Lessons In Tarot – Lesson 8: The Question Reading

LESSON 8

The Question Reading

In this lesson, you will finally learn how to do a full tarot reading for yourself. I describe a simple procedure you can use to explore a personal question. Having a procedure to follow is important in tarot work. When you follow the same steps over and over in a certain way, they help you center yourself in the moment. The details of the steps are not that important; in fact, you can change any of them if you wish. The goal is to maintain a spirit of mindfulness. Doing a reading with loving concentration will make your tarot practice very powerful.

Here is the procedure for a Question Tarot Reading.

Setting the Mood

Your first step is to create a conducive mood. Lesson 6 offers some suggestions on how to set up a pleasing environment. You can try these ideas, if you like. Focus on what will make you feel comfortable and secure.

When you are ready, sit down on the floor or at a table leaving some empty space in front of you. You should have your tarot cards and your question written on a piece of paper. At first, a full reading will probably take at least thirty to forty minutes. Try to arrange your affairs so you won’t be interrupted. With experience, you will be able to shorten this time, if you wish, but it is always better to feel unhurried.

Begin to relax and still your mind. Put aside your worries and concerns for now. (You can always get them back later!) Settle fully into the present moment. Take a few deep breaths, relax all your muscles and feel the quiet as you turn away from the outside world. Take as much time as you need for this calming process.

Asking Your Question

When you feel centered, take your cards out of their container. Hold them cupped in one hand while you place the other hand on top. Close your eyes and bring the cards into the circle of your energy.

Now, make an opening statement, if you wish. Some possibilities are:

  • a prayer
  • an affirmation
  • a description of how you are feeling
  • a simple hello to your Inner Guide

You can write a phrase to say every time, or you can speak spontaneously. It is more important to speak from your heart than to mouth an empty formula. Say your statement out loud, as sound adds energy and conviction.

Next, ask your question, either from memory or by reading it. Be sure to say your question exactly as you wrote it. One of the mysteries of the unconscious is that it is very literal; the cards you choose will often reflect the precise wording of your question.

Shuffling the Cards

Open your eyes and begin shuffling. It is important to shuffle the cards because this is how you sort through all the forms your reading could take and arrange at a subtle level the one you will receive.

There are a number of ways to shuffle the cards. Each method has its pros and cons. Choose one that is most comfortable for you. Certain methods mix the cards so some are right side up (upright) and some, upside-down (reversed). If this is your first reading, do not worry about reversed cards.

Concentrate on your question while you shuffle. Focus on the overall intent rather than the details. Don’t strain to stay fixed, but do keep the question in mind as much as you can.

Cutting the Cards

When you feel you have shuffled long enough, stop and place the cards face down in front of you with the short edge closest to you. Cut the deck as follows:

  1. Grab some number of cards from the pile.
  2. Drop this smaller pile to the left.
  3. Grab some part of this second pile and drop it further to the left.
  4. Regroup the cards into one pile in any fashion.

It’s best to regroup the cards in one quick motion. Don’t try to figure out which pile should go where. Just let your hand move where it will. The cut is an important finishing step that marks the end of the card-arranging stage. Once you have regrouped the cards, the pattern of the reading is fixed, and all that remains is to lay out the cards and see what they reveal.

Laying Out the Cards

Follow the steps for the spread you have chosen. If this is your first reading, use the Celtic Cross.

  1. Pick up the deck and hold it in one hand with the short edge closest to you.
  2. With your other hand, turn over the first card as you would the page of a book.
  3. Place this card in Position 1.
    (The position number corresponds to the placement order.)
  4. Turn over the second card, and place it in Position 2.
  5. Continue in this way until you have placed all the cards.
  6. Turn any reversed cards around if you are not using them.

Responding to the Cards

Pay attention to your reactions to each card as you lay it out. At first, you will not know or remember the usual meaning of a card. Your thoughts and feelings will be based mainly on the images. As you practice, your reactions will become more informed, but also more predictable. Try to keep some of your original openness as much as possible. Pay attention to any responses that seem unusual or out-of-place.

When all the cards are laid out, take a moment to respond to them as a whole. Do you get an overall impression? Do you have any new reactions? Jot down some of your thoughts, if you wish. Don’t worry if you can’t remember all of them. Just as with dreams, you will recall the most important. Try not to get too involved in your notes as that can break the flow of the reading. You simply want to capture a few ideas quickly.

Analyzing the Cards

In the beginning, use the section about individual cards in your Tarot Book till we get to covering individual cards here. Later, you can examine the cards on your own, but you may still find this section useful. (I use it myself from time to time!)

Begin your review with Position 1 and proceed in position order. Here are the suggested steps:

  1. Look up the card in the Card Section of the Tarot Book that came with your cards.
  2. Read through all the keywords and actions.
  3. Look for actions that make you say “Yes, that one really fits!” I experience a kind of jolt of recognition when I see one. Don’t shy away from actions that seem less pleasant. Trust your reactions, and reserve judgment until you’ve seen all the cards. Note any stray thoughts or “irrelevant” feelings that come to mind.

