Illumination Tarot - Exploring the tarot for insight and enlightenment.

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Common Tarot Questions: Your Questions, My Answers

Do you have a question about learning tarot or doing readings? Feel free to send them along to me and I'll answer via email, and might include them on this page. Keep in mind that my answers are [obviously] derived from my own understanding of tarot, religion, people, life ...

Visitors' questions (and my answers) are edited for space, clarity, and most importantly, privacy.

How do I get started?!
How do you get to know a new deck?
When should I not read for myself, if ever?
Can I overdo it?
Does the Death card mean death?!
Can tarot be read over the Internet or phone?
My dog ate a tarot card! What do I do?
How can I replace a missing card?
Do I have to store my deck in a special bag?
I went to two different readers for one issue ...
While doing a tarot reading, is it okay to have music on?
When reading for someone else, should the cards face me or the person I am reading for?
How much should I charge for readings?
If a card seems unrelated, do I just need to look deeper ...?
Okay, so how do I look deeper?

Q: How do I get started?!
A:Assuming you have a deck you like, simply make yourself comfortable with the cards. Study them - take them out, one at a time, and look at the images, the symbols. Contemplate the name of the card. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up... you draw the Three of Swords - you may not like that one! But, you pull out the Empress, ah, now that one is nice! Lay out several cards next to each other, compare the images, the coloring, the feelings that arise. Don't settle on any one feeling though, just let them flow. At this point you just want to get used to them, and begin recognizing them. Play with them too. Some books suggest sitting down on the floor and laying them all out in a big circle around you. That way you can just let your eyes wander from card to card, absorbing the overall feeling of the deck. This is a good practice, a way of feeling the whole deck (because they are all interconnected). Also, shuffle the cards, cut them, and see what comes up. Do this without any intention of divining. Don't worry about doing anything "right" or "wrong" - there is no right or wrong, these are your cards! They are a tool to your intuition. Hopefully over time you will develop a certain "relationship" with them (so to speak). Feel free to discover them in any way that is good for you. If a specific card speaks strongly to you, set it aside, put it on your dresser, lean it against a vase of flowers, or lay it on your bed table - its meaning will subtly be made clearer to you, you will be connecting to it, and to the qualities it represents. For example, you may find yourself drawn to the Hermit, but may not at first understand this card, may not even like it - but, over a few days' time, you may come to understand something very good about this card, and may find a great significance in it. This, to me, is the best purpose of the tarot - learning about ourselves, growing and transforming daily. Divination is good, but we don't need to divine daily. We do need to learn and grow daily, and hopefully the tarot will ultimately be for you a tool for just that.

Q: How do you get to know a new deck?
A: Getting to know a deck - there are so many ways. First I study all of the cards, one at a time, allowing myself to notice what is special about each card, what stands out, etc. Then I generally set out each Suit, and study all of the Suit cards together - looking at how the cards in one Suit work together or progress from one to the next. I might set out all of the Aces, or Twos, and so on ... again, to notice the way the symbols interact. This is a somewhat technical way of looking at a deck, and I'm not sure how many people approach it this way. But, I then simply play with the cards. I shuffle them and see what comes up. I lay them out in a circle around me, or fanned out in front of me, and simply get a sense of them. I sometimes work only with the Majors for a while. Usually I start slowly, working with a short spread and a simple issue, just to get a feel for how the deck responds to questions, to see how it works best - in divination, self-development, spirituality, etc. Each deck is so different, not just in appearance, but in feel and how it works with my intuition. Obviously, the symbols in each card speak to each of us individually - what one card says to me will differ from what it says to you - so that is basically what I am looking at when I get to know a deck. I have been greatly surprised by decks I didn't expect to like - once I have taken them out and played with them a little, I found that they were quite remarkable in working with my intuition. The Buckland Romani Tarot was like that actually. It's a new deck that I didn't think I'd be too fond of because of the artwork, but I have found it to work incredibly well. And, the opposite has been true as well - expecting to like a deck based on what I had seen, but then discovering it is not so "fluid."

Q: When should I not read for myself, if ever?
A: This is an important question, and something every reader should consider. Though I am a firm believer in reading tarot for yourself, there are times when it may not be totally beneficial. When your emotions are particularly intense, or sensitive, or hyperactive, regarding an issue. If you are feeling carried away over something, a love affair, for example, and are wrapped up in contradictory emotions, it may be challenging to make the most of a reading. You may fail to truly listen to intuition when reading, and read things into the cards that simply aren't there. I don't mean to be entirely discouraging here. But, do be careful when you are reading in such circumstances. It is best at those times to simply step back a bit, take some distance, ground, center, meditate. Breathe deeply and look within. The answers there may be truer than the ones you find in your own readings.

