Beyond the Booklet:
Reading Tarot Intuitively
You heard about tarot and wanted to learn more, so you picked up a deck or two. You've downloaded apps and eBooks and have memorized all the meanings of the cards by heart. You feel pretty confident about drawing a card or three and knowing the general gist of the message. Still, something feels a little off about your readings. You wonder how the tarot readers you see on YouTube are able to convey such rich, detailed messages and advice from just the basic definitions of the cards, while you feel like your readings are AI-generated. The secret is that professional tarot readers usually aren't relying on the card definitions to construct their readings - instead they read intuitively.
As a beginner, it's totally normal and perfectly fine to rely on the deck booklets and tarot apps to remind you what meanings the cards are generally associated with. However, it's also really common to come up against a wall with this method. Eventually, the booklets and definitions begin to limit your perspective on what the cards may be trying to convey. This is where it can be helpful to learn to read intuitively. Reading tarot intuitively is a skill that can take some time to develop, but usually comes more naturally to creative types. That's because this method of interpretation relies on using your imagination, not a dictionary, to construct the narrative that accompanies the cards. Here are some tips to get started:
1. Connect with the cards, not the booklet. The booklets are there to help you learn about the imagery and symbolism of the cards - but they are not the cards themselves. It's kind of like confusing a photograph of a mountain with the mountain itself. It's easy to begin to think that the booklets and the definitions are the cards, but that's not correct. The next time you pull out your deck to do a reading, try just looking at the cards. You may feel called to arrange them a certain way other than the way they came out. You might notice repeating symbols or details that jump out at you that wouldn't even have been mentioned in the booklet. Notice what feelings or ideas come to you when you look at certain cards. How does it feel to look at The Devil, especially compared to Temperance? How do the colors, landscapes, and figures make you feel?
2. Give the cards a story. It’s helpful to treat spreads like a storyboard. What are the events taking place from start to finish? Who are the main characters? What are their motivations? What is the primary conflict of the story? What is needed to overcome the conflict? Sometimes you might even see the same character across multiple cards, tied together by some consistent color or symbol. You might even spontaneously imagine an entire backstory to the cards that has little to do with the traditional meanings. Let your imagination take the wheel here and you might be blown away by how relatable your reading becomes. This is often where readings really start to come alive.
3. Experiment with spreads or no spreads. Spreads, such as the Celtic Cross, can be helpful because they give a predefined purpose to each card. It gives structure to the overall narrative and arrangement of the cards. Sometimes this can just cause confusion instead. If you find yourself confused, try reading without a spread. Let yourself arrange the cards in whatever way feels right to you and allow the narrative to emerge organically. Just don’t forget to have a well-constructed question going into the reading, or you may find yourself just as lost and confused as before. How we apply language is important for cultivating specificity within a reading: too much, and the reading becomes formulaic and lifeless; too little, and the reading becomes too general to be meaningful.
4. Let your inner critic take a backseat. When reading intuitively, doubting yourself is the surest way to throw off your game. That’s because acting on intuition is ultimately faith-based - you can’t be sure that your interpretation is going to resonate with your client or friend until you just go out and say it. Don’t hold back what you’re picking up from the cards - it may be that it takes a while for your message to make sense, due to external circumstances. The same goes even if you are reading for yourself. Also, it’s okay to just plain be wrong sometimes. Even professional readers are wrong sometimes - we’re not omniscient. If something isn’t
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landing, it can help to make your message more general and see how the querent responds. Perhaps, for example, you see the Knight of Cups appear and you think it could be about a lover or long-term relationship only to discover that the person you are reading for has no interest in romance. You can walk things back to something more general like “acting from the heart.” Reading intuitively isn’t an exact science.
Try putting these tips into practice and see how your readings evolve over time. Eventually, you may find yourself not even bothering to flip through the booklets of new decks you buy - not that there's anything wrong with doing that. Booklets often contain valuable information about the deck they belong to, and it doesn’t make you a worse reader to refer to them. Tarot ultimately is a medium for channeling messages and advice, and booklets can serve as that medium as well. What’s important is understanding that channeling is an intuitive act, which can be difficult to grasp when you are first starting out. Using these tips will help broaden the perspective with which you approach your readings, so that your approach is not exclusively logic-dominated. No matter what techniques you use to do a reading (booklet or no booklet, spreads or no spreads, etc.) your experience will benefit from finding ways to allow your intuition to participate.
