Tarot Surgery! How Come I Can See Things In The Cards Quickly and Other Times I Can’t?

by Douglas Gibb on November 2, 2009

A Difficult Decision

Image: William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s La leçon difficule (The Difficult Lesson).

How many times have you dealt out a combination of cards only to find you haven’t got any idea what it means?

Sure, we’ve all got experience of doing “great” readings. We’ve all got experience of flowing with the cards, of trusting our intuition, of connecting really well with our client, but what about those times when we hit a brick wall?

This can be a rather unsettling experience, especially if you’re trying to impress a new client.

It doesn’t matter how much experience I, or any other Tarot reader has, it doesn’t matter how many combinations we’ve all worked out, there will always be a group of cards that will have us beat.

Why Does this Happen?

Simple! The combination of cards that we, as Tarot readers can’t interpret, represent “karmic” influences that we haven’t worked out.

I’m using the word Karma very loosely – I’m using it to signify an area of our own lives that we have difficulty with.

If we were in the client’s position, experiencing their life, desiring the same things they desire – essentially walking in their shoes – then we would be just as confused as them. Hence, why the combination of cards is confusing.

There’s no mystery to why some combinations of cards don’t make sense in a Tarot reading; there’s no mystery to why one card sticks out and confuses the rest of the “story”. It simply comes down to the fact they we ourselves haven’t “worked out” that area of karma in our own lives.

Likewise – we understand a combination of cards very easily because they make sense to us; because we’ve worked out that “combination” in our own lives.

An Example – The Devil

Normally, it’s more than one card that upsets the flow of a Tarot reading. Normally, it’s a combination of three or four Tarot cards. However, to keep things simple, let’s look at one card – The Devil.

This is just an example – I could have picked any card to illustrate this point!

Imagine you’re giving a Tarot reading to a client, or a friend, or even for yourself and the Devil card appears.

Okay, no big deal but, combined with the other cards, the Devil (it could be any card) just doesn’t make any sense. It upsets the flow of the reading. We start to judge ourselves harshly, “…I’ll never be able to read Tarot cards the way other people do…”, and we hit a brick wall and the person we’re doing the reading for is waiting to hear what “we see” in the cards, but we’ve lost confidence, we are unsure of ourselves, and the client starts to notice.

In ten excellent tips to help recover a Tarot reading, I discuss ways to get the reading back on track; but in this article, rather than looking at practical steps to overcome the brick wall effect, I want to look at some of the deeper issues at work when we don’t know what a combination of cards represents.

Going Deeper into the Devil

In that rather simple story I told, where the Devil upsets the flow of the reading, I didn’t actually look at what Karmic influences might be at work. Let’s do that now:

  1. The Devil as sexual energy: For most Spiritual disciplines, the sexual energy is very potent, powerful, trans-personal and…wonderful. However, most people have certain “issues” surrounding sex; that being the most common expression of this energy! Interestingly, with a little preparation, sex can be one of the easiest ways to connect with the divine.

    It doesn’t really matter what those issues are, just that most people have insecurities with that area of their lives.

    When we do a Tarot reading where this “energy” is influencing the client’s life to a large extent, then we we are being asked, by the Tarot cards, to explore that “energy” with the client. If we have similar issues at work in our own lives, then we won’t be able to accurately understand what the combination of cards are telling us.

  2. The Devil as control: Sometimes one person’s need to control another can be a major influence within the client’s life. It doesn’t really matter if they are the ones being controlled or doing the controlling because our job is to understand how these influences affect the client’s life right across the board.

    However, if we also have “control” issues, we will find it very difficult to interpret the cards accurately for the client.

  3. The Devil as laughter: Sometimes we don’t like it when people ‘laugh away’ their problems. I’m not sure why this is; perhaps it’s because we think they aren’t taking them as seriously as we think they should.

    I remember when I was doing a Social Work course, being involved with a young person who had had a difficult upbringing. Every time he talked about his past, we would laugh and joke. For some reason, this offended the “experts” that were present. I had no idea what was so wrong with him laughing about it (I didn’t have a Karmic problem in this area) but they certainly did – even to the point of angrily telling him, “if you can’t take this seriously, how do you expect us to help?”
    The problem with not seeing how necessary it was for him to laugh and joke about his upbringing is obvious, yet, this can still cause people to react angrily against it. When we don’t understand something, when we haven’t worked through our own Karma, then our Tarot readings will lack clarity.

A Solution – Time to Change Perspective

I remember speaking to Paul Hughes-Barlow a couple of years ago about how some combination of cards were easy to understand while others weren’t.