Q: Can I overdo it?
A: Yes you can! So, be careful not to. There is a general rule, don't ask the tarot the same question twice in a row; or twice in the same day, etc. Basically, if you have to ask it again, immediately following a reading, then you probably haven't invested enough in interpreting the first reading. This is just impatience, and it is of course very common. Doing further readings for more clarity, after you have investigated the first reading, is often very helpful, and is fine. But, asking the same question over and over will likely just cause you more confusion and frustration. If you get to the point where you cannot drop an issue, and are constantly turning to your cards, then it's a pretty good sign you need to take a break! Ultimately, the tarot should be a tool to help you awaken your own intuitive abilities, to get you in touch with them more easily, and be able to really listen when you need to. The tarot is an external device used to learn, or access, what is known inside. You may find that your abilities to "see" or sense what is going to happen, increase surprisingly, after you have used the tarot regularly for a while. This awareness, or ability to sense, this is a faculty of your intuition. You may also find that answers are found more easily than they were before - I mean answers to your life's questions, making decisions, etc. Your sense of knowing may improve. This, I feel, should be a basic goal of learning the tarot, digging deeper until we can hear our intuitive voices more clearly.

Q: Does the Death card mean death?!
A: To answer this question quickly and directly, I quote from "The Renaissance Tarot" by Jane Lyle:
"Symbolically, in the tarot as in numerous philosophies, Death represents transformation, initiation, and offers the prospect of renewal and rebirth. Significantly, Death is followed by the angel of Temperance, which symbolizes restoration. Had it been intended to represent the end of life, it would have appeared at the end of the tarot trumps and not have been followed by eight more cards."
Although I usually don't expect a fair portrayal of the intuitive, or occult, arts on television or in movies, I still get quite irritated when programs show a character turning over the Death card and reacting with immediate fear - and the sudden knowledge that danger is near! I mean, really. When I receive the Death card I realize that I will soon be facing change. This often means the "death" of something old (a career, relationship, spiritual pursuit, way of thinking, etc.) in order to make way for the new. Please do not fear the Death card! Allow yourself the inner strength to change, and embrace that change with a positive hope for the future.

Q: Do you believe that a tarot reader can read tarot cards over the Internet or phone? Is it important that a querent touch the cards so their vibes have an influence on the reading?
A: To the first question ... Yes, of course I believe it!

What is really working during a tarot reading is the reader's intuition and her (or his) reception to the spiritual. Whatever we want to call this - "spiritual," "other world," "supernatural," "psychic," etc. - it is generally unseen and intangible. The cards are simply a physical tool through which the reader can access the unseen. They themselves do not hold any specific, inherent power.

Therefore, readings done for a stranger in Greece are just as accurate, effective, and in-depth, as readings I might do for my sister-in-law, sitting across a table from me in my living room.

All that said it is still important that a reader do what works for her. If a reader needs to have a querent handle her cards, in order to adequately feel a connection to the invisible, then it is probably a good idea to continue doing only face-to-face readings. However, I would suggest giving distance readings a try, at least just for fun. Check it out, and see just how potent and remarkably accurate distance readings can be.

Q: Oh no! My dog ate a tarot card! What should I do?
A: I have three dogs myself, and a house rabbit. You would not believe the things these guys get into (especially the bunny who is the worst of all). I once bought a deck mail order that I thought I would return because it was not at all what I had expected. I left it on my bed, and soon discovered the box open, and cards everywhere. My youngest pup had gotten into them. The cards were fine, but the box was trashed, so I couldn't return it. I thought, hmmm, maybe this is a sign --- ha ha. Nope, no sign, I still don't like the deck and have never used it :-) About your situation - you could still use the deck - I don't think using it with one card missing would be too big a problem. Which card did he eat? You can look at it humorously and figure that whatever card he ate, is what this dog will take from you ... just kidding ...

If your pup grows very attached to you (my male dog still follows me around constantly, even though he is going on eight years old), he may enjoy "playing" with your things. So, put the cards somewhere safe! :-)

Q: How can I replace a missing card?
A: If you have purchased a deck and a card is missing, by all means, get in touch with the publisher and request that they replace either the missing card, or the entire deck. If you have lost a card you can still get in touch with the publisher and ask if they will replace it. Many publishers keep extra promotional copies of popular decks in their customer service departments, partly for this very reason.

Q: I have been told that it is important to never return a new deck to the box it came in, and to make sure and store it in a special bag or box. Do I really need to do this?
A: [sigh] No. Most of my decks are housed in their original boxes. Remember, the tarot cards themselves have been mass-produced, on cardstock. There is nothing inherently magical about them, and there is nothing inherently magical about a beautiful little pouch.

These kinds of "rules" honestly irritate me, because they take the meaning away from what the tarot is really about, and transfer it onto the superficial. Where to store one's cards? Safely, in a place that you like, away from dogs (!) and perhaps away from children who might draw on them. That is all that is really necessary. Beyond that, it is simply a matter of personal choice. Recently, my father gave me a table with a lift-up top. It is the perfect depth to store tarot decks (and their accompanying books, in some cases). I keep my favorites in there. It's a lovely table, hardwood, and it is small enough to stay in my bedroom. I have lined it with gold paper, and sometimes keep other little things in there too. If I come across some inexpensive velvet, perhaps I will make some pouches. But I don't at all feel that my decks are somehow more "effective" by being stored in this way.

If you don't have the money to spend on pouches, or if you just don't feel it is important, don't worry about it. Just keep them in a place you like.

