A Tarot Reader – How To Go From Beginner To Expert In Three Easy Steps

by Douglas Gibb on September 6, 2009

A Maze

When someone first wants to learn how to read Tarot cards, they quickly discover how much information there is to learn. All this information creates the appearance that the Tarot is profoundly mysterious; that it will take a huge effort to uncover its secrets. In no time at all, learning to read Tarot cards becomes a puzzle; something that needs to be solved. There are so many different techniques, spreads, mythologies, and different systems that can be attributed to the Tarot, that the apparent effort involved, appears daunting.

The process of going from a beginner to expert is similar to entering a maze; a vast puzzle, made from tall hedges that appear endless beyond imagining. There are many different options available to people wanting to enter the maze. One person might stumble around the maze desperately trying to solve the puzzle by themselves. Another person might ask for a guide to help them solve the puzzle; while others panic, frightened by the enormity of the task.

A maze is a complex network of paths or passages, especially, one with high hedges, designed to puzzle and confuse those walking through it; the solver must work his or her way from the entrance of the maze to an exit, or another location. A maze should not be confused with a labyrinth.

What ever method is chosen, it’s easy to forget why you are in the maze. Some places in the maze are very appealing, and you will wish to spend a long time there, while others are dull, dark, boring and sometimes frightening. It’s easy to become fascinated by the maze; it’s easy to forget about the puzzle you are trying to solve. This is a difficult period, one that can last years; try to remember why you have entered the maze.

This article outlines three easy steps to guide you from beginner to expert. These steps won’t show you how to solve the puzzle; rather, it will show you how to burn the maze to the ground. First, we learn some techniques, second we put effort into making these techniques unconscious and third, we drop the techniques.

1. Techniques are helpful

There are several useful techniques to learn at the beginning stages of learning how to read Tarot cards. Simply pick a technique that you want to learn and learn it. The only condition on choosing the technique is to chose one that feels right to you. There are so many different techniques available that finding a technique that you click with will be relatively easy. Once you have found that right technique for you, practice it.

As with most things, techniques can save a lot of time and energy. Techniques help you learn the Tarot that much faster. Although you would get there without knowing them, it would be a long and tedious journey. However, despite the usefulness of techniques to help us learn how to give Tarot card readings, they are not ‘Tarot card readings’ in and of themselves.

For the beginner, a Tarot reading is built on techniques; the choice of what spread to use, whether or not to use reversed Tarot cards, all of these are techniques and choices the beginner needs to make. However, that is just the beginning – in the end, you will laugh! You will laugh because techniques are not Tarot card readings. Techniques are designed to be dropped the moment you understand them. Techniques are designed to help you arrive an effortless point, where reading Tarot cards becomes something that requires no thought. It is the difference between doing a Tarot card reading, and being involved in a Tarot card reading.

2. Begin with effort

In the beginning, we need to put effort into the techniques that we choose. We need to apply ourselves constantly to the learning of these techniques. This is because in the beginning, learning a technique is a doing. We want to learn these techniques so well that we will no longer need to think about them. Naturally, at the start, it will feel like effort. But if you are successful, there will be no effort; it will become natural and spontaneous; like breathing.

Everything the mind does is effort. In Zen, the emphasis is on effortlessness. This becomes possible once the technique becomes unconscious and natural, that the use of the technique becomes unnecessary.

…the master says to the disciple, “Just sit. Don’t do anything.” And the disciple tries. Of course – what can you do other than trying?

Osho

Effort is a kind of tension

Putting effort into learning techniques is necessary in the beginning. However, you must remember to go beyond this point. To achieve an effortless state with your Tarot readings, there will come a point when you need to recognise that it is time to drop the technique. Effort is a kind of tension, and while we continue to put effort into our Tarot readings we will be unable to fully relax. With this in mind, remember that by selecting techniques to learn, by putting effort into these techniques, you have already started the process of effortlessness.

3. Drop the techniques

There is a story that Buddha used to tell:

Five idiots passed through a village. Seeing them, people were surprised, because they were carrying a boat on their heads. The boat was really big; they were almost dying under the weight of it. And people asked, “What are you doing?”

