Reading tarot is hard. You’ve taken classes, studied, read books, asked your cards a million questions, but every time you lay the cards out, you feel like you’re lost at sea with no land in sight—just a lonely, empty silence as you rack your brain trying to decide what these strange images could mean. This feeling goes away with confidence, and confidence develops with practice, but what use is practice if it brings about this scenario each time? Don’t worry—we’ve all been there! I and some of Denver Tarot Meetup’s top presenters and leadership team members have compiled a list of rookie mistakes and tips to overcome them—armed with these, and you will rev up the motor on your confidence!
Rookie Mistakes with the Questions you Ask
The rookie mistakes I see the most often involve the types and frequency of questions asked.
I had a client the other day who said if she could read the cards she would be consulting them all the time. Tarot newbies want to turn every question over to the cards—and that’s understandable. Even questions you have already decided or know the answer to seem like good practice so you can compare what the cards say to what you think or know. But that’s equally likely to turn your mind to mush really fast and lose the very clarity you seek. On the other end of the spectrum, it can be overwhelming to ask a question that is too important—if the weight of the world or the direction of your life weighs in the balance, you are putting too much pressure on yourself and the cards when you’re a novice. Find questions that are important but not crucial.
Tip 1: Keep your questions relevant, recent, and restrained.
Along the same lines, I find beginning readers tend not to develop very good questions. Constructing a good question was one of the very first things my teacher taught me. A proper tarot question should be clear, specific, and, at least when you’re starting, answerable in the language of the tarot. General questions like “What about my job?” or “What’s most important for me to know right now?” are too vague—drill down to something more particular. Then again, yes or no questions are too specific. Questions should be personal to you, not about others who aren’t participating, and should elicit answers that empower you to take actions that will help you reach your goals.
Here are some great ways to phrase a question:
- What do I need to know about ____________?
- What will be the outcome if I ____________?
- What steps do I need to take to achieve ____________?
- What considerations are most important for ____________?
- What’s my first step (or next step) in this project?
Tip 2: A well-phrased question produces a clear answer.
Clear answers are dependent on you and your interpretation, not the cards. No, you don’t need to pull a clarifier or rephrase or reshuffle. Green tarot readers have a bad habit of asking the same question over and over. My teacher called this Youthful Folly, after the I Ching hexagram that states that if you ask two or three times you will get no information. Your cards can get quite snarky with you if you beg for the same info over and over. If you’re getting conflicting answers, chances are you’re repeating your questions. Let it go until something changes, and next time, ask only once, and interpret the cards trusting that you have received the best answer.
Tip 3: Ask once, and trust your ability to understand the answer you are given.
Another mistake I see first-time tarot readers make is failing to bring the reading back to the question as they do the interpretation. It’s helpful to keep the question firmly in mind throughout your reading process. And then the final step of your interpretation should be to return to your question and formulate a coherent response that answers what you asked. If you’re not answering your questions, of course the cards will seem confusing—but the burden for this falls on your shoulders, not the cards.
Tip 4: The cards answer the question asked.
Rookie Mistakes with Card Interpretations
The next set of rookie mistakes most commonly suggested by the Denver Tarot Meetup leaders and presenters falls into the category of how to interpret the cards. That’s ultimately what we do as readers, so let’s take a look at what the experts say.
DTM Presenter Richard Hartnett of Quantum Spirituality believes that the biggest rookie mistake is trying to memorize each specific card. “This is daunting to say the least and makes them want to leave out reversals which I think is a big mistake also,” he says.
DTM Co-Organizer Sherry Shone of Good Advice with Sherry Shone concurs. In her eyes, the biggest mistake is “when new readers always use standard descriptions or keywords of the cards to answer the questions.” For example, she suggests that if her question is, “what pie can I eat tonight to fulfill my inner child” and she pulls the Devil card, a new reader might think, “Oh you are addicted to pie, stop eating pie, or even better yet, you have an abnormal sexual fetish towards pie. Maybe even the pie is getting you down man”! She concludes, “You have to let the card answer the question and understand that your role is to interpret.”
Tip 5: Memorizing and using standard meanings for cards is overwhelming and can be too limiting. Let your unique question guide you to a personally relevant interpretation.
DTM Assitant Organizer Jennifer McKissack seconds Sherry’s comment, stating that the most common mistake she sees is “Little White Book keyword regurgitation card by card during a reading.” “Also,” she continues, “they forget to look at how the cards relate to each other when doing multiple cards.” Cards in a vacuum stutter and stall—finding the patterns in the cards in a spread creates fresh meanings as they interact. This is when the cards really start to talk!
This step is so important that the Denver Tarot Meetup is hosting a presentation on the topic, presented by Richard Hartnett, “Recognizing Patterns in Tarot Card Readings.”
Tip 6: Reading each card in isolation produces flat, uninspired readings. Being guided by the relationships and patterns between cards creates lively and multilayered interpretations.
“Reading the person and not the cards is the biggest mistake I see,” says DTM Co-Organizer Linda Bean of For You Tarot. She explains that a new reader’s intention is to be kind and supportive and so they fail to honestly relay the truth of the reading. “When the pictures tell a sad story, it is a sad story,” she concludes. Tarot newbies can be afraid of doing more harm than good, so it’s easy to back off from anything controversial in the hopes that you don’t make a mistake. But that can lead to vague or downright inaccurate readings.
DTM Assistant Organizer Erica Walker Adams of EricaWalkerAdams.com agrees with Linda and adds, “If you don’t really know the meanings of the cards and give strictly “intuitive” readings, why use tarot cards, then?
Tip 7: Follow the card images and symbolism to give accurate and honest readings. If the person just needs a friend, be a friend. If they need a reading, be a reader.
Sherry Padilla, DTM Co-Organizer and Owner of Reckless Reader Tarot, LLC sums all this up nicely, by stating that the biggest rookie mistake is “trying to read every book and use every bit of information you get from those books. Many books contradict each other in meanings and reading styles. I recommend playing with the cards and getting comfortable seeing the images and symbolism. Start with a base foundation of the symbols and work in layers from there to find your dialog with the cards and images. And no, it doesn’t happen overnight so be patient with yourself!”
Rookie Mistakes with Expectations
Being patient is great advice and leads to our next category—mistakes tarot novices make regarding expectations.
Sherry Shone says that her rookie mistake was not trusting that she could do it and thinking all other readers had the right answer. “It takes time to develop your skills, and some readers delight in telling newbies that they should do things this or that way.”
Tip 8: Your way is the best way; trust yourself.
Linda takes this advice one step further by reminding new readers that second guessing a first impression can be a mistake. “The first impression always turns out to be true.”
Tip 9: Don’t second guess your first impression.
DTM Assistant Organizer Grace Padilla, the Deviant Daughter, raises an excellent point about the sometimes unreasonable goals of beginning readers. Many tarot freshmen think it’s easy to be a tarot reader and make money from reading the cards. “You can’t just study tarot for a few months and think you are completely capable of reading professionally and just quit your job. It’s not that easy.” Grace should know—she’s a young reader who has already put in years of training and practice, and she makes her spending money reading at fairs and events. Could this be you? It certainly could—but as Grace points out, “It takes a lot of dedication and possibly years for someone to be a professional tarot reader, and even then, it’s really hard to sustain yourself on just being a tarot reader.”
Tip 10: Tarot takes time and dedication. It can be a very fulfilling career path but it is not an easy way to earn a living.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into the most active and one of the largest tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a psychic and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2016 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.