What Everyone Ought to Know About Doing Great Tarot Readings

by Douglas Gibb on May 28, 2011

Tarot is simple. But like all simple things, it is easily misunderstood. And once something is misunderstood, it becomes complicated. And once something becomes complicated, it becomes difficult. And once something is difficult, it becomes frustrating, serious, and filled with effort.

To do truly great Tarot readings, you have to keep things simple. And when something is simple, it becomes easy. And once something is easy, it becomes fun, enjoyable and effortless.

So, how do you go from complicated to simple?

Before I get into it, I already know what some of you are thinking.

“That’s so obvious.”

Or …

“Come on Doug, I’m a serious student of Tarot and this is insulting.”

But before you go hitting the back button, I can guarantee that this will improve your Tarot readings.

Here’s the thing. I know a lot of people get hooked on learning the symbolism of each card, the divinatory meanings of each card, the Numerology of each card, the Astrological associations of each card, the Alchemy involved with certain cards, the Occult significance of each card and the the Elements, but tell me this; isn’t that making it all a little … complicated?

Each card is a single personality

The Tower is the Tower. It is not a collection of interesting symbols or abstract Occult, Numerological and Astrological principles. It is a thing in its own right. It’s the Tower. It’s as simple as that.

Each card is a complete personality. It is a single force – not a collection of separate and disjointed symbols that go together in a disjointed way. Tarot is simple because each card represents a single Idea.

The Two of Cups is a single idea. It’s a simple and elegant representation of Love. The Emperor represents the idea of Authority and the Moon represents the idea of “hiddenness”.

The point is, each card represents one thing. Sure, it’s interesting to read about the individual components of each card, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that each card is a single personality that does one thing only.

Learn what that one thing is and start doing great Tarot readings

The major problem, from what I can see, is that people complicate Tarot. I’ve seen people that try and force a divinatory meaning onto a reading that just didn’t make any sense. I’ve seen people do the same thing with a Numerology, Astrology or Alchemical meaning.

So much effort is expended in forcing these meanings onto the cards that the actual card itself is forgotten. The Temperance card is no longer the idea of “moderation”, now it’s an alchemical process that they absolutely must apply to this Tarot reading … even though it doesn’t fit. Suddenly, people have made things complicated.

Doing great Tarot readings is about letting things be what they are. The 3 of Swords is sorrow – that’s it. It’s a simple and elegant Idea. Respect that.

That doesn’t mean that it lacks substance. It’s just that each card is an idea. One. It’s not two or three or four different ideas. That would be complicated. It is one single idea.

An Example

First, let me say that I would encourage you to get to know your Tarot deck intimately. Find out what personality is in each card. Don’t just accept my understanding, or even what the creator of the Deck thinks – this is all about your relationship with Tarot.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out the way, lets say that we agree that the Emperor represents Authority and the 2 of Cups represents Love.

Paired together, the story these two cards tell is: “Yes, this man does love you and yes, he does need to control you and the relationship.”

Conclusion

The point I’m making is that once you have worked out what each card represents, reading Tarot cards is easy. It may not seem like it, but doing something this simple will unlock much of the Tarot’s ability to communicate with you.

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26 comments… Let's discuss

mzzlee May 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm

lovely. simplicity is luxurious. enjoy the cards in their profound simplicity and watch the layers of understanding grow and blossom. this post is so validating, doug. i start getting dizzy and nauseous sometimes when i hear folks expound on layers and layers of “meaning” that just don’t DO anything relevant for the reading at hand. it makes me think of “expounding just to hear themselves talk” ugh.

Thank you for this post. Keep bringin’ ‘em!
Be well.

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Louise May 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Yes it is obvious, but sometimes, it needs stated as it is to remind people of it. Thanks Doug! And very nice to have you back :)

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Little Red May 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Hey – I like this post a lot and I’m all for simplicity…
“So much effort is expended in forcing these meanings onto the cards that the actual card itself is forgotten. The Temperance card is no longer the idea of “moderation”, now it’s an alchemical process that they absolutely must apply to this Tarot reading … even though it doesn’t fit. Suddenly, people have made things complicated.”
Yep!! I’ve come across this silly complication – you could spend a lifetime trying to learn what every symbol represents and getting into ‘the blue of the uncoscious’ and the pillars of Jachin and Boaz and drive yourself crazy in the process…whilst also forgetting the simpler, ‘real-er’ meanings of the card itself. Don’t get me wrong – the symbolism is one of the very cool and beautiful things about Tarot and I’m not dissing studying the symbols if that’s what turns you on…it’s just we can totally tie ourselves in knots trying to memorize this stuff instead of remembering to react to the card as it sits in front of us.

