How Tarot Reading Works: A Spiritual, Archetypal, Mythic, and Mythopoetic Discussion

How Tarot card reading works
Do you have questions?

 This blog post has been buzzing around in my head for quite a while!  My conscious intention was to write it to help current and prospective clients–anyone with questions, to understand the process.  But, as I wrote I realized it was a valuable exercise to even help me crystalize the mystical way a reading comes together!  I hope anyone who reads this post finds it helpful, too—whether you’ve never had a Tarot card reading, or if you indulge on an occasional or regular basis, or are a Tarot card reader, yourself!

Reading Tarot cards is much more than buying a deck and studying the book!  It’s certainly a place to start, but becoming a more-than-average reader requires additional effort than just digesting another Tarot author or Spiritual teacher’s interpretation of the cards.  As you read below, you’ll notice my personal belief is that a serious reader becomes attached and fully proficient in one Tarot deck—one that calls out to them based on the style (i.e. Steampunk Tarot, Mythic Tarot, Angel Tarot, etc.) the artistic quality of the images, and the occurrence of symbols that may expand on the traditional Tarot.

I’m not saying that a reader should never reference another deck—I personally also lean on a medical Tarot deck, as well as other Oracle decks, when inspired. And, remember, there’s a difference between Tarot and Oracle cards.  Tarot is based on an antique tradition dating back to the 1400s (oldest surviving cards, let alone the actual use of them, whereas Oracle cards were originally developed from Tarot, and have various themes, with modern decks often including inspirational quotes.

So, here we go—below are the major components of a Tarot Card Reading, from my perspective.

A Client’s Intuition:  When intuition is allowed reign over ego, each individual is drawn to a particular reader—a reader whose Guides resonate with the client’s Guides (or Higher Self, Unconscious, Angels, or Holy Spirit—you name it, based on your personal beliefs).  Why do you stop at one reader at the annual Renaissance Festival nearly every year, when there are half a dozen to choose from? You call it “just having fun,” but deep down you realize there’s a mysterious pull to that reader.  Why are you drawn to a metaphysical store you’ve never noticed before and spontaneously decide to get a reading?  Just being curious?—that draw may be something more.

I believe that a psychic/spiritual connection is made between the client and reader long before the cards are ever shuffled—often even before the client consciously knows they are going to get a reading.  As well, a highly intuitive or psychic reader may feel the client’s energy approaching sometime before the reading.  Spirit knows when the timing is perfect, and that what a particular reader will uniquely see in the cards is exactly what the client needs to experience at that moment.  No other reader could provide exactly the same experience.  Add together the reader’s personal Spiritual connection, their understanding of the cards and deep intuitive connection with the imagery, their personal life experiences, and we have a Spiritual/alchemical mix ready for the last ingredient:  you, the querent.

A Reader’s Relationship with the Cards:  One of the ways each Tarot reader is uniquely connected to Spirit is through their relationship with their Tarot cards.  Just as a carpenter’s, painter’s, or musician’s tools (through diligent learning, practice, and dedication), becomes molded to the artist’s hands, mind, and soul, the Tarot cards become personally contoured to a reader.

This is why every reading and reader is slightly (or very) different. The Tarot deck a reader chooses as her favorite becomes a consistent language between herself and Spirit, which provides a familiar flow of images and symbols.  When a particular card comes up, a reader’s psyche is pre-loaded with hundreds of possible meanings—upright, reverse, advice, based on the unique query and spread. Spirit works with the reader’s internally held meanings and symbols to inform her regarding the client’s query, resulting in the dawning of intuitive hits and psychic connections.

So, let’s switch from the “Alchemist” metaphor used up a few paragraphs, to one more contemporary:  think of the cards as the bits and bytes of information flowing through a wireless connection between the reader and Spirit.  When the client clicks on the metaphorical computer program called “Get a Reading,” those spiritual bits and bytes begin to coagulate into a personal story via the archetypal (Major Arcana) and human experience (the four suits) images on the cards.

The Spread:  When a client comes to a reader, typically they are seeking advice or information on a personal situation.  Even clients who say they have nothing in particular they’d like to know, and only want a general reading, are holding something either unconsciously or close to their chest they’d like assistance with.  These latter folks are nearly always astonished at how Spirit reveals what they need to be considering in their lives now, that they actually, on some level already knew needed attention.

