Look at the Images

It really can’t be repeated often enough: don’t forget to look at the images.

When we read tarot, how are we “reading”?

When cards come up, are we immediately opening file cabinets in our brains, where we’ve stored rote meanings and habitual interpretations? Oh, there’s The Chariot, charge ahead. Oh, there’s The Fool, take a risk. Oh, there’s The Tower, get ready for a fall.

While basic meanings are the foundation to our practice, we also need to remember that we are working with a language of images, and as such, keyword meanings only play part of the overall role in our performance.

As an example, have a look at these two readings, each of them a three-card reading in response to the same question.


Something I’ve been enjoying lately is working both with the Marseille and the RWS on the same question. Here I looked first at the Marseille reading without the RWS, which was drawn successively. In this case rather than go into the details of the actual question and interpretation, I simply want to highlight the images themselves.

If we really look at the images without defaulting back to our keywords or crystallized meanings, we might be surprised to see a striking similarity in the images of Lemperevr and the Ace of Wands. The Emperor’s scepter reflects the wand in the Ace of Wands as if they were mirror images of the same idea. The delicate curve of the cloud that supports the hand offering the wand reflects the curvature of the throne that supports the Emperor himself.

What about Le Batelevr here and the wand in his hand, compared to those in the hands of the dancer on the RWS card of The World? What about their glances? Both of them look towards the left of our spread, and both look in a downward way, as if looking back somehow, or glancing over their shoulders.

If you aren’t looking at the images, you are missing the whole story. While these details might seem insignificant, they become meaningful in the hands of a reader who can pick up on them and incorporate them into the overall narrative. The images are the story.

When we take tarot out of its straightjacket of cut-and-paste meanings, we’re able to use it as a communication vehicle that brings us to the realization that symbols can mean different things at different times, and similar motifs on two completely different cards may highlight an important point to consider in the overall interpretation.

Here, for example, we can contemplate the significance of the scepter/wand similarity and begin to imagine ideas such as “carrying the torch,” “holding court,” “offering your creative gifts,” “showing your brilliance.” Playing with words can bring us lots of ideas about the message of these two cards and their similarities, as presented by the random draw.

By the same token we can look at the similarity in the “magic” wands of the Marseille magician and the World dancer, and how they both fell at the end of the spread, as a sign that magic is in the air, by your own power you can take matters into your own hands for the results that you desire, that the outcome will be like a wish come true.

Although I didn’t specifically highlight any similarities in the Wheel of Fortune/6 of Cups placement, we could easily compare and contrast these images as well. Look closely at the wheel in the Marseille image. What do you notice about the yellow rungs on the spokes of the wheel? How many are there? How does the movement of the wheel in the Marseille card compare to the movement of the cup being offered in the Six of Cups? The movement of the image in the Six of Cups from the golden cup on the left, to the cup being handed down on the right, and back across from right to left with the line of cups in the foreground, suggests circulating emotions, a give and take of feelings. This gives depth to the sense of movement in the Wheel of Fortune above, adding another dimension to the possible interpretation.

So, when “reading” your cards, don’t forget to look at the pictures. While it’s true that “grown up” books don’t have pictures in them, let’s try to recapture the joy we experienced as children, when our bedtime stories still had colors and images to help move the words along.

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