Obringer, Lee Ann. “How Tarot Cards Work” 17 May 2005. HowStuffWorks.com.
In most people’s minds, “Tarot card reading” means a woman in flowing robes, leaning over a small table in a candlelit room, foretelling impending doom.
But that’s not really what Tarot cards are about. In fact, they’re not even really meant to tell your fortune or future. According to The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, “The most powerful sources of information come from within; the Tarot aids in coming in contact with one’s Higher Self.”
But what does that mean? In this article, we’ll look at the various ideas about where Tarot cards come from, what they mean and how a deck of cards can possibly tell you anything about yourself. You’ll learn why it matters where the cards fall and why you don’t have to be a psychic to do a Tarot reading.
Types of Readings
There are actually two different types of Tarot readings: question readings and open readings.
In question readings, you are addressing a specific question. Tarot is not intended to answer specific yes or no questions. Most say it also shouldn’t be used to make decisions, but instead should be used as a guide to help you make the decision yourself. For this reason, the way a question is stated is very important.
According to Joan Bunning, a Tarot reader and teacher, questions should:
Keep your options open: If you have the answer before the reading, then you’re not allowing the cards to guide your overall decision. Bunning gives this example: Asking how you could encourage your mother-in-law to move out, as opposed to asking how you can get along better with her, is narrowing the scope of the true question by answering it before you even get started.
Find the best level of detail: Your question should be focused, but not overly detailed. Rather than looking at one particular aspect of a problem, find a way to look more broadly at it. For example, rather than asking how you can make your home life less chaotic, ask how you can better balance kid schedules and adult schedules. That is a focused question. But do not go so far as to ask how you can coordinate baseball, soccer and Cub Scout schedules and still have family time — that’s too detailed. Only include the minimum level of detail needed in order to express what you want to learn from the cards.
Focus on yourself: If the reading is for yourself, make sure your question focuses on you rather than on someone else who you think may be the root of your problem. For example, asking why your son is experimenting with drugs is focusing on him, not you. Asking what role you play in your son’s decision to experiment with drugs brings the focus of the question back to you.
Stay neutral: In order to stay open to other points of view, your question has to be neutral and not convey a preconceived notion that your view is necessarily the right one. The cards can give you guidance if you ask for it. For example, asking why you’re doing more work around the house than your spouse isn’t neutral; asking how you can get more cooperation from your spouse when it comes to housework is neutral.
Be positive: Make sure your question is stated in a positive rather than negative way. Instead of asking why a specific event hasn’t happened, ask what you can do to help make that event happen.
Open readings address the larger aspects of your life rather than a specific problem area or question. They’re usually done when you’re entering a new phase of life, such as getting married, graduating from college or starting a family. You can somewhat direct the reading if you have a general area you want to cover, such as your career or health, but that’s as specific as the direction gets.
How can randomly drawn cards have any relevance to someone’s life and what’s happening in it? What most readers say the Tarot can enlighten you about are the choices you have. The cards don’t tell you what you should do or what specifically is going to happen in your future, but rather the possibilities depending on the path you take. Let’s look at some of the theories behind how Tarot cards could possibly work.
Carl Jung believed that in addition to the repeatable cause-and-effect relationships on which the scientific world is so strongly based, there is also another connecting principle that does not share that cause-and-effect relationship. He called this principle synchronicity. According to Jung, synchronicity explains the guiding forces in the universe. Things we might see as coincidence are actually signs that can help us make decisions and guide our lives — if we recognize them.
Jung believed that quantum mechanics could be a possible explanation for the phenomenon of synchronicity. (Quantum mechanics explains the relationships of particles and their random interconnectivity, with behaviors being probabilities rather than certainties.) There are those who believe that because the forces of quantum mechanics affect the reality of physical objects, Tarot cards might play the role of showing us paths and patterns and helping us understand the meaning in those guiding energies. Although, according to the principles of quantum mechanics, once you see the possible outcomes in the Tarot reading, you’ve changed the probabilities. While Jung did not study Tarot, he was interested in I Ching (another divination tool) and suggested that synchronicity could be an explanation for how I Ching might work for divination.
Some say it all boils down to your subconscious mind. Arguably, how we perceive things relies heavily on our subconscious, and there are those who believe that with Tarot, the subconscious projects its own interpretations on the Tarot cards. As a person receiving a Tarot reading, your interpretation of the cards is a result of the factors in your life that shape who you are and what you are about. The questions you have about your life (usually the reason for consulting the Tarot in the first place) are projected onto the pictures, so you divine answers from what you see. In this way, the Tarot is useful in helping us to tap into our subconscious to find answers that we might never consciously think of. The Rorschach inkblot test uses a similar principle to look into the subconscious. Whether you believe that Tarot cards hold any power or ability to shed light on your life, your problems or your future might depend on how easily you can open you mind to the idea of it. Many Tarot-card readers have differing ideas about how or why the Tarot works. In fact, some say we only need the Tarot to help us until we learn to get in touch with our “inner guide” on our own.