What to Do When Tarot Cards Don’t Make Sense
Back in 1974, I received my first tarot deck. I remember that day so vividly. I was 10 years old and fascinated with everything mystical and magical. Whenever there was a horoscope or a fortune telling game, I was all over it.
My parents and I took a trip to Salem, Massachusetts and we went into a witch-themed shop. My mother told me that I could choose one souvenir, and I chose a miniature Rider-Waite-Smith deck. How I knew that these were fortune telling cards, I don’t know, but something about the tarot was so magnetic to me.
Of course, when I got them home and tried to read the little white booklet that came with the deck, I was flummoxed. Anyone who is familiar with A.E. Waite’s “little white book” knows that it creates more mystery than it solves. So, I ended up playing with the cards rather than actually reading fortunes.
It Was Hard to Learn The Tarot
When I got into my teens, I actually began to start to learn to read the tarot in a sincere way. I remember the excitement of pulling out my cards when my friends and I would get together and we would shuffle and then lay out the cards, trying to discern what spiritual messages were trying to be transmitted.
Inevitably, we would end up pulling out my tarot book and then deciphering each card one-by-one by looking them up in the book. It wouldn’t really give us a true tarot reading, but at least we were getting some kind of message.
I remember thinking that there had to be some way to decipher the tarot without looking up meanings in a book. I marveled at those readers who were able to just throw down the cards and foretell your future. How did they do it?
Are You Confused by the Tarot?
If you’ve been in this place where you have been confused by the cards, I can remember back to my earliest days and relate. Even though now I’ve written a book about tarot, Madame Pamita’s Magical Tarot, I still remember those days so long ago of being so frustrated, discouraged and confused by the cards when I was a baby reader just starting.
These days, I teach students on how to read the tarot and when we begin I always start by breaking down the way to decipher a card that seems confusing. If you’re getting mixed messages (or no message at all), try following these steps so that you can get a helpful message from the cards.
Ground And Center Before Reading The Tarot
Before you start reading tarot or oracle cards, I find it helpful to ground and center. If you are upset or distracted, you’ll have a lot of thoughts bouncing around in your head and that in itself can cause a lot of confusion.
If you’re feeling maxes out, try one of these strategies:
Take a hot bath
Go for a walk
Eat a bite of something nutritious
Take a nap
Take in five deep, slow breaths.
Being in a calm, peaceful, and open state before you start your reading will set you on the right path.
Formulate a Question for Your Tarot Reading
Before you start your reading, start with a question — the more specific the better. Whether you are doing a reading for someone else or checking in on something yourself, it’s easier to read the cards if you know what the topic is.
For example, if you’re reading for a friend and they say, “Just tell me what’s coming up in the future,” that leaves a whole lot of room for topics that they might no sincerely be interested in. Whereas, if they say something like, “I want to turn my skill as a knitter into a business. What is going to help me turn that hobby into something that makes money?” you’re going to be given a direction on where to take the reading.
The same thing applies to readings that you do for yourself. If you ask a question, either by writing it down or speaking it out loud, you are more likely to make the connections between the cards that you’ve pulled and the topic at hand.
Take a Moment to Look at the Tarot Cards
Shuffle the cards and lay out them out as you normally do for a reading. If you are new to tarot reading, I recommend pulling out no more than three at the beginning. Look at the images on the cards that you’ve pulled. When I am teaching new students how to read the cards, I make them describe what they see as if they were describing the card to someone who couldn’t see it.
For example, if I were describing the Six of Cups in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to someone, I would say something like, “There is a little boy and a little girl standing outside and the boy is handing the girl a golden goblet with a white flower in it. In the background, there is someone who looks like a guard walking back toward the walls of the city.”
When I am teaching students to do readings for others, I often recommend that they start a reading by simply describing what they see in the cards. This allows them to take a minute to look at the card without feeling the performance anxiety of having to translate what that card means to the person they’re reading for.
Think About the Symbols in the Tarot Cards
After you have described what you see in the cards, the next step is to decipher the symbols of the cards. In our example of the Six of Cups, we have a lot of potential symbols. For example, the boy and the girl can represent childhood or innocence or friendship. The cup and the flower represent a gift or an offering. The guard can represent caution or protection.
(Side note: If you want some help on deciphering the symbols in the cards, you may want to check out my book Madame Pamita’s Magical Tarot. I break down all of the symbols of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for each card.)
Relate Those Symbols to the Original Question
Now comes the fun part, the place where a real reading starts. Think back to your original question and think about how the symbols of the card relate back to that question. Choose one or two symbols that seem to relate to the question easily. You don’t have to relate every single thing in the card to the question — that’s not how readers read the cards anyway. Just pick the ones that seem to make the most sense to you.
In our question about turning a hobby into a business, if you picked the Six of Cups, you could focus on the relationship of the boy and the girl, the flower in the golden goblet, the flowers around them, the gloves on the girl’s hands, or the guard walking away. Really, you can focus on anything that you see in the card and think about what those symbols mean in relation to your question.
For example, for our knitter who is ready to start a business, you might focus on the symbol of the girl’s gloves (and those might be knitted) and the beautiful gift that she is getting from the boy. How could this relate to the question? Maybe you see for your client that they need to recognize and highlight the beauty of their offerings or that they need to market them as gifts.
Or you might see something more down to earth such as that they need to ask their partner to support them in this transition. There are a lot of ways that these symbols can be interpreted in light of the question and that is the magic of an intuitive reading. You can get asked the same question and pull the same card but the message for each person will be as unique as they are.
What to Do if the Tarot Cards Still Don’t Make Sense
Sometimes, when you are learning to read the cards, there are those times when you really and truly can’t see a connection between the symbols of the cards and what you are asking. If that’s the case, ask your spirit guides for clarification and draw another card. A clarifying card can often help you make sense of your original card.
For example, if the original card was the Six of Cups and then you pulled a clarifying card like the Six of Pentacles, you could get some more information. The Six of Pentacles shows a rich merchant giving poor beggars some gold coins. With that card as a clarifier, you might see the connection of the symbol of “giving” and then realize that your original Six of Cups was more about the giving aspect than let’s say the idea of beauty.
Still Not Getting a Clear Message From the Tarot?
If you are consistently having problems connecting to your tarot and getting a clear message about the meaning, you might be able to solve the problem by trying a different deck. There are tried-and-true decks like the Rider-Waite-Smith deck that many people find helpful because of the rich symbolism on them. This is the deck that I use most of the time and the one that I break down symbol-by-symbol in my book Madame Pamita’s Magical Tarot.
There are also helpful decks that give brief meanings to the card right on the card. The Practical Tarot Wisdom deck has several key meanings of the card right next to the image on the card and can be helpful if you find yourself looking up meanings all the time as you read.
Trying a different deck may just be the key to help you connect to the cards and start to understand their meaning in a deeper way.
Don’t Get Frustrated by the Tarot
If you’ve tried all these techniques and still can’t make heads or tails of the message of the cards, don’t try to push it. Put your cards away and bring them out for another question another day. We have all had those times when we might be too close to the question to be objective or may be too overwhelmed to get a clear reading.
Don’t be hard on yourself or think you’re not a good reader just because you found your tarot reading to be a bit confusing this time around. Just put the cards away for now and wait for a time when you’re feeling alert, calm, and clear and try again.
This article was written by Madame Pamita and has also been published on YourTango and Medium.