Great Tarot Readings come from Culture, Context and the Life We have Lived.

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I have been seeing a lot conversations around how tarot readings work and how to best learn to read the cards lately. Often these conversations come with strong feelings on some peoples part that their way is the best way. Reading the cards for me encompasses many tools, techniques, skills, and abilities. I want to share this series as a non-dogmatic exploration of all the answers to the question “Where do great tarot readings come from?” All the posts in the series can be found here.

Great tarot readings need to account for where we come from and what we believe.

When we are talking about great readings we have to talk about what the reader and client bring to the table. The life they have lived and the contexts and cultures in which they both grew up are important. The life the client is living now is also crucial to the reading. I am not writing this piece to criticize any specific cultures, but to explore how we relate to people from other places and backgrounds.

I get a lot of people who contact me to ask what a dream meant or ask me what is the best book on dreams out there. I think they are all the books out there are ok. I also think they won’t help you really understand your dreams. What does a dog mean to you? Did it look like your favourite childhood friend? The wild beast that tried to attack you for your lunch? What you ate at your uncle’s place? There is no single universal meaning behind ‘dog’. There are many different historical and cultural readings of that symbol and likely everyones will be a bit different.

When we talk about the cards we need to consider the context and culture of the person getting a reading. Does the notion of punishment in the hanged man mean the same to me here in Canada as it does in countries where people are stoned for some crimes? The answer is that it is obviously different.

I have had the privilege of reading for people from all over the world. I regularly get people from a wide range of religious backgrounds. I even get people who speak no english and arrive with an interpreter. I have had a few people tell me “Andrew you really understand [insert cultural group here].” I am not sure that is true. I do however understand basic human nature and I listen very well.

If you are wanting to find a deeper relationship to the ways in which culture and history add to the context of the reading consider the following ideas as you read for people.

  1. Never assume you know what a person believes based on where they are from. If they are from India they could have a huge variety of religions or they may believe nothing.
  2. If you don’t know the tradition or culture ask. I know a lot about Hinduism, Catholicism, Obeah, and others. I don’t know much about Shinto or regional asiatic shamanism. If I am thinking the person would benefit from a religious practice that I don’t know I will ask them if there is something in their faith like what I know from somewhere else.
  3. People will react to the cards based experience and culture. The Emperor might remind one person of a police state and another of a beloved leader. For me I am always reminded of a ceremony I did with friends where we took turns sitting on the throne drawing in the Emperor’s energy. Watch and listen.
  4. People are people. Love, success, hope, health, and so on are universal. Their representation varies greatly. Numerology is a wonderful example. What is the number 8? Depends who you ask. For me often associated with Hermes. The eight ball might be part of a “born to lose” iconography for one person. In some systems it might be Saturn. For others a lucky number or one of peace. Be mindful of putting your spin on what you are hearing from the client.

What you can do with the burdens life gives you has a lot to do with your history and culture.

What you can do with the burdens life gives you has a lot to do with your history and culture.

Finally, we might also want to think about where the person is at before we give advice. The 10 of wands might mean something very different to a person in my situation, a person caught in poverty, or someone locked up in jail. I often think of the 10 of Wands as something we can put down if need be. It is a burden, or it can be a cage. We are trapped to the extent our situation and psyche dictate in relationship to this card. How much is possible to change and how radical is the move needed to make that change. I am lucky to have a good support system and ways to call in help, or take a day off if need be. Poverty can reduce or eliminate the options. Where every penny counts and might not even be enough not going in to work is not an option. Obviously being in jail is a different restriction that might have long consequences even after the time ends.

When reading and giving advice consider looking for the limits of the persons life, the variations of culture, and the richness of individual history. It will greatly enrich your readings.

Please let me know what you think.
Andrew McGregor

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2 comments on “Great Tarot Readings come from Culture, Context and the Life We have Lived.”

  1. Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady

    This is a great post, Andrew. Really wise – esp the quote at the end: “When reading and giving advice consider looking for the limits of the persons life, the variations of culture, and the richness of individual history. It will greatly enrich your readings.” I completely agree.

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