Overcoming Five Common Tarot Reading Frustrations #3: Patterns in the Cards

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

This is part 3 of my weekly series on addressing the frustrations I heard from the attendees of a talk I did for a meetup group a few months ago. The participants described their tarot holdups as:

  1. Reading clearly for yourself without being pulled off track by seeing what you wanted to see
  2. How to manage psychic impressions when doing readings
  3. Finding patterns in the cards to help you tell the story (Today’s post!)
  4. Choosing between oracle, angel, or tarot cards
  5. Working with the most useful spreads

I soon realized that I could write a full blog post on each topic, so over the next several weeks you’ll see my advice concerning each of these common tarot reading frustrations.

If you want to follow the series without missing anything, I encourage you to sign up to receive email notification when a new post goes up by signing up on the top right of this page (totally free and you will only get notifications of my blog posts, published 3-4 times a month). If you’d like to subscribe to my once-a-month newsletter with notifications of classes, talks, meetup groups, special events, and a recap of my blog posts from the month, please sign up here or through my Facebook page.

Common Tarot Reading Frustration #3: Finding Patterns in the Cards

Several people told me they had trouble finding patterns in the cards. Stephannie said it could be a challenge to find the story in the cards, while Charlie said that sometimes the cards didn’t seem to connect. Kim said that when she didn’t understand the symbols she reverted to looking at the book. I’d hate for anyone to ever have to look at the book, so I’ll demonstrate following the pattern so you can try it out for yourself!

I teach the basic elements of dramatic structure and simple principles of artistic composition to guide my students in following the visual cues that establish the storyline in the spread. (The following exercise is one I have been teaching since 2005.) But even when you have a strong understanding of these governing rules, it can still be difficult to put the puzzle pieces together.

Don’t get stuck trying to understand an unfamiliar symbol—the cards want to talk with you, and they know you. They will use vocabulary you understand (and like your mom, will challenge you with some big words to help you grow). They are not talking down to you with confusing language. If you don’t know a symbol, you probably don’t need to know it. If it comes up over and over, then take the time to explore its meaning —through research, meditation, or creatively engaging it. Trust that the cards are not trying to stump you. Read what makes sense to you. Just like a child learning language, your vocabulary will grow and develop.

Click on the photo to see it full size and zoom in on the details I mentioned.

The simplest trick for finding patterns is to watch for repeated characters, subjects, symbols, colors, and shapes in the cards. This photo is from my Art Gallery exercise that I teach in my intermediate Magician’s Tools tarot class. What if this were actually a spread? Where would you start? These cards are from the gallery labeled “Color,” so we’re going to start by following colors.

I see a series of cards that have a lot of blue in them in the center, starting with the Ram in the lower right, moving up towards the Chagall painting with red and white flowers against the blues and purples of a night sky in the upper left. I start with the ram. I happen to know that rams live in the mountains and are aggressive, so that is how I will approach this symbol. You might know different things about rams, and have to follow your own knowledge. In this case, the ram appears to be looking at me contemplatively—he’s not about to attack. He’s above me, looking down slightly. There is a round shape above him, perhaps the sun. I imagine that he is standing on a rock on a mountain side ahead of me. What does that mean? Perhaps he is leading the way for me—he does seem to be turned slightly, I can see that perhaps he has turned back to see if I’m following him.

The card immediately to the left of him, where he’s heading if he turned back, shares the shades of blue and purple from the first card and has curved shapes like horns on it. There is a Greek-looking statue of a bearded man, with his arms open, standing on a hill. It reminds me of Sophocles or some other Greek teacher. Do I need to look that up and see if I’m right? No, it only matters what I see. Since the ram’s horns are over him, I equate him with the ram. There are two people in the foreground. I feel welcomed to this outdoor classroom that the big horn led me to.

Immediately above this teacher is another image that is predominantly blue. It shows one person on the right facing left—probably the teacher I’ve just met—and three people facing right—probably myself and the other two students from the previous card. The teacher holds out a cup from which rises bubbling sparks of light. I know that in this case, despite the different ways that image can be seen, the figure on the right is the main character of my story, the ram, the teacher, leading the way. Under different circumstances, with different characters introduced, and different themes highlighted, the illustration would have a different meaning.

Above and to the left of this card is the Chagall painting. It shows a bridge in the background remarkably similar to the one in the previous card. A woman floats in the air above the moon and the flowers. I equate this woman with the bubbling light from the previous image. This feels like the teaching itself, the sparkling knowledge of the teacher now has taken the form of a woman floating in the night sky. This personified knowledge could be a representation of the students who work to assimilate the instruction.

The story is straightforward—the sure footed big horn looks at me to see if I’m following him up the mountain. He is a teacher, welcoming me to his mountain top classroom with other students. Together this teacher takes us across a bridge, offering us the effervescent light of knowledge. The sun or luminary from the ram card, which was high above me in the beginning, is now the moon below me as I soar with the new knowledge I have obtained.

What story do you get if you follow shapes instead of color? If you start with the ram image, follow the round luminary to the bright round star in the card immediately above. Then follow the circling smaller stars to the swirling yellow leaves in the card to the upper left. Where does it go from here? What is this story?

The question is what lets you choose to follow the colors or follow the shapes—remember, these cards were in the gallery titled Color so we followed that rather than shape. Color was the guiding principle, like the question shapes the reading. (Without a question, finding the path is much more difficult.) But everything else is based on standard reading techniques.

Why is the woman on the bridge the teacher and not a newcomer being received by the other three? Because we are following the arc of the story—one ram, one central teacher, from there this teacher is best seen in the right-hand person on the bridge. Could the bridge scene be the Greek teacher and his two students welcoming me to the group? Yes, it could. But I wasn’t the main character (or even illustrated in) the previous two cards, the teacher was the main character. So I’m going to stick with the teacher.

So then why isn’t the flying woman in the Chagall the teacher, that main character? Sure, she could be. But we didn’t see the teacher rising up out of the cup into the sky, but bubbles of light, and light offered by a teacher would be knowledge (or, again, whatever that symbol means to you). The woman floating in the sky is the bubbling light, not the person holding the cup. Who receives the knowledge? The students, including myself. Because the light is personified, it makes sense to equate it with those receiving that knowledge. Plus I see a theme—standing below the luminary in the first card to flying above the luminary in the last. We’ve already determined it’s not the teacher in the last card, which only leaves me, my presence implied by the mountain sheep looking directly at the viewer.

Interesting. As I read this over, I realize I said Sophocles when I meant Socrates, the philosopher–Sophocles was a playwright. Perhaps this reading is to encourage me to return to my script-writing. The Freudian slip adds another layer.

What does this story mean to you? What other stories do you find when you follow the patterns in the cards?


If you’d like to learn to read the tarot with no memorization or books, simply letting the cards speak for themselves, check out my upcoming Magician’s Tools: Beginning Tarot class, Sundays, February 12-March 19, 2017, 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Isis Books and Gifts, 2775 South Broadway, Englewood, CO 80113.

If you’re getting started and want to know the best beginner deck, please take a look at my post on 50 Beginning Tarot Decks.



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 tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

© 2017 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five 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 grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

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