A Guide to Reading With The Illuminated Tarot

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Queen of Hearts The Illuminated Tarot

Ever since I published my review of The Illuminated Tarot, I’ve been getting the same question from folks looking to work with the deck: how do you actually read with it?

This question blooms from the fact that The Illuminated Tarot is a 53-card deck while the tarot is a 78-card one. Creator Kaitlin Keegan combined some of the pips and the Major Arcana, a choice resulting in cards that represent two different archetypes simultaneously.

In other words, at least twenty-one cards in the deck can be read in at least three different ways, making an already complex system even more so.

Because I love this deck and believe that it would become an instant classic were it not for this difference, I’m putting forth a bitty primer on how to read The Illuminated Tarot based on my thoughts and experiences. If you’ve been having trouble working with The Illuminated Tarot or are hesitant to pick up the deck, it’s my sincere wish that this guide helps you read it with ease.

Method One | Choose the Pips (and the Courts)

The “pips” are the cards numbered 1-10 in each suit, and the court cards are the face cards in each suit. For the purposes of The Illuminated Tarot, the suits are as follows: Hearts (Cups), Diamonds (Pentacles), Spades (Swords), and Clubs (Aces). Within each of these suits, you’ll find archetypes from the Major Arcana inhabiting the same space as a pip or face card. Here’s a breakdown of the correspondences:

The Fool

The Magician | King of Clubs (Wands)

The High Priestess | Two of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Empress | Queen of Hearts (Cups)

The Emperor | King of Spades (Swords)

The Hierophant | Five of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Lovers | Six of Hearts (Cups)

The Chariot | Seven of Spades (Swords)

Strength | Ace of Clubs (Wands)

The Hermit | Nine of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Wheel of Fortune | Ten of Hearts (Cups)

Justice | Eight of Spades (Swords)

The Hanged Man | Two of Spades (Swords)

Death | Four of Spades (Swords)

Temperance | Two of Hearts (Cups)

The Devil | Five of Clubs (Wands)

The Tower | Six of Clubs (Wands)

The Star | Seven of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Moon | Eight of Hearts (Cups)

The Sun | Nine of Clubs (Wands)

Judgement | Ten of Spades (Swords)

The World | Ace of Diamonds (Pentacles)

Major Arcana | The Illuminated Tarot
Major Arcana | The Illuminated Tarot

Of course, some of the pairings are more obvious than others. The Hanged Man and the Two of Spades, for example, share a strikingly similar imagery. Likewise, the “pregnant pause before the choice” meaning of the Two of Spades translates incredibly well to the “surrender to that which you can’t control” meaning of The Hanged Man–in both instances, the figure is placed in a passive position that infers that reflection and greater understanding are needed before moving forward.

The Hanged Man The Illuminated Tarot

Some pairings are more elusive, however, and that’s where we run into problems.

The Hermit/Nine of Diamonds, The Wheel of Fortune/Ten of Hearts, and The Chariot/Seven of Spades are a few of the more tricky combinations. In order to circumvent any confusion, you can use the first method: interpret the card as a minor arcana card. In this case, you may read the card according to its traditional RWS minor meaning regardless of the imagery it conveys.

The Chariot The Illuminated Tarot

In the case of the The Chariot/Seven of Spades then, you may pull the meaning of deception and dishonesty from it even though that interpretation is not at all represented in the image on the deck. Perhaps the query you’ve received is such that it makes total and complete sense to interpret it that way, and if so, feel free to go for it. Likewise,The Hermit/Nine of Diamonds may speak more to abundance and body confidence (as it does as the Nine of Pentacles in the RWS) within the reading you’re giving, and if so, interpreting it that way may make much more sense.

Method Two | Choose the Majors

Favorite method or no, this is the one I find myself reverting back to most often. This is likely a reflection of the way that I read (more psychology-based than divination-based) than anything else–an appearance from a Major Arcana card indicates a more subconscious message to me. I find that the imagery of The Illuminated Tarot reflects the majors more overtly than the minors, so it’s “easier” in terms of reading for others one-on-one.

