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

Want to learn more about intuitive tarot reading? Check out the Cardslinger’s Dream offering in the WISE ONES Coven!

Fever-Dream Protest in Bilbao: An Exploration of The Emperor

It is April in Bilbao, 2006. Our train pulls into a deserted station; it is 5:45 AM and the city sleeps. Using a Frommer’s map and our limited knowledge of Spanish, we find our way to the city’s welcome center, but it has yet to open. In the meantime, we rest our bodies on benches in a park across the street and feed pigeons crumbs of an old baguette that someone had stowed in their bag. There are three of us–Gwen, Rachel, and I. One of us has betrayed another. Another of us has betrayed that same other with her silence. But the trip had been planned months in advance, so we weakly mended our fences and set off.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, it became surprisingly warm. We shed layers of clothing and crammed them into overstuffed bags. After the center failed to open at the time advertised, we set off on our own to find food and lodgings. Turns out, very few people speak English in Bilbao. I was an American who chose to study French, and my English and Kiwi companions simply didn’t have the Spanish-speaking population we do in the states. We were at a loss. Unable to communicate with the hostel workers, we didn’t know which had vacancies or not. “Lo siento” was muttered time after time. The possibility of spending the night on the street increased with each bumbled interaction.

Finally, we found someone who knew just enough English (or whose pronunciation was decipherable, I can’t remember which) that we were able to secure a room. It was more than we could afford, but at that point, we didn’t really care. As my travel companions took turns showering, dressing, and preparing themselves to find some food, I felt my body begin to shiver and sweat break out across my brow. I’d contracted strep throat (“glandular fever” to my compatriots) the week before we left, but antibiotics were keeping it pretty much at bay. But here they weren’t crammed in with the rest of my musty belongings. I knew that I’d left them in Barcelona, and that the fever was coming back. “I think I’ll hang back,” I said when they asked why I wasn’t getting ready. “I’m not feeling very well.” They shrugged and left, and I was in the middle of a strange room in a strange city with nothing but Blue Lagoon dubbed in Spanish to keep me company.

I fell into a hazy delirium. I flashed back to the moment Rachel said, “We care about each other. We have for some time.” I relived my calm request for her to leave my room and the sixty-second period of time it took for me to become a raging open wound. I relived marching down to James’ room, opening the door and slapping him, and his strangely infuriating response: “I deserved that.” As if he expected it. As if he knew how much it would hurt me, but simply didn’t care.

A patriotic march woke me from my revery. I had to concentrate to make sure I wasn’t imagining it, and once I was sure that it was real, I followed it to the window. There were throngs of people marching through the streets rather quietly. I saw a speaker set up by the door of the hostel; it blared the music, and no one appeared to be the least bit curious as to what was going on.

My sick-addled mind told my feet to walk outside. The fever had inspired aching throughout my body but also a strange euphoria, so I didn’t mind the pain. As if possessed, I began marching with them. Multiple speakers lined the streets to accompany the strange procession. Men with AK-47’s also  lined the streets–it was the first, but not the last time that I saw law enforcement carrying semi-automatic weapons. If I’d been well, I’m sure the sight would have been enough to cause me to abandon my quest, but I wasn’t well and things didn’t seem real enough, so I kept going. We finally stopped at a podium erected in a square, and a well-dressed man with salt and pepper hair in his fifties began speaking in Catalan. I listen to the gorgeous rhythm of the language and gazed at the faces around me. I felt as if I was one of a dozen characters in a Garcia Marquez novel–my life, at that moment, was magical realism. And then, the climax–the man began to deliver the same speech in French. For the first time that day, I could understand what someone who lived here was saying. This language was a bridge, a compromise; we were not fluent, but through it, we could understand one another.

He spoke of freedom. Liberation. The need to secede from a nation that didn’t have the best interests of the Basque country at heart. He said that the politics of Spain did not represent them, and that he didn’t see a time where they ever would. I began crying despite myself. Here I was in a foreign country listening to a man whose identity was hidden to me speaking a language that wasn’t my own and I felt completely and utterly understood. I bathed in the healing words of his speech and let my pride and confidence rise to the surface again. I told Rachel that I’d forgiven her because that’s what she needed to be absolved. But the truth was, I hadn’t forgiven her and I hadn’t forgiven James either. And that was okay. I needed to take time to process. I needed to allow myself to feel the anger, the pain, and the sadness. And I needed to release myself from feeling responsible for the feelings of those who had hurt me. I needed to liberate myself from the idea that I had to relieve them of their guilt at the expense of my own emotional reaction.

My fever broke in the middle of the rally. Suddenly, I saw myself supporting a resistance I had no part of and surrounded by a league of men with assault rifles. I left as calmly and peacefully as I’d come, and no one tried to stop me or give me trouble. After losing myself in the streets of Bilbao for awhile, I made my way back to the hostel. Rachel and Gwen hadn’t yet returned, and Blue Lagoon still played on the television. I crawled beneath my thin blanket and closed my eyes. When they came back, I pretended to be asleep. But in truth, I was very much awake.

Tarot and the Craft: How I Use the Cards in My Spiritual Practice

Hello, Beautiful People.

