Tarot is an incredible tool of magick, self-reflection, and divination. With a pack of 78 cards we can travel through time, learn to flow with the seasons, deepen our relationships with others, and be better prepared for what lies ahead.
It can be frustrating when your experience with tarot feels less than fruitful. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut with your cards or like they are being snarky with you (a sure sign that there is a block happening), then you might be making one of the following mistakes.
It’s often said, but it’s very true - the great thing about mistakes is that they are opportunities for learning and growth. And believe me, I have made all of the following mistakes! I’ve learned from each of them and my tarot practice has become that much more clear and strong.
Truthfully, I’ve yet to meet any tarot reader who has not done at least one of the following mistakes.
Why? Because these are all very humxn mistakes. As you’ll see they all stem from a deeper yearning for certainty, self-knowledge, and a connection with something magickal - which is why many of us pick up the Tarot to begin with. I’ve not only written about the three most common mistakes made when reading tarot but how to avoid them in the future in a way that will hopefully make you a better tarot reader.
So without further ado here are the three most common mistakes I see tarot readers make.
1. Doing too many readings in too short of time.
I see this all the time. The first spread seemed unclear so you cast another right after it. Or you didn’t like what the cards said so you want to see if you can cast another option. Maybe you weren’t really grounded and centered when shuffling and casting the cards so the first three spreads didn’t count and the fourth one will be “right.”
Casting multiple readings on the same topic within a limited space of time (as in hours or days) is not going to lead to further clarity or a better outcome. It’ll just muddy the waters and tangle the energetic knot of whatever it is you’re trying to discover. Often when folks are casting too many readings on the same topic it is because they don’t really want to know the answer - because deep down inside they already know it (more on this later). In fact, casting multiple readings in short succession only reflects what is going on inside you. Check-in with yourself before casting again - Where is the tension in your body? What are you feeling? Anxious? Fearful? Stressed? What do you really want to know? What, in fact, do you already know but don't want to acknowledge?
Sometimes when we cast cards too many time on one subject we are seeking the one thing that what we think we’ll be reassured by. Casting too many readings at a time often comes from a place of uncertainty and through tarot we’re trying to find something certain to hold onto. BUT, we’re often looking for a certainty that we’ve already defined strict parameters for (whether or not we realize it).
If I just knew that my crush loved me back, I’ll be ok.
If I knew that I’m definitely going to get (what I think) my most perfect job, I can relax.
If only I had the obvious “do this” step then I won’t feel so anxious anymore.
Uncertainty isn’t a fun place to be in - especially when the stakes feel high. However, uncertainty is the gateway to mystery. What is mystery if not the ultimate expander of possibility? Uncertainty puts us in a place of unknowing. Mystery is the great unknown and we're called in our magickal work to know ourselves. We are, in short, called to mystery. And so we must engage mystery to become known. Since we don’t know what mystery holds, we’re actually left with the wondrous gift of possibility. Yes, we might not know everything right in this moment, but there is possibility which means we might know more about ourselves and the situation at hand in a way that reveals options we've not even been able to imagine yet.
Getting stuck casting readings over and over again about the same topic closes the gate to possibility. So what can you do instead when you’re feeling uncertain and looking for peace and reassurance?
Instead of casting another reading, step away from your deck and try any of the following:
Take some soft belly breaths. Just as it sounds, spend some time telling your nervous system that you are safe by breathing gently into the soft space of your belly.
Write it down. Take some time to journal and write down what's bothering you. Journaling can be a powerful act of clearing the fog from your brain and creating more space for hope to reside within you.
Go for a walk. Or if walking isn’t an option choose to move your body in another way. Nothing complex (unless that’s what you desire) but creating physical movement in order to generate spiritual movement. Uncertainty is an emotion of stagnation, so inviting movement into your life can help to unstuck your crossed situation.
Drink some tea. Or water. Or fresh juice. Something that feels wholesome and healing to you. Make a simple ritual of its preparation. Here’s my absolute favorite tea for stress and anxiety.
When is it appropriate to do a second reading on a situation? There’s no definitive guideline, but I typically suggest waiting for either a few weeks to pass or to do a reading when there has been a significant change that has happened regarding the situation in question. Listen to your voice within - if you feel like you might be doing too many readings in too short a time, you are. It’s that simple.
2. Expecting the cards to tell you what to do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that every time you performed a tarot reading you were given straight forward answers with clear instructions on what steps you should be taking next? That would be incredible and everyone would read tarot. Heck, it could even bring about world peace.
Yet that’s not how the cards work. Yes, of course, we can get really clear insight about a situation or ourselves from the cards. But it’s important to remember that such insight and knowledge can be read in the cards because we already possess it within us. We won’t see answers we don’t already have within the cards.
Now, that’s not to say we won’t gain insight that we weren’t previously aware of. As one of my favorite magicians Lon Milo DuQuette says, “It's all in your head... you just have no idea how big your head is.”
