Choosing a Tarot Reading System (or Twelve)

TL;DR : Find a tarot reading system that works for you and stick with it until you’re ready to add another system into the mix. And keep adding what you find useful, but don’t try to use them all simultaneously in every reading.

Tarot reading is full of systems for divining meaning from the cards, and some of these will be more successful for a given reader than others. I love learning about these different methods and the possible interpretations each card can have, or what associations it might bring out when joined with other cards. Having all that information helps me see new ways of looking at the same old cards. But while I consider myself an “intuitive” reader, and I’m confident in my work, I can’t just go with my gut. There comes a point when there’s just too much to consider.

In these instances of potential information overload, I find it helpful to have a specific set of approaches for the question and deck with which I’m working. I also find it helpful to not feel bound to these systems from querent to querent, even as I use them to focus my mind and intuition on a smaller set of possibilities within the nearly endless sea of options. After all, it doesn’t help a querent solve a problem to know a hundred different interpretations of a few cards when even three is a lot for him or her to process. To me, tarot is about helping people live the lives they want, and I can’t do that if I’m not willing to edit what I could say.

Of course, I think that there is something incredibly important to the instantaneous and often seemingly irrelevant messages that a reader can get from the cards, so that’s why I would recommend starting the editing process before seeing the message, so you don’t have to ignore too much after the fact. That might seem odd, but it is much like aiming your telescope before looking through it. If you try to search the sky just through the magnified view of the telescope, it will be easy to miss what you seek. 

So when I am finalizing questions and shuffling cards, I think of the different systems I might consider while I’m preparing for the reading and then I pick the one(s) that I sense will be best. (Intuition can play an important role here too.) For example, if I’m using a Thoth system, elements and astrology will likely be important to my interpretation because they’re built into the cards, but I will often plan to ignore the specific astrological influences of the decans unless the querent has given me some reason to think of those elements, and I’ll only rarely consider the 10 sephirot and 22 Hebrew-letter paths from the Tree of Life.

In my post that explains my tarot-reading process, “The Process,” I explain that it’s important to set your intentions very clearly, and that’s where this comes in. If you know twelve different systems for reading tarot cards, then you have great potential for accessing the right information when it’s needed. However, you’ll also probably want to edit that library of knowledge down so that the multiple competing messages don’t cloud your judgment. So often, tarot readers (and not just new ones) feel a lack of confidence in their readings, and I think a major culprit is not their lack of knowledge but their surplus. If you’re using reversals, but you also know that an upright card can act like a reversed card when it’s surrounded by cards of contrary elements, and you also know that a mix of suits can indicate proper balance in the given approach, the messages quickly get mixed. Add in the role of planetary dignity and the interpretations of the same card in different decks, and you have a ton of datapoints to track.

But I’m of the mindset that you shouldn’t become a slave to your systems. Knowing a few dozen ways to read a card can make for really powerful readings, but it requires having easy access to the knowledge that matters. So don’t feel like you have to stick to one system consistently (at least not once you’ve mastered it). Feel free to mix and match. Hell, feel free to tweak your tarot systems to personalize them, just as you’ll likely tweak the meanings of cards in someone else’s deck over time. Just allow yourself a minute to connect with your intuition before even drawing any cards. It allows you think through your approach to the particular situation and what systems will be most useful. Will court cards represent real people, or are they characteristics of the querent’s personality? Are they other people’s personality traits, or are they abstractions showing how the different elements interact in a given situation that serve only to impact other cards? 

Beyond being a useful way of narrowing your focus and allowing you to see more clearly, it will also help trigger meanings for you so that don’t have to dig for them once you see the cards. It’s possible that your spread holds no court cards (to continue the example), but it’s rarely time poorly spent if it helps you feel more confident in knowing what the cards mean and in being able to focus on giving your querent the attention and focus of energy that they deserve. Setting boundaries for yourself can help you excel by letting you fill in that bounded space, rather than forcing you to spread yourself too thin or be too scared of spreading yourself thin to really dive deep into an interpretation..