Reading Tarot for oneself is infamously hard. Tarot is an interpretive art, with no clear-cut formula (unlike, say, Lenormand, which is basically divinatory algebra). Every Tarot spread can be meaningfully interpreted in a variety of ways, and the reader’s job is to piece together the cards into the story that best matches her querent’s situation. Doing so requires a great deal of objectivity–objectivity that most of us, myself included, simply don’t have when we turn our attention to our own lives.
At the same time, reading Tarot for yourself is an incredibly useful skill to have. I read my cards all the time (although in part, that’s just because I love the feeling of a deck between my hands). So here are a few thoughts on how to make reading for yourself a better, more efficient process. There’s a common thread that runs throughout: Treat reading for yourself the same way you would treat reading for a client.
1. Don’t Do It
Story time: Back when I lived in France, I (being poor) used to cut my own hair. The cheapest haircut available in my town cost €20, and that was a lot of money at a time when my weekly grocery budget was €25. As anyone who has ever tried to cut his own hair will tell you, it’s not a terribly good idea. I could manage the top and sides all right, but I could never find someone to trim the back of my head for me, so I had to do it myself. I inevitably ended up with either a miniature mullet or a jagged, too-high hairline that made me look like the victim of some horrendous summer camp prank.
This is an illustration of an age-old wisdom: The barber does not try to cut his own hair. The doctor does not try to heal herself. And the Tarot reader does not try to interpret her own cards.
Seriously, kids. Don’t do it. If you have a friend who reads Tarot, ask her to do a reading for you.* If you don’t have Tarot friends (in which case you are obviously living your life the wrong way and I judge you for it), request a professional reading from a stranger. The fact of the matter is, someone else will always have more objectivity than you will when it comes to the interpretation of your cards. Go get a reading from someone else, and trust what she tells you. Don’t do that bullshit where you second-guess everything another reader says and decide that actually the cards meant something completely different. Find a reader, get a reading, and trust it, the same way you expect people to trust the readings you give.
2. Remember You’re a Liar
If you’re still reading at this point, you’ve obviously decided to ignore advice point number 1. I am frowning at you and wagging my finger across the internet. I am very disappointed in you. You should be ashamed of yourself. At the same time, I’m a total hypocrite, because I read for myself all the time. So, whatever.
Rule number 1 of Tarot: Querents lie. When someone comes to you for a reading, that person is almost always withholding information from you. Sometimes it’s intentional–people want to test the psychic omniscience they assume you claim to have, or they want to get a reading about something grisly and intimate without actually revealing the grisly, intimate details to a complete stranger. Other times, it’s subconscious. Querents lie to themselves, and so end up lying to you even when they think they’re telling the truth. Regardless, when you go into a reading, it’s always good to remember that there’s information your querent isn’t sharing with you, purposefully or otherwise.
If you insist on reading for yourself (bad idea), remember that you are the querent. And that means you are lying. No matter how earnest you are, the version of reality that you present to yourself is going to be misaligned with the way things actually are. You’re wrong about your motivations, or someone else’s, or something that someone said or did.
Ultimately, that’s fine. Humans are subjective creatures, and there’s no escaping that subjectivity. But you need to remember it, and to engage critically with your subjective viewpoint. Be on the lookout for things in the cards that don’t line up with your expectations. When you come to the point in the reading where you would normally ask a querent, “Is there something you’re not telling me?”, don’t be afraid to ask yourself the same question, and to answer it as honestly as you can.
3. Trust the Cards
This should be an obvious one. This is like day 1 of Tarot class. If you are going to perform a divination, you have to trust the result. If you ask a question and you pull a card, accept the answer that you get, no matter what it is. Don’t second-guess it. Don’t draw a “clarifier” card. Don’t pretend you don’t understand what the card means. Ask your question, get your answer, and be done with it.
When reading for themselves, people have a couple of nasty tendencies that violate this rule. Tendency the first is to perform an interpretative gymnastic routine to make the cards say what we want to hear. “Does he love me?” you ask, and you draw the Five of Pentacles inverted. Rather than accepting that he perhaps does not, in fact, love you, you construct an elaborate narrative that kind of fits the meaning of the 5P if you squint really hard.** Don’t let yourself do this. Always ask yourself if this is the way you would interpret the cards if a complete stranger came to you with the question you just asked.
Tendency the second is to feign ignorance when we get an answer we don’t like. “When will I get the job?” you ask, and you draw the Hanged Man. Unwilling to accept that you may have a long, hard stretch of continued unemployment ahead of you, you say “Gosh, I don’t know what that means”, and you draw another card to “clarify”. And then, perhaps, another card. And another, until you get something more positive-looking.
Pick a spread and stick to it. In a reading for another person, you’re not allowed to say “I don’t know”. Your job is to interpret the cards, so you interpret them. Sure, you can leave open the possibility that there’s some meaning you don’t see, but you give it your best shot. You don’t just say, “Oh, well, I have no idea what that means. Thank you for coming in for a reading today; that’ll be $50, please.” Likewise, you don’t pull clarifier cards ad infinitum. You pick a spread, pull the cards, and trust in the cards you pulled. Do the same when reading for yourself.
4. Write Everything Out
The last of my tips for you today is also the most practical and the least reproachful in tone. When I read for myself, I often fall into the trap of laying out the cards, glancing them over, and then putting them away without actually going through and giving myself a detailed interpretation of the spread. I’ll make some vague mental notes, but I won’t actually read the cards.
This is because when I read for myself, unlike when I read for someone else, I don’t actually have to open my mouth in order to know what I’m thinking. However, it comes with an incredible downside: It means I’m much lazier about interpreting the cards than I allow myself to be with other people.
When I read for someone else, I go through and explain each card in the spread, its significance, and the meaning of its placement. Then, I give a big-picture analysis, drawing connections between cards based on visual symbolism, common themes, numerology, elemental associations, and so on. (Depending on my client and my deck, I may or may not venture into the worlds of astrology and Kabbalah.) When I’m reading for myself, I don’t do this. I usually skip the first interpretive and explanatory step altogether, because, well, I already know what each of the cards means. Usually, I find myself drawing far fewer connections, making a much less intricate map out of my reading, than when I have to explain the reading to a client.
The solution for me has always been to force myself to act as if I were reading for a stranger. Even though I’m sitting alone in a room, I will force myself to speak aloud and to analyze each card, step by step, as if I were explaining them to an invisible client. Or better yet, I’ll treat the whole thing as an email reading, and I will write out a full analysis, complete with the “Dear Jack, thank you for requesting a reading from me today. You asked me about…” boilerplate at the top. This forces me to provide the same level of care and attention to my own readings as I do to others’.
Reading Tarot for yourself is tricky, no two ways about it. But from a practical perspective, it’s something that most of us have occasion to do, so we might as well think about how to do it right. Really, everything I have to say here boils down to one maxim, which I hope you will all take to your graves: Read Tarot for yourself the same way you read Tarot for strangers.
*And if she is a professional, for the love of God, pay her for her service. DON’T ASK PEOPLE FOR FREE OR DISCOUNTED READINGS.
**”Oh, well, he’s coming out of a period of serious hardship and he’s feeling really damaged right now, but the inversion tells me that he’s starting to open up and be ready to receive love again.”