I think the tarot can be many things to us all at once. It’s a collection of 78 pieces of paper with pictures on them that folks find aesthetically pleasing. It’s 78 pathways of magick and self-knowing. It’s a divinatory tool which helps us gaze into the past, present, and future. It’s the home of the spirits and guides of tarot which have their own personalities and wisdom. But all of this is simply (and most complexly) a mirror.
As above, so below. As within, so without.
The cards aren’t going to tell you what to do. You’re going to realize what needs to be done. And sometimes that takes a while because are perception is too limited or we’re afraid. Sometimes we’re just stubbornly resistant to necessary change.
If you find yourself relying on the cards to “tell” you what to do and what choices to make, believing that they possess knowledge that you don’t, you’re giving your power away. Your power is much to sacred to give it away to bits of paper.
To move away from the mindset that it's the cards that possess the answers and you’re just a passive reader, I suggest the following meditative practice and spoken charm.
Before you perform a reading, be still and take a deep breath in. Let your gaze grow soft as you gently close your eyes and focus on the point between your brows. At the place of your third eye feel and see a light begin to grow. It grows brighter and stronger until it extends beyond and around you completely.
Within the brightness of your wisdom, recite the following charm:
Blessed be the mirroring of the cards before me
Let what needs to be perceived be seen
Let what needs to be understood be experienced
Let what needs to be known be revealed
I already possess the answer
May I now re-member it
You are now ready to cast your cards!
3. Buying all the decks but not working consistently with only one.
I have to say that this is a relatively modern problem. We are experiencing an incredible renaissance in tarot right now. New independent decks are appearing every week and there has been an increase in the variety of mass market decks available. The fear-of-missing-out and the magpie-mind is all too often tempted into purchasing a new deck - whether or not you really need one.
When your professional life involves tarot decks it’s very easy to always have an excuse to purchase a new one (especially when you’re supporting rad indie artists). Still, I'm so grateful that I when I started to learn tarot I began with one deck and it was my only deck for years. Working with one deck for an extended period of time (such as a year or more) shaped my tarot reading skills for the better. I am not saying that there's no place for using multiple decks at once (either in the same reading or switching up decks on your reading table with greater frequency), but the benefit of working with one deck intimately and extensively cannot be denied.
Tarot is a magickal language. If you want to learn a new language the best approach is not to try and learn three new languages at once. Or to abandon one language before you’re conversational in it to try another one. I encourage you to connect with one deck for the long haul and work with it until you know it as a friend and familiar. Until you are fluent between each other. Because that is when we can engage more readily with the mysteries that may be revealed within us through tarot.
Choosing not to buy all the decks and instead working with one is, in part, a practice in self-discipline - a great skill for magickal work in general. It’s also an act of rewiring our beliefs so that we're no longer attempting to find our spiritual intuition and power “out there” and “in that thing” (whether that thing is a new tarot deck, a beautiful crystal or the latest superfood elixir wonder pudding), but to recenter our search within ourselves.
“For if that which you seek you find not within yourself you shall never find it without…”
- The Charge of the Goddess -
I find the asking my students to work with one deck for at least a year to typically be the hardest task I suggest. It is less hard for those beginners who already feel wary of getting overwhelmed by the imagery of tarot, so sticking with one deck feels comfortable for them. It is often much more difficult for those folks who already have a sizable deck collection and/or are caught up in the non-stop social media driven #mysticore culture. Here’s what I have found though - once folks give themselves permission to working with one deck and one deck only there is not only relief (they no longer feel like they have to keep up with it all), but they find that their practice becomes more profound and enlightening.
Reading with only one deck of cards for a while one of the quickest ways to get your magick back that I know of if you’re feeling uninspired by your tarot practice.
So what deck should you work with? That’s entirely up to you. It can be a deck that you’ve owned for years or one that you’ve recently acquired. If you’re an absolute beginner I recommend purchasing a deck that is based off of the imagery of Pamela Coleman Smith's deck (marketing as the Rider Waite or Rider Waite Smith Tarot). Smith's deck is the framework for most of our modern decks and learning to read a deck based off of her design will allow you to have a great foundation for understanding most other decks they come across. This was my first deck and it continues to be my most beloved. I particularly love the centennial edition of her deck which brings the art back to her original renderings. If you haven’t read about Pamela (or Pixie as she was known), who was a queer and mixed woman of color, you really should.
There they are - the three most common mistakes I see folks (myself included!) make when reading the tarot. May your practice benefit from tuning into what it is you're really seeking and overcome the distractions that pull us from the pleasure of our spiritual path.
What are the common mistakes you see when it comes to reading tarot cards? Let me know in the comments!
I have a whole other post in the works regarding untruths about reading the tarot - sign-up for Magick Mail to be notified when it gets published. If you're needing more tarot in your life asap, check out the rest of my posts on tarot. And to all of you tarot readers and oracle diviners, happy card castings!