The Wheel of Fortune The Illuminated Tarot

If you’re more a numerically-leaning person than an imagery-leaning person (or if you’re a beginner-level tarot reader), than it may be better to read according to the minor arcana correspondence–there’s no label for the major arcana, so unless you memorize the correspondences beforehand, things might get a bit tricky.

Method Three | Combine The Two

This is by far my favorite method for reading with this deck, and it’s the one I endeavor to use most often mainly due to the added nuance it provides to a reading. There are actually two ways you can approach this method: 1) Read the minor first and the major second, almost as if you were reading two cards instead of one, or 2) read an amalgamation of the two, almost as if you were allowing the minor and its corresponding major to have a conversation.

I use the second approach with this deck because I naturally gravitated towards creating a cohesive message for each card. By doing so, I generated a deeper understanding of the whole and the sum of its parts, and for tarot/critical theory nerd like me, that’s my idea of good clean fun.

The High Priestess | A Case Study

Initially, The High Priestess in The Illuminated Tarot utterly boggled my mind.  Her archetype is one of esoteric mystery, of the deep inner knowing and intuitive messages that lie beyond the veil in the land of the hidden, of the subconscious. The Two of Diamonds (Pentacles), on the other hand, is grounded–very much concerned with the day-to-day practice of juggling our duties and responsibilities to bring our lives into balance.

The High Priestess The Illuminated Tarot

After puzzling a bit, I decided to focus on the meaning of the infinity symbol–that which exists ad infinitum (like the bottomless well of wisdom The High Priestess guards). Without, our lives follow a pattern of constant flux; within, our visceral inner knowing guides our actions without logical judgement. Therefore, the two coexist like two poles of the same planet, one aspect ethereal, the other grounded.

Method Four | Read Intuitively

I tend to view the tarot as I do wine–the nuances and flavors of both are subject to interpretation by whoever’s enjoying it. In this spirit, feel free to read The Illuminated Tarot however you like.

The Sun The Illuminated Tarot

No, I mean it. Look at the image and read what it conveys to you. Open yourself to a world where symbols speak through your consciousness in unique and valuable ways. Don’t limit yourself to meanings that don’t suit you or your querent. Walk on the wild side. And if you have no idea what I mean when I say “read intuitively” and you want to fall down that rabbit hole, check this out.

Much Love and Happy Cardslinging!

“I Just Can’t Even” Tarot Spread

We’ve all had those days, folks–no matter how hard you try to get it together, it ain’t happening. You’re in the middle of a project and things aren’t going the way you’d like and you want to throw your hands up in defeat. You keep trying to start something, but lose interest, take a different tack, and lose interest again. Then you try to go do something else, but you find yourself in the same place of general indecision/lack of will. It becomes so frustrating that you just can’t even, and you either want to scream or crawl into your bed and hibernate. If you’d like to avoid both of those options, try throwing the “I Just Can’t Even” tarot spread I just wrote because I just can’t even right now. Seriously.

This is a tarot spread to help you get clear on your next move–be it regroup and restart or take a long, pensive, self-loving time out.

 

No one’s perfect, and sometimes we need to take a step back to discover the best way forward. Since I’m currently feeling these vibes, I’m going to throw this spread, take a picture, and share the positions and my personal reading with you. Wish me luck!

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  1. What’s tripping me up?
  2. How do I effectively address this obstacle?
  3. Do I need to double down or take a time out?
  4. A “pat on the back.”
  5. A well deserved reward.

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First Impressions

This spread is dominant in pentacles energy and includes two cards from the major arcana. I’m looking at a blockage in the mundane, practical sphere, so that’s where I should direct my attention and efforts in the coming days. The Ace of Pentacles and The Fool point to an opportunity for new beginnings, so trying to force something that’s not working wouldn’t be in my best interest right now. Instead, I should “wipe my slate clean,” so to speak, and begin approaching things from a completely different angle.

