Sooner or later, most good cooks throw away their recipe books. What they know is not rote memorization, but an understanding of food, the impact of heat and cold, and the results of mixing one thing with another.
Effective Tarot card readers throw away books that list the standard meanings of each card because they have discovered that the card is a prompt–or perhaps a spirit–that directs the reader to his/her own intuition and knowledge.
Personally, I don’t believe the future is fixed in place, so I’m going to see a reading (whether it comes from the I Ching, Tarot Cards, Bones, or some other system) as a story about what is now the case or is developing. How the reader sees this matter will also impact how they react to either the so-called standard meanings of the cards and/or to their intuitive glimpses into the question on their minds that is prompted by seeing the cards in a certain order.
In time, the reader no longer needs the cards. That’s much simpler, but perhaps a long time coming for many people who pick up a Tarot deck and wonder if it will speak to them.
I am influenced when I look at the cards by knowing that they are “ruled” by the elements Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. Fire and Air are considered active. The Swords suit (modern-day spades) is within the realm of Air. Knights are always considered the fiery/active part of each element. The active nature of a Knight is shown in the movement of the figure on the card. As described on Raven Tarot, “The element of Air is the pure mind, the thought and the intellect, synthesis and analysis, the proceeding of the amorphous spirit of Fire and the unconscious emotion of Water into definitions and concepts. Air is both structure and conscious realization, both formation and abstraction.”
Other readers come to the Tarot with other basic ideas and they will be influenced by those and they will find the cards to be catalysts to their intuition in a somewhat different way, though they “should” more or less come to the same conclusions about a subject as I do.
Some people “learn the cards” by meditating on each one and allowing ideas about each card to come to them without actively trying to “figure out the card.” Others do multiple readings about things they will know in the “future” and see how what they saw in the “spread” (the card’s layout on the table) coincides to the unfolding future. When one does this, it helps to do readings about others because if you do them about yourself, you can always change the way things unfold an invalidate the reading.
The Card as a Doorway
In my imagination, I visualize being in a nondescript room with a large doorway in it that’s painted like the card I want to learn more about. After I’ve relaxed and gotten rid of all the general chatter going on inside my head, I walk to the door and open it. What do I see outside? What do I hear? First impressions are important because they simply are and haven’t had time to get twisted into logical deductions about what’s going on. When I open the door painted like the Knight of Swords card, I see swirling fog, sometimes by day and sometimes by night, and hear the sound of the wind.
Sometimes my intuition leads me to sit on the doorstep there–as we’re supposed to do at a railroad crossing–and Stop, Look, and Listen. Sometimes my intuition leads me to step outside, and when I do that, I’m usually in the sky, swirling around like a leaf in the wind with no control of its own. There’s no fear in this, no sensation of falling, and no worry that I might be carried so far away from the door, I won’t know how to get back. Since this is “my card” in Tarot readings and as I see myself generally, floating, swirling, sailing, and tumbling in pure air is a basic, womb-like experience. I’m often content to do nothing and just soak of the nourishment of the moment.
I can exert control if I like, though it’s more intuitive than logical. Rather than, say, deciding to fly over a specific place, I simply wonder “what’s down there” or “what else is up here.” I might see cities and oceans the way I would seem them from a plane or stars the way I might see them through the lens of a telescope. Air carries me whither it wants to.
Doing this kind of meditation is not unique to me. Many intuitives have said that Tarot cards are, for them, like windows or doorways. I suppose, though, that I bring a shaman’s journey technique and, rather than seeing figurative worlds or literal places, I see what’s outside the door of each card.
And, in a sense, whenever we do a Tarot reading, we are looking at what’s outside the doorway of the present moment and our present time and current place.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of novels filled with magic.