Illumination Tarot - Exploring the tarot for insight and enlightenment.

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Common Tarot Questions: Your Questions, My Answers - Page 3

Is there any significance in continually drawing the same card for myself?
Are you supposed to have more than one tarot deck?
Do you have to have a special "gift" to use tarot?
When you are finished with a reading, should you put the cards back in order?
Sometimes I get a card that completely stumps me?!
What is the best surface on which to do readings when there are many furry beasts around?
How do I know when it's the right time to buy a tarot deck?
What is the best way to learn to read tarot - in an online class or with a teacher?
I have read that I must pay special attention to the last card in a reading ... is this true?
Is it wise to do a tarot reading about a third person party?
How should I begin each reading?
Can I write meanings on the cards ...?
Is it okay to use whichever version of the Celtic Cross I feel comfortable with?
I have never understood what it means when a card is upside down. Does it mean the opposite?

Q: Is there any significance in continually drawing the same card for myself?
A: I tend to think there is some significance when we continually choose the same card, especially when it comes up in a variety of different readings. I generally take it to mean the card has some energy or influence that we may not be fully aware of - sort of like a recurring dream that we need to understand. My advice would be to put the rest of the cards aside for a while - a day, several days, even a week or more, and focus on learning the meaning of this one card in your life. You can meditate on it, keep it by your bed or near your computer even - someplace you'll see it often. In addition to allowing an intuitive response to your card, study it more deeply, and don't put the card aside until you have determined its meaning for you.

Q: Are you supposed to have more than one tarot deck?
A: No, you can have as many decks - or as few - as you want! If you're content with having one deck, there's no need to go out and get more - in fact, it might be a true blessing if you're happy with that one deck. Many people are continually searching for the perfect deck - or simply one that works well for them - never satisfied with what they find. Some people enjoy using different decks for different readings (or even for different querents), and some people simply enjoy collecting tarot decks because they like the artwork, or the different styles or themes. I don't believe there is anything one is supposed to do with tarot. There is no tarot dogma. It can be entirely personal and private.

Q: Do you have to have a special "gift" to use tarot?
A: I don't believe so, though I'm sure some people would disagree with me. The "gifts" I think one might need to use tarot in a truly effective manner, are common sense, focus, receptivity, and the ability to think, reflect, and learn. These all seem to me to be basic to being human.

Q: When you are finished with a reading, should you put the cards back in order?
A: I don't ... but I do generally shuffle a good number of times, and place back in the box. I have an old, personal superstition that if I leave the cards as I drew them, simply piling them back onto the deck, I will be subconsciously tied up in their influence or energy. Therefore, I disperse their energy back into the deck. I think putting them back in order is something like this, but some people also like to put them back in order so when they do their next reading, they are starting with the cards in order - from Fool to King of Pentacles.

Q: Sometimes I get a card that completely stumps me - what do you suggest is the best way to get another opinion on its meaning?
A: If you're completely stumped by a card and cannot figure out any relevant meaning by digging deeper into its symbolism, etc., then try drawing another card to expand upon it or clarify it. Shuffle the remaining cards in the deck (while the spread is still laid out) with the intention of clarifying that one card, and when you draw another card lay it beside the card that stumped you. Read the clarifying card by itself, as well as in conjunction with the card you are clarifying, and with the entire spread. Still, take time with the first card - even if you do draw a card to clarify it - keep it in mind and try to understand it over the next few days. Keep its imagery in your head - what stands out as you go through your day might be the most crucial elements for you.

Of course, you can always turn to books, websites, or tarot friends, for "second opinions" on the card's meaning. Bear in mind the further away you get from the reading itself, the more diluted the meaning might ultimately become.

Q: What is the best surface on which to do readings when there are many furry beasts around?
A: Ah, fur. I have three dogs and a house rabbit and usually vacuum every day, at least once. I would suggest setting up a reading area where the pets will not frequent. It could be a whole room or a portion of a room sectioned off with a screen. If that's not possible, I would use a board. A table won't do if cats like to lounge on it, and obviously the floor is out for impromptu readings when there hasn't been a recent vacuuming. A board is portable - it can be put away after readings, keeping it clear of fur, dust, and other gritty stuff. A board can also be decorated nicely, with paint or fabric, or even collaged items such as feathers or pressed flowers, and it can then be taken to parties, to friends', or even on vacation. That way, it will be something more than just a way of keeping the fur out of the tarot cards.