Clear Guidance from Tarot:
Reveal Choices, not Answers
A common mistake to make when approaching a system of divination like tarot is approaching it with the intention of having it give you answers to what decisions you should make. Everyone goes through challenges where they wish that someone or something would tell them irrefutably what action they should take or what choice will bring them the deepest sense of security and contentment. It is tempting to seek the comfort of absolute certainty about our choices and curtail any risk of failure or setback, but we need to resist this temptation as much as possible.
The ability to make a choice of action is one of the few things in life we have any control over. When you look to external sources to give you answers and tell you what choices to make, you disempower yourself and perpetuate a fear-based cycle of doubting your own agency to know what is best for you. The message you send to yourself when you disregard your own agency is that you are not trustworthy or able to be relied upon to make sound decisions - and if you grew up in a dysfunctional household, then you may very well just be repeating the pattern you felt towards your own guardians when they failed to be reliable and trustworthy towards you. It can be absolutely terrifying to depend on yourself as an adult if you never experienced what it is like to be in the presence of a safe and trustworthy adult. Part of healing this means we have to make choices and live with whatever results from them, and sometimes it's really difficult to bear. The lived experience of making choices - whether for good or for worse - is critical in developing confidence about your identity and needs. How else do you discover what you like, dislike, want, need, or desire if all your choices are made for you?
Receiving answers or revealing choices?
In terms of tarot and divination, asking for answers usually looks like coming to a reader or busting out a deck with a question along the lines of "What should I do about my situation?" Especially questions like, "Should I end my relationship?" or "Should I leave my job?" You'll notice these questions all have "should" in them - which is a great indicator that these questions are asking an external source to confirm or make a decision that is not theirs to make.
There is a subtle difference between seeking guidance to gather data and explore a situation and seeking guidance to have a decision made on one's behalf. Typically, we do the latter when we are scared, confused, and unsure - which will inevitably be reflected back to us with confusing and foreboding cards. No matter what the situation is, every option will seem scary or incorrect if you approach it with this state of mind. This is why the way you frame a question and ask for guidance can make such a huge difference in how much clarity you gain from a reading.
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What would an empowering mindset look like? If you relate to feeling confused, unsure, or like you strongly fear making the wrong choice, try imagining this
e all have access to an inner knowing about what we need - the problem really is that being able to access this inner knowing is easily blocked when someone is experiencing doubt and fear. If you think this applies to you, there are many exercises and tools you can use to recover your connection to your inner knowing. In my article on ambivalence, referenced at the end of this article, I outline steps you can take to access the part of you that already knows what you need.
n a secure mindset, where someone feels confident in their inner knowing, the question with which they approach the cards may look drastically different: "How can I improve my situation?" or "What resources are available?" Notice how these are open-ended questions, which create space for the cards to paint a picture of your situation and reveal solutions. When you approach your queries this way, you are claiming your agency and empowering yourself to create solutions, rather than resigning yourself to being a passive participant in the unfolding of your own life.
The impact of your mindset also extends to pick-a-card readings on YouTube or when selecting a reader. When you approach your query from a mindset that is grounded, confident, and curious, you may find yourself drawn to different readers or piles than you would have selected when you were perceiving yourself as powerless, vulnerable, and lacking judgment. At least, this has been my experience.
I know that it is hard to channel this mindset if it does not come naturally to you. It improves with time and practice. Since I started approaching tarot this way, I feel more confident in my decisions even if they don't always yield the best results. I know now that I possess the ability to create solutions to any challenge that meets me in life, because I trust in my own authority to know what is best for me, and I want others to feel the same way.
Bee La Rosa is an intuitive professional specializing in tarot, Vedic astrology, and dream interpretation. She draws upon Jungian psychology, eastern thought, her 10 years of experience in social services, and her own healing journey to guide others to wholeness. She releases astrology and tarot videos on her YouTube @moonlodgemystic . See https://moonlodgemystic.com/ for more information.