Ritual in Tarot Reading

Here’s a topic I’ve found interesting for quite some time. When I first started out with reading, I literally had one book: Tarot for Dummies. I’m not kidding. Yes, that one—the yellow and black series. That was where I started. I don’t even have that book anymore, but I sure have amassed quite a collection of tomes on the topic in the meantime.

Now that nearly 13 years have gone by while working with the cards, I rarely open any of the books anymore. I suppose that’s only natural, since practice builds confidence over time and a reader does tend to develop his or her own methodologies and interpretations and ways of reading a card spread.

That being said, one of the first things a new reader will generally concern him or herself with, based on reading these books, is the practice of “ritual” surrounding a reading.

Now, for someone who isn’t familiar with tarot, that might sound like some kind of spooky ceremony with a witch’s cauldron and bubbling frog legs. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean here by ritual is simply a certain practice or practices that a reader performs each and every time he or she prepares to do a reading.

Just to give you an idea of the vast range of opinions that exist on this topic, here is a snapshot based on a quick online search:

  • Theresa Reed, a.k.a. The Tarot Lady, who is a quite down-to-earth and no-nonsense reader, suggests practices for clearing the mind and clearing the space. One I particularly like is having the client select an oracle card before the reading. She says that this “gives them a moment to slow down and clear their brain.  Many clients come straight from work and need a little time to center themselves.” I like that as a practice for setting the tone, and setting the space.
  • Mary K. Greer collected tips and advice from over 60 experienced readers for her post What Every Newbie Tarot Reader Needs to Know. In it, suggestions were made such as these: wash your hands before touching the cards, light a candle, keep tissues handy, center and ground yourself.
  • Aeclectic Tarot, a popular online forum for readers, has an entire page devoted to questions surrounding ritual in reading.

In this discussion about ritual for preparing for a reading, I liked how one forum member put it succinctly:

If you believe you can’t hit a home run without your dirty lucky socks, then you can’t. If you believe you can’t read the cards without music and candles (and cats and cartwheels!) then you can’t! It’s all a matter of perception.

The further along I’ve come in my practice, the more I’ve realized that for me personally, ritual isn’t as important as intention. I feel that if my intention in wanting to read the story of the cards for a sitter is that of wanting to genuinely help them to find some ways to get clarity or insight regarding an issue, or simply to imagine some different possibilities which can lend hope to a difficult situation, then truly, I believe that’s all that’s really necessary. The images themselves, and looking at them together while discussing their narrative, will do the rest.

By that what I’m saying is that I don’t personally believe that my readings are affected one way or another by any external circumstance, such as lighting a candle, burning incense, clearing a deck, smudging a deck, or any number of the various rituals that readers swear by. The cards are the cards: images on cardboard. The chance aspect of a random draw is what infuses a particular narrative with meaning for a sitter and their particular query.

Tarot reading is such an individual craft. Most readers I know were self-taught. That means most of us have come to pick and choose what we feel works for us, and in so doing, we often diverge quite wildly in our opinions about what is “right” and what is “wrong” in terms of how to read.

That being said, I always stress that I don’t think anything is right or wrong, per se, unless it involves manipulation or taking advantage of a vulnerable person. However, in my own practice, I take an approach that tends to ground itself more in the narrative practice of tarot, by simply reading the images on the cards. That’s my intention, and I feel that in order for a sitter (client) to benefit from a reading, that’s all that’s really necessary.

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