When you’re first learning to read Tarot cards, you sometimes despair of ever memorizing the meanings of 78 cards (not to mention the reversals). But never fear! You don’t have to memorize a thing, unless you want to. As you work with the tarot cards on a regular basis, you will begin to have personal associations with them.
Almost everyone starts to play with a new tarot deck by laying cards out in a spread, then looking up the meaning of the cards in the companion book. There’s nothing wrong with that approach; it’s definitely a good idea to know why the deck creator chose certain elements and symbols for each card. But you are not limited to the deck creator’s interpretations. You need to develop your own. Trust your own intuition and responses to the tarot cards.
Here’s a few ideas for intuitively reading the cards.
1. Simply describe the card, as if you were describing it to another person. Use lots of adjectives and descriptive phrases. What is going on? How do the figures seem to feel in this situation? What is the atmosphere of the card?
(Example: Gaian Star)
I wrote: “A beautiful woman in a white gown is kneeling on soft green moss and ferns next to a spring or pool. A kingfisher is perched on the moss next to the pool. A starry sky is spread out behind her. She has an expression of wonder on her face. Her hands are cupped and she is holding a ball of glowing light in them. It might be starlight. The light “drips” stars into the spring, making ripples on the top of the water. She is experiencing a moment of magic, grace and communion with the Divine.”
2. Repeat what you’ve just said, but in the declarative first-person, present-tense form: “I . . .”
“I am a beautiful woman in a white gown kneeling on soft green moss and ferns next to a spring or pool. A kingfisher is perched on the moss next to the pool. A starry sky is spread out behind me. I have an expression of wonder on my face. My hands are cupped and I am holding a ball of glowing light in them. It might be starlight. The light “drips” stars into the spring, making ripples on the top of the water. I am experiencing a moment of magic, grace and communion with the Divine.”
As I say those words aloud, using the present tense, I can feel the energy of the card filling my body and spirit. The “meaning” of the card came to me in the last phrase: “experiencing a moment of magic, grace and communion with the Divine.”
I know from my years of study that most Tarot writers ascribe keywords such as hope, inspiration, the Muse, peace, calm after the storm, bright promises, faith, destiny to the Star card. But my own personal association with the card has more to do with connecting to God/dess while I’m out in the natural world.
But they’re not so far apart, are they?
3. You can go further with the Description method by asking yourself questions based on your description, and then answering them.
Other ideas for intuitively reading a card:
- Ask yourself: What does the card look like? What does it remind me of?
- Notice your first impressions, and your emotional reaction to the card. Love it? Hate it? Puzzled by it?
- Throw out a few one-word descriptions (like “serene” “innocent” “peaceful”).
- Give it a title, as if it were a dream (“Woman in the Water”).
- Be open to wild ideas or associations that fly into your head.
When you are first learning about a new tarot deck, I encourage you to turn up a card a day, and jot down your impressions of the card in your tarot journal (you have one, don’t you?) before you look up the meaning in the book. Then compare your own impressions to the text in the book. What insights do you have that are not found in the book?
(I’ve been teaching workshops on how to read the cards intuitively for more years than I can remember. Students will practice these methods in my self-paced online course, Gaian Tarot for Tarot Beginners. You can enroll anytime!)