Paul suggested something that was truly inspirational. He had observed, through his own experience, that even doing a Tarot reading for other people can teach us about ourselves. One of the most interesting things Paul said was, “you spend months trying to understand a combination of cards, and when you finally understand them, you’ll never see that combination again”.

It’s almost as if, in understanding a difficult combination, in the very act of doing a Tarot reading for someone else, we ourselves begin to heal.

For instance, he would spend months “seeing” the same combinations of cards appear before he finally understood their significance. Almost as if, in understanding that combination, in being able to accurately interpret them for a client, he had healed an area of his own Karma.

In a nut-shell, think of those combination of Tarot cards that are difficult to understand as an expression of a difficulty that you also share within your own life. By working out what a combination of cards means, we are potentially unlocking a difficult Karmic influence.

In many ways, the Tarot is our best teacher. It teaches us, not only through personal study, but also in the very act of reading for other people

What is the solution to understanding difficult combinations?

The solution is to shift perspective.

Not understanding what some cards mean isn’t a sign that you’re a bad Tarot reader, that you can’t read the cards, that you don’t have a “natural” ability; rather, it is a sign that the Tarot is teaching you, that you’re undoing Karmic influences, that you’re growing as a person.

It Takes Time

This doesn’t happen over night. It takes time, but eventually our own understanding, our own “Karmic” influences are being healed through reading for others.

What Paul was highlighting to me, and what I want to share with you is how, once the Tarot teaches us about ourselves, once we finally understand a combination of cards that has taken us months to solve, we move onto the next lesson; to the next set of combinations.

Tarot Surgery?

If anyone would like me to answer a question as part of the Tarot Surgery series, then please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you have.

Have you noticed the same thing happen to you? Have you spent months trying to understand what a certain combination means before it finally makes sense? Do you agree with this article or disagree? Whatever your opinion, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll see all in the comments :D

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21 comments… Let's discuss

Irmata November 2, 2009 at 11:11 pm

I’m having this problem in a certain area of my life and it reflects every time I “tarot” about it. No matter what angle I come at it from, which deck I use or how many clarifier cards I pull, I just can’t make sense of what I see. I can tell there’s a message, but it’s in a language I don’t understand. I know this is partly because I don’t _want_ to understand, but that avoidance is a giant red arrow to the fact that there is a deep, underlying issue that needs to be worked out.

I’m coming at in in a labyrinthine way: circle inwards, circle back, circle inwards, circle back… and eventually reach the centre. It’s like dancing around an angry bear, mesmerising it and distracting it from what I’m doing :) Too bad _I’m_ the angry bear in question!

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Douglas Gibb November 4, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Hi Irmata,

Thanks for dropping by :D

I’m coming at in in a labyrinthine way: circle inwards, circle back, circle inwards, circle back… and eventually reach the centre. It’s like dancing around an angry bear, mesmerising it and distracting it from what I’m doing :) Too bad _I’m_ the angry bear in question!

What a great way of putting it :)

These things take time to work out. They can’t be rushed, no matter how much we’d like to.

Experiment with using clarification cards, then experiment without using them.

The key is to allow the cards to filter into your consciousness. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you ‘don’t get it’ straight away. This is natural. By simply taking the time to muse over the cards, you’re allowing the unconscious to do the rest. This will take as long as it takes, but eventually it will become clearer…then…there will be a new set of cards that you’ll be musing over ;)

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Irmata November 6, 2009 at 3:48 am

If I can add one helpful bit of advice for anyone reading: don’t yell at the cards when you get frustrated. Even a gentle-natured deck like the Spiral will let you know how it feels about this ;)

I’m finding that I usually get a flash of insight after about 4 days of things percolating in the back of my mind. The light bulb suddenly flickers on and I slot another piece of the puzzle into place. I’m really enjoying how the layers of meanings for the cards are growing and expanding!

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Douglas Gibb November 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Hi Irmata,

Great point :D

Thank you for taking the time to share this :)

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Ginger November 3, 2009 at 5:13 am

Again…I see a striking similarity to therapy…it is often talked about how a therapist needs to take care of their own “stuff” before they can really help a client. Also some issues for therapists are sensitive…like dealing with a death if the therapist has unresolved grief etc….

