Tarot Reading

Your guide to tarot readings

What is tarot reading?

Tarot reading is supposed to be a way of gaining insights – often hidden from normal view – into the past, the present and even the future. In this sense, it is a form of cartomancy, whereby cards are used to answer certain questions. When a tarot reader asks a question, one or more cards are drawn from a deck of 78 cards which are then interpreted by the reader. Although each card is supposed to have a certain meaning that can be ascribed to it, it is often the combination of cards the reader draws that answers the question. As such, there is a great deal of complexity that can be gained from each reading, with multiple interpretations of each answer that it would be possible to make. Like other practices that claim to offer insights into the lives of people, such as palmistry or astrology, many people set great store by it, but others consider it to be sheer nonsense.

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 Where did tarot reading originate?

Tarot cards have been around for a long time. Like normal playing cards, they are arranged into suits and, sometimes, numbers. So-called trifoni playing cards – precursors of tarot cards – have been around since at least the fifteenth century in Italy. Tarrocchini, a trick-taking game not unlike whist, was popular at the time and spread to Austria and France with variations in the decks that were used. Some people who conduct tarot readings, rather than using them for games, claim that cards have been used for the purposes of divination – the supernatural quest for knowledge – since the time of the ancient Egyptians or the Western Zhou period in China. However, such practices seem to be unrelated to the sort of tarot cards used today. In Europe, tarot reading for divination only took off from the eighteenth century onwards. Antoine Court de Gébelin, a French clergyman, first published a work on tarot and its history in 1781.

What are the cards used in tarot reading?

Modern tarot cards conform to the standard 78-deck format. This will be made up of two Arcana sub-decks known as major and minor. There are four suits in the standard set up, known as wands (or batons), cups, coins and swords. Italian decks have different suits from French ones, and there are further variations in German ones. In the major Arcana, there are no suits. Instead, these cards are given the names Magician, High Priestess, Empress, Emperor, Hierophant, Lovers, Chariot, Strength, Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, the Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, the Devil, Tower, Star, Moon, Sun, Judgement, the World and Fool. These cards correspond to different numbers, with Magician being the lowest and the World being the highest. Fool cards have no numerical value.

What should you expect of a tarot reading?

If you have never been to a tarot reading before, then you should expect the reader to sit opposite you, usually with a table between the two of you onto which the tarot cards will be placed. In the main, tarot readers will be welcoming and have a desire to answer the sort of questions you want to be answered. Tarot readings that are full of mystery or strange and spooky practices are a thing of fiction, more or less. Again, it is common for the reader to want to explain what is going on and the basic meaning of each card rather than to create an air of confusion. Most readers will ask what you want to know about and try and put you at your ease, even if what the cards show is negative or not what you had wanted to hear. That said, every tarot reader is different and has their own way of doing things. Most people feel empowered after a reading, even if they know that what they've been told won't always be completely verifiable.

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Is tarot reading accurate?

No, it is not. Tarot readings can never be said to offer total accuracy, and any reader who claims to be so skilled with the cards and their interpretations of them that they can promise accuracy should be avoided. Good tarot readers will always point out that tarot readings are a craft and not a predictable science. This is why it is a good idea not to ask questions that you know can only elicit false readings. In short, it is best to go into a reading with an open mind but to still retain a residual level of scepticism. Part of what is going on during a reading is to make you feel better about what you may already know, deep down to be the truth about yourself or a situation. Of course, some readings turn out to be more accurate than others. General predictions about the future are more likely to occur at some point than not. That said, some people find they receive very accurate readings that they cannot otherwise account for.

Can you do tarot reading online?

Yes, you can. Tarot reading does not need either party to be physically present with one another. For this reason, some tarot readers have been offering their services over the phone for decades. Of course, it helps to be able to see the cards as they turn and to read what is going on. For their part, tarot readers are also likely to make better readings if they can also see the person they are reading for, perhaps picking up on body language or micro-movements. For this reason, many phone-based services for tarot card readings are now conducted online with a webcam which enables both parties to see one another. If you opt for a reading in this way in your own home, then try to avoid personal items being on display in the background, which would give too much of a clue about you. This way, what you are told will be down to the reader and not what they can see.

Will tarot reading help you to find love?

Some people think that it is useful to have a tarot reading if they are seeking love and intimacy or a life partner. The truth is that finding love or not is down to you and the person you may choose to commit to. No tarot card reading, or other forms of divination, is going to change that. However, tarot readers are often asked questions about love and for relationship advice because these are things many people want to know about. What tarot can assist with is helping you to work out what to do about your current relationship. If you think it is going nowhere and are wondering about whether to stick with it or move on, then a reading can help to focus your mind on the issue, if nothing else. What it won't do is find a new partner for you, however.

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How do you do a tarot reading for someone else?

