Tarot and Astrology: going back to basics with a look at perception

by Douglas Gibb on August 12, 2010

Image by Escher. It questions perception.

“What am I doing wrong?” I whispered to the Tarot cards.

A part of me wanted to grab my coat, say goodbye to the client, and abandon reading Tarot cards forever.

And yet, there I was, battling through my own inner-doubt to name a date. Somewhere in that Tarot spread was an answer, and I was going to find it.

Up until that point, I’d never really known how to apply the astrological associations to a Tarot reading. Sure, I had successes, but never consistent successes and I never did manage to battle my self-doubts with that particular reading. I left defeated, but awoke the next morning with two singular ideas.

My mind had been working on the problem as I slept and, it worked. I’m going to share it with you.

It’s all about perception

Knowing what Tarot cards to select is a question of perception.

The idea goes something like this:

Our perception of the world around us is not a true depiction of what is actually there. We perceive, to a large extent, what we expect to perceive. Our expectations — and therefore our perceptions — are biased by three factors:

  1. The past: our experience
  2. The present: the current context
  3. The future: our goals

1. Perception biased by experience

Have a look at the young woman below.

An image that looks like an old woman or a young woman, depending on perception

Did you see her?

Now what if I told you that the picture above is of an old woman? If you look again, you’ll be able to see her.

Notice how expectations bias perception? Initially I asked you to look at an image of a young woman — that is what you expected to see. But imagine if I initially asked you to look at an image of an old woman? Do you see how expectations bias perception?

And perception makes or breaks a Tarot reading. If you look for very specific information in your Tarot spread, you run the risk of being blind to other interpretations.

Implications for Tarot and Astrology

Reinterpretation

Recognise that there is always another way to interpret exactly the same Tarot cards. When using a positional based Tarot spread that has an outcome position, avoid the trap of expecting to use that card to predict when the event will happen.

2. Perception biased by current context

The current context, in terms of selecting cards to predict when events will happen, is a largely visual process.

To understand this visual process better, let’s use reading (as in books, not Tarot cards) as an example. For instance, the word in which a letter appears may influence how we interpret that word.

The cat

Similarly, our overall comprehension of a sentence can influence what words we see in it. For example the same word can be interpreted differently depending on the surrounding words.

Same word, different meaning. Interesting subject. Subject to tests

I’ve focused on visual perception, but all five senses do contribute to perception bias. For instance:

  • what we hear can bias what we see and vice versa
  • what we see can bias what we feel; what we smell etc.

Recognizing a letter, a word, a face, or any object includes neural activity stimulated by the context. This context includes objects, events and even reactivated memories of previous objects and events.

Implications for Tarot and Astrology

Be in the moment

What I hope to show with this article is how perception is greatly influenced by past experience, context and goals. These three factors are responsible for an inaccurate interpretation of experience. Now, we are all subject to these limitations, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t break free from these limitations.

When doing a Tarot reading, remain in the moment; remain open to different interpretations; remain open to a dramatic change of Tarot reading style (do not let a past victory blind you to only one interpretation).

3. Perception biased by goals

Our perception is also influenced by our goals and plans for the future. Specifically, our goals filter our perceptions; things unrelated to our goals tend to be filtered out preconsciously, never registering in our conscious minds.

For example, some people I know, when doing a Tarot reading, scan the information quickly and superficially looking for a yes/no answer.

Although this is usually only a beginners mistake, it is worth pointing out that goal driven behavior adversely influences your ability to interpret a Tarot reading — particularly because you’re looking for something specific (such as astrological information to determine when an event will happen).

It’s not that they ignore the information unrelated to their goal, they don’t even see it.

To illustrate what I mean, briefly look at the image below and try and spot the sledge hammer.

tools

Did you find it? Now, without looking back at the image, can you say whether there is a pair of scissors too?

Implications for Tarot and Astrology

Be childlike

The filtering of perception by our goals is particularly true of adults, who tend to be more focused on goals than children are. Children are more stimulus driven: their perception is less filtered by their goals. This makes children less biased as observers.

For instance, send an adult to go into your kitchen and look inside a drawer for a pair of scissors. When the person returns, ask whether another specific item was in the drawer. Most adults won’t be able to answer you. Next, send a child to complete the same task and (providing they don’t get distracted by all the cool stuff) when they return with the scissors ask them if another specific item is in the drawer. Most of the time a child will be able to provide additional information.

The implications are to be childlike with the next Tarot reading you do. Be less goal focused and more child like. Imagine you’re that kid who is being distracted by all the awesome stuff in the drawer.

Conclusion

This article covered a lot of basic information on perception that could easily have been written as a Tarot 101 guide. However, when using astrological associations with Tarot, it’s important to remember the implications that our perceptions have on our ability to provide objective Tarot readings.

