If You Think You Can’t Read Tarot for Yourself, Think Again!
Do you think you can’t read tarot for yourself? You can! Clients often ask me if I read my own cards, and are usually surprised when I say yes. Not that I don’t have a few trusted readers I go to when I need a formal session, but I get such great results reading for myself that I mostly keep it in house. You can learn to read for yourself too once you understand these ten reasons you can’t read tarot for yourself, and follow the suggestions about what to do about it. Become your own best adviser!
Ten Reasons You Can’t Read for Yourself (And What to Do About It)
1. You’re Not Asking a Question
Whenever someone mentions having difficulty with a spread they did for themselves, I first ask what question they asked. Nine times out of ten they tell me they didn’t have a question!
Most formally trained tarot readers are taught always to ask a question. Furthermore, they are coached in developing good questions for tarot and drilled in rewording questions to elicit the most accurate answers. A well-phrased question will give context to the spread while letting you hone in on the most relevant meanings for the cards. Specific questions result in actionable answers. If you would like some sample questions to use when you don’t have a question, check out my post with fifteen tarot questions for when you don’t have a question.
2. You’re Letting Your Emotions Cloud the Issue
Many readers are only too aware that their emotions are interfering with them getting a good reading for themselves. You went to your cards because you need clarity, right? And it’s your very lack of clarity that seems to interfere with you getting a straight answer. What a conundrum! But what’s actually happening is that you’re not ready to do a reading–yet.
The technique I’ve used for decades to clear my emotions before doing a reading for myself is to journal on the topic before doing the reading. You might think that I would just find my answer in the journaling process itself. It’s good for things like that, right? What ends up happening is that I journal through my initial question or dilemma, and find underneath it the true topic that requires insight. Through bypassing questions I can answer by applying a little thought, I arrive at the underlying query that only the wisdom of the tarot can answer for me.
3. You’re Reading the Cards Psychologically
If you’re reading for yourself, it can feel like your cards only reflect your foggy mental state. Instead, try to find actions in the cards instead of psychological states of being. When you look at a tarot card, how do you describe the scene you see? If you find yourself using emotional words or terms that describe the character’s mental state, you might be stuck looking at the cards psychologically. “He looks thoughtful.” “She seems sad.” “There’s a sense of excitement.” This is especially true if you find yourself frequently saying a card “feels” a certain way.
One of the best ways to find clear answers in the cards is to find the action in the image–focus on verbs. “He studies.” “She mourns.” “They celebrate.” When you use emotional words to describe the cards, you are reflecting on how you feel. When you apply verbs to the cards, you are receiving advice on what to do to get over how you feel. When you’re reading the cards, look at the image and ask yourself, what action is the character taking? Prioritize actions over the mood or emotional tone of the scene and your fog will start to burn away with the light of insight.
4. You’re Asking the Same Question Over and Over
When I was learning to read tarot, my teacher laughed one time when I received an especially confusing answer from the cards. “Youthful folly,” he said. That’s the title of an I Ching hexagram. It advises that if you keep begging the oracle to tell you the same thing, the oracle will stop making sense. Or start making fun of you! Recognizing your cards’ annoyance at your line of questioning means you’ve come a long way toward effectively reading for yourself! Only ask a question once, and don’t revisit it until and unless something significant has changed regarding the situation. Recognizing when you need a reading and when it won’t help is an important stage in learning to read for yourself. You can ask different questions, but be self-aware. Don’t tweak the question by small amounts looking to get the answer you want.
I had a client insist, against my better judgment, that if we just “trimmed the fat” from the question we would get “an accurate answer.” She continually modified the question (how much money she would get in an inheritance) until we pulled the 9 of Cups. She leaned back victoriously and exclaimed: “Ah, the wish card!” She was convinced that she would get everything she wanted, and forced the cards until she got the answer she wanted. They only problem is that I don’t read the 9 of Cups as the wish card. I read it as a pleasant plateau or stalling point prior to the complete fulfillment of the 10 of Cups. So the cards were actually reiterating my ongoing interpretation that she would get a good amount in the inheritance, but not as much as she anticipated.