I find this one rather hard to get a handle on…yes seeking higher levels of understanding, self awareness, growth, study, conversations like this one, etc…certainly helps the reader be a better reader…BUT honestly its just a distant goal….none of us can really completely wipe out our “issues, fears, etc” and so they will continue to influence readings…

The best we can hope for is a better awareness of how they impact readings and perhaps to develop enough skill to step back when the block occurs and bring forth not only a meaning for the seeker but also a deeper understanding for the reader.

Reminds me of the block I drew on the Devil card on Halloween night…so I have been reflecting on it being me…my karma…so to speak …and you know….thinking of it as a person who doesn’t have many options….sort of does fit my state of mind lately…so perhaps I just didn’t want to see it in the reading…LOL….idk.

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Douglas Gibb November 4, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Hi Ginger,

I’m really enjoy reading the connections you make with therapy. I love the way we can all benefit from using knowledge and information not directly connected to the Tarot to help inform our practice and our understanding of the ‘processes’ involved in reading Tarot cards.

BUT honestly its just a distant goal….none of us can really completely wipe out our “issues, fears, etc” and so they will continue to influence readings…

You make a very good point!

To what extent can we free ourselves of past conditioning? Is it possible to completely decondition ourselves?

This is a complex subject but a fascinating one. I think it would be fair to say that it any form of deconditioning takes time – never mind the idea of complete deconditioning.

The best we can hope for is a better awareness of how they impact readings and perhaps to develop enough skill to step back when the block occurs and bring forth not only a meaning for the seeker but also a deeper understanding for the reader.

To some extent I agree with this. In fact, what you’ve stated is perfectly reasonable.

What I would urge some caution on is this idea of the “…best we can hope for”. Not that this is wrong as such, but rather, I think we need to be careful when we make statements that reduce “possibilities”.

However, I completely agree with the sentiment of the statement. This is a skill we should all strive for, and it is a skill that can take years to develop – perhaps even a life time.

I think it’s important for all of us to accept a level of “affirmation” in what we do. By accepting a level of affirmation, we, by implication, accept a level of “possibility”; we accept a level of “undecidability”. This is important because, rather than keeping things ‘fixed’ as a ‘truth’, by accepting a level of “undecidability” we also accept that things are subject to difference.

Okay, this is a rather abstract point, yet, an important one.

By keeping this in mind we allow our confidence to grow; by limiting ourselves, we can end up hurting our confidence.

Reminds me of the block I drew on the Devil card on Halloween night…so I have been reflecting on it being me…my karma…so to speak …and you know….thinking of it as a person who doesn’t have many options….sort of does fit my state of mind lately…so perhaps I just didn’t want to see it in the reading…LOL….idk.

LOL I’ve been working through a certain combination of cards that are recurring for me as well :D

Thanks for a great comment. It’s really given me something to think about ;)

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Storm Cestavani November 3, 2009 at 6:17 am

This is a great great blog post. I use a very similar method, yet i replace the word “karma” with Shadow. The shadow is a profound moral dilemma and often reflects issues of our personality that we would prefer that other people not see. It lays within the unconscious, and often comes up (at least for me) in individuals who may have a similar issue to me — yet it is dressed in a different circumstance, situation, or different people.

For example, I am a introverted intuitive (inner fire cards) type, which means that extroverted sensation (outer earth cards) appears in the shadow. Invariably, when my shadow issues are activated, I will invariably draw Capricorn’s to me in the droves, and will pull cards that are like The Devil, or an assorted group of Pentacle cards.

One of the things that I do, is that I often take the cards that I used…. shuffle them up and ask, “what is this reading teach me or what information do I need to know about this reading in aspect to myself,” and then draw a card. Invariably through the process of working with the figures on the cards (elementally, astrologically, or straight meanings) will provide me insight into the issue. This usually breaks the cycles of those cards.

Thanks for reminding me of this!

Storm

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Douglas Gibb November 4, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Hi Storm,

Thanks for stopping by :D

One of the things that I do, is that I often take the cards that I used…. shuffle them up and ask, “what is this reading teach me or what information do I need to know about this reading in aspect to myself,” and then draw a card. Invariably through the process of working with the figures on the cards (elementally, astrologically, or straight meanings) will provide me insight into the issue. This usually breaks the cycles of those cards.

That’s a great practical tip for working through issues of the “shadow”. I like the way this proactively seeks to work with the Tarot and our Shadow side; helping us come to some form of awareness and acceptance.

