You’ve heard the saying ‘ask a silly question, you’ll get a silly answer’? So it is with tarot. Asking the right question, or rather, figuring out your intentions before you approach those cards, can really make the difference when it comes to the quality of your reading.
As someone who reads tarot for a living, I’ve gotten used to returning the occasional reading request, asking the querent if they would mind rephrasing. I don’t do this to be awkward or annoying, but because I want to give them the best possible reading, and the quality of the reading begins with the phrasing of the question being asked and the place where this question is coming from. A combination of both the angle and wording of the question, and the intention behind it, are key to receiving tarot readings that are empowering, informative and truly helpful.
Here are a few things to bear in mind when you’re preparing for your next reading.
1. You don’t actually have to have a question
Sometimes you just don’t know what to ask, and that’s totally okay. When reading for myself, sometimes I have a specific question, and sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, it’s usually that I’m looking for a sign, a clue, a word of encouragement or perhaps a warning when I’m too scared to give one to myself. Sometimes it’s more that I know what I want to ask, but I’m afraid of voicing it. That’s okay too: the cards can work with that fear and still provide the answers I need. Usually in these times, I find that the act of bringing this issue silently to my cards provides the encouragement I need to finally address it.
2. Yes/no questions don’t usually lead to simple answers
Let’s say you’re sick of your boss and you’re wondering if it’s time to quit your job and start that business you’ve always dreamed of. You could ask a straightforward ‘should I quit?’, but that’s likely to lead to a convoluted answer. Rather than telling you ‘yes you should totally leave your job’, the cards will want to help you unpick the whys and wherefores of your work situation and present you with the info you need to make your own decision.
Tarot is a great way to get a yes/no answer — if you’re prepared to go all around the houses to get there and then, ultimately, to decide yes or no for yourself. I’ve never known a genuine tarot reading take away a querent’s decision-making power. The cards might tell you that it’s time to start that cake-making business, but that you’re gonna need some savings in the bank in order to do that, so it’s up to you if you feel you have the resources or you want to stay and build up a safety net. Or they might discuss your toxic boss and show you how she is grinding you down, presenting you with the option of confronting her or walking away. The yes or the no is always going to end up coming from you in the end.
3. Tarot is all about you
If you want to ask a question about someone else’s feelings, go ahead and ask them, but I’d strongly advise that you keep it away from the cards. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just not what tarot is for. And readers who answer the ‘does she love me?’ types of questions are, in my opinion, reading unethically. Tarot is a tool for self empowerment, not for noseying into other people’s hearts and minds.
Example: Instead of asking ‘Does she love me?’ try asking ‘What can I do to improve this relationship?’
An exception would be when two or more people get a joint reading. Relationship readings are fun! Just make sure everyone is consenting to the reading before you start delving into other peoples’ thoughts and feelings.
4. Take responsibility and ask a positive question
Asking a positive question— and by this I mean the ‘What can I do?’ type of question — is deeply empowering and ensures that you end up with a proactive answer. Take responsibility for yourself! Make it clear that you intend to do something with the information you get from the cards, rather than being passive and/or expecting other people or things to change without you. If you’re serious about finding real answers, you’ll get a much better response from the cards if you’re putting a positive ‘can do’ kinda energy into your reading and telling the cards and the reader that you’re up it.
Example: Try ‘How can do to move [XYZ situation] forward?’ or ‘What are my possible options right now?’ If you’re really feeling stuck, you could try ‘What would it look like if I had/did XYZ?’
5. Be intentional
By ‘intentional’, I mean understanding the place where your request is coming from; the attitude with which you approach your cards. Following on from the above point, intentionality is to me the most import element of any tarot reading, whether you’re doing it for yourself or have a friend or stranger reading your cards.
Like spellwork, prayer, meditation or any other spiritual practice, what you put in and how you come to the tarot is going to define what you come away with. Are you consulting the cards in order to avoid the answer that’s staring you in the face (perhaps hoping the cards will tell you something different)? Are you getting yet another reading in lieu of taking the sound actions suggested by the last reading (or the one before that)? Tarot has an uncanny way of calling you out no matter what tale you’re spinning, but being honest about your needs, your feelings and your intentions before the reading really sets a tone for truth and heartfelt, empowering advice you can really use.
Try to set an intention before you begin. Even if you don’t have a specific question, be clear on what you want to get out of the reading. This might be ‘I want to get out of this rut and move forward’ or ‘I want to be honest about my feelings for XYZ’. Setting your intention can be incorporated into a simple ritual if you’re reading for yourself, by taking a moment to pause and speak it aloud before you begin. If you’re getting a reading from someone else, you could perhaps tell them your intention, affirm it before entering the room, or speak it before hitting ‘send’ on the email.
6. Be honest, and don’t dumb down your question
Meaning don’t cover up what you really want to ask with what you think you should ask, or what is ‘safe’ to ask. Tarot is about confronting stuff, and sometimes this is uncomfortable or difficult. If you want to know how to deal with your drinking problem, for example, say so; don’t make it wishy-washy and dance around the issue.
Example: Instead of ‘Umm…someone said I drink too much, but I don’t think I do. Do you think they’re right?’ ask ‘What do I need to know about my drinking?’
This is not to contradict my first point about not having a question. As I said, it may be that you’re truly not ready to voice this issue yet. As much as possible, tune in to your intuition here. You probably do know deep down what it is you’re asking about. Ask silently, ask obscurely, let the issue be present rather than suppressed as you shuffle your cards or request your reading.
7. Less is more
Obscure questions usually (though not always!) get obscure answers. If possible, be concise. You can provide as much or as little background info as you like, but sum it up succinctly with one simple question so that the cards and/or the reader know what they’re actually looking for and can bring you the answers you’re really seeking.
Example: You’ve talked all around your break-up, given the reader lots of details about who said what and how it’s hurting you. Sum up by asking ‘What can I do to move on?’ or ‘What do I need to know right now?’
Essentially, all of these tips are encouraging you to be responsible and intentional with your reading. You may not know exactly what your question is. You may not know how to boil down your situation into a specific request. What’s important is that you’re approaching your cards with a genuine desire to learn and grow. To my mind, that’s how the whole thing works.