Coming to Tarot
How I started, and sharings that can hopefully be of use
|Syar S. Alia||Apr 4, 2019|
When I was asking friends on Instagram what I should write about in this newsletter a few weeks back, Ruby asked "How did you know you were ready to read for other people?" So I'm gonna tell that story, and I'm going to focus a bit on firsts: my first times with tarot, and what I can share about some things to expect from a tarot reading if you're new to it (as a reader and as someone seeking a reading). There’s also a little announcement at the end re: tarot readings that are for this time, subscriber only!
Me and the cards
My first real and meaningful experience with tarot must've been with my the cosine to my sine Cass. It would've been sometime before 2015, I can't remember when exactly, and it probably? happened over Skype because we didn't live in the same country. Every time after that, it was this rare treat that always felt like a kind of pilgrimage. Even as a pure novice then, I knew asking Cass to read my cards wasn't a casual ask. She never told me that duh, but I definitely thought I needed to cash in only when I had collected enough tokens. The readings were conversations, and they were always so expansive and deep, like diving together to the floor of the ocean for pearls. The weight of these sessions and the questions they opened up inside of me, would—among other effects—forever bind me to her deck, the Universal Tarot deck.
My own first deck I bought sometime in 2015, the Morgan Greer deck. I didn't know yet about independent or "alternative" decks, and the only place I knew to look for a deck was a big-box bookstore. Kinokuniya did not let you crack the plastic seal of a deck box to look inside so I stood outside the locked glass case with an impatient employee while I looked at the cards on Google Images for the nth time. What sold me on the deck was the luscious beauty and melanin of the Nine of Pentacles and it was really her that unlocked that glass case for me (jk, thank you Kinokuniya employee).
I took a nerdy approach to learning what each card meant: I separated the cards into majors and minors, and then the minors into different suits, and I studied them a few cards at a time with Biddy Tarot open on one side and my little notebook where I filled in a page per card on the other (I was very happy to learn that Jessica Dore did something similar too!). I saved the majors for last, it all took me ages, I was disciplined and not—coming in and out of the practice over my days and weeks. I picked up the basics of the Rider-Waite-Smith symbolism, I learned about the light and shadow of each card as I read about reversed interpretations, I highlighted key words for reference.
I wish I could tell you what my first reading for someone else was like, who it was, what I felt. 1) I don’t really remember and 2) it was a process of stumbling. It was a process of slowly telling friends, pulling a card with them and looking up the meaning together on my phone or theirs, taking out my notebook a lot and not feeling like it was a "real" reading because I didn't "memorize" what the cards could mean. What I can tell you was that it took me a while, and I'm glad for that. I realize now that “realness” was inconsequential and irrelevant, this was how I built my confidence to develop my own relationships with the cards, regardless of what services I could render for others from that process. I didn't know when I was ready, but I got myself ready through trying, and staying really curious about the cards, what they could open up in different spaces and times, all the different depths I could find each time we visited each other in every new reading.
The earliest tarot reading I remember where I felt for myself "Hey. I am doing this with the cards, we are communing" was probably a big Celtic Cross spread I did for my friend N, following a season of upheavals in their life. Every other card was a Major Arcana, life and death shit that made me audibly draw breath (I give everything away the minute I flip your cards over, that will likely never change). It was heavy, and it was apt and right, and I rowed that boat (sometimes shakily) through the muck with them in it, and we got to shore. That didn’t “make” me a reader. It made me feel, oh, tarot is going to continue being a big part of my life, and it’s something that could grow a lot of connection in my life. That has only grown more true with time, and here I am.
The cards and you, maybe
Recently a friend slid into my DMs to ask about what I could share about how a tarot reading "should" be like, to advise/assure a friend of theirs about a tarot reading they'd had where the things the reader said and the way those things were delivered unsettled them and made them uncomfortable. This was a distressing thing to hear—for me, reading someone's cards requires a baseline of trust and strong boundaries on both sides. There are responsibilities to consider. From that conversation, I thought it might be good to share some thoughts to guide those looking to engage a tarot reader/reading (shorthand: querents), and for those who work with tarot and want to begin including others in that work (shorthand: readers). I wanted to keep these thoughts fluid, but let me start by saying there is no one way a tarot reading should be. These are based on my personal experiences and principles, and I only hope to add them to an open and ongoing conversation.