You will build trust with your cards if you prioritize honesty in your readings over bland and vague reassurances. Forcing the issue, continuing to modify your question, or pulling clarifiers repeatedly will never produce a truthful, accurate answer. Instead, ask once and put it away. If you still need something from the cards, ask how you can release your obsession with the issue, what would be better to focus on now, or if there’s anything you can do to change the outcome.
5. Jot It Down or Say It Out Loud
Don’t you love quietly gazing at a spread, sitting receptive while its images unfold before you? This is a meditative approach to tarot that works well for many people. However, you have to be in a place of mindfulness and openness for this to work. If you’re caught up in your emotions, if you’re asking your cards to help bring you clarity about a confusing issue, if you’re distressed, then you’re not in a good place to receive a reading. Does this mean you shouldn’t work with your cards? Not at all!
Once you’ve built trust with your cards, laying out a spread will help still your mind and bring about the open state you love when doing readings for yourself. But until then, or for the times you are more out of kilter than usual, it’s better to write down your interpretations or say them out loud. My teacher taught me to journal all my readings, and I have notebooks going back decades in which I did just that. But another trick I’ve learned is that when a reading is especially confusing, to read the cards aloud as if I were reading for someone sitting with me. It might seem odd at first, but that’s because this practice will switch you into your objective mind, where you can best recognize and receive the wisdom of the cards.
6. Put It Away
If you suffer from analysis paralysis and get caught up in your own mental repeating loops, and these other suggestions aren’t breaking you out of that pattern, you might need to put your cards away. Write down the cards in the layout and your basic interpretation for future reference. Look at your spread again when you’re more emotionally balanced or have less investment in the outcome, or after the issue in question is over. A day or two later and a curious, not conflicted, mindset will help you suss out the truth in the spread.
When you return to the spread, make additional notes. I date them and even try to use a different colored ink. I focus on noting what I saw correctly and what I misread in my reading. This helps fine tune skills and increase future accuracy.
7. You Can’t See the Forest for the Trees
Sometimes you can’t see the spread for the card meanings. I don’t usually recommend working with standard card meanings, however this is one of the ways in which it’s helpful. Strictly sticking to book meanings, basic keywords, or (what I use) the Golden Dawn card titles, helps you achieve objectivity and make sense of your situation. On the other hand, sometimes you try this but get alphabet soup out of your spread. Which of the gazillion meanings for this card is the one applicable in this instance?
My favorite trick is to read cards in pairs, either by using a spread that groups the cards two by two or by pulling two cards at a time (I like to pull one card from the top of the deck and one from the bottom). These two cards no longer represent two separate and distinct positions, instead they blend together to create a unique meaning that neither one could have on its own. How is this helpful? Instead of having an infinite number of meanings for each card, you are forced to narrow down the meanings until you find two that work together. Refer to my post on spreads for examples of card layouts in which I outline how to interpret different pairs and groupings of cards.
8. You’re Using Too Big a Spread
Your life seems complicated, so the bigger the spread the better it will address your issues, right? Probably not. When everything is chaos and it all affects everything else, it might seem like you would need a big spread to make sense of it all. However, consider your goal. To understand it you need to unravel it.
Compartmentalizing the areas of life by asking smaller, more specific questions and using shorter, to-the-point spreads or two card draws will help break apart the behemoth of your life and serve up some bite-sized answers. Once you’re using smaller spreads, drill down on confusing cards or card pairings by asking what they mean in this context, and pull two more cards. Open a dialogue with your cards. Ask your question, interpret the answer, ask if you’re understanding it correctly or if there’s more you need to know, pull two more cards, interpret, repeat.