It’s interesting the way you were also able to make connections between certain ‘inner’ issues, outside events (Capricorn’s as an example), and the Tarot cards. Great comment :D

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Helen November 3, 2009 at 11:15 pm

This is a great post Doug. Only yesterday I did a reading and guess what? The Devil popped up between two other cards and I stared at it and stared at it, what my intuition told me was not what I wanted to say. Anyway after a while I went with my intuition and said “are you divided about something? Something that has you off balance? This card sat between Strength and Judgement and I continued to say because I feel you need to have courage to control the conflict you are feeling if you are to make that transistion you are looking for to a higher level… it turned out that yes she was wanting to have more life and trying to decide whether she would continue with university.

I’m glad I went with my intuition, but the old Devil had me stumped for a moment or two.

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Douglas Gibb November 4, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Hi Helen,

This is a truly great example of trusting our intuition, of going against our ‘rational’ thought processes, and making a connection with the cards that may feel…uncomfortable.

Thank you for sharing :D

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Helen November 3, 2009 at 11:17 pm

I forgot to add, that it also applied to myself, as I am divided at times about whether I can finish the rewrites of my novel and whether it’s worth the effort or not….. so that old Devil had me somewhat divided too!

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Douglas Gibb November 4, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Hi Helen,

I forgot to add, that it also applied to myself, as I am divided at times about whether I can finish the rewrites of my novel and whether it’s worth the effort or not….. so that old Devil had me somewhat divided too!

Wow! I can’t wait to read it ;)

Again, this is a really cool way of connecting this event to the Devil – the feeling of being divided (which can create a very subtle feeling of ‘trap’ ) is something I hadn’t considered before – awesome ;)

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valerie November 3, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Another great post, Doug! I’ve noted this for years as well. Back when I was doing more astrology, I’d constantly get people with similar astrological placements to mine, or who were undergoing the same transits I was. Or I’d get a passel o’Libras…that sort of thing. Then it would stop –and another pattern would establish itself. So instead of sitting there thinking, “It’s not a full moon, so why are all these insane people asking me these bizarre questions?”, the ol’ lightbulb went on over my head and I started trying to figure out just why they all were landing on my doorstep with these particular concerns –and what kind of reflection in the funhouse mirror it represented! :)

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Douglas Gibb November 4, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Hi Valerie,

Thanks for dropping by :D

What a great example – it’s amazing how sometimes things have to be really obvious before we notice.

Back when I first started reading Tarot cards, I had a whole bunch of people with almost identical ‘problems’ as me. It took me a while to notice that it was almost like giving myself a Tarot reading. As soon as the, “the ol’ lightbulb went on over my head” the clients changed and the cycle continued.

Thank you for sharing :D

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Lionel November 5, 2009 at 1:42 am

Very cool post, especially because i found it on a day where it relates to my own morning Tarot meditation. This morning I found myself taking many random cards and forcing myself to relate them as an exercise; Some were much more difficult than others, and it immediately reminded me of many complex, challenging combinations I have encountered in my readings.

I consider these ‘difficult’ combinations to be invitations for some meditation, and I will often use the phenomena itself as a read on my client’s situation. For example, I often will take some extra time in silence while I imagine ways to relate them elegantly, and if I can’t I have said, “I want to find an elegant way to connect these cards, but theres something stuttered, difficult about them appearing together. Perhaps in your life, there is a contrast, a schism that has made things much more complicated than usual.”

I’ve had amazing results with this technique; Clients will suddenly volunteer helpful details, like new loves they aren’t sure what to do with, sudden travel needing to balance with a stable job, fears about their way of life – all sorts of things!

So I suppose one solution is to see the reader’s difficulty as its own solution – Whatever the specific combination is, something in the reading is shouting, ‘HARD!’

Thanks again, your blog has become on of my favorite inspirations for my own Tarot writing :)

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Douglas Gibb November 6, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Hi Lionel,

Thanks for dropping :D

…a day where it relates to my own morning Tarot meditation.

…check out one of Lionel’s awesome Tarot meditations: Better Reading With Lightening Round Tarot

I consider these ‘difficult’ combinations to be invitations for some meditation, and I will often use the phenomena itself as a read on my client’s situation. For example, I often will take some extra time in silence while I imagine ways to relate them elegantly, and if I can’t I have said, “I want to find an elegant way to connect these cards, but there’s something stuttered, difficult about them appearing together. Perhaps in your life, there is a contrast, a schism that has made things much more complicated than usual.”

What a great approach. I like the way you use this to involve the client :)

Thank you for your kind words :D

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BQ November 5, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Hello Doug,

Great post. I really like how your associating your cards here. The Devil’s karma is particularly difficult in any reading, and it is especially important to refer to the absence of elements when you encounter it. I refer the casual reader to Alison’s post,.

