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What to Expect from a Tarot Card Reading

Updated on September 13, 2015
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Sylvia Sky, M.A. is an astrologer, tarot professional, and author of "Sun Sign Confidential: The Dark Side of All 12 Zodiac Signs."

"The Sea is so Wide and My Boat is So Small"

Tarot is a tool for navigating life.
Tarot is a tool for navigating life. | Source

A skilled Tarot reader can give quick and detailed answers to your questions. No magic is involved, no name or birth date required. Ask, and the cards will show how your life is trending and how to change direction if you’re willing. The tone should be positive. At your first reading expect surprise and fun.

Ideally, Tarot readings are face-to-face and one-on-one, in a quiet setting. Some readers work via email, phone, or Skype; others won’t. Make sure your reader is a human. No two readings are alike, and all are confidential. The focus is on you. The reading might show the people involved in your life, but readings about other people’s issues should be done separately.

Much of Tarot’s fun and intrigue is the colorful card images packed with symbolism both ancient and modern. Symbols appeal to hearts and minds. For readings the most popular deck is the British 78-card “Rider-Waite,” designed in 1909. It’s very forthright. Dozens of novelty decks include “Hello Kitty” Tarot cards and the “Motherpeace” deck with circular rather than rectangular cards. All will work; your reader simply knows and prefers the deck he or she is using. Some readers have clients shuffle the cards. Others ask clients to cut the cards. Or not. The most important and valuable factor in the reading is your reader’s skill at card interpretation.

How Long is a Reading?

At parties or New Age fairs so many people might be in line for Tarot that readings must be short. A satisfying 10-card (also called “Celtic”) reading, the most popular kind, should allow time for clarifications or any questions you have: 15 to 20 minutes. Tarot is a tool for guidance. Don’t assume readers are scary or unapproachable. They’re humans who’ve learned to read Tarot cards. Ask what you need to, and be honest. To get emotional during a reading is not unusual.

What’s the price of a one-on-one reading? Typically it works out to a dollar or two per minute, not a lot compared to phone psychic hotlines asking $6.99 per minute. And if you’ve phoned psychic hotlines, often you can tell they’re reading from a script. That’s never true of Tarot.

Most clients want to know about a life issue: generally love, health, family, or work. The reader might ask what your question is or help you formulate a question. Or the reader might not ask you anything, trusting the cards to bring your issue to the surface. Both types of readers are legitimate. They don’t read your mind. They read cards.

The Right Question Gets the Right Answer

Please don’t ask Tarot about “your fate”; Tarot and “fate” are incompatible. Tarot exists to help you navigate and shape your own future. Forget movies and operas that take Tarot cards literally. The cards aren’t that shallow. Asking “Will I win the lottery?” or “Tell me my grandfather’s name,” is treating the reading like a game, which it’s not. Clear and thoughtful questions such as “What will happen if I quit my job and start a business?” or “How will my love life go in the next six months?” get clear and thoughtful answers. You can also ask, “What does my coming year look like?” The shorter the time frame (for predictions, I recommend two years maximum), the more specific the answer.

Dealt from the Tarot deck and laid out in a pattern of three, six, or 10, the cards with their symbolism unfold a story about your past, the present, the near future, and the likely outcome, revealed by the final card in the sequence.

Is It Scary?

Tradition requires readers to be truthful—you came for the truth, right?—so you might not like everything the cards reveal: Maybe the cash cow is drying up, or the past still controls you, or you won’t win the contest. Or the cards might show triumph or fulfillment is nearer than you think. You'll see where your current situation is leading. A full Tarot reading gives guidance about sidestepping or managing obstacles. It might be as simple as adjusting your attitude or releasing an unreasonable fear—if you’re willing. Your future is yours to decide.

A Tarot reading invites you to contemplate your life. If you’ve come for a reading because your spouse beats you or you are severely depressed, the experienced Tarot reader will refer you to law enforcement or social services. Sometimes the cards will answer a question, such as a love-life question, by presenting you with cards about other issues that should take priority, such as money or family. That’s not your reader’s personal opinion. It’s what the cards say.

Good Tarot readers always in demand, so please let yours go when the spread has been read and time is up. Most pros have business cards; simply ask for one.


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  • profile image

    CGS 23 months ago

    Great review as I have to agree with Larry Rankin.

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

    Great overview.