They said, “We cannot leave this boat. This is the boat that helped us to come from the other shore to this shore. How can we leave it? It is because of it that we have been able to come here. Without it we would have died on the other shore. The night was coming close, and there were wild animals on the other shore; it was as sure as anything that by the morning we would have been dead. We will never leave this boat. We are indebted forever. We will carry it on our heads in sheer gratitude.”

Osho

Techniques are useful, but there will come a time when they will become useless; they will become a hindrance. How do you recognise when a technique becomes useless? When a technique becomes academic and unnecessary to the accomplishment of the Tarot reading. There will come a point when you will no longer consciously think about elemental dignities, reversed Tarot cards, the divinatory definitions of the card meanings; all of these things will no longer be necessary to read Tarot. When this stage happens, immediately abandon the technique. As soon as you can apply and fully understand a technique, abandon it. Do not hold onto a technique the way the ‘five idiots’ in the story told by Buddha hold onto their boat. Drop it when it no longer serves a purpose.

Aleister Crowley mentions something very similar in the Book of Lies:

THE MOUNTAINEER

Consciousness is a symptom of disease.
All that moves well moves without will.
All skillfulness, all strain, all intention is contrary to
ease.
Practise a thousand times, and it becomes difficult;
a thousand thousand, and it becomes easy; a
thousand thousand times a thousand thousand,
and it is no longer Thou that doeth it, but It that
doeth itself through thee. Not until then is that
which is done well done.
Thus spoke FRATER PERDURABO as he leapt
from rock to rock of the moraine without ever
casting his eyes upon the ground.

Aleister Crowley, Book of Lies

The way to burn the maze to the ground is to follow the three easy steps I outlined above. First pick a technique, then put effort into learning that technique, then abandon that technique. Remember, techniques are not Tarot readings. Techniques can be useful, but they can also be prisons; they can act like a giant maze. Drop the technique and burn the maze.

Let me know if you agree with what I’ve written. Do you agree that techniques can act like prisons, preventing us from effortlessly reading Tarot cards?

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25 comments… Let's discuss

Jason September 6, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Best. Post. Ever. :D

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Douglas September 6, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Hi Jason,

Thank you for your kind words. Glad you liked the post :)

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Theresa September 6, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Absolutely brilliant. I hope all readers take this post to heart.

And the Osho reference brings it to life. (Love anything by Osho, btw.)

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Douglas September 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Hi Theresa,

I love Osho as well. I’ve been reading more of his work recently. The Osho Dynamic Meditation is something I’ve just started doing. It’s amazing :)

Glad you liked the post :D

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Charles January 2, 2010 at 7:34 am

You absolutely lost me when you quoted Rajneesh (or Osho, as the revisionist call him). Rajneesh was insane, he was a terrorist that attacked a city with biological weapons, he was America’s Shoko Asahara.

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Leila Jo September 6, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Thanks Douglas – as always, an interesting read. I agree with you that each reader really needs to find their own reading technique that eventually feels like second nature (6th sense?) to them. It’s those unique, hard to name techniques we use that keep us intrigued with the work and our clients coming back for more!

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Douglas September 7, 2009 at 10:04 am

Hi Leila Jo,

Definitely! When people find a technique that just seems to ‘click’ with them, and they practice that technique enough, eventually they will no longer need to consciously think about how to use it; at that point the technique will become a hindrance to them, and (after they let-go) things will become effortless.

I’m glad you liked the post :)

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aurarcana September 10, 2009 at 2:25 am

Hi Doug,

What a great post!

I often feel like I may have been too ambitious when I started my blog, but considering that it’s a journal, it has been extremely useful during my learning process since I started from scratch. I found that writing out my own interpretations has helped me tremendously as opposed to “studying” or just reading someone else’s meanings. Sure, the basic components are essential, but for the most part, if we allow ourselves to relax and trust our intuition, we can come up with the “core” meanings. Sure, mistakes can be made, but we can learn from them!

Your advice on “Drop the techniques” may help me out the most.