When I refer to the greater cycle I’m always talking about the bigger picture. In this case the bigger picture just happens to be The Hierophant’s big brother. The Hierophant is the pure karma residing in the lesser cycle of the major key. The problem is that when we get to the devil, the drawn energy is more diffuse and subsequently affects us both directly and indirectly for a greater length of time. In the circumstances surrounding The Heirophant, the effects are more noticeable, and therefore more easily resolved.

Another note about understanding The Devil and The Hierophant. They are the the representation of karma, not the result. If life were a movie, they would neither be the production or the picture. They are the cameras. Whereas the Heirophant is the closeup that enhances your significance as you determinedly plow through lifes obstacles,(for better or worse), the Devil is the panoramic view that makes everything else significant and shows you trying to walk down the busy city sidewalk while being jostled to oblivion. Of course, the key to this scene is whether or not you were walking because you were determinedly driving and happened to plow into another car. By the way. You may want to check and see if your wallet survived the rather violent jostle.

One more little thing. Let’s not confuse the time required for a greater cycle set to come together with the influence of the Devil. That would be Temperance. Hehe! This was the hardest card I ever had to learn. It took a very long time. I know, “Of course,” right. lol. But if I hadn’t learned it that way I may not have the depth I do today. Crazy big little world for sure. Again, great post Doug. I’m anxiously awaiting your next.

Love and Light,
Bulal

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Douglas Gibb November 6, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Hi Bulal,

Thanks you for your kind words :D

Another note about understanding The Devil and The Hierophant. They are the the representation of karma, not the result. If life were a movie, they would neither be the production or the picture. They are the cameras. Whereas the Heirophant is the closeup that enhances your significance as you determinedly plow through lifes obstacles,(for better or worse), the Devil is the panoramic view that makes everything else significant and shows you trying to walk down the busy city sidewalk while being jostled to oblivion

Very interesting!!!

I like the way you connect them as the “representation” of Karma, not the “result”. I also agree with “the time required for a greater cycle set to come together with the influence of the Devil”. I’ve often found that an aspect of the Devil can be representative of “time” – in business for instance. At the very least, the Devil would indicate “time” as a concept central to a reading – much like the Hermit, or the Hanged Man.

Great comment :D

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Paul Hughes-Barlow November 5, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Of course, this all demonstrates a powerful technique within Tarot for identifying and transforming all those patterns that are less than desirable within our lives.

As Tarot Readers we get to meet a large cross-section of people – the more the better – and if we are smart about it, we will always be learning more about ourselves through our clients.

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Douglas Gibb November 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Hi Paul,

As Tarot Readers we get to meet a large cross-section of people – the more the better – and if we are smart about it, we will always be learning more about ourselves through our clients.

I agree – great point! Thanks for sharing :D

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Remi May 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm

I found this to be an awesome article hitting a few points that I’m dealing with. I find that I deal with a lot of people’s Karma everyday- everyone does, but it seems like I doing an advanced training class in it recently with just everyday interactions with people.

A reader told me that when you do tarot, you end up absorbing other people’s karma… so in their perspective it is good to adopt modes of “cleansing” before and after a reading.

Whenever I do psychic/tarot fairs I would say half of the readings I do for others are a reflection of my life’s current or past reflections. When I see this, I can easily drop the cards and let my intuition kick in for a more in-depth reading in terms as advice goes.

At one particular fair I was participating in I was going through some rare/unusual some health issues and I happened to get someone as a sitter going through those exact same issues with the same sort of causation. Unfortunately, I was only beginning on my journey to diagnosing the problem at that time so I couldn’t help her, but everyday I think about her and hope to run into her again because I now have answers not only for myself but also for her.

If you believe in teachings akin to the philosophy which state that we all travel in soul groups… we meet people in our lives that are learning the same lessons OR were at one point in time with us in a past life and we’re walking through those same karmic issues over again. Sometimes we have advanced in those trials in order to help others with those same life lessons and that is why we have come in contact with them in this lifetime.

Some religious groups believe that it is very important to hone our own earthly and spiritual gifts and talents (ie, math, reading, nursing, art, etc.) and be willing and eager to share these gifts with others as a way of expressing G-d’s gifts, as we all are aspects of G-d and our service to others is part of this great cosmic dance… so its important to cultivate our talents well and not abuse them.

Just those last few words resembles the lighter expression of the Devil card. Where we immerse ourselves in our earthly talents/skills, be creative and replenish, multiply, procreative…

Remi

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