When you’ve considered each card, look for relationships between them. Apply the principles of interpretation.

You could ponder a reading for hours without running out of insights, but, of course, this isn’t practical or desirable. Do try to spend some time, however. Your reward will be equal to your effort.

Creating the Story

At some point, you need to pull everything together. I call this creating the story. Your story will help you understand your situation and give you guidance for the future – what you have been seeking all along.

I recommend that you create your story spontaneously. Once you have finished your card review, let that analytical approach go. It’s no longer appropriate. Your story will be more authentic if it arises freely from within. When you feel ready, simply begin speaking your story, saying whatever comes to mind. Use any notes you have to help, but don’t focus on them too much.

I encourage you to tell your story out loud. Writing is too slow, and just thinking your ideas is too vague. Your story will gather strength and power as it is spoken. If you begin to ramble or lose your train of thought, don’t be concerned. Simply pause, regroup and start again. As you practice, you will get better at speaking on the fly. You may want to tape your story. When you play back the tape, you will be amazed at what you hear. You will truly feel you are your own best tarot reader.

Writing the Summary Statement

Your story is done when your words slow down and stop naturally. Your next step is to distill the main theme of your story. What is the essence of your guidance? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the problem or conflict?
  • What is my role?
  • What does my Inner Guide want me to understand?
  • What is the projected outcome?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Do I sense any recommendations for action?

What you are doing is forming the answer to your question. Before the reading, you posed a question that had meaning for you. Your Inner Guide has responded, and now you want to capture that wisdom in a form you can remember. Try to summarize your story in one or two sentences. Concentrate on the message in the cards and not the mechanics of your interpretation.

Finishing Up

The main event is over, but, as with any ceremony, there are a few final steps to take to end your reading and leave your cards ready for next time.

If you have not already done so, write down the cards you selected and their positions. It is easy to forget them. Then, clear the deck to remove all traces of the energy patterns of this reading. I clear a deck by scrambling the cards together gently. It reminds me of erasing letters in the sand with a sweep of my hand. You may enjoy this technique as well, but any shuffling method will do. Take a few moments now to clear your deck. Make sure the cards are face down or turned away from you. Stop when you feel you’ve shuffled long enough, and gather the cards together. Your deck is now ready for your next reading.

Before putting the cards away, hold them again for just a moment. Place your deck in one hand with the other hand on top, and close your eyes. Say what you feel you have learned from this reading. Express your gratitude to your Inner Guide for helping you via the tarot cards. Gratitude is a wonderful sentiment. It provides the ideal frame of mind in which to end your reading.

When you began, you initiated a cycle. You created meaning in the form of a reading, and now you have completed that cycle by returning the cards to their resting state.

Using What You Have Learned

The reading proper is over, but the inner work is just beginning. Your goal is to integrate what you have learned into your life in some way. If you don’t, your tarot practice will remain a beautiful pastime with no power to help you.

Decide on one or more actions you can take to put your guidance to work. You can reinforce what you’re doing now or make some changes, either radical or minor. Specific actions are usually more helpful than vague plans.

If you are keeping a journal, write down what you intend to do. Commit only to what you know you will actually carry out. I know how easy it is to lay out some cards, look at them briefly and then never think about that reading again, especially when your reaction is less than positive!

As the days go by, think about your reading and how it meshes with your life. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How meaningful was my story?
  • How well did the guidance fit?
  • Did I miss any clues?
  • Did I carry out an action, and, if so, what happened?
  • Did something unexpected occur?
  • Do my Daily Readings add anything?

You may be tempted to do another reading, but it’s probably best to wait until there are important changes in your situation. Assume that your first reading covers all you need to know. If you are puzzled about certain elements, mine your first reading for more insights. By going deeper, you will get closer to the heart of the matter.

Using what you have learned in a reading is probably the most important step – and the most difficult. It involves moving beyond playing with the cards. When you actually commit to integrating your tarot insights into your life, you have realized the true and lasting benefit to be gained from the cards.

This is my ideal tarot session, but, to be truthful, I don’t always follow it. Sometimes I linger over these steps, sometimes I neglect quite a few of them. I encourage you to adopt whatever procedure suits your interests and needs. If you don’t enjoy the cards, they’ll just gather dust on the shelf. The details aren’t that important; it’s the intention that counts!

Exercise – Lesson 8

The Question Reading

Exercise 8.1 – Doing a Question Reading

You are going to do a Celtic Cross Question Reading from start to finish. Follow the procedure outlined in lesson 8. You will need a question to be answered. You can use the question you wrote in Exercise 7.1 or write a new one. Interpret the cards as best you can using your intuition and the Card section of your Tarot Book and Celtic Cross Sections.

You may feel a little at sea this first time – not sure whether or not you’re doing everything right. Remember there is no one correct interpretation. What you see in the cards is right for you by definition, and, no matter what, you will come away with something of value. In future lessons, you will learn some principles of interpretation that will help you feel more confident. At that point, we’ll revisit this reading to see what else you can learn from it.

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