There is so much information out there, and much of it irrelevant to the beginner at first. Simplicity would work best, but due to our curious nature (and the Internet and social media), one has to be careful. When is too much too much?

Each person needs to find what works best for them at that given time. I have dedicated an hour a night to “studying” Tarot, although it is not what it seems; it involves me, a candle, a relaxed state of mind, and a daily Tarot card (right now) so that I can start randomly delving into some of the cards I haven’t familiarized myself with yet.

The next step of course is doing actual spreads!

Warmest regards, Nicole

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Douglas September 10, 2009 at 9:55 am

Hi Nicole thanks for dropping by :)

I think that it’s a good thing to be too ambitious – certainly, at the start of any project, this is vital. It provides the necessary energy to keep moving forward. In order to learn any new skill or technique, we have to put the effort in right at the beginning. Over the course of time, what required effort to do initially, now requires no effort. This is an excellent sign that the techniques practiced are now becoming effortless. I’ve found that in order to move beyond this point, or rather, the way I moved beyond that point, was, without really being aware of it, by dropping techniques.

For instance, one of the indications that I had this was happening was during a Tarot reading I did years ago for a friend. I noticed that I no longer read the Celtic Cross according to the traditional positions. Rather, I was able to ‘step’ outside of the spread and make connections, due in part from other techniques that I had learned, but mainly because I’d dropped the ‘techniques’ used to read the Celtic Cross. As a side-effect, I was also using ‘non-traditional’ meanings for the individual tarot cards within the spread.

Since then, I’ve come to realise that a Tarot reading is not the techniques themselves, but a way for us to ‘get into’ a Tarot reading.

I really enjoy your blog and I look forward to reading how you get on with Tarot spreads :) .

All the best,

Doug

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mzzlee September 13, 2009 at 2:43 pm

As I do, Douglas–i have printed this post to read on the subway this week. I’ll get back to you. Something tells me i am going to be excited.
Gotta get me a binder and a 3 hole punch to start holding your awesome work in so that i can refer to stuff over and over. It is THAT spledid, and I thank you for that!

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Douglas September 13, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Hi Mzzlee,

Thank you for your kind words – especially about the binder :D

Let me know what you think of the post. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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Ginger September 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Hmmm…interested…techniques become so integrated that they just are…The thing I struggle with is when what I ‘read” just doesn’t fit the technique and I THINK…I’m right…not the technique…lol…but I’m still at the THINK I’m right…not fully trusting. Intersting psota as usual…thought provoking

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Douglas September 16, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Hi Ginger,

I’m glad you enjoyed the post ;)

The point will come when your confidence will grow and you will begin to trust the process. It can be a frustrating time, but by putting in the effort, eventually, the effort ceases all together.

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astromama September 19, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Wow, great article. I want to thank you for leaving the FIRST comment on my new site and also enter your free reading contest. What a great idea!

When I do tarot readings, there is a method to my madness but itis simply to open to spirit. When I am open and not worried about performance or anything else, I find that the readings flow and are more accurate than I could have ever imagined. The key for me is to allow Universal Spirit/Love to run the show. I am just an instrument.

Thanks for providing a platform….

Peace. Love. Light.

astromama

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Douglas September 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Hi Astromama,

Thank you for your kind words.

When I do tarot readings, there is a method to my madness but it’s simply to open to spirit. When I am open and not worried about performance or anything else, I find that the readings flow and are more accurate than I could have ever imagined.

I agree! When performance is no longer occupying the surface mind, the reading just seems to flow through you :) .

All the best,

Doug

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Paul Yeung October 26, 2009 at 8:25 am

Hello Douglas! I have been exploring your blog this few weeks, and I have to say I am thoroughly thrilled and have gained so much out of them! Especially love the philosophical touch in your writings, thanks for the great posts you share!

I have been self learning the Tarot for about two years, mainly for my own benefits, and in an eclectic and rather un-orderly manner. Your posts consolidated some of my understanding about the Tarot and at the same time provide possible answers to some of my doubts.

