The Process

Some people may wonder what exactly a tarot reader does when they do a reading. Well, I can’t talk to what anyone else does since we all do different things. But I know what I do since I recently re-examined it during my recent “Guide” self-reflections. This is far more detailed than probably anyone cares about, but that’s probably true of most of my blog posts.

Determine the question(s).

The deck pictured here is the Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. And the beautiful singer on my phone is Ariana Grande singing “God is a Woman” because I love that song for getting into a reading. Sadly, I have no connection to the singer besides her music, so treat this just as an illustration of my using music, not some secret message that she’s a client or something.

The deck pictured here is the Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. And the beautiful singer on my phone is Ariana Grande singing “God is a Woman” because I love that song for getting into a reading. Sadly, I have no connection to the singer besides her music, so treat this just as an illustration of my using music, not some secret message that she’s a client or something.

This might seem obvious, but it’s by far the most important part. When I offer free readings, I often get questions like “Will my ex text me back?” But people usually don’t bother asking that question when they have to pay for a reading. Why? The answer isn’t worth the money. Yes, I could draw a card and tell the client that the card means “yes” or “no” or “maybe” for this situation, but what does that do? Either they text back or they don’t. It doesn’t really matter what the cards say will happen because the client is stuck waiting around for someone else to do something (and, remember, I don’t consider myself a psychic).

Instead, I try to understand what the client actually wants to know based on the outcome they want to achieve. In the above situation, the client might want to know if the ex is worth the effort of getting back together. If it is, I like to help the client understand what they can do to make that outcome more likely. If it’s not, then I like to help the client determine what will help them move on. That person has fundamentally different questions than someone who knows that this person is their soul mate and they want to understand how to make amends for something they’ve done or what disruptive thing is going on in the background that they aren’t paying attention to.

Critical to the spiritual component of a tarot reading, the question(s) help me connect to the “energy” of the client.

After that, the “ritual” of drawing cards is actually pretty basic.

Pick a deck.

If the client has not already requested a specific deck, I think about the questions and decide which deck seems most appropriate for the situation. Sometimes I’ll feel called to a certain deck despite that deck not being a typical first choice for the reading. See what decks are available for readings here.

Decide on a layout.

Unless I’m working with a specific spread, this means one card per question. Even when I’m doing one of my Common Concern readings there are specific questions for each card. How they are laid out can vary, but it’s usually to give a visual to the category of questions. For the Stay or Go reading, the two cards for what to expect in the “stay” or the “go” position are located in the middle of the spread beside each other, with the other two cards above and below. Custom readings by number of cards also typically fall into easily categorizable patterns, but if they don’t, then it’s just a matter of making sure I have a clear order in my head of the order in which I will draw the cards.

Play Music.

I use music to connect to the deck and to connect to the “energy” of the client, although the songs are often played at random based on a large and eclectic library of songs. If I’m stressed, the music blocks out intrusions that have nothing to do with my client. If I’m tense, the music helps me release muscle tension with a little bit of movement. And, of course, with earbuds in I can block out external distractors, too. That said, I will sometimes just “play” music in my head if I can’t easily access my phone or other music system.

Start Shuffling.

I shuffle in several different ways. I go hand over hand, taking chunks from the middle or the bottom and splitting them into other portions of the deck. I do the same but from side to side using the middle or the top of the deck. I also shuffle the cards like a typical card dealer, riffling half the deck into the other half. During this, I’ll flip the cards around if I plan to use reversals. I sometimes flip the cards over if the deck is warping in one direction, and I try not to look at the cards during this time, but that hardly matters. It’s really an initial shake-up, not the final result.

Sometimes there will be a “jumper,” a card that flies out of the deck. If it’s because of bad shuffling, I ignore it and put it back in the deck. If it’s not because of bad shuffling (I know when it’s one or the other), then I look at it and consider what impact that card might have in the reading before putting it back in the deck and continuing to shuffle.

Visualize someplace relaxing.

I’ve learned that it helps me to visualize someplace warm, a bit barren, and slightly windy before getting fully into the reading. I don’t really know why except that I love being at the beach, a breeze-kissed desert, or on a scrubland hillside, so it’s easy to relax when I visualize that sort of place. And being relaxed means that I can focus on the client, which is the main point of the ritual.

Ask the Question(s).

I think about each question I plan to ask the deck, and I sometimes speak them aloud. I do this a few times to help cement them in my mind and make sure that my intentions are clear. From a spiritual perspective, this helps guide my hands to find the right cards. From a practical perspective, I don’t second-guess whether I should’ve drawn a different card for a question because I’ve made it very clear to myself which card is drawn when.

If I’m working with a spread using position concepts rather than explicit concepts then I will specify those so that there’s no doubt in my mind about what card goes where. I do this even for the most well-rehearsed card positions. There’s not a good reason to skimp when doing tarot. What’s the point of short cutting an experience like a tarot reading?

Shuffle More.

Once I’ve asked the questions, I like to shuffle some more, usually cutting and resorting the cards with each question asked for emphasis. If anything feels odd, or if I’ve seen a card, then I can shuffle more just to make sure things are properly mixed up.


For me, this currently means finding a piece of reflective metal that’s shining light toward me. It’s a sign that I’m connected to my guide / my self that is guiding the tarot reading.

Repeat the Question(s).

To make sure I’m confident of exactly what questions I’m drawing cards for, I ask them again. If I’m working with a spread that uses non-question concepts instead, then I reiterate those for my own clarification. During this, I will usually cut the deck as I ask each question again.

Cut the deck.

If I’m doing the reading remotely, then I’ll cut the deck one last time. If the client is with me, then the client will cut the deck.

Lay out the cards.

Draw the cards, pulling from the top of the deck and furling it end over end (i.e., flipping over the short end of the card), and place them in the pre-ordained layout or order. If there wasn’t a specific layout beforehand (other than an order), then I will sometimes place them side by side and sometimes in a pattern that feels right as I’m pulling cards.

If I ever plan to reveal the card by turning it over its long edge (i.e., like a book), I will decide this during the first shuffling. It makes a difference if you’re using reversals since the two methods reveal cards with opposing orientations. But 99% of the time, I turn the card end over end, reversing it from its shuffled position, so I don’t usually have to set the intention unless I plan to flip the card over its long edge.

Do the work.

And then I interpret the cards. How I do that is primarily on intuition, secondarily by logic, and lastly by looking for subtle clues that help elucidate. If I need a clarifier, it’s usually because of a badly phrased question. In that case, I will ask a more precise question, cut the deck again, and then draw one card to answer that question. I then set out to explaining what I see. As I do so, I might look for more clarifications in a card or different patterns that might not be obvious. Sometimes there’s a moment where I know two cards have more to tell me together, but I can’t figure it out yet, and I’ll come back to those. It’s pretty organic and free-flowing, although when I prepare a written report, I make sure to synthesize and reorder thoughts so that the client can interpret it more easily. I make sure to explain how I got to a specific reading because one’s own intuition is not always logical to others. There will be differences from what other people see in a card, but since it’s my deck and my reading to my intuition, I always assume it’s a message that is meant for me to interpret, not for someone else to second guess. But I sometimes get people mixed up in a reading and it’s useful for a client to be able to understand how I got to my interpretation and what specifics drew me there so that the client is able to trace a small detail in a card that speaks to them more precisely than I can possibly know.