When it comes to tarot card readings, forget the crystal balls, headscarves, supernatural powers and any other preconceived notions you might have about fortunetelling.
Think of it less as a mystical experience about your impending doom and more as a thoughtful way of getting in touch with your better self. (Fancy, right?)
To get a better sense of how this type of divination works, we asked two tarot card readers to give us the gist.
1. Every reader is different. Find one you vibe with.
Not every tarot reader is going to practice in the exact same way. Some might ask you to shuffle the cards, some might prefer a conversation before your reading, some might ask you to just sit in silence — and that’s OK.
“There’s no one way to read tarot,” says Ashley Collom, 27, a tarot card reader in Austin, Texas. “Be willing to take someone’s lead. The reader has a strategy.”
But since tarot is about establishing trust between yourself and your reader, the key is finding somebody with similar energy and purpose.
“With any type of divination, it’s really important to vibe with or to like or to find similarities with this person,” says Marguerite Gioia Insolia, 35, a Los Angeles-based reader. “It’s about that person’s intention and your intention in your reading. It can really change the information you get. It’s not that the cards themselves are going to say something different, it’s about the translation.”
2. Show up with an open-ended question.
A yes-no question can often “stump the reading,” according to Collom. She instead recommends coming with a question that's less restrictive. That way, you’re opening yourself up to a conversation with your reader that’s more rich and nuanced.
“Usually this means your question starts with a ‘what’ or ‘how,’” she says. “For example, if someone wants to know, ‘Am I going to get married to so-and-so?’ The way to make that open-ended is, ‘What do I need to know to enter a happy marriage with so-and-so?’ It creates a more rounded-out conversation.”
However, if you really are dying to know something specific, just know that type of question might not lead to a simple answer.
“Because tarot is so detailed and the deck (has) all facets of life within it, you can really ask any question,” says Insolia. Your answer just might not boil down to something as straightforward as “choose that.”
3. Don't like what you hear? You have the power to change it.
Do not feel crippled with fear if your reading didn’t contain good news. As Insolia says, “Tarot doesn’t have any power over you.”
“The reading is a timestamp of what’s going on energetically around you, your circumstances and what you’re asking about,” she adds. “People might walk out thinking they have no power or agency over these events in my life, but that’s never true. You always have the ability to change how things are going to happen.”
4. Time-related questions are tricky to answer.
While many of us want to know if something will happen in the future, sometimes the more urgent question is when. But tarot readers might not have those answers.
“Time is tricky because time is a social construct,” Collom says. “There are ways to tell or give people hints about time, (and) there are certain suits that correlate to certain times, but I’m always hesitant to give people time frames just because it is such an ephemeral thing.”
“Also, very rarely (does) giving someone a time frame makes them feel empowered,” she adds. “It makes them feel stressed out or claustrophobic about an impending time frame.”
5. Be forthcoming.
Maybe you’re holding back a little as you establish trust with your reader. (Understandable.) Or maybe you think you need to be secretive so your reader can “prove themselves.” (Don’t be that person.) Just know that the more you share with your reader, the more your reader will share with you.
“You don’t have to be cut off from giving detail,” Insolia says. “So if you ask, ‘What’s going on in my relationship right now?’ I can say, ‘It started off good, but now there’s a lot of confusion going on. These are the possibilities for the future.’ But if you say, ‘Well, he had an affair,’ I can look more deeply into what happened there.”
Collom agrees: “There’s an element of people feeling like they need to be mystic or esoteric about the process, and if we could just get into the nitty-gritty faster — ‘This is what I want to know, this is why I want to know it and this is what I’m feeling’ — we can dig into it much faster. It’s much more effective to have and communicate clear takeaways you want out of the reading.”
6. The death and devil cards are not (usually) omens.
So your reader pulled some cards that look scary. Don’t freak out. They aren’t what you think they are.
“The death card can be about physical death, sure, but that’s so, so, so rare,” Insolia says. “It’s really about transformation. Let’s say you’re asking about your relationship and the death card comes up. It doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is over. It’s that there’s a transformation happening and there’s going to be renewal on the other side.”
And the devil card?
“That’s about temptations — any place in your life where you know you need to break that pattern and you’re not,” she explains. “It’s more of a reminder of you being more authentic and true to yourself.”
7. Tarot often helps confirm what you already know.
Sometimes people seek guidance from others to validate what their gut is already telling them. Tarot readings can help with that, too, Insolia says.
“For a lot of us, we already know the answers to a lot of our questions. But what tarot can do is give you this beautiful affirmation to build confidence in yourself, to build intuition, to start trusting yourself. And sometimes that’s all we need.”