Making Hidden Knowledge Speak

One of the things I love about Tarot is the mystery. Doing a reading involves processes that are at best obscure and often transcend conscious understanding. I am at a loss beyond a certain point to really answer how I do what I do. Studying the cards brings up a variety of issues that may never be fully resolved. The origin of the cards is not clear – everyone has their opinion. There are facts, dates, and decks, but the creation and evolution of the deck is not fully known. The person getting the reading brings mystery in the door with them, searching to shed light on the unknown in their lives. Even though I spend most of my time bringing answers to light either in the querent or in their lives, the fact of the matter is that Tarot is a mysterious business to be in.

When I was younger I certainly wanted to know everything about Tarot. To that end I have spent a great deal of time trying to learn all that I can from books, people, and spirits. The part that I did not expect when I began my search was how integral mystery and the unseen is to the Tarot. Mystery is the third participant in the reading process.

A while back I was reading on Mary Greer’s blog about an old reading format where some of the cards never got revealed. They just sat there unturned, but somehow participating in the reading. Why? It plagued me for a while – what point could there be in having these silent cards present at the reading? Why not just leave them in the deck? So I started to explore the role of the unseen in doing readings.

The obvious part of leaving cards unseen is that they are out of circulation. If the Tower is one of those cards it cannot show up in the reading. Working with cards that remained unturned was interesting but what really got me excited was working with cards in a spread that only certain people got to look at. When I was reading for people I would place a card which only I would look at. The first thing I noticed was how this process changed the dynamic. People come to a reading wanting to know and see all and it takes a bit of talking them down around not seeing it.

In this exploration the secret card itself served as a key to the whole reading. It was the reason they were there for the reading in the first place and when ever I might feel a bit stuck or lost – or whenever the person getting the reading struggled or balked at the messages coming out of the reading – it helped me frame the information so they could hear it better.

In the shop where I started reading most of the people who came in to consult the cards came from the Caribbean. Being new to reading professionally I felt that I had to go with the flow and read for them as they wanted to be read. I don’t mean telling them only what they wanted to hear, but also working with their cultural styles and customs around getting read. So I would get these people coming in I would ask them “How are you doing today?” and they would answer “I don’t pay you for me to say anything. Tell me why I am here.” They’d then sit like a rock and look at me as I read the cards for them. It always turned out fine in the end, but it could be a really nerve wracking thirty minutes reading without any feedback or dialogue. This is a pretty dramatic example, but something that everyone who reads for people will run into sooner or later. I wished I had this secret card trick in my pocket back then. It really helps pinpoint both the subject that is on the person’s mind and how to talk to them about it.

Exercise 1
Add an extra card to your spread that you usually work with. Don’t allow the person getting the reading to see it. Look at it first and make sure that every other card in the reading refers back to it in some way. Treat it as if it was the key to everything else in the reading, the core issue, the primary obstacle, and the most effective solution. In short try reading the rest of the cards as if they are only extrapolations of the hidden card.

Reading for people without any dialogue is a neat trick. Certainly some people come in to get wowed by the mysterious psychic premonitions. However, the longer I work as a reader the less interesting I find it. In fact, I often think that the allure of this approach distracts and even disempowers many people. What seems much more important to me at this stage is how I can use both my reading of the cards and conversation together. By working my ability to read into the cards without input from the querent and asking questions to draw information from their psyche I find I can help the person get the most out of their time.

Some people might argue that asking questions of the person takes the mystery out of the equation – that it is cheating in some way. However, I have noticed that people are mysterious not only to one another, but also often to themselves. I think one of the most powerful gifts the Tarot has to offer people is to reveal that part of them that is a mystery to themselves.

The fact that many people don’t have easy access to the answers that are in them – that their inner truth is hidden to them – is also a big obstacle to reading for people. This challenge is hardest on people who are just learning how to read. In my teaching I now incorporate some of what I learned with the hidden card exercise above. When teaching in this way I turn the tables on the reader and give the querent the secret card. To help the reader get better at the dialogue portion of reading they get to ask questions about the card. Not what the card is, but about what the querent perceives about the card.

Exercise 2
Use your favourite spread, but add another card and tell the person getting the reading to look at it without showing it to you. Feel free to ask them questions about the card at any point in the reading just don’t ask them what card it is. This card is there as a witness to the hidden information in the reading. It is a doorway straight into the unconscious of the querent. It won’t offer you any answers without asking questions of it. Here is a list of questions that I find are useful starting points. Please go beyond them and develop your own. Try the following to get the idea of how I am suggesting you proceed:

Please tell me the first story from your life that this card makes you think of.
What feelings do you have when you look at this card?
Please describe any part of the card that stands out to you?
Who in your life does this card remind you of?
Can you think of a song that would go with this card?

And so on. If the person tries to block your questions with answers like “Nothing stands out,” or “I don’t know.” Encourage them not to think. Suggest they go with the first impression regardless of if it makes sense. Even go so far to assure them tat there is no right answer, just an exploration can help.

I love working with the mysterious edges of human existence. Few things are as exciting to me as pushing the boundaries of what I thought was possible. On the one hand I think keeping secrets from the querent can be powerful. On the other hand being able to draw the mysteries that a person has within them out into the reading can be deeply profound and transformative. Once you have played with you will be able to pull both tools out whenever you need them.

Honouring mystery in my reading practice has provided me with a wealth of new approaches. It has also helped me open myself up to deeper and more profound ways of knowing that defy my ability to explain at this point. Often, there is a pressure to be able to explain things so as to give them validity, but I think that this is a short-sighted approach. I say stay in the mystery, explore the mystery, drop your expectations and find out what is really going on.

Would you like to learn more about reading Tarot or get a reading done? I am available anywhere in the world via phone or skype or in person in Toronto. Book here.

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