A mini tarot lesson: How to really read the cards

Despite tarot’s mystique and mysticism, I find that the cards can actually be very funny, direct, and literal.

One of the things that a lot of new readers get confused by, however, is the idea that every card is infused with deep, esoteric symbolism.

This keeps readers from sometimes seeing the obvious. They get so caught up in trying to remember what each card means, assuming they have to decipher a greater spiritual message, that they miss the stories that are unfolding right in front of them.

A couple months ago, I pulled a few cards before heading out to a tattoo appointment. I’m no stranger to getting tattooed, but I still get nervous before a session.

I was going to an artist I hadn’t worked with before and wanted to know how it would go. I pulled the Five of Cups, the Four of Swords, and the Eight of Pentacles:

Mini Tarot Lesson Blog Image

Now, if I were to rely on the stock meanings for these cards, this reading would be giving me themes of loss ad regret (Five of Cups), a need to retreat or hide away (Four of Swords), and hard work (Eight of Pentacles).

Obviously, anything associated with regret or hiding away isn’t ideal when we’re talking about something like a tattoo.

But it’s important to remember that the answers are often in the images on the cards themselves, not in pat, memorized keywords.

We start with the Five of Cups:

I see blood that’s been spilled, so right away I knew this was going to be a painful tattoo, and I would bleed. Makes sense, right? Also, I always, always have a point in a tattoo session where I think, “God, why am I even doing this?” Because it does hurt, and it’s hard not to want to back out at some point, especially if you’re getting a bigger piece or doing work on a sensitive part of your body.

Five of Cups Morgan Greer

The Four of Swords told me that I would be laying down for this one, which turned out to be true. The artist had me stretch out on my back on a table. You could say I spent the afternoon “under the needle,” as we see in this card.

And wouldn’t you know: The artist used four different types of needles. (See how tarot just knows?)

Four of Swords Morgan Greer

And finally, the Eight of Pentacles:

See how the person in this card is replicating the same thing over and over again? This person is focused. They are paying attention to detail. They are a master of their craft. The artist I was going to was amazing – I had no doubt about that. And this card told me that she would take just as much care with my artwork as she would with any other.

The theme of replication certainly came to fruition, too. I was getting a ship tattooed on my shin. I’d brought some references in, but didn’t have a specific image in mind.

Eight of Pentacles Morgan Greer

The artist had sourced a picture of a ship that was similar to what I was looking for and worked from that throughout the session, eyeballing it the whole way through, transferring details from a piece of paper into a piece of body art.

Which, again, is what we see in the Eight of Pentacles: Something is being replicated meticulously, carefully. And with much focus. During my tattoo session, there was no chit chat, no small talk. It was all business.

This reading told me exactly how things would go: I would shed some blood while laying on my back, letting a master of their craft do their work. I knew I would be satisfied just based on the final card alone, trusting that I was in the hands of someone who has mastered their tools and trade.

See what happened here? Sometimes, tarot is quite literal, and the answers are in the visuals themselves.

It is still important to know the card meanings, but giving yourself flexibility to just simply see what the cards are showing you is important, too.

If you’d like to learn more about how I work with tarot, you might want to check out Going Beyond the Little White Book: A Contemporary Guide to Tarot, available now.

Until next time,
Liz xo

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