are no.
The center card counts twice.
Thus, there can be a tie, which indicates that the answer is not yet determined, or it’s better not to know, or ___. You can interpret the individual cards or not. (Any odd number of cards can be used.)
Inspired by John Gilbert, James Ricklef used this smart variation on the Yes/No Spread in his excellent book Tarot Tells the Tale. (By the way, this is one of the best books available for learning how to read the cards. It features practical advice and entertaining examples that demonstrate the techniques.)
- YES, IF . . .
- NO, IF . . .
- MAYBE, IF . . .
James adds: “The cards indicate the conditions under which the answer would be Yes, No, or Maybe. Thus the “Maybe” card can indicate a deciding factor or a decision or action that the querent has to make in order to arrive at the outcome s/he wants.”
You can find many more examples of three-card spreads in James Ricklef’s book and in my own Tarot for Your Self, where the three-card spread is recommended for daily readings and developing a tarot journal.
Added: This one is good practice for integrating three cards into one statement: Jacob goes to the store. Alison loves Max. Day turns into night. Note: Your sentence can be much longer and more complex.
- SUBJECT (person, place or thing)
- VERB (action or state of being, try an active verb here)
- OBJECT (goal, what’s affected or changed, recipient)
What’s your favorite Three-Card Spread? You’ll find several more Three-Card Spreads contributed by readers in the Comments section. Be sure to check these out, too, and add your own.
This “Yes-No Oracle” is by Irys Vorel in an article entitled “How the Gypsies Use the Tarot” from the February 1955 issue of Fate Magazine.
A version of this spread, expanded greatly by me, is now available at the commercial site Tarot.com. Check it out.
1. Write your problem or question on a piece of paper in such a fashion that “yes” or “no” could be the answer. Don’t ask ambiguous questions like “Should I marry Rick or Jason?” Situations such as this should be split into two questions.
2. Remove the Wheel of Fortune from the 78 card deck and place it before you face up.
3. Shuffle the rest of the deck, with your mind on the problem. Spread the cards in a fan, face down. With your left hand, draw seven cards at random. Put them face down on top of the Wheel. Set the remaining deck aside.
4. Turn the Wheel of Fortune face down like the other seven cards. Shuffle these eight cards until you no longer know where the Wheel is.
5. Deal the eight cards in a square consisting of four positions (see next), so that there are two cards in each position:
• Top Left: The 1st position (cards 1 & 5) signifies – YES.
• Top Right: The 2nd position (cards 2 & 6) signifies – SOON.
• Bottom Left: The 3rd position (cards 3 & 7) signifies – DELAY.
• Bottom Right: The 4th position (cards 4 & 8 ) signifies – NO.
6. Turn the cards over looking for the Wheel of Fortune. Its position gives you the answer.
• If the Wheel card has fallen in the first position, it indicates “Yes,” and the speedy and favorable solution of one’s problem.
• If in the second, “Soon,” position, it means: “You should not unduly press your interests.”
• If it lies in the “Delay” position, the indications are that some obstacles will have to be overcome.
• If it lies in the “No” position, it indicates adjustments have to be made and circumstances at the moment block the harmonious solution of the problem. Therefore, the wish cannot be fulfilled immediately. After changes have occurred this same wish could be answered in the affirmative.
7. If your answer is either “Delay” or “No,” then look at all the cards in the layout (the reversal of a card has no significance):
• Many Pentacles indicate a financial hitch.
• Swords show opposition.
• Wands suggest journeys and changes.
• Many Cups indicate fortunate circumstances and ultimately a happy ending, especially if the Grail [Ace of Cups] is among them.
• Many Major Arcana indicate that the situation is out of your hands: destiny is at work.
• Many Court Cards indicate that the wishes of other people determine the outcome.
This is not my favorite kind of spread as it seems too deterministic, but it’s worth checking out to see if it works for you. Let me know what you think.
Sample reading: Should I post this spread on my blog?
We can see that the answer is “No” (the Wheel of Fortune is in the bottom-right pair), but I decided to post it anyway. How else can we determine if the advice is good or not? There are three Major Arcana (in addition to the Wheel) indicating that the situation is in the hands of destiny, and two Cups cards, which slightly leans toward a favorable outcome over the long run. I’ll let you know if anything untoward occurs. The deck used is Le Grand Tarot Universel by Bruno de Nys.
Pamela Colman Smith (also known as Pixie), artist of the Rider-Waite (Smith) Tarot deck, wrote nothing about the deck she created except in a letter to her mentor, Alfred Stieglitz, “I just finished a big job for very little cash!” She did tell us, however, in an article called “Should the Art Student Think?,” what must have been her own approach to reading the cards. This is the core of my own reading style.
“Note the dress, the type of face; see if you can trace the character in the face; note the pose. . . . First watch the simple forms of joy, of fear, of sorrow; look at the position taken by the whole body. . . . After you have found how to tell a simple story, put in more details. . . . Learn from everything, see everything, and above all feel everything! . . . Find eyes within, look for the door into the unknown country.”*
Essentially, she’s suggesting the following steps:
- Describe the card literally.
- Describe what seem to be the emotions, style and attitudes of the people on the card.
- Physically embody the card—act it out.
- Make up a story about what’s happening and turn it into a first person account (so you are feeling everything yourself).
- In your mind’s eye, step over the border of the card (through the door).
- Enter into that world, seeing beyond the borders to things you never knew were there.
In my opinion, this is the best way to discover what these cards mean for you in any situation.