1. The Hanged Man suggests that I’m either unable or unwilling to accept the current state of things. I’m trying to push a concept or and idea that simply isn’t workable given the circumstances, and I’d do best to take a look at what’s happening organically as opposed to what isn’t. For the curious, I threw this spread to help me gain clarity about changing things up biz-wise, and it appears that I need to spend some time at my altar in meditation. The Hanged Man is all about surrender–about succumbing to the reality of a situation so that you can direct your energy down channels that may prove fruitful. To me, this shows that the changes I was considering making today aren’t the right changes. My body knew it, and thus resisted. Good thing I stopped to reflect when I did!

2. The Ace of Pentacles is the cosmic thought of a seed that eventually grows into a towering sycamore. In order for the tree to mature, it must be lovingly fed by the rains, the sun, and the rich soil that houses its roots. I’m invited to consider a new idea, a new way forward, one that’s more practical in terms of output and yield. The self-loving choice here is to hold space for change, to create an incubator for new ideas and projects to grow and thrive in.

3. The Seven of Pentacles could be interpreted in one of two ways here. On the one hand, this card could be encouraging me to be steadfast in my efforts and be patient–the yield will come. On the other hand, it could be letting me know that I’ve done what I can in terms of this particular approach, so I should simply collect the more modest yield and move on. In the RWS deck, the figure in this card looks exhausted and disappointed– true portrait of “burn-out.” It could very well be that I’m experiencing a burnout moment, so I’d do best to ease my foot off of the gas a bit and take a look at the roadmap before I proceed (it happens to be rainy and gross where I am today, so this is totally a tempting option).

4. The Fool is upbeat, lighthearted, and hopeful. In this position, he suggests that maybe I should set aside a bit of “adventuring” time for myself–hiking, walking the earth, taking a day trip, or even just taking a day off from the hustle so I can experience things in a refreshing, novel way. The Fool is one of my favorite cards in tarot, and its appearance never ceases to excite me. I harbor a fair bit of wanderlust and a desire for new experiences, so maybe this is just the message I need to help me begin a new chapter in terms of my biz.

5. The Eight of Pentacles seems to stress the axiom that hard work is its own reward. Given the overwhelming message that I need to look at what isn’t working and take things in an entirely new direction (and given how much work it is to start over!), I’ll find a heavy yield once I embrace my new process and approach. Honestly, this reading is affirming the presence of what I’ve been avoiding (isn’t that what tarot’s supposed to do, after all?) and is telling me that my gut instinct to switch things around is something I should definitely be listening to.

You heard it here first, folks–change is on the horizon, but not until I’ve quit being hard-headed and accepted what’s not panning out.

Now, I feel like I have a way forward. And that’s precisely what a tarot reading is supposed to do for you.

 

If you happen to use this spread, feel free to comment below and let me know how it worked out for you! I would love to hear all about it and to have confirmation that I’m not the only one who just can’t even from time to time.

Much Love Beauties,

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Are you having a “just can’t even” kind of year? Let me help you out.

The Morning Ritual Spread

Hello, Beautiful People!

Waking up is hard to do, even for some of the most seasoned AM risers. Given this, it’s no surprise that practicing a morning ritual is hailed by woo-woo and new-agers everywhere as a great way to set yourself up for success.

Many morning rituals involve lighting incense, meditation, mantra recitation, and prayer. The cardslingers among us are known to throw a few cards to get a handle on what the day might bring. In response to a prompt from the #mayjorchallenge, I decided to create a spread that invites us to focus on mindfulness, compassion, and self-reflection as we go about our day. Thus, the Morning Ritual Spread was born.

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The Vision Quest Tarot, AGM/Urania, 1998

  1. Good Manna: what do I need to incorporate to improve my outlook today?
  2. Heart Center: what do I need to hold space for today?
  3. Breathe + Release: what do  I need to let go of to think, act, and feel more positively?
  4. Conscious Action: What can I do today to benefit my highest good?
  5. Om: What should I be mindful of today?

