How Do Tarot Cards Work, Do I Have to Be Psychic, and Other Questions


Have you ever had a Tarot reading, just for fun, and been amazed at how totally accurate or spot on the cards were? I know I have—and recently I worked with a few of you who had that experience too.

Or maybe you are curious about Tarot, and are skeptical about how it would work for you. Tarot and other psychic stuff has gotten a bad rap from film and media—and dodgy practitioners. But Tarot is harmless, can work for anyone, and is an incredible tool for navigating big life transitions, getting a little boost when you are confused, or to offer guidance for your next steps in a relationship.

Tarot offers clarity and insight about whatever you ask (though there is a bit of an art to formulating questions). It does NOT describe stuff “out there” that is going to happen to you.

Do you wonder how a bunch of pictures can do all this? It’s pretty cool—read on!

So What Are Tarot Cards?

Tarot actually has a pretty fascinating history, and there are loads of books and websites that you can geek out with if that aspect of the cards is interesting to you. Suffice to say that what started as a card game in the 1300s (or before) has turned into a major tool for personal growth and reflection.

There are typically 78 cards in a traditional Tarot deck, divided into Major and Minor Arcana. The Majors—22 cards—represent the archetypes or stages of the heroic or human journey and experience—what Jung calls the “process of individuation.” The Minors—56 cards—are divided into suits of Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks (Pentacles, Coins), and run Ace to King. The suits represent the elements of fire, water, air, and earth, or spirit, emotion, thought, and deed.

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_03Tarot images evolved over time to contain easily understood and recognizable symbols from myth, politics, mystery plays and religion. The correspondences with Astrology and Kabbala are fairly modern and were added in the 19th and the 20th centuries by the heavy occult hitters Waite, Crowley, and others.

There are boatloads of decks out there today, and many of them bear no resemblance to the original Tarot. Decks based on the Rider Waite version of the early 20th century are considered “traditional” and will have a universal symbology that you can study and learn. The less traditional usually come with some description provided by the creator.

The art of the Tarot comes not from memorizing meanings, however, but from connecting to the imagery of the cards through your own intuition. Being able to read well for yourself or others really does require practice and experience with the cards. (I didn’t read for other people for years). This intuitive connection is why it is super important to find a deck you relate to, and then practice with it daily to get it into your bones.

I love my Mary-El Tarot, but there is no way that would have been a starter deck for me, nor Crowley’s Thoth deck (a popular deck for professional readers). I started with Kat Black’s Golden Tarot, as it is based on the traditional symbology and has beautiful images collaged from Renaissance and Medieval art.

But How Do Tarot Cards Work?

Basically, the images on the cards stimulate the subconscious (and I believe, the superconscious) mind. They activate the right brain and intuition. Once you have learned some basic interpretations of the cards, you begin to develop your own relationship with them and understand what they mean to you.

It is true that there are basic “rules” to work with. Like, Major Arcana typically symbolize Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_16big life lessons being played out, while the Minors are the day to day. Court Cards symbolize people, or more often, I find, personality traits we need to cultivate within ourselves. Like with any metaphysical tool there is the data piece, and the intuition piece. A blending of right and left brain, of information and synthesis. It’s storytelling—and the best stories always have something to teach us.

My personal belief is that we get the guidance we need to hear. Whether that comes from God, spirit guides, or the higher self doesn’t really matter to me. The bottom line is that Tarot is useful, creative, and fun.

Do I have to be Psychic to Use Tarot Cards?

Nah. I mean, you do need to develop your intuition by working with the cards. We all have access to intuition, and psychic ability—or the “clairs”—is just intuition that has been honed and refined.

Some people do have a talent for intuitive arts, it’s true, but really anyone can learn to access their high sense perception, or psychic ability. You just have to want it. Like any other practice, you have to practice. I have some links in this article to research that’s been done on psychic ability if you want to nose around.

What About Telling the Future?

fortune-teller-560729_640Ok, so I’m going to make a radical statement here: I don’t believe you can tell the future. We have free will, and everyone around us has it too, and we are all choosing our little brains out night and day. How could any system accurately predict what choice you will make in any moment? It’s silly. Sure, we can look at potential outcomes based on current and past choices, but you can change your trajectory at any time.

I do believe in karma and contracts and agreements and all the rest of the “destiny” type elements, but we are always at choice to not honor those contracts and agreements, so predicting with absolute certainty ain’t a thing I do. Other people will offer to, though, and sometimes they’ll be right. But I find telling people what is going to happen actually fixes that outcome in their mind so they lose the ability to see a wider range of choices. They essentially give up their free will to my prediction, and that feels icky to me.

How do I Get Started Reading for Myself?

It’s easy to start learning Tarot and messing around. Most decks come with the “little white book” that tells basic meanings and describes basic spreads. I really like Biddy Tarot and Learning Tarot websites for basics, and also Jana Riley’s Tarot dictionary for learning a variety of card definitions. Mary Greer has a great workbook called Tarot for Yourself that gives loads of exercises, tips, and ways to work with cards to build a personal relationship with Tarot. You can preview a lot of decks at Aecletic Tarot, though I recommend heading to your local independent or metaphysical bookstore to look at samples.

Learn A Simple Spread

Practice drawing one card every day and journaling about it. Then work with 3 card readings weekly. Keep lots of notes re: your insights about the cards.

I have a great FREE download of basic Three Card Readings and sample interpretations.

When Should I Get A Professional Reading?habana-2392199_640

Well—basically I would say when you feel like it! But there are times when it’s impossible to be objective for yourself, and you’d really like some guidance. I get professional readings for big projects that I want another’s more objective take on, like my business.

Relationships are another area where we often lack the neutrality to read well for ourselves. Ditto big life transitions.

Pick a reader whose style you like, and choose the type of reading that best suits you. Written email readings are great if you learn that way and you like to read. In-person is best if you want to freestyle a little through the reading, having the live give and take with the reader. Some practitioners do recorded video readings, which is nice if you are a visual or auditory learner, or you want to see this person who you are working with. Not all personality styles and types of readings will suit you, and nothing is worse than an unhelpful or creepy reading! So choose wisely.

If you’d like to explore my offerings, head over to the Tarot page. I have both email and live options available to support you!

As always, leave a comment if you have questions that I didn’t answer. Tarot is a juicy topic—let me know what you’d like to learn about.

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