It takes years of learning to become a skilled tarot reader, but everyone needs to start somewhere. Therefore, offering a tarot reading to a friend whom you trust is a good way of beginning. Firstly, you will have to decide which set of tarot cards to use, the full deck of 78 cards, the minor deck of Arcana cards which has 22 cards or the major Arcana deck, which has 56 cards. Once that has been decided upon, you will need to gain a basic understanding of the meaning ascribed to each card. Using a chart to help you will be best to begin with. Bear in mind that court cards tend to relate to people, human situations and personalities. The suits of tarot cards offer more esoteric meanings. For example, swords tend to represent thoughts and deeds while wands represent creativity, sexuality or energy. At the reading, ask a question, then draw one or more cards. Turn them face up after they've been selected and then, referring to the usual interpretations of these cards, come up with an answer to the question as intuitively as you can.

Is tarot reading an occult practice?

In some senses, all forms of divination can be considered to be an occultist activity. They are, after all, a way of trying to foresee or to gain insights into what would normally be considered outside of human knowledge. The term divination implies a god-like knowledge. And yet, many tarot readers would not consider themselves to be members of an occult group. However, occultists have certainly used tarot reading to gain what they perceive to be deeper insights into the universe. Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris were both well-known examples who took a great deal of interest in tarot cards. They thought cartomancy went back to ancient Egypt but failed to explain why tarot cards had been used for games for several centuries with no apparent occultist connection.

Can a tarot reading be trusted?

Yes and no. Readings offer people insights into themselves. They are a way of thinking about the answers to often deeply rooted questions. In this sense, the formality of a reading often helps people to focus on what matters most to them. Even if the reading were to be completely bogus, the fact that it has at least asked someone to think about the most important questions to them should be of help. That said, no tarot reader would reasonably expect everyone they read for to trust everything they say completely. Card readings are open to multiple interpretations, after all. Therefore, everything that goes on during a reading should be considered to be a form of self care & self help rather than a scientifically verifiable means of divining the answers to questions.

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Can you do a tarot reading with playing cards?

If you ascribe no meaning to the tarot cards most readers use but go along with the idea that what is going on is more psychological than predictive in its nature, then there is no reason to think that other card types couldn't be used to perform readings. When we ascribe a meaning to a card that is tuned over apparently at random, what we are really doing is revealing something of ourselves. It is this that provides the self-help that many people turn to readings for. In a standard deck of cards, similar suits can be used in the same ways as tarot cards. The coins suit is often interpreted as diamonds, for example. Likewise, jokers can be used in place of fool cards. Nevertheless, there are only 52 cards in a standard deck, unlike the 78 in a tarot deck.

What does psychology say about tarot reading?

Many psychologists would agree that there is something of a self-interpretive process that is going on with a tarot reading. A reader may come up with the answers through interpretations of the cards, but they are likely to pick up on the cues the person they are reading for gives them, too. This might be according to the type of questions they ask or their responses to them. Ascribing meaning to something that many would see as meaningless, such as inkblot tests, is a way that many psychotherapists are able to start peeling back the layers of consciousness of their patients. Most psychological explanations of tarot card readings would argue a similar thing is going on. In short, such readings are self-revelatory and have nothing to do with divination.

What does religion say about tarot reading?

In the Old Testament, God is said to have instructed worshippers to turn away from mediums and necromancers. In fact, it is reasonable to say that any form of divination, especially occultist divination, goes against the central precepts of what many people would interpret from the teachings of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. For some, tarot reading is an alternative religion and, therefore, not allowed. However, some religious people believe that if tarot cards are used to explore psychological archetypes and not for the purposes of divination, then that is allowed. In 2019, Pope Francis made it clear that he thought all occult practices were incompatible with faith in God. Indeed, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, all forms of divination are to be rejected. This does not mean, of course, that people of faith do not use the services of tarot readers here and there.

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Tarot reading in summary

Tarot reading gives a great deal of reassurance to many people who have been comforted by what they have discovered during a session. Yes, asking for an interpretation of the past or present can also make for uncomfortable listening, but, in the main, people turn to readers because they want to understand themselves and the world they perceive around them better. Tarot card readings will often become more problematic when they predict the future because they make some people feel as if they have little agency over their lives if certain things are foreseeable. Generally speaking, though, such predictions tend to be open to very wide interpretations and should not be taken too seriously.

Most tarot readers try to put people at their ease with a reading and will dispense with much of the occultist paraphernalia that goes with the practice. They'll tend to focus on the emotional and psychological needs of the person they're reading for instead. However, some people think that tarot readings are nothing more than sorcery and would condemn anyone who takes part for either believing in nonsense or doing something that would be an affront to religion. These days, the majority of people think that it is harmless, however. Certainly, many psychological explanations of what is going on tend to promote the idea of self-help and greater self-awareness. Of course, for those who do not believe it has any value at all, there is nothing forcing them to take part. As such, it seems that tarot cards are likely to be in use for some time to come, and you don't need a tarot reading to foresee that!

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