Different divinatory modalities excel in different situations. Pendulums, for example, are great for channeling and choosing between two options but can quickly become a game of 20 questions when you don’t know enough to even know what to ask.
Tarot, on the other hand, is the ideal oracle for revealing secrets and hidden motives. The nearly endless permutations of visual stories a deck of Tarot cards can convey is their power but also the source of much confusion. Tarot paints vivid narratives, often in greater detail than you can process usefully. This can become confusing and often isn’t the best way to get a simple “Yes” or “No” answer.
It is possible to get explicit answers from Tarot readings but you have to frame your approach -and your questions- in particular ways to ensure that you receive useful responses.
Personally, I favor Tarot as my primary divination tool; but then, I like its tendency to overshare details which aren’t strictly relevant. I’ve also got a lot going on right now between relocating my family to Mexico, buying land and building our jungle sanctuary, switching careers and starting a new business, and investing our life’s savings into these endeavors. The more context the better, I say…
With all the uncertainty in the world today -and so much on the line- I can’t afford to make any big mistakes. Divination is a survival skill, and Tarot provides the most context for the least amount of time and effort. Since it is my go-to fortune-telling method, it is absolutely essential that I be able to get straight, actionable answers from the cards on these big, “life” questions.
Hopefully what I’ve picked up, borrowed, and learned myself along the way can be of some use to you, so that you can trust the cards, the next time you’ve got a big decision to make, to yield the answers you seek.
Tip #1: Playing Card Rules
Credit where it’s due, I’d have never heard of many of the techniques which make it possible to constrain Tarot’s sprawling answers to actionable details, if it wasn’t for Gordon White and his Rune Soup Premium Members Tarot course. His course is an extremely thorough and comprehensive exploration of Tarot’s history and its application in modern fortune-telling and I highly recommend it.
Two simple techniques, when combined, reduce Tarot’s inherent complexity into a more manageable (and reliable) oracle using “playing card rules”:
First Technique: Pips Only
Pips are the numbered and court cards, known as the minor arcana. By removing the 22 majors, you’re left with 56 minors –pips. The pips represent very down-to-earth, human experiences: success, failure, love, babies, new projects, challenges, delays, conflicts, and so on. And the court cards typically represent the people engaged in these activities. Majors, on the other hand, represent grander narratives like control, illusion, inspiration, divine influence, and inescapable fate. All of this is useful information in certain cases but including the majors can complicate the issue when you need simple answers to straightforward questions.
Second Technique: Red vs Black
Once you’ve removed the majors, it is possible to get Yes/No responses by simply counting the “red” cards (cups / coins) and “black” cards (swords / wands) and seeing which there are more of -in any odd-numbered line spread (3, 5, etc.). This red / black association comes from Tarot’s very old (but not “ancient”) ancestry in playing cards.
If you’re not already aware, it is quite easy to use playing cards as a “Tarot” deck (in this pips-only manner) , with a little practice. The suits in playing card decks map to the suits of the Tarot in this manner:
Hearts – Cups (see the association with love?)
Diamonds – Coins / Pentacles ($$$)
Clubs – Wands (work, work, work)
Spades – Swords (sharp, pointy things…for stabbing)
Love and money are “good” (hearts, diamonds). Work and conflict are “bad” (clubs, spades). Red vs black works on the simple principle that some experiences are more favorable than others and you can “add up” the good vs the bad in a reading to get “Yes” or “No” answers.
This doesn’t mean the cards only tell yes/no stories though; behind this simple answer the cards are still laden with implication and occulted truths. You get both the quick binary response you’re seeking and the images on the cards still tell the broader story as well.
It’s worth mentioning that, while these methods can still work with the pictorial Rider-Waite-Smith derivative decks, the Tarot de Marseilles (TDM) style decks are best suited to this practice for their more readily apparent playing card heritage.
Tip #2: Line Spreads Only
Don’t complicate the answers you receive with obtuse, symbolic spreads. Likewise, don’t oversimplify the issue with single-card readings. One introduces too many variables, the other leaves you with no context at all. The ideal spread for a concise question is 3 or 5 cards in a line, read in no particular order and with no position “meaning” anything different from another. This allows the images to speak for themselves without unnecessary restrictions.
Tip # 3: Deal More Cards For More Clarity
Keeping the number of cards uneven, don’t be afraid to deal additional cards after your 3 or 5 card line spread has been dealt (until you reshuffle). There are quickly diminishing returns for this practice, so I will usually only deal an additional two cards, typically going from 3 to 5.
The original answer was complete so don’t reassess your initial read; the new cards just extend the story -typically chronologically. I use this method to get a glimpse of what follows the outcome predicted by the initial spread (i.e. “what comes next”).
Tip #4: Ask For Outcomes, Not Advice
The cards are an oracle, not your fairy godmother or patron saint. They predict, not instruct, so I advise never to ask them “what to do” but rather “what happens if”.
I will often frame these sort of questions like “What happens if I do X?” or “What will the outcome be if I do X?”. This gives you a tightly focused question that can still generate relatively broad answers. Questions like this are good for establishing the general areas of concern related to your topic. You may have some follow up to do but these types of questions can help sketch out the territory so that you know what else to ask.
Tip #5: Not Sure? Ask The Opposite
If you are struggling to process a response or the answer just doesn’t sit quite right with you, invert your question. Ask something equivalent to “What happens if I do not do X?” and see if the response casts more light on the previous answer.
