I talk to people about tarot all the time, and one of the things I hear a lot is, "Oh, I'm not good at tarot," or, "I've tried and it just doesn't work for me," or, "I just don't feel it with the cards."
Well, first of all, you might not feel it, and that's okay. I grew up playing cards, from Go Fish through Hearts and Gin Rummy, everyone in my family played cards with everyone else. I like how cards feel in my hands. Shuffling soothes me. So, when I discovered the tarot, I was already in a comfortable place, even before I knew anything about the card meanings.
Your life is not my life. Maybe you're not at ease with cards. Maybe they feel awkward to hold and manipulate. The first thing to know is that that's perfectly okay. There are many, many divination systems and techniques, and I think everyone can develop skill with one or more of them. If the cards don't do it for you, there are rune stones, I Ching, palmistry, tea leaves, mirror gazing, candle gazing, bibliomancy, astrology—and that's just off the top of my head.
Perhaps the issue is with the particular deck you've chosen. Depending upon the images you see, you might find tarot too old-fashioned, too fantastical, too heterosexual, too ornate, or not ornate enough. If you are stuck on imagery that doesn't speak to you, or that you find unattractive, choose one of the other thousand or so decks on the market.
But perhaps the issue is not the cards themselves. Perhaps the issue is with figuring out how to read them. There are two schools of thought: First, that you should memorize "by the book" card meanings, and allow yourself to become intuitive from there. Second, that you should be intuitive from the beginning, ignoring books entirely.
I'm of the first school of thought—and not just because I'm the author of a tarot book!
The whole idea of a "system" of divination is to give you a tool that functions as an interface between you and your intuitive, psychic self. Some people are simply intuitive—they know or feel or read things from auras or energy or just their gut. I'm married to such a person, who doesn't use any cards or stones or anything else, because she doesn't feel the need. But most of us find that our psychic abilities need a little boost or helping hand.
Sometimes being psychic—knowing things you "shouldn't" or "can’t" know—can feel a little scary. Saying, "This is what the card means" instead of saying, "This is what I sense" can alleviate that fear. There's an inhibition that many of us have, that being psychic is simply not okay. In fact, it's kind of rude. Reading people's future, or their dreams, or their secrets, is a bit like reading their diary. When the inhibition is relieved, we are actually able to be more psychic, to know more, and to reach farther afield with that knowledge.
When I lay out cards, I am able to simply relax. I'm not reading anyone's mind, I’m just an intermediary, conveying venerable card meanings that I have studied, not invented. This allows me to speak my truth intuitively, and develop a relationship with the cards—what I call tarot interaction.
The truth is, I am using intuition and psychic ability every time I read a card. The Hermit suggests wisdom through isolation. Does this mean the querent (the person receiving the reading) should isolate himself? Or does it mean that a wise teacher is off somewhere, in isolation, and the querent should seek him out? Or is the querent the teacher? What part of the querent's life is the Hermit's lantern lighting up? What part remains in shadow? Communicating even a basic interpretation requires the reader to use some intuition.
Reading the cards without having studied meanings is, to me, akin to simply being intuitive, like my spouse. The cards are almost unnecessary.
Studying the meanings also provides you with a teacher. Again, think about the inhibitions we often have about being psychic. When we know something that seems uncanny, there's that little voice in our heads that says, "I don’t know that; I'm just making that up." So, truly knowing something well, studying and memorizing it, can silence that little voice. You'll find that when the little voice is silenced, you are far more intuitive and able to read.
But memorization is hard! Oh, my, I've heard that a lot. Yes, it is. The tarot is a discipline. Learning its secrets through study, drilling, and memorization (as a beginner, I used flash cards that I made myself) will create a disciplined relationship between you and the cards. You will have accomplished something difficult, and you will bring the knowledge of that accomplishment to your readings. Imagine how empowering that is! Your tarot interaction will be based not on confusion but on confidence.
If you're one of the people who says, "I'm not good at the tarot," perhaps you feel like you don't know what you're doing. Disciplining yourself, so that you do know, can transform that feeling, and transform you into a comfortable and natural tarot reader. If you are frustrated by the feeling that you don't know what you're doing, then attempting to read just by looking at the cards and using intuition is simply not going to work for you. (If it does work for you, congratulations. I know some talented readers who have never studied in the way I'm suggesting, and I am not going to argue with success. However, I'm addressing those of you who don't yet feel talented.)
In my years of teaching people to become more psychic, I've encountered two kinds of problems: People who think they aren't psychic, and people who are too psychic, those who are plagued by floods of images and empathy.
Methods of divination are either systems or techniques. A system, like tarot, palmistry, or runes, uses set meanings. Systems work best with people who think they aren't psychic. Most such people (and I was once one) are often in their heads, or struggle to overcome internal barriers to psychic talent. Systems such as tarot keep your brain busy thinking about things like card meanings, so that the other parts of you, the more psychic parts, can emerge.
A technique is like water gazing or omen-seeking or reading a crystal ball. This is excellent for people who are overwhelmed by being intuitive all the time. By learning a technique, you can train your talent to function at peak only when the technique is employed. Your psychic abilities will learn that, when the scrying mirror is out, it's time to get to work, and will thereby learn to be quieter the rest of the time.
If tarot hasn't worked for you so far, it coulod be because you're one of the "too psychic" people, and you'd be better off with something simpler—a channel rather than an interface.
In sum, you might not be good at tarot because you don't have affinity for it, or because you're working with the wrong deck for you, or because you haven't studied and are trying to make do without studying, or because using tarot doesn't address your needs as a psychic.
It's my experience that anyone who likes the cards and wants to be better at them, and who is willing to put in the time and effort, can become an able tarot reader. In the past, I've taught classes in tarot, but few people have access to such classes. That's why it's fortunate that there are a plethora of books on the market that are about tarot; these books will allow you to study without a formal class.
Deborah Lipp (Jersey City, NJ) has been teaching Wicca, magic, and the occult for over 30 years. She became a Gardnerian witch and high priestess in the 1980s, and she's been published in many Pagan publications, including ...