3 New Ways to Read Tarot
Tarot was born of experimentation.
A court card game became a divinatory tool become a path to the cosmos became a path to the self became a tool of revolutionary change. Such experimentation is what makes tarot so exciting and a living book of mysticism.
Let's continue to write the story of tarot by finding new ways to read with these old cards. Have fun exploring the following three new ways to read your favorite deck (or two!) of cards.
Let’s start with the most obvious and often opposite way of reading tarot cards - pulling cards face-up. Traditionally, tarot cards are chosen face-down and at random which allows for a great deal of mystery to reside in a card casting. When we choose our cards by casting them face-up we enter into a new relationship with ourselves and our decks. The reading becomes less about fate, the guidance of the spiritual beings or randomness (depending on your tarot philosophy) and more about you and your ability to know yourself clearly.
Begin by choosing your question and shuffling your deck in your typical way. Let’s say you want to gain better insight into a recent conflict between you and your best friend. First, choose one card that represents you in general and one card that represents you within the conflict. Do the same for your friend. Place your cards side by side so that the cards that represent you are beside the cards that represent your friend. Be honest but kind in your choice of cards. Pulling cards face-up is a practice of integrity (a skill that is essential to insight). Choose another card that represents your relationship with your friend in general and beyond the moment of this conflict. Take time to reflect on the gifts of this card. Next, pull a card that represents your current conflict and place it between the cards that represent you and your friend during this moment. Notice the interplay of all cards on the table. What insights can be gleaned when you look at them from a bird's eye view? Pull one final card that represents your ability to move from the state of conflict to the place of contentment with your friend. What are the tools that you have to repair the situation?
Another way of working with the face-up method is as a meditative ritual practice to help you move from one state of being to another. Pull a card that represents you in the current moment and then choose a card that represents where you would like to be. Perhaps you want to find inner peace and sanctuary and so you choose the Star card. The card that you chose to represent you at the moment, however, is the 10 of Wands because you feel so overburdened by what seems like endless stress. What would be the path between these two cards? Choose one to three cards and line them up between the card that represents you now and the card that represents where you want to be. Perhaps you choose the Page of Cups to help you get in touch with your inner intuition and stillness and the Four of Swords to help you quiet your busy thoughts and find more time to rest. These cards can become magickal steps that you make to attain your Star-like state of being. The Page of Wands can be a simple everyday water ritual where you anoint your brow, heart, and belly with sacred water to remind you to remain connected to your intuitive wisdom. The Four of Swords might turn into you going to bed a little earlier every night.
The face-up method is a lot of fun in addition to being a great way of learning tarot card meanings and offers us an opportunity to be more proactive in our tarot reading.
By the Elements
Casting cards by the elements is a great way to do a quick weather report on your state of being or the energetics of a particular reading. To begin you need to sort your deck by the elements. Put aside the Major Arcana cards for the moment and sort the rest of your deck into the four suits of Swords, Wands, Cups, and Pentacles. Shuffle each suit individually and then pull a card from each stack. Your Sword card will give you insight into your current mental state as well as highlighting current messages and communicative focuses. The Wands cards looks at your passion and desire as well as your current levels of inner fire or burnout. The Cups card is a snapshot of your emotional temperament as well as a peak into dreams and visions bubbling to the surface. The Pentacles card looks at your physical state including not only the home of your body but your overall home environment.
Another variation involves the Major Arcana cards. You can either pull a Major Arcana card at random or choose one purposefully. Let’s say that you choose the Empress card because you’re starting a new business and want some elemental insight into next steps you should be taking. Lay the Empress card out and then pull one card from each one of the suits. Each card from each suit will offer elemental insight into your business path. The Swords card might speak to your need for a new way of communicating with your client base while the Cups card offers some clarity around certain feelings that you've been having about your business lately. The Pentacles card might suggest where you need to be putting your investment of time and effort at the moment, while the Wands card is a check in on your creative fire.
I love elemental spreads for their simplicity and ease of reading. Reading by the elements is a great technique if you are a beginner as it helps you to learn the basics of the Minor Arcana in a personal and insightful way.
The subject of Tarot Mapping deserves a much longer post which is what I’m working on. In the meantime, I’ve written an introduction to the technique focusing one aspect of Tarot Mapping. Tarot Mapping requires at least two decks. The first is the mapping deck and the second is a reading deck. Pull out the Major Arcana of your mapping deck and place the Fool card at the top of your reading table. Then place the remaining cards in order in three rows of seven.
This is your map. And now you get to play! Perhaps you have a question of what needs to change in order for you to find balance. Cast a card from your reading deck straddling Death and Temperance. Looking for advice on how to catch that lucky break you know you deserve to move your business forward? Cast a card on the four corners of the Empress, Emperor, Wheel of Fortune, and Justice cards.
Maybe you’re interested in an epic snapshot of your Major Arcana journey. Pick out only the Minor Arcana cards from your reading deck and shuffle them so that some cards will come up inverted and others upright. Cast one card on each of the Major Arcana cards. If a card is inverted, remove it. You’re only focusing on upright cards which will help you to hone in on the current big issues of your life. Then read the upright Minor Arcana cards in context of the Major Arcana cards that they have been cast on.
As you can imagine, there is a lot of possibility with Tarot Mapping! How will you use it?