For those who don’t know (although my blog is positively dripping with evidence), I’m a witch. Generally speaking, it means I’m a crystal-loving, goddess-worshipping, intention-manifesting practitioner of the craft. For me, it also means that I’m a yoga-practicing, mantra-chanting meditator. Anyone who identifies as a witch knows that there are as many forms of witchcraft as there are witches, and that the collective elements of an individual’s unique practice are vast and varied enough that you could write a book on it. Thankfully for all of us, I’m not quite that ambitious today. What I would like to share with you, however, are the ways in which I incorporate tarot into my spiritual practice. Feel free to try and share as you see fit!

Intention-Setting

Part and parcel of being a witch is defining what you want and using physical and metaphysical means to bring it into being. When I’m having trouble defining my intentions (read: I’m confused af), I bring my tarot deck to my altar and throw down some cards. Sometimes, I create sacred space with a spread in mind (this one’s great for intention-setting). Others, I shuffle until I feel ready and I pull cards one by one, taking note of what they seem to be telling me in light of my circumstances. I mention that I do this in ritual because it’s instrumental for me in terms of finding clarity when I’m confused–a more casual tarot environment failed to provide answers, and I need to get into an alpha head-space so I’m more receptive to messages from my subconscious.

Spell-Crafting

Tarot spells are some of the most fun and unique spells that I cast. Rather than imagine specific intentions coming to pass within the context of my actual life, I internalize the imagery, tone, and symbolism of a chosen archetype to help me embody the change I wish to see manifested. The primary way that I do this is through pathworking–projecting myself into the landscape of the card and imbibing everything that it has to offer. If I wanted to cast a spell to help me strengthen my work ethic, for example, I’d place the eight of pentacles on my altar. Given time (and guided meditation practice), I’d imagine myself hunched over the work bench, hammer in hand striking the metal of the pentacles to fashion them exactly as I saw fit. I’d imagine the jarring I’d feel when metal met metal, the sweat that would sprout from my brow and the callouses forming on my palms. I’d watch a droplet of sweat hit the finished pentacle, and I’d breathe deeply, both exhausted and proud. This way, I internalize the effort before I even begin the project, helping me push through when things become challenging and obstacles arise.

Meditation

Whether I plan to use them or not, a deck of tarot cards is ever present on my altar. When I sit to meditate, I place a cleansing crystal (usually clear quartz or selenite) over my deck and “share” some of my meditative energy with it. It’s as if I’m making myself a conduit of cleansing, and am connecting myself to my deck so that it can benefit from the energy. When I’ve finished my practice, I perceive my deck to have a fresh, new energy–one that prepares it for my next round of readings.

Communing with Deities

I’m one of those witches who has a matron, and I’m one of those witches who chats with her matron. I often go through periods where each time I’m sat at the altar, the goddess whose guidance I need almost instantly appears to me and begins sharing her wisdom. I also go through deity “dry-spells”: periods where the goddesses are speaking only in the form of synchronicity. During these periods, I often ask the goddess questions and allow her to answer through the wisdom of the 78 cards. Is this any different than traditional divination? Honestly, it is for me, because I interpret the cards in relation to the tradition and tone of the goddess I’m working with. For example, Brigit would interpret The Emperor very differently than the Morrighan would.

Affirmation of Intended Magickal Working

Casting a spell takes a fairly heavy amount of concentration and focus. Some days, I’m not sure whether or not I succeeded in “charging” the spell. If I’m having that feeling, I’ll shuffle my deck and pull a card and interpret it as either affirmative or negative given the nature of the intended spell. If affirmative, I leave the working knowing that the universe received the message. If negative, I go back to the drawing board and try again later.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the witchy tarot-ness I’ve shared here today! If you try anything out, I’d love to hear about it! Likewise, I’d love to hear how you use tarot in your spiritual/magickal practice!

Much Love,

Jessi

Want a witch to read your tarot for you? Book a reading today : )

 

Deck Interview With The Wild Unknown

I’m late to the party.

I’ve always been skeptical of this hipster deck–The Wild Unknown–because it looked so damn simple. Too simple. Like, where’s the symbolism?  Where are the people? How will it interact with more in depth, psycho-spiritual readings? Will I be able to bond with the animal imagery (I have my totems, but otherwise, animals generally don’t speak to me in terms of the collective unconscious)? And seriously, where are the people?

As time passed, it rose in popularity. I bided my time. And then Kim Krans began mass producing the deck, and I thought, The Wild Unknown is iconic. It’s the gold standard for the new age of tarot. Get over yourself and buy the deck and see what all the hype is about.

And so I did. And when I clicked “purchase”, a funny thing happened–I felt excited. Giddy, even. Okay. I’m listening.

When it arrived to the tune of our earsplitting doorbell yesterday, I ran down the stairs with anticipatory glee. The fact that it arrived with my husband’s Christmas presents (a clear, plexiglass ukulele and a slack line, because I’m an awesome wife) made me even more excited. I guess you could say that I’d fallen under its mysterious, pervasive spell.

