Reading a Tarot Card

authored by Mary K. Greer 1996

The following are a series of steps for interpreting those Tarot cards that have scenes or pictures. Use as many steps as you want and in any order, although I recommend beginning with the first four steps. By emphasizing particular steps you create your own personal style.

Draw at least one card a day (many people perfer using a basic three-card spread), and go through several of the steps below, writing down your insights in a notebook. The next day make notes about what actually happened. For important dates (when you began a job, moved, or met a significant other) continue adding comments as your insights develop over the years. In three years, drawing only one card per day, each card will have appeared 10 to 20 times. If you balance personal notes with observations of readings for others you will one day have your own book on the Tarot.

1) Say the name of the card aloud.

2) What number is on the card? What does this number signify (preferably in one to three words)? [Example: "2s are about CHOICES and DECISIONS."]

[As a Tarot student, lay out all the cards grouped by number. Make lists from books of what each number means and select one to three words that best apply to all cards of that number. Same with the Court Cards: "Knights are about QUESTS and USING THE SKILLS of their suit" etc.]

3) What suit is the card? Name several characteristics of the suit. ["Cups are about FEELINGS and EMOTIONS..."]

4) Put item two and three together in a short sentence or a question. ["What choices are you making based on emotions?"]

5) SIMPLY DESCRIBE THE CARD AS IF THE OTHER PERSON COULD NOT SEE IT. ["Two people hold out cups to each other. The one on the right reaches forward with his right hand... above them are..."]
Repeat your description in the first person, present tense: ["I am holding out a cup to another. I reach forward with my right hand..."]
If reading for another you can ask them to do this, or turn your descriptions into questions. ["Who are you reaching out to?"]

6) Describe what SEEM TO BE the emotions and feelings of the figures on the card and the mood and atmosphere of the environment. Repeat this description in the first person, present tense.

7) Make up a spontaneous story or fairy tale about what is happening in the card. Begin "Once upon a time..." or "What if..." Repeat in the first person, present tense, etc.

8) Notice any impressions, ideas, or thoughts that come up while doing the above. Ask your client (or yourself) how these are relevant, then LET THEM GO. Don't become emotionally attached to any of your ideas or opinions as being "right." These may be psychic insights, metaphors for a deeper meaning, or your own stuff (experience will make the distinction clearer). If reading for another DON'T MAKE JUDGMENTS about whether something is good or bad (see Step 15).

9) Do any expressions, sayings or cliches come to mind as you look at the image on the card? [I.e., "out in the cold" for the Five of Pentacles. "Stabbed in the back" or "pinned down" for the Ten of Swords.] Proverbs can be especially insightful. How do these relate to the situation?

10) What are traditional (book) interpretations of the card? Eventually you want to be able to draw on an great "field" of possibilities. Subsequent cards and the client's situation will start emphasizing particular segments of that field, thus narrowing down the possibilities ["No, my father is not a water-sign like the King of Cups and has never been particularly sympathetic. He's an accountant. However, it does describe my boss at work, so it might relate to that Three of Pentacles which is obviously my job."]

11) Imagine the entire range of card meanings as stretching from most problematic to most beneficial. Give an example from each extreme. See this range of meanings as on a dial or continuum. Have your client (or yourself) move their hand along the continuum until finding where they are NOW. Next determine where they WANT TO BE along the continuum. Is there another card in the spread that supports that?

[Note: it is preferable to see cards as "problematic" rather than "bad," and "beneficial" or "helpful" rather than "good."].


12) If applicable, is this card MODIFIED (strengthened, opposed, etc.) by any other cards in the spread or by being REVERSED? Note repetitions of suit, number, color, shape, figures, detail, theme, etc. among all the cards.

13) Imagine that you are one of the figures on the card by physically acting out the scene depicted on the card. Take your time and really feel yourself in the situation. What are you doing? How does it feel? What do you want or need? Why are you there? Examine, handle and use objects found in the card. [If the Ten of Swords, notice if it feels good to lie on your stomach. Can you lift your head? Do you even want to? What can you see? Are you fighting the situation or giving in to it? How do the swords feel? etc.]

14) Close your eyes. Imagine the card becoming life-sized. Enter into the card. Look around you. What do you see? Enter one of the figures ("archetypes"). Answer questions such as those in Step 13. Speak as the figure: what do you have to say to the person receiving the reading? Is there any advice you can give? Step out of the card, see it shrink down. Breathe yourself back into your own body.

[As a reader, you can guide your client through this process. Note: the advice of the "archetype" is NOT definitive, but simply its particular perspective. A client may need to hear and evaluate several different perspectives represented by different cards. For example, let each figure in the FIVE of WANDS or the FIVE OF SWORDS state what they want from you.]

15) Have the client comment on any beliefs, attitudes, or judgements they think are suggested by the card. Are these appropriate and helpful? If not, how can they be modified or changed? A reader should NEVER make judgments about the client or the situation -- what seems like lying to one person may be considered being smart and clever to another. However you can may need to acknowledge an apparent situation: ["These cards seem to describe a potentially abusive relationship to me, but you seem to get something important from it. Where are you in this card? What is this figure doing? . . . what does he or she want?"]

16) What does the card (or the figures on the card) have to teach you? If in doubt, ask these figures. Speak the first response that comes to mind. Again, a person should only do this for themselves. As the reader you should guide the client/querent through this process.

17) How do all of the above relate to your life right now? [This step may come at any point and be repeated often.]

18) What are the qualities that you (the querent) see in the card that YOU would most like to develop in YOURSELF? (Note: every card contains something of value.) Name those qualities. Turn them into a statement affirming that you already have and are using those qualities in your life right now. The querent should always do this, rather than the reader imposing his or her own opinions on the querent.

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