What I feel so strongly about this article wasn’t only because its exactly how I approached the Tarot in the first place – I thought it best to be studious, to read as much as possible and to cram in as much knowledge in my head as possible. In retrospect I realize I OFTEN forget the forest for the tree – but what you wrote can be applicable to learning anything actually. I was called to mind a conversation I’ve had with my karate coach (who’s also my guitar teacher) not long ago. He told me, ‘paraphrasing a book he read about learning martial art and music), “Essential there are only three ‘belts’/’grades’ for every marital arts: white, black and grey. Initially the apprentice started from zero and was like a blank white sheet, over time he mastered all the skills the average person in the same field is expected to know and become an expert himself in that area. Many would take this to be the goal or final stage of mastering an art, without knowing that they are second-rate as best. (In the realm of arts that’s comparable to being a craftsman rather than an artist) The ultimate stage is actually the grey-belt stage: to drop all the techniques you have learn all through the years and practiced diligently, because it has been so internalized that it has become a second nature, an unthinking process. That’s when you truly learned something.”

What you outlined in those three steps immediately brought to my mind this conversation my mentor had with me. I especially agree with what you said about recognizing a technique to be useless when it becomes academic, because I have a tendency to falling in that trap myself! Always unknowingly become obsessed with theories, so to say.

Thanks for the great post again! Truly Inspiring! :D

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Douglas October 27, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Hi Paul,

Thank you for your kind words :D I really appreciate it.

I had a very similar approach to you. I also started off being an academic about the Tarot; I was keen to read as many different theories as possible. Like you, I had a tendency to become obsessed with those theories :D

Although this is a hindrance, it can also be something that provides motivation, enthusiasm and direction. It took me a year or so of full time Tarot work to drop a lot of my preconceived ideas – and to allow the reading to speak to me.

I loved the example of the white, black and gray belt grading system. I agree with you; this applies perfectly.

I think the critical part of that example is the idea that the black belt is the end goal.

When we have the black belt as the goal (as I did) we “forget the forest for the trees”. Perhaps in having no goal, in the sense of “being a great Tarot reader”, we allow ourselves to develop a natural and more fluid way of reading Tarot cards.

Thank you for this great comment :D

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Paul Yeung October 28, 2009 at 6:41 am

yea, I think one of the obstacles for me (in reading tarot and any other areas) is to have defined too rigid a preconceived ‘goal’. Then in attempting to force such ‘desired result’, I began to read meanings into the process rather than letting the processes inform me whether I am on the right track or not lol

thanks for the inspiration!

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Fiona January 26, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Yes! techniques can be prisons.
Thank you.

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Katie-Ellen June 7, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Well and vividly written, and in my experience, true. I began learning Tarot at a time of need in a specific information void, deciding to engage with the ‘effortless’ bit of my mind that had at intervals over many years, been producing dreams of precognition. Learning the Tarot was like ‘painting by numbers’ at the beginning, to learn how to access that ‘dreaming’ but while waking, and where possible, to make it useable. Later, I suppose it’s also a bit like skating…or singing or martial arts…for it to flow free you need to NOT hesitate.

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Douglas Gibb June 17, 2010 at 11:59 am

Hi Katie-Ellen,

Thank you for stopping by :)

for it to flow free you need to NOT hesitate.

I couldn’t agree more!

Thank you for the insightful comment :D

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Katie-Ellen Hazeldine June 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I’m adding you to my blog roll
:)
Regards

Katie-Ellen.

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Cynthia July 11, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Excellent.. I just realized that I need to drop my technique.. I am surfing around looking.. now I know its because it is technique that is restricting me.. love the timing.. the universe and all its wonders..

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Nupur March 15, 2013 at 2:47 am

Thank you so much for all the blogs. I just started learning and interpreting the tarot cards. These blogs has really really helped me to understand them. Each and every blog is so much informative and really excellent!!!
Thanks once again

take care
Nupur

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Delphine April 20, 2013 at 12:50 am

Hi Doug, what a great blog and I’m in total agreement. I find I give the best readings when I’m completely relaxed and just go with my intuition rather than ‘thinking’ about the cards. Any other tips along this line will be greatly received. Or should I just forget this blog lol.

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