Share your expectations. Is there an articulation of how the reader is approaching tarot, what they use it for, what they hope to achieve in working with the cards, the history, the symbols? Do the expectations of the querent and the reader match? When my co-brain Liy and I set up our tarot booking Google form, we put a list at the end of things we weren't offering: professional therapy or advice, fortune telling. We had experienced these expectations before, so we wanted to upfront them explicitly for those seeking readings from us. Clarity makes more space for what we can offer, and how we can collaborate with the querents on what they are hoping to work on.
Start with your first impressions! They are not insignificant or silly. I love asking querents to lead or start the reading by asking them which card they feel most drawn to, intrigued by, or even scared of in a spread. I like starting with the visuals (which I had to learn to do even though tarot is very visual, since I started learning about tarot through words and text), I bring up colours, emotions, shapes. Maybe they are drawn to a card with the most amount of red in it, maybe they're drawn to an intriguing pair of eyes - what’s the story there?
Related to the above, something I do if I don't know where to start is word association. Think about what you can do with a cup or vessel: consider it empty, overflowing, cracked, shaped, held. Consider water and swimming and diving and drowning and cleansing and mud. Consider what happens when one element comes in contact with another. Follow your first instincts to the next and the next and feel out a shape, a pattern, a movement. I see this as another form of making space, and what can come into that space is your imagination, intuition, fears, desires.
Talk openly about confidentiality. As a reader, you should ask yourself some questions about the space you create for what the cards will bring up between you and those you are reading for/with, and what they share with you. Where will that live, what trust do you both build with each other for the short time you may be with each other, what might you agree to leave at the close of the reading? As a querent, check out the language a reader uses or doesn't use around this, see what and how they share on social media (if applicable). This is something I think I haven't articulated as clearly previously, and am only thinking about in a more dimensional way myself, so it's a process.
I used to stress about not having the answers when I conducted a reading, but imo tarot really isn't about answers, it's about fine-tuning our questions. Most people get some level of frustrated by this, naturally! I ask my querents, "Did any of this resonate?" and I have to be ready for them to say no. If they do say no, how do I sit with that? Do I hand it over to them, do I invite them back into the space to revisit the cards, or do I redirect us both? Do I ask more questions, do I facilitate more sharing from the querent, do I draw more clarifying cards? Querents, you can also ask for more clarity in these ways, with respect to the time and rates you have both agreed on for the reading. There are so many options, it doesn't just stop at the reader going, "Huh, I'm feeling like I'm not getting this right."
It's also okay to say exactly that, readers! Tarot readings are not mind readings. If the querent feels guarded to the point where they don't feel like they want to or can open up, that's a bigger problem that might not be about the cards or what you're saying about them. Sometimes you have to shift, and see where they're at, to evaluate if it is possible at that time to continue and have a consensual and satisfactory mutual exchange, or if it's not.
Also, sometimes I feel like a card needs to marinate and more time needs to pass, and so I ask the querent to ruminate / meditate on a particular card a bit more than the others as the days go by, and if we continue to stay in touch, it could be something we refer back to the next time.
Querents, it is fine and normal to disagree with anything the tarot reader you go to says. Sometimes, it behooves you to sit with that resistance and peel back the layers of it to figure out where it's coming from,. Sometimes it's best to listen to your gut instinct; you can take what you need from the reading and leave the rest, always. If you feel like your tarot reader is really insistent on one eventuality / possibility / mode of being or moving forward, that would make me personally uncomfortable. The story can always change, and you always always have a say in your own story!
I would love to hear from other people who work with tarot cards what they would share to add to this list, or what their meaningful firsts with tarot are—you can email me at ssalia at gmail dot com or find me on Instagram or Twitter. I linked it already but I loved this interview with tarot reader and mental health worker Jessica Dore, it has a lot of gems for those new/starting out/hesitant with tarot. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter too if you’re not already, duh.
Previously, I wrote about the Ace of Fire, and meditations on power and purity. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend.