Tarot readings are everywhere now. No matter what social media platform you’re on, it’s easy to come across a reader telling you that you were meant to see their video and that their reading is just for you. But because the videos are made with a hypothetical viewer in mind, they’re neither tailored for you nor are entirely reflective of what your thoughts on the cards would be if the meanings weren’t filtered through another person.
That was the realization that brought me to start reading tarot cards for myself a few years ago. These days, it’s become a meditative routine that helps me carve out time from my busy schedule to think about my day and my life as a whole. It was also easy to stick to. Tarot made self-care and meditation fun, and gave me a common language to use for sharing my reflections with other people — something that was always missing for me when I only meditated for Stoic reasons.
Reading tarot cards for yourself can be daunting because of how many cards, meanings, and spreads there are to keep track of. When you start reading tarot for yourself, you might find yourself wondering if you’re competent enough to do this and whether your reflections are “accurate”. But the truth is that everyone reads differently, once you get past the universal symbolic meanings of the cards, the only thing that makes them true is what makes them true to you.
Start by Getting in the Right Mindset for a Tarot Reading
You might have come across people who tell you not to read for yourself because you can’t be objective about your own experiences or because you’re too attached to the outcome. It’s true that these things can and will distort the way you read the cards, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read tarot cards for yourself. The key here is to start by getting in the right mindset. Other readers call this cleansing your space or centering yourself, but regardless of what you call it, the goal is to let go of your tensions.
What are tensions? Your tensions can be physical or mental, and often they’re both. When you start a reading, pay attention to how your body is feeling. The goal in reading tarot for yourself is clarity. A tired body means a tired mind and in the same way it would be a bad idea to drive when you’re exhausted, it’s best not to read the cards when you’re not in the best physical state to do it.
If you’re in the right physical state, it’s time to relax and let go. Loosen your jaw, your shoulders, everything that’s tensed. Pay attention to the way you breath. Once the body is calm, it’s easy to get the mind to quiet down. Clearing out these mental cobwebs makes it easier to approach your reading with an open mind.
Figure Out What Questions You Want to Ask
You might be surprised to find that the question you wanted to ask when you started your tarot reading is not the same question you think to ask after you’re in the right state of mind. Trust where your thoughts lead you or, in online tarot talk, trust your intuition to guide you. It’s okay if you change your intended career reading into a reading about your emotional state because the new thoughts that arise in us when we’re not holding onto a preconceived notion are sometimes the ones we really need to ask ourselves.
Once you figure out what questions you want to tackle in a tarot reading for yourself, it’s time to choose a spread.
Choose a Spread That Suits Your Query
Some tarot readers like big spreads, some like smaller ones. Generally, the more complex the query, the more it’s suited to a large spread. Simpler questions are easy to address with yes or no readings, one card readings, and three card readings. You likely won’t need ten cards to figure out whether you want to go out this weekend and three cards may not be enough to help you talk to yourself about where a relationship is going. That said, this isn’t a hard or fast rule so just go with whichever feels right for you.
Here are some tarot spreads to help you get started:
- The Three Card Spread: There are two popular types of three card spreads. There’s the Situation, Action, Outcome spread that’s good for analyzing a course of action and the Past, Present, Future spread that works best for pinpointing the events leading up to the position you find yourself in now and how to move forward from there.
- The Yes/No Spread: This is a one card spread where you ask a question that can be answered by yes or no. Upright means yes, reversed means no.
- The Celtic Cross: A ten card spread that lays out your current circumstances, the past, the future, your preconceptions about a situation, what influences are at play, what your hopes and fears are, and a possible outcome.
Alternatively, you can make your own tarot spread. Just decide how many subquestions you need and select enough cards to fit that number.
How to Shuffle Tarot Cards for a Reading
There are tons of ways to shuffle your cards, but one of the most common ways is to start by washing the cards. No, you won’t be putting them in your sink and giving them a good scrub. Washing cards means mixing them around on a flat surface to make sure that your cards get randomized and reversed. Once your cards are washed, start putting the deck back together.
Next comes shuffling. You can shuffle by cutting your cards from front to back and back to front, distributing the cards throughout the deck as you go. You can also do a riffle shuffle. To riffle shuffle a deck, cut your deck and two and hold each half in your hands. Keep your fingers on the bottom of the cards and their sides while your thumb holds the top in place.
Then, line up the cards so that when you release your thumb, the cards fall on top of each other and alternate between Set A and Set B.
As you pull cards in order, start placing them in their corresponding positions in your spread.
Interpreting Your Tarot Reading
1. Look at the entire spread as a whole
Before you pull out your list of position meanings or look up what each card means, take a moment to notice the trends in your spread. What is the overall message? What are the symbolic meanings that appear the most? The suits of a tarot deck correspond to different areas of life. Water for emotions and relationships, earth for material wealth and stability, swords for intellect and logic, and wands for creativity and passion.
The numbers also mean something. For example, if you get a lot of Fours in your reading, you might be dealing with themes of stability and stagnation.
As you do this, you may notice that some of the cards have overlapping meanings or tell a cohesive story when read together.
2. Identify the individual meanings of the cards
It’s time to zoom in. Feel free to start searching the web for card meanings art this stage or consult the manual that came with your deck. As you consider the individual meanings of the cards, try to think about what they mean to you. What does this card with that meaning mean to you?
3. Consider what the cards mean relative to their position in a spread
Start interpreting the cards in relation to the position they appear in on your spread. For example, let’s say you have a question in your spread that’s meant to tell you what tools and resources can help you fix a work problem. If you get the Emperor, who symbolizes order and authority, that can be a call to ask your supervisor for help or a reminder that you have the leadership skills to navigate the situation with your team.
4. Write your synthesis of the entire reading
Holding all of that information about your tarot reading in your head can be a tall order. After all, you’re putting together the symbolism of the cards, their individual meanings, their meanings relative to their positions, and your personal associations with each of them. Personally, that’s why I keep a tarot journal because not only do I get to write down my synthesis of a reading, but I also get to write my interpretations of the cards and reflect on the environment that makes me interpret them that way.
If you’re not sure whether to commit to a tarot journal just yet, you can start by writing it on your phone’s digital note app or any scrap of paper you have at home.
What to Do When Your Tarot Reading Doesn’t Make Sense
All of your cards tell a story, but sometimes that story comes across as a little garbled. Some tarot readers believe the cards are never wrong and that a confusing reading is entirely a skill issue. In a way, this is right since you can weave meaning from any combination of cards. They’re kind of really pretty Rorschach inkblot tests — your interpretation is what makes them true to you. But if they don’t make sense, don’t be afraid to start over. It’s hard to benefit from a message that you can’t understand in the first place.
Beyond that, you can take a step back and approach it differently. Write down a loose interpretation of the cards anyway and revisit it later. You can also sit with the cards and meditate longer, thinking about “What does this mean to me?” over and over until you find an association that clicks and slots that final puzzle piece into place. Yes, it can feel frustrating and it’s not the ideal spiritual experience that a lot of people hope tarot reading always is, but that’s okay. As you practice this skill, doing a tarot reading for yourself becomes much easier.