Q: I went to two different readers for one issue, and received two differing opinions. Whose advice should I take?
A: I think you ask an important question, because a lot of people will have several readings done for one issue. With you, my first guess is that your "main" reader is probably closer to the truth, simply because she is familiar with you, has done readings for you in the past, and is probably already in tune with you on some level. A reader at the fair, although she could be accurate, is less likely to pick up on everything; especially if the reading is done so quickly. But, the reader at the fair could have picked up on something new that didn't come up for your main reader. Also, how long after your previous reading did you get the reading at the fair? Readings generally point out what is likely to occur based on what is happening at the very moment of the reading. Things change.

The person who sent me this question (which was edited for privacy), brought up a point many people deal with, especially people who tend to get readings frequently. One good rule is to find a reader you like, feel comfortable with, and trust, and stick with him/her. What might compel a person to get a "second opinion?" If a person receives a reading they do not feel is "right," then they might seek another reading for the same issue. This is their intuition telling them something is off. However, it is also possible a person will simply not have heard what they wanted to hear, and thus, look elsewhere, until they get the answer they want.

So, if you are in the same situation, and have received more than one reading for an issue, consider how you felt about each reading. Which do you intuitively feel is true?

Q: While doing a tarot reading, is it okay to have music on, or is silence better? If music is okay, which is best?
A: Thank you for such a good question. I think any kind of music is okay during a reading as long as both the reader and the querent feel comfortable with it and can stay focused and relaxed. I personally have played a variety of musical styles during readings ... including classical, jazz, contemporary guitar or other instrumental, and music that could be described as New Age. New Age music actually puts some people off, so be sure the selection is not too obscure.

Q: When reading for someone else, should the cards face me or the person I am reading for?
A: The cards are laid out facing the reader, so the reading will appear "reversed" to the person being read for.

Q: How much should I charge for readings?
A: My main advice would be to charge what feels "right." Tarot readings can be an important element in making decisions, understanding one's life, gaining clarity, and healing emotional or spiritual problems through reflection. Thus in my opinion, readings should be available to all, and affordable to all. I suppose I differ from many readers in holding this view. If I had determined my rates based on the years' experience I had, the amount of money and time I had invested, the time I devoted to every reading, and the quality of the readings, I might have settled on a rate of $50/reading. However, I find this amount to be exorbitant for most people. When I first set up an online reading service several years ago, I invited people to pay what they could. A few people did not pay (many of them were single working mothers), most sent $20 for every reading, and many sent $35 or more. People truly appreciated having the freedom to decide what they sent for payment. At the request of many clients I later established credit card acceptance, which required set rates. I then set my rates between $12 and $20, depending on the reading. Absolutely most people I read for through my site became regular repeat clients, and both my clients and myself were always happy with these payment options. All that said ... do not allow people to take advantage of you, and do not diminish the importance of some exchange taking place. Despite strongly feeling that my rates ought to be affordable, I do believe work as a reader deserves compensation. Many times a person I read for without charge, would months later send me something - a check, a new tarot deck, or a gift (gifts from abroad were always the sweetest!). Above all, you should enter a relationship of trust with those you read for, and this includes receiving fair payment.

Q: If a card comes up that seems completely unrelated, do I just need to look deeper for its meaning?
A: The short answer to this would be, "yes." That sounds kind of flip, so let me share my own personal experience and hopefully it will make some sense. Today I drew a card, the Five of Coins (see June 5 Journal entry), in response to a question about myself. I thought this was a little odd - the card seemed to point more to mundane aspects of my life than to emotional or spiritual aspects of myself. What I truly love about the tarot is its ability to get us thinking harder. When the answers come easily, the reading is over and we walk away with perhaps a little more knowledge or insight than we had before. But when the answer is really unexpected and surprising, we sit and mull it over, we dig deep, and usually we find the greatest insights. In this case, with the Five of Coins, I recognized something about myself that I hadn't really been seeing. Is this easy? No ... but the beauty of tarot is doing that searching, that inner work.

Q: Okay, so how do I look deeper?
A: If you take a look at my interpretations of cards, compare them to someone else's, look them up in a book, and come back to your own intuitive response, you will see some obvious differences. Each card has a general meaning, or range of meanings ... and they are all taken into account when someone experienced with tarot does a reading. But what is most important is the intuitive response. When you draw a card, look at it first. Don't immediately jump to the title and say, "okay, the book says that the Three of Swords means loss and heart break." Let it speak to you. Pretend it is a living energy, which is to some degree changeable. There is perhaps something in the card that is meant to be seen, even if it falls outside strictly traditional meaning. Also, be open to the unexpected.

A further way to look deeper, is to do a second spread around that card after you have finished the reading. Ask for further clarity on that one card. This often helps to answer questions about cards that are hard to understand at first.

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by Nellie Levine

Publishing tarot deck reviews, original tarot spreads, articles, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts, practitioners of the intuitive arts, and followers of alternative spirituality since 1999. Woman owned.
All writing, reviews, and photography © Nellie Levine, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2022