Probably most of us are familiar with the feeling of laying out a tarot reading, only to find that one or more of the cards sits there stubbornly refusing to speak or reveal its meaning. I call this situation “reader’s block”. Most common when you are first learning the cards, it can happen even to the best and most experienced reader. This can be very confusing and frustrating, particularly when the client is sitting there waiting for their reading. This article presents some tips for overcoming reader’s block, including both logical and intuitive approaches.
1. Relax and Slow Down.
When doing live readings, especially at first, it is hard not to be nervous. Anxiety or nervousness contributes to reader’s block by not allowing our intuitive and subconscious mind to flow and bring the images and ideas we need into our conscious mind. It may help to just take a deep breath, center yourself, and tell the client that you are going to take a moment to meditate on the cards.
2. Create a Receptive Reading Environment.
When doing readings at home, or even on the road, many readers create a special environment for tarot readings that helps them trigger a receptive state of mind. This may include setting aside a certain place to do readings, using a particular cloth, candles, incense, music, or other environmental cues. Centering and meditation rituals can also be helpful. Positive visualization techniques can be used to imagine yourself giving the perfect reading and having your interpretation flow easily. All of these techniques work best if they are used regularly, and if they
are specially set aside for tarot readings. With regular use, these environmental cues will become associated with a receptive state of mind and will help trigger it automatically, releasing the tensions of everyday life that can intrude and block your flow of intuition and awareness.
3. Try Alternative Approaches.
Often we get used to reading cards a certain way, and forget that there are many different levels on which each card can be read. One of the main causes of reader’s block is relying too much on a particular tarot book or keyword that you have assigned to the card, which may not fit every situation. Sometimes it helps to quickly run through all these levels again, and remind yourself of alternative meanings and approaches to reading that card.
There are at least five levels on which a card can be read, one of which may provide the key you need for the reading:
Look carefully at the picture on the card, forget about your normal interpretation of that card, and read it very literally. Imagine the client is in the card, preoccupied with their question what are they thinking or doing? What is happening to them? Is there anything about the scene depicted in the card that could shed light on their question?
Review the colors and symbols that you see – for example, red usually means passion and action, green means growth and fertility, water stands for the subconscious mind, twin towers are gateways, etc. How do these recognizable features interact with what is happening to the client in the card? A boat traveling over water may mean a relatively safe journey across the subconscious mind. Pay attention to any details that stand out – like is the water calm or choppy and what does this say about the client’s state of mind?
If you have a tarot journal in which you wrote keywords for each card, go back and look at all the different keywords you wrote. Often we write down as many as we can think of at first, then tend to narrow it down to a few that we use most often in our readings. If you go back and look, you may find some that you have forgotten about, that are appropriate to the situation. There are several references to tarot symbols and meanings that can be helpful in a pinch, listed at the end of this article.
Think about the suit of the card all by itself. Ask yourself whether it is appropriate to the question or what it might say about how the client is approaching the question. For example, if the client asks about love and receives only Pentacles in their reading, this alone gives you information you can use in the reading – the client may actually be preoccupied with work or not feeling a strong emotional attachment in their relationships.
Also, think about the number of the card and reflect on its numerological meaning with respect to the question. What stage of the cycle does this number represent and how does that influence the interpretation? Sometimes there is a message in the reading that has more to do with repetition of a certain number and life stage, than with the individual cards. A group of reversed fours, for example, might indicate an unwillingness to leave a safe and stable situation, leading to stagnation and lack of opportunities for personal growth.
4. Let it Rest.
If you have the luxury of time, such as when you are doing an e-mail reading, lay the cards out and fix them in your mind. Run through all the cards once, noting those whose meanings seem clear right away, and those whose meanings you are unsure of. Then go do something else housework, chores, business, whatever even sleep on it if you want. As you are doing other things, your subconscious mind is working on the meanings, and often they will pop into your head at random times. As you go through the day, you will find that the cards “click”, one by one, and soon you will be able to sit down and write out the full reading. I often use this technique when I have a reading order and can’t start on it right away due to other commitments. I will still take just a moment to meditate on the person’s question, lay out the cards, and look at them carefully. Then I know that by the time I am free to write up the reading, I will be much further along mentally in having the interpretation finalized.
5. Start Somewhere Else.
If you need to start your reading, and are still not sure what all the cards mean, remember that it is usually not necessary to conduct a reading in a strict order. Normally, when you lay a reading out, the meanings of some of the cards will be very clear right away, while others may take more time to reveal their meanings. It often helps to begin with those you know and allow the others more time. First, take a moment to look carefully at all the cards. This fixes them in your memory and allows your subconscious mind to begin working on those that are still unclear. Then proceed directly to the cards you are sure of, and either begin explaining them to the client or begin writing them up (depending on what form of reading you are doing). This gives your mind time to work on the problem and often by the time you finish with the cards you started with, the others will fall into place.
6. Ask the Client.
If the client is sitting there with you and you are really stuck, try this approach. You can tell them if you want (or not) that one of the cards is unclear to you, and because they know their question and situation the best, they may be able to help you with what it represents. Remind them of their question, and the specific meaning that that position in the reading corresponds to, and then ask them to look carefully at the card, imagine themselves in the card, and have them describe their impressions how does the card strike them? What do they think of when they look at it? What is
happening to them when they enter the card? What the client tells you when they interact with the card may give you a great deal of information about what this card is intended to represent in their reading. This is also a great approach to use for counseling with tarot cards.
7. Use On-Line Resources.
If you are reading on an e-mail or web network, you can put your card and the question it pertains to on the discussion list. Don’t be embarrassed, this has happened to everyone, and other readers will be more than happy to help out. Usually, you will get such a wide variety of possible interpretations that one or more of them will provide the key you need. If you have a teacher or mentor, you can also ask them for help. Finally, there are lots of resources on the web now where you can look up card interpretations and read through alternative ideas.
8. Let it Go.
After all is said and done, there may still be a card that refuses to speak. It may even appear blank or unusually featureless. In some cases, this may represent an area where the client does not want you to see what is happening, or does not want to know what is happening (this can happen in readings for ourselves, too), or where the future combination of events is so unlikely that the card just does not seem to make sense. In these cases, it is OK to say, “at this time, the meaning of this card is just not clear to me. It normally means such-and-such, but it’s not clear how that relates to your question. It is likely that its meaning will become clear over time.” Then wait to see what happens. More often than not, at some point in the future you will find out what that card meant.
The main thing to remember is that there is not one right way to interpret the cards, and be open to new ideas that fit your reading. It is these experiences that help us learn and grow as tarot readers, and open the door to a deeper understanding of the patterns and associations of tarot.