Byzant MysticalTarotSymbolsKabbalahBiographyAstrologyScriptorium

Performing a Tarot Reading

The Reading Process

Turning card The Tarot is normally used to provide a reading in which a particular question is explored or the questioner's life in general is considered. The whole process of performing a reading should be approached with a respectful, open and somewhat meditative frame of mind. It is best if the cards used are those that the reader is comfortable and familiar with and which are employed solely for readings, not for games or trivia. Broadly speaking there are two main stages to the reading process: preparation and interpretation.

Preparation involves determining the nature of the reading (general or specific) and consequently the particular spread to be used. Some spreads are better suited to answering particular questions, whereas others lend themselves to more general readings. Once the spread has been determined, the cards are selected at random and arranged according to the strictures of the spread.

After the cards have been selected and laid out face-down, each card is turned over in sequence and interpreted according to its position and relation to other cards in the spread. Some readers prefer to lay all cards face-up from the start, but the more useful method is to allow the cards to unfold the story of the reading as they are turned up one by one, then to reassess the reading as a whole once all cards are on view. The art and science of interpretation is described in more detail in Interpreting a Tarot Reading.

Initial Preparation

The Hermit Before beginning a Tarot reading, there should be some sort of initial preparation. Consulting the Tarot is a contemplative process at the very least, and some believe it is a psychic one. Time should be taken to attain an appropriate frame of mind and to attune to the cards. Some form of simple ritual may be used to help with this, and many readers stress the importance of some kind of prayer or protecting visualization before the commencement of a reading. Those inclined towards a psychic interpretation of the Tarot view this as a necessary precaution to protect against negative energies to which the reader may be prey, others simply see it as a means to attain the clear and balanced psychological state needed to get the most from the cards.

Framing the Question

Before the reading proper can be performed, its nature must be determined. A reading may be completely general, directed towards a particular area of concern or performed to address a specific question. In the third case, the question must be formulated carefully. Like other methods of divination, such as the I Ching or Runes, the question posed must be clear, simple and unambiguous, otherwise there is too much leeway when it comes to interpretation.

Selecting the Deck

Some readers select they deck they will use according to the nature of the question or the questioner. Comfort and ambience aside, one genuine Tarot deck will work much the same as another, but the nature of a reading can be heavily influenced by choosing to work with just a subset of a deck. As our Free Tarot Readings demonstrate, a reading may be performed using the whole deck or either the Major or Minor Arcana alone. A Major Arcana reading lacks the subtlety of a full-deck reading, but it can have additional power, immediacy and emphasis; while a reading performed using only the Minor cards may not have quite the contrast or impact of one employing the whole deck, but it can have an increased sense of detail and nuance. Readings with the Minor Arcana alone are similar to those performed with playing cards.

Selecting the Spread

Triskele Spread The spread to use for a reading depends on the type of question being asked (if any) and the amount of detail required from the reading. For example, the Celtic Cross is often considered to be more suitable for answering particular questions than for general readings, and it provides a deeper level of interpretation than, say, the Simple Spread or the Triskele. Of course, the more complex the spread, the more difficult it is to master and the longer it takes to perform a reading.

A spread may be varied in any way the reader sees fit, with greater or fewer cards, or different attributions to the standard positions. All that matters is that the form and meaning of the spread are known in advance (though extempore, freeform readings can also be very useful at times). For example, the Simple Spread of three cards normally has its positions interpreted as past, present and future, but this can be altered to present, obstacles and outcome if this better suits the purpose of the reading.

Getting a sense of the timing involved in a reading is notoriously difficult with most spreads, and where timing is an important factor, Calendar spreads can be employed. With these, time scales are explicitly built into the structure of the spread, usually at the expense of depth and interconnectedness.

Decision spreads are designed to deal with decision questions like "Shall I choose A or B?" With most spreads, though, such questions are often best approached by performing two readings, "What if I choose A?" and "What if I choose B?", then comparing the results. The three-card Simple Spread can be turned into a simple decision spread by interpreting its cards as "What if I choose A?", "What if I choose B?" and the eventual outcome.

Choosing a Significator

Queen of Pentacles Some spreads and readers employ a card chosen to represent the questioner. This card is called the significator, and it is normally placed face-up in the middle of a spread with the other cards placed face-down around and on top of it. The card is not usually part of the reading, but it serves as a representation of the questioner's position in the events and influences that the other cards detail. The significator may be chosen in a number of ways. Purely mechanical methods include selecting a court card based on the questioner's astrological sun sign or their age, sex and appearance (such as hair and eye color). The intuitional approach allows the reader to choose any card based on what they know of or sense about the nature of the questioner or question. Sometimes, if a further reading is being performed to clarify a previous one, the "Outcome" card of the earlier reading is used as the significator.

Selecting the Cards

The cards should be shuffled and optionally cut, usually by the questioner, while focusing the mind on the nature of the reading or the specific question to be explored (in the case of a general reading, the mind should be cleared). The cards are then dealt face-down from the top of the deck in the arrangement dictated by the spread being used. Once all cards required for the spread have been dealt, the process of interpretation can begin, with each card being turned over in sequence and interpreted according to its position and relation to other cards in the spread. Alternatively, the reader may lay all the cards face-up from the start, but it is better to turn the cards over one by one in sequence, as this allows the story of the reading to unfold naturally, offering further insights when it comes to synergizing the reading as a whole once all cards are on view.

Celtic Cross The laying out of the cards can also be more ritualized. For example, the Celtic Cross is often (though not always) used with a significator, which is placed face-up on the table with the first-selected card placed face-down over it, the second across it and the rest around it. As each of the ten cards is laid down in turn, the following phrases are sometimes vocalized:

  1. This covers you (or me, him, her or them, depending on whom the reading is for)
  2. This crosses you
  3. The crowns you
  4. This is beneath you
  5. This is behind you
  6. This is before you
  7. Yourself
  8. Your house
  9. Your hopes and fears
  10. What will come

One other option that is available in selecting the cards for a reading is to perform a "recycle reading" in which each card is returned to the pack and the pack reshuffled before choosing the next card in the spread. This allows any card to appear multiple times in a reading, adding further connections and emphasis between those positions containing a repeated card. Our Free Tarot Readings offer you the option to try these kinds of readings as well as the more traditional ones.