This post includes a worksheet; get it here!
When I first began reading tarot years ago, I found it easy to get hung up on each card’s individual meaning. I think a lot of us can relate to this. There are many methods to reading tarot, various spreads and styles, but the single most effective approach for me was being able to get in the flow of the story that they told. As soon as I began to approach each reading on a holistic level, it made flexing those intuitive parts of my being that much easier. What I am going to share in this post will not be news to most of you who have been reading for sometime, but it is my hope that these methods will help those just starting out to illuminate the “bigger picture”.
To begin, let’s first establish some basic elements. Individual cards are comprised of a number of features, and depending on the deck you’re working with, those symbols may be deeper or sparser. For the purpose of exclusivity, let’s focus only on the common components so it probably won’t matter which deck you’re working with. For this exercise, I’ve chosen to address the following: numbers, suits, majors, minors and courts. These are standard to most any tarot deck and this is plenty to be able to start understanding the concept of “reading in flow”.
Let’s jump in and demonstrate what I’m actually talking about. Below are three cards from the Universal Rider-Waite-Smith deck. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s presume that the three cards below are answering the following question for our querent, who is a man in his 20s: “What can I do to position myself as a likely candidate for an upcoming promotion at work?”
Many times, each position in a spread has a meaning. Let’s remove that aspect of the reading and assume that all three cards will work together to answer the inquiry at hand. Now, what do you see? Well, the obvious answer is we see the Page of Pentacles, the 3 of cups and the 3 of pentacles, but what does this mean? How do these three cards interact with one another?
This is all about story-weaving and every tale has a beginning, middle and an end. Depending where a card is placed (regardless of the positional “meaning”), it changes the context of the story being told. Take a moment and jot down some of your initial ideas or make a mental note. Once you’ve done this, let’s consider the following factors or influences that I look for to be able to read in flow.
1. How many majors and/minors/courts are there? Does it seem to be heavily distributed to one side or the other? How many court cards are there? Similar to the above, do they dominate the landscape or are they of the minority?
2. Are there any replicating numbers? Remember, each of the Major Arcana is also dominated by a number so keep that in mind when looking for replications. Having many of the same number(s) may indicate a numerological influence. (I’ve included a beginners breakdown of the numbers 1-10 in a PDF file you can download. It’s 2 pages and includes an exercise chart to help you with story weaving – Story Weaving-Reading In Flow)
3. Where are the characters in the cards looking? Who are they facing? Are they involved in the dialogue or are they more isolated? Does their gaze connect with something or someone else in the spread?
4. Is there any repeating imagery throughout the cards? Does the scenery seem to blend into one another? Are certain objects present in multiple cards i.e. specific animals, structures, flowers, and even seasons?
5. Is there a predominant suit? Is it all pentacles or heavy on cups? This could indicate that an elemental energy is dominating the inquiry (this information is also included in the PDF file you can download in the link above).
5. What does the flow suggest? Do the images seem to speak to each other? Can you see how one may transition to the next or how they all play a part in the overall picture or, conversely, are they fragmented?
6. What isn’t there? This is actually more important than it seems. For example, if we’re asking about love and our spread is void of cups, what might that indicate? If we expect to see something and do not, this can be very telling. Effective communication techniques are part of my career gig and it relates a lot here too. Sometimes what we don’t hear (or see) can give us more clues than what we do hear (or see).
Once you’ve had a chance to review all of that, ask yourself: does this change or add to my original interpretation? How does this reading now look through this more focused lense?
If you’re still a bit lost or uncertain, that is completely normal. Let me provide you my thoughts on the spread above, given the inquiry and all of the aspects we considered.
Our querent, who is a young male asked: “What can I do to position myself as a likely candidate for an upcoming promotion at work?”
The Page of Pentacles is fixated on the coin in his hand. It’s my sense that he has his “eye on the prize” perhaps to the detriment of being able to attain it. He is eager for this promotion as a means to elevate his financial and career status. On the other hand, what he’s missing is the camaraderie going on around him. The environment that he is in seems conducive to socialization and teamwork and I would wonder, how participatory is he? The 3 of Cups combined with the 3 of Pentacles would lead me believe that this querent is in some kind of a creative field. It won’t be enough for him to rely on intellect and steady work alone, he must also demonstrate a spirit of involvement. Has he had any preliminary discussions with the management team expressing his ambition and drive? A steady commitment to work won’t be enough to satisfy and demonstration, as illustrated in the 3 of Pentacles, is required. My advice? Find the work you’re most proud of and show it off. Get out there and share your process. Talk to the people around you, especially those who have influence over your future in the company and let them know how invested you are. A Page is generally younger or inexperienced so perhaps this querent is new to the company or his role. Maybe he hasn’t quite made his mark and perhaps he doesn’t know how to. As well I would wonder, is he pursuing the promotion for the right reasons? A promotion for promotion’s sake means nothing if you can’t stand by the culture of the company you work for. Involvement and getting in the good graces of your peers and superiors seems to be the avenue to take if upward movement is to happen.
That would basically be my take on it but how did I piece that together? Let me break it down.
1. There are no major arcana cards (Fool-World) present so this inquiry has to do with day-to-day matters which we may already be able to ascertain.
2. There are only 3 cards here and 2 of them are “3s”. Numerologically speaking, 3s are all about expression, creation and working in unity. In both of the “3” cards, there are 3 characters that appear to be in harmony with one another. For this reason, the answer seems to be heavily influenced by this theme.
3. 2 of the 3 cards are pentacles and we know this is a work-related matter so that makes sense.
4. A Page is present and we know we’re dealing with a young man who’s eager to move up so it would be likely that this court represents the querent himself.
5. The Page appears isolated from the other characters in this story, but he's facing the so he's in the mix even if he's not directly involved. His gaze is fixed on the pentacle and not the interactions of his peers or colleagues, who I would interpret the other characters to represent.
And there you have it! Even if your interpretation varied from mine, that is perfectly OK. Tarot reading isn’t an exact science and often people will look at the same thing and get two totally different ideas from it (such is life, right?). What I can promise though, is if you continue to work through this technique it will begin to make sense and you will likely find an added ease to your readings that you may have been looking for.
As a reference for you, I have created a couple very basic charts in a two page worksheet along the lines of this exercise (Story Weaving-Reading In Flow). Please keep in mind that with anything as diverse and involved as the tarot, we could spend forever in these depths of association but for those just getting their feet wet, it’s best not to overwhelm. As for the PDF worksheet (Story Weaving-Reading In Flow), it is free to download and you may use in your readings to help you reflect on some of the factors we discussed. While this may be cumbersome at first, it would be expected that after some use you will not require these sheets to prompt you as you will naturally begin to look for these variables.
You can always do some additional practice readings yourself asking the same question or something different for an imaginary client. Then place 3 random cards down and see if you can structure a story that speaks to the inquiry. I do hope this exercise was useful to you. If you are wanting more information, tips or tricks, feel free to join me on Instagram @spiralseatarot.