Here is a list of things to remember:

  • Influencing where we look: Perception is active, not passive. We constantly use our five senses to actively sample things in our environment that are most relevant to what we are doing or about to do. If we are doing a Tarot reading, remember that our past experiences, context and goals will largely determine what we perceive. By being mindful of this we can free ourselves into a more objective state of mind.
  • Reinterpretation: A great Tarot reader always reinterprets the same cards within a Tarot spread. There are countless ways to perceive exactly the same Tarot cards and countless stories can be created from these. In my experience, these seemingly disjointed stories have an enormous capacity to register with the client. Just because we don’t understand them doesn’t make them any less relevant. Remember, childlike behaviour often avoids the pitfalls of a goal focused approach to reading Tarot.

What does all this have to do with Tarot and Astrology?

This article is a reminder for you to be open to different ways of perceiving the same Tarot cards. Avoid being overly goal focused, or concerned with discovering what astrological associations predict when an event will happen.

Allow for multiple interpretations of all the Tarot cards within your spread (including the ones that aren’t there) and, above all, have fun — like the child who thought that a drawer full of stuff was awesome.

(Theoretically) Related Posts:

14 comments… Let's discuss

Bonnie Cehovet August 13, 2010 at 10:15 am

Douglas -

I love how you present information! Excellent graphics (although I have to confess to never seeing the young girl – only the older woman), great examples, and a tight system. A wonderful take on reading the Tarot.

I am going to ask Donnaleigh to take a look at this post. I would love to see this post as a stand-alone show for Beyond Worlds. :)

Also – I do hope that you are writing a book!

Blessings,
Bonnie

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Douglas Gibb August 13, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Hi Bonnie,

I’m really glad you enjoyed the post.

LOL, it took me a while to see the young woman. The mouth of the old woman is the neck line of the young.

Thank you for mentioning this to Donnaleigh, I really appreciate it.

No plans to write a book. However, I’ve always said that if I was going to do it, I would go self-published :)

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Colin August 13, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Hi Doug

Like always, I love your posts. They always make sense. I did see the young girl first then looked directly at the split in the neck line as was the mouth the whole picture of the old woman comes to light; just what the right side to the brain tells you is what you want to see. That’s the arty side the right hand that promotes the intuitive side to thinking. Anyway, a great post most helpful Doug like always. Happy Friday thirteenth hehe

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Douglas Gibb August 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Hi Colin,

Thanks for dropping by :)

It’s interesting how logic and creativity coexist.

Awareness that what we perceive is what we expect to perceive has really helped me develop ways of being in the moment during a Tarot reading. I think simply being aware of it helps people tremendously.

LOL, I hope you had a good Friday the 13th as well :D

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Austriana August 14, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Hi Doug,

Just back from summer holidays and reading through the new posts. (The astrological ones are a bit too advanced for me but a great point of reference for the future!)

Reading through this post (love the visual examples!) I had to think back to my very first Tarot lesson when we started out with the Minor Arcana by just looking at the cards. There was a woman in the course who came to it experienced already and she said she found some of the comments I made about the cards amazing, stuff she would never have thought of. However, I think this is just due to the fact that she had somehow gone “blind” to the cards and at some stage just stopped looking and really “listening” the way a beginner does (or maybe it is all beginner’s luck, there is such a phenomenon! ;o) ….).

Your post is a reminder not to let this happen and I will definitely keep this in mind though I have to say I have no problem with being more childlike, I already am pretty childlike to the point that I sometimes think I am too naive! The card that represents myself in readings is often the fool. :o)

Greetings!

PS: Found some interesting stuff about beginner’s luck on Wikipedia that ties in well with your post:

@@The causes for beginner’s luck are unknown. It is speculated, however, that beginner’s luck arises from a disconnect between the player and the pressure of the game. A novice player is inexperienced and consequently is not expected to do well. This means that there is no pressure on the player to excel; this lack of pressure allows the player to concentrate more than a pressured veteran player. This goes against the Rosenthal effect which states that students who are expected to perform better usually perform better.
Beginner’s luck is thought to end once a player gets involved with a game. Once the “innocent” psychological mindset is replaced by one that is concerned with the nuances of the game, concentration goes out the window and skill level decreases.
Another explanation begins by noting that the acquisition of a new skill imposes limitations on the number of actions available to an agent. In the early stages of this process, an almost unlimited number of actions are possible. Though almost all of these are ineffectual, the probability of unusually effective actions manifesting by chance is still greater than when one has attained a moderate degree of skill, since, as one’s ability improves, the scope of possible actions becomes both more lawful and more limited, subtending freakish deviations from the mean both directions. Due to the availability heuristic, these runs of flukish proficiency will stand out against the base rate of general ineptitude.@@

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Douglas Gibb August 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Hi Austriana,

What a great example.