Based on a particular query or request for a general reading, together the client and reader choose an appropriate “spread,” or pattern in which the cards are laid on the table.  This “spread” helps with interpretation, as each card will take on a particular “glow” or resonance depending on where in a spread it falls. Say, for instance, we’re using a simple Past-Present-Future three-card spread. The card that falls in the “Past” placement will have a much different interpretation than if it fell in the “Future” spot.  The pattern of the spread is another coagulating factor—it helps tie the cards together in a more easily discernable story for the client as well as the reader.

Archetype, Myth, and Mythopoesis: I’ll quickly provide a definition for these three terms before going any further:

“Archetype” basically means a universal pattern or prototype that is repeated throughout human history—mutated to fit any current cultural norms.

“Myth” (in the classical sense versus common definition as a lie or untruth) is a story that is not literally factual but is so universally true that it can apply to a personal life situation and have deep meaning.  Consider how the Narcissus and Echo myth can provide a shorthand understanding (or deep analysis) of a relationship with a narcissistic partner, parent, or friend.

“Mythopoesis” can be thought of in terms of the Jewish tradition of Midrash—brining a story forward for further interpretation to seek an expanded understanding.  In a literary sense, every story we read or watch on whatever sized screen, at its kernel is the retelling of a myth.  Think “Hunger Games” and the myth of Artemis; how Katniss embodies personal attributes similar to the Greek goddess Artemis—both are archers, as well as protective, strong, intelligent, and nurturing.

The Tarot Cards, Themselves:  Something that’s important to mention is that the cards, themselves, hold absolutely no power—they are simply factory-made copies of paper and color interpretations of the historic Tarot deck (most are, to varying extents, stylized versions of the Rider-Waite deck from the late 1800s).  I personally resonate with the Morgan-Greer Tarot.

The 22 Major Arcana cards represent archetypal motifs in a reading—large universal patters that no matter a person’s culture, religion, upbringing, status, or education will have meaning.  “The Fool,” “The Lovers,” “Death” (not literal, remember!), or “The World” are a few examples.  Some indicate that the 22 Major Arcana actually represents Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Adventure.”  As a client looks closely at a Major Arcana card, they will recognize the general archetype the card carries, even if the title is hidden.

The other 56 cards are divided into four suits of 14 cards each:  In general, Cups carry emotional messages; Swords, intellectual; Wands, staffs, or rods tend to be belief and motivation related; and Pentacles or Coins relate to the material world—finances (including what finances provide), relationship, and health.  These 56 cards represent everyday personal experiences.

Back to Archetype, Myth, and Mythopoesis:  So, how does Archetype, Myth, and Mythopoesis relate to Tarot readings?  I suspect many of you already get the general gist and can extrapolate your understanding to why both the reader’s as well as the client’s reaction to the images on the cards in a spread is very important.

After the client indicates their query (the situation they would like to get advice on), shuffles the cards with intention, and the reader begins to lay the cards into the spread one-by-one, an interpretation is offered by the reader.  This discussion may begin with the traditional meaning of the card, how that meaning applies to the position the card fell in the spread, then possibly there’s a move to particular symbols that “pop” for the reader and/or client, as well as any intuitive or psychic hits the reader receives (which can and does happen at any time during the reading)…

As each card is laid, Archetypal and/or mythological resonances are discussed—not necessarily in the language of archetype or myth, but in an everyday context.  Then, as the cards and their meanings string together, a an interpretive story unfolds that provides new ways of thinking around the client’s particular query, providing guidance in the form of what to pay attention to, discussion of fears/hopes, considering challenges, and thinking about potential outcomes, and more.

A Tarot card reading can bring comfort, a possible way forward, a sense of closure or inspiration.  A reading can also reveal and open up personal issues for further investigation, or perhaps shed light on a troubled relationship (with one’s self or another).  The potential is infinite.

How Tarot card reading works
The “Third” in the Room

And, a quick postscript:  A Tarot card reading is not a fortune-telling session. Neither is it a channeling or psychic session.  Bottom line, a Tarot card reading is a spiritual exercise that relies on a specialized tool—the Tarot cards, and willing participants—a reader who is connected with Spirit and proficient in his deck, a client who has the intention to gain information–as well as “the third in the room,”  being Spirit in whatever form the client and reader call in.  A client who is skeptical and withholds information while waiting for the reader to psychically know what they are thinking is cheating themselves out of a fully authentic reading!

Are you intrigued?  Nothing to fear, as Spirit won’t reveal anything you’re not ready to hear and your reader will offer the wisdom they see in the cards with compassion and grace!  To book a reading with Linda, click on the Contact page.  Linda is available most Wednesdays and Fridays at 6th Sensation and most Thursdays at The Sacred Sage.


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