This works for all types of questions; for example, if you ask a more direct question like “Will I get this promotion?” you could simply ask “Will I get passed over for this promotion?” and see if the answers jive. If they do not, you are likely missing a key bit of information that renders your question invalid and will need to use some of the tactics I mention below to discover the “unknown unknowns” in your situation.
Tip #6: Start Broad, Then Go Narrow
Most of the time we’re confused at life -because life is very confusing. It tends to make more sense at the “big picture” level but most of the work gets done in the chaotic minutia. It can be counterproductive to start any search for answers with hyper-specific questions. Allow the opportunity for unconsidered possibilities to emerge by starting your inquiry with broad questions that eliminate as many non-possibilities as possible.
Questions like “What career best suits my talents?” and “What is the most important thing I can do for my health right now?” are useful because you will get a lot of context while still eliminating enough possibilities that you feel like you’re making progress towards specific answers.
Tip #7: Ask About What Really Matters
We get so wrapped up in our projections about what is happening around us that we often overlook the stuff that really matters. If you’re hunting for a job, you might think you need a certain salary because of your lifestyle, bills, etc. and, therefore, you might not consider the full range of possible opportunities. As a result you might miss the best opportunity because you’ve convinced yourself all your assumptions are correct –when they might not be.
In this example, instead of divining on each job opportunity, it would be better to find out what kind of role you’d be truly happy in -because you can assume you won’t be happy unless you’re getting paid right.
Tip #8: Work Your Way To Specifics
Be prepared to interpret ten or more readings to get real, actionable answers. Start broad, as I mentioned, and work your way to specifics. If you’ve previously established that you’ll be happiest in, say, an artistic role, then you could dig for specifics with a series of pointed questions like:
“Will I earn my living as an independent artist?”
“Who will buy my art?”
“Will I support myself entirely with my art?”
“What is the most important thing for me to focus on to build my artistic career?”
This process works just as well in other areas of life. For example, when picking where to relocate, my own Tarot sessions went something like this:
“Will we be happier living abroad?”
“Will we live abroad before my 40th birthday?”
“What type of place will we move to next?”
“Will we live in Latin America?”
“Will we live near the beach?”
“Will we live in the jungle?”
“Will we move to Costa Rica?”
“Will we move to Mexico?”
“Will we own land in the Riviera Maya?”
Tip #9: Eliminate The Alternatives
Sometimes the future you want to know about is elusive, most likely because you lack the data to accurately interpret its possibilities. Sometimes there are just too many possibilities to process at once and you can get stalled in a form of “analysis paralysis” attempting to sort them out. When you feel lost during a reading and find yourself grasping at straws rather than telling fortunes, it’s time to eliminate some of the possibilities. Ask questions to identify categories of possibilities which you will not be pursuing.
While planning our international move, it was easiest to start by eliminating the places where we wouldn’t be happy first, reducing the overall number of options to consider. With havens for expats in every corner of the world, it was simplest to evaluate continents first, then regions, then countries, then areas within the country that presented itself.
When it came to our financial strategy for living abroad, we were stuck in old patterns of thinking and presumed that we would find ways to continue our old careers remotely. This made it impossible to see the alternatives and many of the financially-related questions we would ask yielded only confusing, uninterpretable responses.
When this happens, it’s a sure sign that you’re asking the wrong questions, so we adjusted our approach by ruling out the alternatives with questions like “Will we still be working with X company by Christmas?”, “Will we be working full-time in Mexico?”, and “Will we have the resources we need without jobs?”. In an attempt to rule out alternatives we quickly discovered many of our assumptions about our finances, work, careers, etc. were incorrect.
Tip #10: Accept The Answers
Humans are at a disadvantage most of the time when it comes to foresight, from a rational point of view. The intuition is more accurate but also mercurial and temperamental -difficult to fully trust. This is why divination, and particularly cartomancy, is so useful. The promise of gazing into the future accurately is very alluring. The problem is that we frequently lack sufficient data to interpret predictions clearly.
This drives our problem-solving mind bonkers and our unprocessed emotions start clogging up our mental systems causing anxiety and stress. And all of this is pointless, because what’s going to happen, happens anyway.
The answer is to accept the answers -though not always to act upon them. Sometimes your interpretation can be faulty. Fortunately, the future doesn’t need your assistance to manifest. You’ll find the truth if it in due time but you can trust that the cards will play out more often than not; with the benefit of hindsight. If you don’t feel confident enough to take action on the information you get during a reading, just bear it in mind and proceed normally.
There are always more Tarot tricks to learn and share but these techniques should make it a little easier to get specific answers to the big questions in a way that you can act upon confidently.
Ask lots of questions and interpret as many spreads as you need to get answers. Just avoid going in circles by leveraging a variety of tactics to extract the most data possible as you go.
Combine broad and precise questions, rule out alternatives, challenge assumptions, and validate the answers you get (by asking the opposite). Think of any tarot session as an investigation where you have the opportunity to grill the universe for answers. Dig, explore, verify, and then dig some more.
There are no certain answers in divination but that doesn’t mean the future is an impenetrable mystery either. It just takes a little work to decipher. Fortune-telling is a practical skill -and with practice it can be honed and put to practical use.
*Image: Fortune teller by Carolina Matta