Five cards are quite a few in terms of a daily draw, but if you take each at face value, you can come up with a fairly useful little mantra to guide you through your day. Here’s one I drafted using the following cards as an example:

“I welcome today with a clear and open mind. I honor my need for a nurturing and rejuvenating practice of self-love and promise to listen to the needs of my body and soul as I move through the day. I release my desire to have more and choose to value what I already have. I will bring my knowledge and experience to all that I do today, and I’ll be mindful of bringing my enthusiastic thoughts and ideas into being.”

Write your mantra in the notes function of your phone (or, if you’re old school like me, in a journal or in your planner) and pull it out and read it each time things get a little too rough or overwhelming.

See? I bet you’re feeling better already.

Much Love and Happy Cardslinging,

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A Guide to Intuitive Tarot Reading

When I first tackled the behemoth that is tarot study, I armed myself with a deck, a beginner’s collection of tarot books, and a few blank journals to jot some notes in. Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be that hard. I mean, I’d gotten down and dirty with Deleuze, Foucault, and Heidegger–what kind of challenge could divination cards give me? Turns out, quite a challenge. When you’re working with text, it’s literally spelled out for you, even if it is a bit abstract or archaic. There’s usually some sort of objective meaning to be gleaned, a central point that’s attempting to be made and that drives the essay forward. Not so with tarot, my friends. The visual and symbolic components invite much more subjectivity than one initially realizes, and the point, more or less, is revealed much more cyclically. Essentially, your subject matter is the same (universal archetypes), but the way it’s addressed and to what end is radically different. Therefore, commonly accepted study methods–repetition, memorization, and critical thinking–are not enough in terms of becoming a well-rounded, proficient reader. One must dip into more primal, esoteric energies–intuition, premonition, and spontaneous knowing. This is where the concept of intuitive tarot reading enters, that method which utilizes the imagery and symbolism readily apparent to the reader rather than commonly accepted card meanings. In my humble opinion, the most powerful readings incorporate both, resulting in a gorgeous balance of masculine and feminine energies. But, as the reader who inspired this post so accurately pointed out, there’s much more attention given to the former, and not nearly enough to the latter. So, let’s change that a little bit, shall we?

Methods of Reading Intuitively

From what I can glean, the extent to which readers read intuitively varies, as do their methods. Some readers never read a traditional tarot book and choose only to reference the guides that are specifically created for their decks. Thus, they aren’t necessarily approaching their readings with one of the three traditional systems (RWS, Thoth, Marseille) in mind. Rather, their knowledge is based off of the specific imagery conveyed in their deck and the meanings the deck creator chose to attribute to it. So, one who bases their reading of the Osho Zen Tarot on the guidebook and one who bases their reading of The Osho Zen Tarot on its RWS correspondences are going to provide two completely different readings. Likewise, one who approaches the Osho Zen as an oracle deck (it’s been known to happen and I’ve certainly done it from time to time) is going to pull something completely different from it–oracle cards are often read as entities in and of themselves and not necessarily a subsidiary part of a larger whole.

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The Osho Zen Tarot, St. Martin’s Press, 1994

Another method of reading intuitively is to reference no system or guidebook at all. Rather, one riffs off of the images presented in the cards, interpreting what the cards mean as the reading progresses. In this sense, the reading is largely querent-focused and as such (in my opinion, anyway) is much more overtly directed towards what’s being asked. These types of intuitive readings seem to work best when done in person because they create a sense of equality amongst reader and querent that invites the querent to take an active role in the reading process. In some cases, the querent is given the opportunity to deliver input on which cards moved them or spoke to them, and so there’s much more of a psychological exploration going on than there would be if the reader were interpreting the cards based on her knowledge of esoteric modes and systems of thought. Actually, this is most often the method of reading used amongst therapists and psychologists–cards are flipped face up and the client is asked to rifle through and riff on those that jump out at them. In this process, the reader/therapist takes a bit of a backseat, gently guiding their client on a trip through the subconscious.

