Put down the guide book. A process-oriented tarot reading starts with how you feel when you select a card from the deck.
Tarot is a wonderful ancient practice involving 78 cards, each with a unique image and meaning. There are 22 major arcana cards, which include archetypes like The Fool and Death and the rest are called minor arcana.
Tarot cards are said to have originated in Europe in the 15th century, but the images and archetypes likely have earlier origins. In her book Tarot for Change, Jessica Dore refers to each of the cards as holding a secret, which she says is likely to leave you with more questions than you came with. “This is good. Questions are passageways to new life.”
What Is a Process-Oriented Tarot Reading?
Many people assume tarot is a divinatory practice—meaning that it will tell your future. Aspiring readers usually get a deck of cards with a little guidebook explaining the meaning of each card and pore over them, trying to figure out what the future holds. This is, however, only one way to read tarot, and it’s not necessarily the best or more interesting way to read the cards.
Try this instead: Close the guidebook. Shuffle the cards while thinking about the topic you would like guidance on, and then select a card. You can pick one at random or cut the deck with your non-dominant hand and choose the one on top, whatever feels right for you.
Take a look at the image on the card. What details do you notice? How would you tell the story of the card? What is the mood or emotion here? Whatever questions arise for you here will be useful. Whatever you feel about the card is right.
Of course, it can be helpful to have some familiarity with the cards, especially the major arcana and the underlying meaning of the suits and the numbers, and there is plenty of information out there on these meanings. But no particular card explanation will be as important as how you feel when you select a card from the deck and take some time to contemplate it.
If you like, after you have done this contemplation practice, then take a look at the guidebook and see if there’s anything there to add to your experience of reading the card for yourself. As Dore explains,
“When necessary, a spread of tarot cards can be like a tapestry onto which we project our inner life safely and without harming ourselves or each other. Because projection is a natural and healthy function of the human imagination, this is one way to harness its power and use it for good.”
What You Already Know
Tarot isn’t really there to tell you anything you’re not already aware of. Rather, at their best, they can help illuminate something that you do already know but perhaps haven’t been able to see clearly or acknowledge. Tarot can help us tap into our own intuition, our inner wisdom, our own truths.
This is process-oriented or process-focused tarot reading. When you do this with a tarot reader (like me), you read the cards together, having a conversation with each other and the spread, exploring the thoughts and feelings that come up through the story the cards are telling.
Again, don’t wait to understand everything about tarot before you start to explore. Go ahead and dive in. Trust that what you discover about yourself is exactly what you need to know for right now. The more you practice and connect to the cards, the more you’ll learn about what they mean for you.
For more of Julie’s Tarot wisdom, read: “Lessons From the Tarot: The Death Card on a New Moon.”]