Learning to Read the Tarot

I bought my Tarot deck when I was 23. I tore open the shiny black box with the cellophane window (ominously and enticingly displaying the Death card, no less). I upended my new deck onto my dining room table. Of course, I sped right past the introduction in the accompanying, “Reading the Tarot” manual. I thought to myself "How hard could this be?" Seriously! And, I flipped through the pages straight to the chapter titled, “Meanings.” Yay! Now we are cooking with gas!

I shuffled the cards. Threw a Celtic Cross spread (go big or go home!). Finally, I was going to have the answer to why my mother-in-law despised me so. Here it was! Only, well, there it decidedly wasn’t. What I had before me may as well have been a commentary on flavored cream cheeses.

So I did what any true reader of the oracle would do in a case like this: I threw it again. And again. And even again. Over and over until I determined that they were stupid cards that didn’t carry with them any insight at all. Cards with no mystical connection and, worse, a waste of $16.00 or – loosely translated – two pair of Evan-Picone pantyhose (Right now, Susan Speaks with Spirit is no doubt totally nodding in commiseration).

Swishing them off of the table back into their box – as one may sweep a pile of garlic bread crumbs from the table cloth into one’s palm – I thought I remembered something about storing these things. Oh, yes -- more Tarot rules. Seems these high-maintenance, spiritually-mute cardboard rectangles had to be wrapped in something that would be used only for them(sounded like the box they came in to me). Then I remembered this long, narrow, cotton-plaid scarf I had tucked in the back of the drawer. With zero mystical fanfare, I wrapped them and – with their useless too-chubby book – placed them, ironically, into my pantyhose drawer.

Over the years, I would occasionally remove the cards from their little pastel-checked nest and shuffle them around. Throw a spread. Read a bit of the instruction manual. I never salted them, sprayed them, smudged them or lit candles around them. Those of you for whom I’ve had the privilege of reading; those who have read my blogs; and certainly my colleagues know I’m not exactly a paint-my-body-blue-and-dance-in-the-moonlight type of mystic.

Eventually, I read the instruction book. I sort of memorized the general card meanings. I visited readers who used the tarot some exclusively; some as a tool to enhance their gifts. I read a book blending the philosophies of Carl Jung with the imagery of the Tarot. It was perhaps the latter that finally, decades after the Death card caught my eye on that bookshelf, provided me with the stepping stone on which I’ve built my personal style of interpreting the Tarot.

While each card has a meaning to me dependent on its placement in the spread, spread style, the way the question is phrased and all of the traditional Tarot rules and regulations ~ I learned that the Tarot is far more personal than just that. I learned that rather than stepping –in- to a reading, focusing closely on the pedantic wording, I was much better served to step out.

I’ve found that focusing on the imagery, colors, numbers and symbolism of the cards in addition to the general meaning has proven an invaluable way to interpret. I admire (more than words can say!) those readers who throw a card and deliver that knowing – and I do mean knowing – nod of understanding. For me, stepping back from the hard-fast interpretation provided in the accompanying instruction manual has relieved me of “Tarot anxiety” and opened a world of insight.

Using this technique, making them my own by relaxing and letting the cards speak to me rather than the other way around, I can now truly enjoy their mystical and artistic beauty and the clarity they can add to a reading (and they definitely outlived my pantyhose.

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