And of course I did an unboxing video. It started off normal enough, but as I thumbed through the deck, I became curiouser and curiouser. I realized that I intuitively gleaned its meanings quite easily. Also, I was having a hell of a lot of fun. There’s something about this deck that lifts the deep and heavy cloak of tarot right off. And I immediately understood why so many are drawn to this deck in the first place–it’s accessible.

Halle-freakin’-lujah.

I realized that I wanted to give my first official deck interview, and so I went to the place you go to when you’re looking for amazing tarot resources–Little Red Tarot. Seriously, if you haven’t gotten over there yet, do yourself a favor and do. Beth Maiden has a simple, yet surprisingly encompassing Deck Interview Spread that I’ve been looking to try out, and I knew that this was the perfect time to do so. Why do a deck interview, you might ask? For the very reason we sling cards in the first place–to get a handle on something that’s a little confused, foreign, or unorganized and to use the overview as a foundation from which to proceed. With this in mind, I attuned myself to the positions:

1. Tell me about yourself. What is your most important characteristic?
2. What are your strengths as a deck?
3. What are your limits as a deck?
4. What are you here to teach me?
5. How can I best learn and collaborate with you?
6. What is the potential outcome of our working relationship?

 

Okay: the first three questions have the deck as the subject, and the next three questions have me as a subject. The first half infers static information, the last half dynamic. Got it. Let’s throw some cards.

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I took a moment (like you do) to process the cards as a whole. Four majors in a six card spread is A LOT of majors. Most of the spreads I’ve thrown recently have been saturated with majors. For the laymen among us, that means that intense shit is circling around me right now. Take Note: If your spread is mostly majors, PAY ATTENTION. It’s kind of a big deal. This spread also seems to be dealing out some serious yang energy–The Emperor, the Five of Wands, The World, and The Wheel of Fortune are definitely action, and not reflection, cards. As such, this spread let me know that this deck would generally be a good deck for readings addressing creativity, manifestation, and active transformation. In other words, this deck will help me and my clients to get up and go. I’ll leave the work of reflection to The Mary El for now. So, what does the spread mean positionally?

1. The Emperor

This deck is definitely no bullshit. It’s clear about what it wants, it’s unremitting in taking what it believes is its right, it’s fair in terms of logic and it has a definite code of conduct that it operates from. It’s meant to give straight, clear, actionable advice in the face of uncertainty and confusion. It possesses a certain protective quality that embraces those whom it reads for; it will make them feel as if that which threatens them cannot harm them. It will place its querent and its reader firmly in the seat of their power and will help them see the situation with the needs of the self in mind. It also infers that it is a “seeing” deck–it surveys the situation from a position of knowledge and authority, so trust its word when it’s speaking clearly to you!

Quote (and all those that follow) from The Wild Unknown Guidebook:

“It suggests reconnecting with the part of you that stands strong and tall and knows just what to do.”

2. The Eight of Swords

This deck’s strengths lie in acquainting you (and more importantly, those you read for) with your limiting beliefs. It will reveal some painful truths and let you know the ways in which you shoot yourself in the foot so you can let go of unhelpful behaviors and make room for helpful ones. It will coax you out of your chrysalis so you may face the psycho-spiritual threat lurking in the subconscious in an empowered, proactive way. Yawp.

“The Eight of Swords demands an answer. You cannot hang here much longer.”

3. The Empress

Ah, some feminine energy. Yet, she occupies the position that points to limitations. Given this, it seems that The Wild Unknown (in my hands, at least) is not a deck for nurturing and guidance, and it’s not a deck for the receptive creative process (think gestation and rebirth rather than getting your hands dirty). It’s a deck that moves you towards action, gives you some “tough love” guidance so you can get off the couch and back into the driver’s seat. It’s not particularly inclined to hold space in the traditional sense.

Duly noted.

4. The Five of Wands

So, this card called me the fuck out. I knew exactly what it was speaking to as soon as I laid the spread, and it made my lips curl up at the edges with this beautiful slyness I inhabit when I get called out and I was like, “I think we’re going to get along just fine.” Basically, this deck will teach me how to be more focused, more organized, more clear, more concise, and more straightforward. I’ve just recently overcome my struggles with paper planning, and I’m seriously ready to get shit done and it seems that this deck will be my copilot in that endeavor *high-fives The Wild Unknown*.

“Take this card as a warning: find ways to bring calm and focus to your mind, or these troubles will only increase.”

5. The Wheel of Fortune

If I’m able to suspend my disbelief and let go of my pre-conceived notions regarding the deck, we’ll work pretty damn well together. I’m also moved to interpret this as an indication that the strengths and purpose of the deck may very well shift as I become better acquainted with it, so I’d be well-served to keep an open mind despite this reading. Well played.

6. The World

I was so pleased to see this card in this position. I don’t read tarot in a bubble–as much as I enjoy reading for myself, I find purpose and fulfillment in reading for others. Since The Wild Unknown is such a well known deck these days, it will help me bond with others who are familiar with it and/or use it as their primary deck. I feel the swell of community like a warm blanket (thank you, Beautiful People), and The Wild Unknown promises that that amazing goodness will grow and grow. What an awesome parting fortune.

As above, so below.

Much Love,

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