Q: How do I know when it's the right time to buy a tarot deck?
A: Most logically, when you have the money. I have this very straightforward belief that any time is the right time to buy a tarot deck, any time you want one, any time you see one you like for sale, any time you see one that intrigues you or catches your eye. Before I became a reviewer I just bought my tarot decks when I wanted to and when I could afford them. This wasn't terribly often, because it was before online discounters, and during a time when money was tight. But I also have this not-so-rational belief that unexpected things sometimes happen for reasons we might not initially understand. Pay attention, and be aware of little "signs" - or simply be spontaneous. If you read a review of a tarot deck and it seems to draw you in, maybe there is something you need to learn that the reviewed deck will help you with. I was once traveling to my family's for a holiday get-together and on a whim stopped in a small local city to visit one of my absolute favorite used bookstores. This really was a whim, because being "late" would invite parental wrath (yeah, even at 26 or whatever age I was then). While there I came across a battered copy of The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot (actually, it was the only thing I looked at), which fit perfectly into what I was studying at the time, spiritually, and it has remained one of my favorite decks - despite the obvious "tarot flaws." I know there are critics of this approach, but use your intuition - you will hopefully be using your intuition when you use the cards, why not when you choose them? Now, there may be times that aren't right for buying a new tarot deck . I'd say if you continually buy new decks without ever being satisfied - perhaps you're looking for something you aren't going to fulfill no matter how many cards you can display in your collection - there may be a better way or a more appropriate path for you; if you want to simply answer questions like "Will Scott love me forever?" - in that case, why bother with tarot cards? They're great for so much more than that. I also wouldn't suggest buying tarot cards simply to be different, to be Goth, or to act rebelliously against parents - it's just silly, and likely a waste of money. And also, speaking of intuition, if it is really telling you not to buy them, don't.

Q: What is the best way to learn to read tarot cards - should I take an online class or study with a teacher?
A: Well, I didn't do either. I learned through books, private study, and lots of practice (or by simply doing). Of course, I have also learned from others, but not in any structured environment. I don't think it's terribly important how you learn, unless you are studying tarot as part of a specific spiritual discipline, or would like to get something very specific out of your tarot studies. For example, if you really want to learn Crowley's Thoth Tarot, you might be best off getting in touch with someone who has devoted serious time to this deck, and to Crowley's spiritual teachings. If all you want to do right now is learn tarot basics, go with what appeals to you the most - or the structure in which you will best be able to learn, and choose a teacher you feel can teach you something, or start with some books. The study of tarot can be an ongoing pursuit. Many people write to me with questions, and I often feel unqualified to answer them, as I consider myself still very much a student. My use of tarot changes and grows. I am continually learning about tarot - from writing - online and off; private discussions; stories, questions, and personal insights from others; as well as through history, art, philosophy, and religion. So, keep your eyes open to learning in any place, from anyone, in addition to your class studies (whether online or off).

Q: I have read that I must pay special attention to the final card in a reading ... is this true?
A: I don't know if I would say the final card is specifically more important than others. I tend to look at a reading as a whole, seeing patterns across the cards - in suit, position, artwork, colors, etc. - and so don't tend to focus more on one card than any other. However, if you are really interested in what a future path may be, then the tenth card of the Celtic Cross will certainly give you some idea. You can take that card and do further readings with it. Some people use it as a "significator" of sorts, for a new Celtic Cross reading, focusing on what that card means. Also, let's say you want the energy of that final card to "manifest" in your life ... the other cards in the reading, leading up to that tenth card, will show you ways in which you can assure that positive outcome, making them important as well.

Q: Is it wise to do a tarot reading about a third person party?
A: I think it depends on the situation. If someone wanted to know what he should do for an ailing parent, without voicing his concern and potentially upsetting the parent, a tarot reading might be truly useful. It could outline likely challenges, highlight what he had to offer, provide ideas for possible actions, and offer insight into dealing with any difficulties, without burdening the parent with questions and concerns. I don't think it's terribly wise to do a third person reading about love, or the feelings of others. This is basically when someone goes to a reader and asks, "Does Jake love me?" The reader doesn't know Jake, and doesn't have his permission to delve into his heart - or to speak for him. A better approach would be to focus on the person asking for the reading, and her issues with love, romance, relationships, etc. It is more empowering, takes away the desperate edge, and can make the person stronger, more confident, and ultimately more attractive to Jake.

*About "wise": I say it isn't wise to do such a third person reading, because tarot - in the twenty-first century anyway - should be at least in part about learning, developing, becoming more. A reading that focuses on someone else's feelings puts the importance there, rather than on the person asking for the reading - on the self.