9. Sometimes You Don’t Need to Understand It All
Sometimes you can get the information you need without needing to understand all the details about it. For example, several years ago I had a trip planned to attend a Reiki training course in California. In eager anticipation of the course, I drew cards on it. Although most of the spread looked good, I got the Devil card. After working through many various questions and drilling down over the course of several weeks, I repeatedly got the card. I would propose interpretations and ask the cards if that understanding was right but failed to find out anything other than a basic “money problems” issue. But there were no money problems. I had been saving for months, everything was already paid for except the hotel which could be booked but not paid ahead of time. I made a big deposit that I applied to my bank credit card before leaving so I could use the card while traveling. It had to be something else, but I couldn’t discover the meaning for the Devil. The Queen of Cups repeatedly appeared as a solution.
Tarot helps us with our decisions and sets out red flags and detour indications as needed, but never makes our decisions for us, so I certainly didn’t let one bad card impede my plans. When I arrived at the hotel and handed them my credit card, they told me the charge didn’t go through. The card didn’t have a high limit, but I had paid it off about five days previously. No worries, I told them, I’ll call my bank. The bank told me the deposit would take ten days to go through! I had that account since 1991 and had never had a deposit take more than a couple of days to clear. Of course the devilish corporate bank refused to offer any explanation, only saying that deposits always require ten days. I was stunned and had no idea how to proceed.
My friend generously offered to let me use her credit card to hold the room, assuming my deposit would clear by the time the retreat was over. She even said she didn’t mind if I used her card to pay for it if I had further problems. She was my Queen of Cups to the rescue! By the time I checked out of the hotel, the deposit still hadn’t gone through, but with a clearer head I realized I could split the hotel bill into two payments and put half on my credit card and half on my debit card. Problem solved! I was also limited on spending money during the trip since I had to rely on cash on hand, but I had enough to get by comfortably. No big purchases, but I didn’t need any fancy souvenirs.
The cards were perfectly accurate for me, but I had no way to understand the exact details of how the experience would unfold. The reassurance from the cards that the problem would be solved by the Queen of Cups helped me know going into the situation that it would work out well in the end. Accept that you don’t need to understand everything. If the cards alert you to a problem, they will give you the info you need. Adapt to the circumstances. And yes, I changed to a credit union upon my return home!
10. Strive for Objectivity
One of the main reasons tarot readers think you can’t read tarot for yourself is the challenge of maintaining objectivity. Certainly this is often hard to do. But with practice you will find that reading your cards actually helps you become more objective about your life! Not only will you always be able to read your cards accurately for yourself, but you will come more and more to trust them and to find that working with them in and of itself calms you and helps you gain that fresh, honest, and compassionate perspective.
To be more objective, be open to all possibilities by releasing your expectations and inviting curiosity into the equation. Moderate your intensity by waiting until you feel more calm, or by asking extreme questions to get started (What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best possible outcome?) and then evening out your questions to be more realistic (What’s the most likely outcome?). Meditate before doing a reading. Make a ritual of it by lighting a candle and incense and practicing deep breathing before beginning. Utilize Jungian active imagination or discursive meditation to work more closely with a card or card pair you don’t understand. Always, no matter how much you desire a certain outcome, ask the cards for truth, clarity, and compassion.
11. Empower Yourself
If you always ask about things that are out of your control, working with you cards will make you feel at the mercy of the fates. Instead, ask empowering questions. What actions can I take to create the outcome I desire? What attitude could I adopt to make this relationship progress more smoothly? What role can I play to facilitate this situation? Some people hesitate to work with their cards in this manner, and prefer only to ask predictive questions. I love predictive reading, but if you’re not getting clear results, or when you’re not happy with the projected outcome, there’s no reason not to seek a better future by taking the reins.
Your cards are the tool that lets your inner wisdom communicate directly and consciously with you. Give them the opportunity to guide you and counsel you. Then they will feel like your best friend, closest advisor, and greatest advocate. You will no longer feel like you are stepping up to a grim faced oracle of doom, but rather that you are tete-a-tete with the kindest, wisest, most encouraging, and most compassionately honest friend you have.
What techniques do you use to successfully read for yourself? Please share them in the comments!
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.