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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The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Last night, I signed up for the World Tarot Exchange. It was right before I went to bed, so I was too tired to censor myself the way that I normally do. In the field where I was meant to type my question, I wrote this:

“I’ve been putting all of my efforts and energy into becoming a self-actualized person. I have a tendency to distance myself from people, partially because I’m uncomfortable with conflict and intimacy, and partially because I’m afraid that I will fail them, or that they will judge me and abandon me. I know that this is a complex of my own making, or at least of my own perpetuation. I feel that it is the largest obstacle that I have in transitioning from a “caged bird” to a “free bird”. Given that, here’s my question: what can I do to overcome this wariness and distrust of others? How can I truly open my heart and be the integrated, compassionate person that I so strongly desire to be?”

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The question poured out of me organically—I edited nothing, changed nothing, and clicked “submit” without a second thought (and it’s more than I can say for this post). I realized that everything I had confessed, vulnerable and incriminating as it was, was true, and that there was value in that truth.

In fact, I realized that truth is the only thing that holds value.

I went into my room and stared at my face in the mirror. I looked into the reflection of my eyes and my pulse began to quicken; it was almost as if I was afraid to look at myself, to try and see myself objectively. The longer I gazed, the more disturbed I became, and the more accountable I became to myself. Myself looked at me accusatorily—what have you been doing to me? it seemed to ask. Why do you deny me with overwrought thoughts and carefully constructed delusions? Who do you think you are to put me in a cage? What gives you the right?

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Nothing, was all I could think in response.

There are many facets to who each of us are, and we fulfill many roles in the delicate web of our lives. How are we to face the constant challenges of life if we can barely face ourselves? How can we expect to be anything but confused if we refuse to see the truth?

The call to honesty is the deepest call that anyone can answer. I know that I haven’t answered it, but that I will not find peace until I do.

The Osho Zen Tarot arrived in my mailbox two days ago, and since then, I’ve been deeply haunted by its imagery. I’m drawn most powerfully to the suit of clouds and the strikingly negative portrait it paints of the machinations of Mind. This faculty has given us the ability to realize our mortality and to perceive ourselves the way that others perceive us. It has also given us the ability to imagine different lives for ourselves, and for many reasons, this is both miraculous and devastating. We have the ability to captain our own ship, to choose life or, as Rents of Trainspotting so aptly put it, to choose “not to choose life”. It is the latter choice that ultimately damns us, that perpetuates the cycle of pain and suffering we seem inescapably drawn to. We are on the brink of an enormous shift in consciousness, one that promises to release us from this cycle, but in order to transition we must undertake the most difficult challenge that’s ever been presented to us. Living in truth, I believe, is the hardest thing that we could ever do. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. I have yet to meet anyone who resides in this space, and if I were to apply the scientific method, I’d have to conclude that it’s impossible to do so.

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But I don’t believe it’s impossible. If I’m wrong, I still believe that it’s something worth striving for, if not for the self, than for the fate of Consciousness at large. The Osho Zen addresses this conundrum unabashedly, and promises that the truth already exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

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There are many things that I deem subpar about this post. I could go back and revise it a hundred times and still be unsatisfied. Even so, I think it humbly attempts to answer, at least in part, the call to truth that I feel in my soul, and so I’m offering it to you. I hope that it may, in some small way, help you to shake off your shackles and walk through the invisible walls of your prison. I hope, in some small way, that connecting with you may help me walk through the walls of mine, so we can all be free of “fear, doubt, and disbelief”.  I wish all of us freedom from mind.

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Taming the Analytical Beast: How to Surrender to the Power of the Unknown

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Before I started on this beautiful, magickal, mysterious path of paganism, my patron goddess was Logic. I came from a tradition of critical theory, which idolizes the strength of the argument rather than the inherent truth and wisdom expressed in its conclusion. Allow me to stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, selecting wildly outrageous and completely unrelated premises and weaving them together in a way that gives them unity and cohesion is exciting, challenging, and fun as hell, especially if you’re able to do it successfully. Rather, tackling an infinite regression of logistical puzzles will not give you the answers you’re looking for if your endgame is a totality of understanding. Here’s why: in order to engage with the vast, inconceivable organism that is the universe, you must suspend your disbelief, and the suspension of disbelief is diametrically opposed to the discipline of logic.

 

A few years ago, I was tutoring at a center for reading remediation. Our student demographic was diverse, to say the least: ages ranged from five to 55, and our students struggled with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and hyperlexia, to name a few. Each student came to us with a unique set of skills and needs, and it was our job to devine the kernels of truth that would help unlock the door of understanding in a particular mind. One of my favorite students was a fifty-three year old woman, college educated, who had sought tutoring to improve her comprehension abilities. Whenever her friends began talking about books or articles that they’d read, she felt she couldn’t contribute because she simply could not arrive at a comprehensive meaning of a text. After a few sessions, I noticed that she became hung up on contextual details, and even though she continued reading, her mind was stuck ruminating on the detail that had tripped her up. When I asked her to tell me what she meant, she gave this example:

 

“He says that the frog is yellow, right? But how do I know that? Frogs aren’t usually yellow, so how am I supposed to believe that this particular frog is yellow? When I read something like that, I immediately google it to confirm, and then I read a wiki about yellow frogs which leads me to a wiki about frogs of the amazon, but by the time I’m finished, I’ve completely forgotten what the article was about in the first place, so I have to go back and reread it. This could happen multiple times for each thing that I read, so it takes me forever to finish.”

 

I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts, and then I said, “Sometimes, you have to suspend your disbelief in order to get to the heart of what someone’s trying to say. You might not know for certain that this frog is yellow, but you have to place some trust in the writer and let her take you for a ride. If you still have doubts after you’ve finished, then you can go and check other sources. You never know: the writer may even answer your questions before you finish.”

 

Temporarily suspending disbelief, or assuming the role of The Hanged Man, is necessary when you read a text, perform magick and ritual, and even when you read tarot. Sometimes, you must surrender to the mysteries, you must give them space to work their magick inside of you. There’s no way of logically understanding them (that’s why they’re called mysteries), so the best you can do is turn off your inner critic and let your intuition have a go.

 

When I began practicing magick, I focused so much on what I was doing and what it meant and whether or not I believed in the premise of magick itself that I prevented any real magick from taking place. Ritual is a means to an end, and not an end in itself, just as the yellow frog was a means of explaining species biodiversity, and not an end in itself. The seemingly disparate elements that comprise any experience fail to hold any meaning if they’re not viewed as parts of a whole; they stagnate, and fold in on themselves, and tend to create a vacuous black hole. Once you get sucked into that hole, your chances of escape are fairly slim.

 

Logic is about being sucked into that hole. Ideas are deconstructed further and further until they bear no relation to anything, and what you’re left with is a string of premises tied to an ultimately unanswerable question. There are many phenomena that we are simply unequipped, at least at this point in history, to explain, so sometimes one must take a leap of faith in order to get anywhere. This is beautifully illustrated by the Trust card in the Osho Zen Tarot: the woman isn’t being pulled into the singularity of a black abyss; rather, she’s effortlessly drifting through the soft air of vast, expansive space. Before she leapt, her understanding of air was faint: she couldn’t see it, couldn’t taste it, touch it, or hear it. Once she leapt, however, air came to life: it rushed past her ears, making sound. It circled around her body, allowing her to feel its movement. It displaced her clothing and her hair, allowing her to see it. By leaping, she was finally able to understand what air actually is.

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Much Love to All Walk the Path,

Jessi

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