Q: How should I begin each reading?
A: In my opinion, that is entirely personal. I did recently hear from a "druidess," apparently of an ancient tradition, who noted that my approach is very modern. Perhaps it is, because I can generally pull out a deck of cards, shuffle them, and spread them out, without any thought of deity, spirit, or higher self - and get a very good reading. On the other hand, I am a meditator and have done trance work, and do believe these elements come into play no matter what the environment I'm working in is. It's something that happens automatically; I have been doing this a fairly long while. So, I do think it is important that there is a certain "atmosphere" - even if it exists only within the reader. I'm really not sure how to word it - a suspension of the mundane, a step into the mystical - it all sounds a little wacky. Basically, I think there ought to be a receptiveness and a calm mind, as well as a degree of emotional emptiness, and whatever helps to create that is fine - a lit candle, a prayer, meditation, or full-blown ritual if necessary.

Q: I still have not learned card meanings and turning to a book is a mood killer. Can I write the meanings on the cards, or will that have a negative affect?
A: I agree that looking meanings up in a book during a reading would kill the mood ;-) I've never heard of anyone writing the meanings on the cards. It might be distracting to the person you are reading for, and once you become more familiar with the cards the writing will likely distract you too, especially because key words and basic meanings are only helpful to start with, and don't cover a whole range of possible interpretations.

I would recommend using a fully illustrated deck because these images usually give a good idea of basic meanings, and really allow yourself to contemplate the images - consider what they could mean, alone and with other cards. Also, you've probably heard this before, but read as much as you can, and practice by doing some simple readings for yourself. You might just need to study the meanings of each card more fully before you do too many readings for others. I would recommend this site: You may also find a workbook approach helpful. Mary K. Greer's "Tarot for Your Self" is highly recommended.

By the way, there are many decks that have key words printed on the cards. Some people like this, and some people hate it. If you do decide to write on your cards, I would recommend keeping it to just a few words, and keep it neat, or artistic.

Q: Is it okay to use whichever version of the Celtic Cross I feel comfortable with?
A: It is frustrating, isn't it - the variety of approaches to the Celtic Cross. I would mainly suggest going with the one you like, whichever feels right to you or makes the most sense. As long as you know which way you will lay the cards out before you do the reading, it will work.

Q: I have never understood what it means when a card is upside down. Does it mean the opposite?
A: This is a very common question; many people don't know how they should interpret a card that is reversed - or upside down - in a reading. Most reversals do not simply give an opposite meaning, though they may cast a shadow across the core meaning of the card. For example, the Hermit is a card that generally represents a search for truth, wisdom, or inner meaning. The figure in the card is usually alone, and usually walking along a dark path - with his/her own light illuminating the way. Sometimes this card is interpreted as a teacher or spiritual guide, but for the ease of discussion, I'll stick to the basic meaning. So when the Hermit appears in a reading, it might point to a time of inner searching, quiet contemplation, or positive withdrawal from others or from the mundane affairs of daily life. There might be a focus on the spiritual or on the attainment of wisdom. Reversed, the Hermit might mean there is an avoidance or denial of the truth ... an obstacle to enlightenment, or it might mean the person having the reading has withdrawn too much from others - their solitude may not be beneficial. In this there is an element of the opposite, but the main interpretation of the card remains, and leads the understanding.

Basically, I consider all the cards in a reading, and I consider the placement of the cards as well. If the Hermit appeared reversed in a spread position that described the querent's current state of mind, and the next card showed the future and was the Four of Cups upright, I might interpret these combined cards to mean that the person was presently avoiding more meaningful activities, and would thus soon become bored or discontent with life. In the same example, if the second card was the Queen of Swords, I might see the reversed Hermit as meaning the querent was becoming a little too withdrawn, and in the future might find herself feeling too alone.

For each tarot card there is a range of meanings, and really, those meanings change for every individual. I used the Queen of Swords in the example above, because one interpretation is that of a somewhat lonely woman, however, I don't think I've ever used the interpretation of the Queen of Swords as widow. Some people fiercely insist that the card of Death only means physical death - whereas many people have never had the card mean this in actual readings.

My suggestion is to arm yourself with the basic meanings of the cards, but let them change for every reading you do, based upon how they fall in a spread, and for whom the reading is done. For reversals, consider shadow elements of the core meaning - including but not limiting yourself to opposites. Or, you can skip reversals altogether, and always read with your cards upright. Many people do this. *Two books on tarot reversals are "Learning Tarot Reversals" by Joan Bunning, and "The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals" by Mary K. Greer. Both books examine ways in which reversals can be approached and understood, and both books are comprehensive and useful to readers of all experience levels.

Illumination Tarot has been publishing articles, reviews, tarot spreads, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts and followers of alternative spirituality online since 1999.
All writing, reviews, and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021