The goal orientated mindset (as well as the experienced mind) seems to filter out a lot of information that can be important. Developing a way of “keeping our eyes open” during a Tarot reading is really beneficial. Perhaps on a simply level it helps us enjoy it more. But more than that, it helps to keep each reading we do fresh.

I’m sure it’s one very powerful way to prevent Tarot reader burnout.

Your post is a reminder not to let this happen and I will definitely keep this in mind though I have to say I have no problem with being more childlike …

That’s great. Maintaining that childlike approach to reading Tarot is certainly one of the major keys to delivering a great Tarot reading.

But I think for some people, myself included, we can get hooked on finding the right answers. This may be the product of how people commonly learn Tarot. For example, learning the 78 Tarot cards is a goal focused task – but does this goal focused task, in the long term, cause harm when it comes to actually reading Tarot? I think, in some ways, it does.

PS: Found some interesting stuff about beginner’s luck on Wikipedia that ties in well with your post:

This information is excellent. Really interesting.

The “innocent” psychological mindset is a great analogy to what, I think, allows Tarot readers to perceive all information. It’s a complete lack of expectation.

It’s interesting how this article associates it with a kind of disconnect from the pressure of the actual game. I have found that this level of detachment is a great state of mind to enter before a Tarot reading.

Another explanation begins by noting that the acquisition of a new skill imposes limitations on the number of actions available to an agent. In the early stages of this process, an almost unlimited number of actions are possible.

Interesting! I wrote an article called, How to go from beginner to expert in three easy steps. I’d observed that the process of learning Tarot techniques, over the long term, actually results in us forgetting the technique once we have learned it.

What I mean by this, is we no longer perform the technique on a conscious level, but rather an unconscious one. I think this is something that occurs naturally and eventually opens us to a wider array of interpretation.

Great comment and thank you for sharing this information :D

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Tarotfaith August 18, 2010 at 7:29 am

Reads the Taroteon post and sits silently. Takes a deep breath and shuffles card while thinking of a question and picks out one. Chariot. I look and this time I don’t know what I am looking for. I keep seeing the dust flying under the horses hooves. Time is running out, it tells me. Searching the drawer is a good thing. Thanks Douglas!

The pictures are an interesting way to hit home the fact that preconceptions can result in a uni directional thinking. Austriana’s beginners luck is very apt here too.

On reinterpretation- in your conclusion. Lots of times I find myself see-sawing between my first gut instinct and next few thoughts. There are many times when my second thoughts are contradictory to the first. And I find myself asking: Am I hedging here? Trying to play safe by not “deciding”. And then I leave it out, only to realize that it did tie things. So what I am realizing is that it is OK to include second thoughts but that works only till my biases and expectations do not go in too. Which brings us back to your post. Be in the moment. Work in progress :D

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Victoria Evangelina August 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Excellent reminder! Just this morning I caught myself of seeing all the cards from my CC spread for myself as related to my PhD studies I am planning to start in September. Perhaps, if I did not go overboard with seeing the issue in ALL the cards, I would not even noticed my own bias.

The novice mind is sure a wonderful tip to always keep in my mind when starting a reading to escape the pressure of the need to “perform”…

Thank you!, Doug, great post, as usually!

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Douglas Gibb August 27, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Hi Victoria,

Thanks for dropping by :D

Human bias is a problem that everyone shares and that every Tarot reader has. I’ve found that being aware and mindful of this bias does help to remain objective but not always. Sometimes we do a lot of our learning after the Tarot reading itself. Just being able to acknowledge the bias after the reading can help with future readings. The more I do it, the more objective I become (until I get caught out :D ).

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Mina September 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Grade A stuff. I’m unqeustinaobly in your debt.

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mzzlee August 22, 2010 at 2:44 am

thank you for another fab post, Doug. I certainly connect with the “child mind energy” spoken of…I find it is helpful and keeps readings open and airy and lets in all kinds of stuff. It is a wonderful reminder to welcome this kind of approach as we read…
FAB!

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Douglas Gibb August 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Hi Mzzlee,

I’m glad you enjoyed the post :D

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Katrina Wynne September 26, 2010 at 4:31 am

Dear Douglas,

Now you’re speaking my language, HaHa!! Perception is subjective and as varied as there are people.

I agree with your conclusion. Whether reading for yourself or others, allowing a fresh perspective, your “Beginner’s Mind,” dropping what you know about the card to allow new information to emerge is the most immediate way to tap into intuitive connections with the cards. You can always add your knowledge of the card to expand it’s meaning after capturing that first impression. I talk about some of these “counseling skills” in my latest book, “An Introduction to Transformative Tarot Counseling.”

Thanks for another stimulating article,
Katrina

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Devon Gardella July 30, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Douglas-

This message is almost completely unrelated to the topic of this page, but I wanted to say thank you!

I saw the image of the Young Woman – Old Woman first when I was about 11. Now four years later with the help of one of your comments, I can finally see the older woman! I have never been able to see her until now, only the young woman.

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