On the other hand I don’t think it’s right that each card only has one meaning. Two of Cups is a great example. It can be about love, like you say, pure and simple. But if you learn that one meaning and stick to it religiously, you miss the idea that it could also represent two opposing things/forces/people/whatever joining harmoniously, and I think then you’d actually be More likely to be making stuff irrelevant to the querent. One of the things I totally love about Tarot is that the cards can be interpreted in loads of different ways – that’s why I like the term ‘intuitive’ tarot reading. It means responding to the cards and the querent right in the here and now, bearing the question in mind. So it’s probably a good idea to have more than one way of looking at the card tucked up your sleeve :)

Thanks for this interesting post!! xx

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Pamela Steele May 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Well said! I couldn’t agree more. Thank you!

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Bonnie Cehovet May 28, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Doug -

Excellent post! Here are some of my off the cuff thoughts:

1. Each card does exhibit a predominate theme, or personality. This personality has a spectrum of interpretations, not just one single one.

2. Part of what makes up the theme, or personality for each card are the layers of interpretation, through numerology, astrology, Kabbalah, and esotericism.

3. I have to agree on readers forcing meaning on cards. This has more to do with their understanding of the card, than them “complicating” readings by overlaying other systems.

4. Cards take their interpretation from their interaction with surrounding cards. This is not complicated … but it is not simple, either.

As a reader, make the effort to learn your craft. Enjoy your readings, and allow your skills to evolve over time. As Douglas has indicated, take the reading for what it is. It doesn’t have to be complicated … but, IMHO, it is not simple either.

Blessings,
Bonnie

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Barbara May 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Hi Doug!!!!

You’re baaacccckkkk!!!! Yeah!!!!!!!!

Love this post. I totally agree. 100%. That’s one reason why, in my Tarot for Beginners book, I give readers a “core meaning.”

Life is complicated. Tarot doesn’t have to be. Doesn’t mean it’s not sophisticated or refined or that you cannot give nuanced and deeply meaningful readings. But don’t make it harder than it is.

So happy to see you!
Barbara

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Theresa May 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm

OMG a fresh post from you! This makes my tarot heart SO happy! And yes – too many of readers feel a need to exhaust the meanings of the cards to death. Breaking it down to a simple interpretation makes the process clean and clear. No need to muddy up the process by over analyzing the card.

Thanks for coming back! You have been sorely missed.
Theresa

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Jim Maher May 28, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Dear Bonnie
Well said
It sure does take time to learn your craft, I’ve been at it for nearly 40 years now & the more I learn the more I realize there is to be learned.
Peoples reactions to life’s variables are complicated.
Peoples interpretations of various cards vary depending on how “they” are feeling at the time in my experience as a tarot reader.
Kindest Regards & Respect Always
Jim Maher

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Nathara May 29, 2011 at 2:56 am

Wonderful post! I started out learning tarot the complicated way and things just didn’t stick. When I stopped and just LOOKED at the cards it all started to just flow. I might not read the same meanings as other readers – in fact, I know I don’t – but my readings are still accurate.

I also find that card meanings and ‘tones’ change depending on the deck I’m using and not honoring that just doesn’t seem right.

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Helen May 29, 2011 at 3:08 am

Interesting post, what you say is what I find beginners usually learn, the core meaning, as you say the Moon indicates something hidden. But it is as we develop that we start to see that one card contains many meanings, the core may always stay the same, it is how we interpret that that defines whether the reading means anything or not. Forcing a meaning into a card never works, the cards themselves should be a stimulus for our intuition, and the numerous meanings a pool from which we pull our interpretations. I think one can overcomplicate readings by trying to relate to too many alternatives within that reading. Myself I just read tarot and relate the meaning the number of the card can have and how it enhances the interpretation – works for me.

Nice to see you back. :)

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Brigit | Biddy Tarot May 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Welcome back Doug!
I do agree with you in principle – Tarot card meanings should be simple and straight forward. However, often we need to look at something from a couple of different angles in order to build an understanding of what is really going on. It doesn’t have to be over complicated, but I think it does need to be a little more than just one word.
Also, do you think our clients would really think it was ok to draw 10 cards and then provide only a 100 word/2 minute reading? What would we do with those other 1900 words/28 minutes?! (Obviously, a bit tongue-in-cheek here!)

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Austriana May 29, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Back to basics … love it! Great to see you posting again!

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Dixie Vogel May 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Interesting post! I very much agree folks can make it too complicated, usually by worrying much over getting it “right.” Tarot is one of the few tools people could theoretically use well with no training at all!

On the other hand, I love studying the symbolism, the numerology, the astrology and all the other connections because it adds a richness and gives me more intuitive “hooks” to work with. I don’t call on each potential correlation for each reading, but trust the one that pops up is the one I need to pay attention to.

For example, yes, the 3 of Swords is about loss. But realizing it’s a three, I know new life can be born out of the loss. If that comes to me discussing the 3, I know this is a point that would be useful to introduce.

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ivy June 1, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Master Yoda, once again you have hit the nail on the head. Simplicity. Basics. Thank you for the reminder.

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Douglas Gibb June 1, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I wanted to thank everyone for their comments and for welcoming me back to blogging :)

It was great to read the different reactions people had to this post and I’m glad most of you enjoyed it.