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The Rider-Waite Centennial Edition, US Games Inc., 2010, The Wild Unknown Tarot, HarperElixir, 2016

 The last method of intuitive reading that I’ll offer here is the one I use most often: applying one of the three traditional systems when reading with a deck that isn’t wholly based on it. A good example of this is my approach to The Wild Unknown Tarot. From what I understand, the deck’s influenced by both the Marseille and RWS traditions, but given that I’m fluent in RWS, I simply approach it that way. Now, there were times when I first began working with the deck that I noticed that my understanding of a card simply didn’t add up with the imagery (the six of wands is a really good example of this). In this instance, I studied the imagery on the card and deciphered meaning based on that. Then, I reconciled my intuitive understanding with my traditional understanding to arrive at a holistic understanding of the card.

The Spontaneous Intuitive Read

Contrary to what the first section may suggest, intuitive reading isn’t solely based on the approach the reader takes with their deck of cards. Rather, intuitive interpretation can crop up in the middle of any reading for any reason whatsoever. In this case, the card in question speaks to the reader in a way that’s hardly related to the traditional meaning at all–she gets a feeling that it’s supposed to mean something radically different, and she chooses to trust that message over the one that the card would commonly convey. A few days ago, for example, a reading I was doing for a client had revealed a five of swords. However, I had an overwhelming feeling to read it like I would the five of wands. I didn’t really know why I had this feeling (nothing in the question indicated that this interpretation would be somehow “better” than the traditional one), yet I viewed it as a synchronistic occurrence and followed my intuition. There are readers for whom this admission would make them cry “blasphemy!” There are others still who’d question whether or not there was a distinct difference between them anyway. This is why the community of tarot is so amazing–every reader approaches the art in a way that’s unique and resonant with their own strengths and personality traits. No two readers read alike, so chances are, there’s a reader out there whose approach deeply jives with what you’re looking for. And this diversity can be attributable to the intuitive aspects of reading–those that deviate from the common meaning to add depth and richness to the form. Frankly, the vast array of tarot decks available to us as students and readers also do much in terms of coaxing these intuitive readings from us. If we were all using the RWS all the time, chances are there’d be much more similarities than we currently find.

Practicing Intuitive Reading

It may seem contradictory that one could practice intuitive reading. After all, isn’t it something that blossoms organically? For some, reading intuitively does come naturally–creative and spontaneous meaning generation is one of their strengths, and they can seamlessly connect the narrative of one card to the next. For others (the majority, I’ve found!), the ability to coax original, nuanced interpretations is a skill that must be practiced. There are a number of ways to go about doing this, but one that I’ve found most helpful is to create what I call tarot narratives. I think of a transformative or vivid experience that I’ve had and I choose a card from the tarot to represent it. Then, I record my experience through the lens of the card that I’ve chosen, paying keen attention to the myriad subtle ways it plays into the story. For me, this is more of an exercise for the subconscious–I’m attempting to create a web of connections that may not be readily apparent, but reveal themselves when something in a reading triggers them. Another way to practice intuitive reading is to pathwork the cards (I know I’ve mentioned pathworking copious times, but that’s only because of how instrumental it can be in expanding your understanding of tarot). When you project yourself into a card’s unique energy landscape, you can pick up on things you didn’t even know were there. Likewise, you can upload quite a bit to the hard-drive unconsciously to be accessed at a later date). When you’re reading for yourself, try identifying your question in the cards. Think of the answers you’re looking for and see if there’s any card that could speak directly to that answer. Say you’re trying to decide whether or not to switch careers. Which card indicates a potential career that you’re interested in? Which one represents the one you have currently? You can even use the two questions I just posed as the basis for card positions (1. My present career 2. My potential career) and figure out a way to relate the card to the position even if it seems to completely oppose it.

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The Mary El Tarot, Schiffer Publishing, 2012

Another wonderful way is to buy a deck that’s based off of a system that you’re completely unfamiliar with and do readings for yourself based on the imagery alone. Don’t be afraid to speak stream of consciousness as you take in the imagery and symbolism and likewise offer an interpretation. And if you still find that your intuitive reading game is off, let a friend who knows nothing about tarot flip through one of your decks and riff on the cards. Take note of the creative process they undergo as they try to figure out what it all means. It’s inspiring, interesting, and it can teach you a hell of a lot about learning.

Much Love,

Jessi

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