Doug

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Wendy June 4, 2011 at 4:15 am

Thank you for this post. Why do we make things more difficult then they have to be? I am guilty of this too. It’s good to get back to the basics :)

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Cher Green June 8, 2011 at 7:11 am

Welcome back Doug! Took me a little while to get to your post but here I am. Yes, tarot is much more simple than everyone tries to make it. I do enjoy looking at all the elements of each card, but when comes down to it, a short phrase can some up each individual card.

Although, that phrase may change from deck, reading, or spread. Which you do say in your post.

Glad to have you back,
Cher

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Wendy July 13, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Yes simplicity is best.Linking the key ideas and coming up with a phrase that combines them is a good strategy.

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Mary July 19, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Hi

I love this website, it is truly a well structured and informative place to visit.

I have an issue at the moment and wondered if anyone could help. I am a reader, I read for two separate companies but I have not read for either of them for a couple of months (perhaps longer) now. I have lost the confidence to read. I don’t even know what I believe any more. It is a source of income for me, one that I badly need at the moment despite the fact I have a full time job, but I just can’t get the strength up to read. I start the day well meaning, but the thought of reading makes me feel anxious and I remember all the reasons I have stopped reading. The biggest one being that I don’t believe in Tarot or myself anymore (how hypocritical is that eh?). Can anyone advise me because I am at a loss.

Thanks in advance
Love Mary xxx

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Douglas Gibb July 31, 2011 at 2:10 am

Hi Mary,

Sounds like you could be burning out.

It happens to everyone – it’s happened to me more than once.

Hang in there. Work when you can, relax when you need to. The key is not to think too hard about it. If you think there is a problem, that thinking tends to give it more energy. The best thing you can do is take some time out … without judging yourself.

The reason you have lost faith in Tarot is because working professionally forces you to question the validity of it. The amount, and type, of clients you read for is a big factor in this. Tarot readers are expected to be right every single time – this is unrealistic. Working for companies that supply a constant stream of client’s can be a real drain.

It is a drain for several reasons. Firstly, the environment does not support mutual respect. This is fatal for the morale of Tarot readers. Secondly, having conversations with people that have problems creates a type of transference. The hypnotic conversation leaves its mark in the form of depression, apathy and a lack of strength to continue.

The only solution I’ve found is to take breaks and to develop more face-to-face clients. When reading for face-to-face clients, I’m responsible for creating the right sort of atmosphere. It works out well because I encourage mutual respect. It also pays better so I can afford to take longer breaks. It’s a win-win situation.

I hope that helps and I wish you every success :)

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Warren September 21, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I love this Blog, I’ve only just found it. At the moment I find Oracle Cards a lot easier to read than Tarot, but I’m aiming to change that very soon. I can’t wait for more posts.

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beatrice bonini April 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

dear doug, when i looked at the xiv card, i’d think, what realllly is the mystery behind it.? and think to myself, “will i ever know”. reading your post, moderation, then it clicked. for 55 years i never exhibited moderation so how would i possibly “get it” by looking at the card. i get it now, so simple. i had to laugh and send a lot of love out to myself. thanks doug. you’re a great source of inspiration. aloha and mahalo dixie…

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Elise May 1, 2012 at 11:38 am

Hi Doug,

Wow, this post is great. Yes, there is such a tendency to intellectualise and over-complicate things, the this-ness of a card, the that-ness of it, when sometimes all we need is to look in the face of the card and let it speak to us directly.

And yet… knowing the astrology and EDs etc. gives us a more complete idea of “who” the card is. When I found out that the Tower was Fire (lightning) and the Hanged Man was Water (go with the flow), I knew that that was an essential part of their personalities that I’d missed until then. It’s like meeting the family, or knowing what town someone lives in. Not necessary but helpful additional info.

As long as you can, before anything, feel your way around the spread, see the connections, listen to the cards, and as you say not let the layers confuse the simplicity of the message.

Elise

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Leigh | The Intuitive Sense August 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm

The one word descriptions do simplify things, and I think that they serve as a good starting point, but sometimes one card is giving the querent more than one message.

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Mark Snowbear January 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm

OK, I’m very late responding to this only just having found it.

Wonderful, there I was wondering how, with an appalling memory like mine, I was ever going to learn enough about the Tarot to actually give a reading. All the advice, insights, tables and guidance given in blogs, websites and books along with all the meanings, symbolism and methods of defining hundreds of different spreads.

Now I know, bin it all, learn the basic tarot meanings / language and let your intuition read the story the cards are trying to tell you, simple.

No longer confused, worried and lacking the confidence I’m just looking forward to getting on with it :-)

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DailyTarot Girl April 16, 2013 at 7:00 am

I really like this concept. I think that each card has many layers to it, but once you understand the “essence” of the card (which can be summed up in one word, I believe), you can confidently expand on it and let your intuition run wild.
This has really inspired me to go through my deck and identify the personality trait/essence of each card.
Thanks for this post! :)
Kate

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