February 8, 2018
Behind the Veil – How I Read Tarot
When this photo was taken last year, I was unconscious of how much practicing Tarot professionally would change my life. I was about to take a foolish leap into the unknown and trusting in my ability to find the information I needed along the way.
The High Priestess wears a veil, which symbolizes the separation between the intelligence of the conscious mind and the secrets of the unconscious mind. At this moment captured in August of 2017, I was aware that in order to function as a Tarot reader for others, I must be able to access the wisdom behind the veil and communicate it effectively. My eyes are closed here, and the High Priestess is whispering in my ear. I was listening, but not yet seeing.
Since then, an awakening has occurred, a veil was lifted, and my eyes have been opened to a new way of seeing. This process is both enlightening and disruptive. There is also the realization that under the veil is… another veil. This trip never ends. We are meant to continue learning for eternity.
Along the way, many querents have asked me how I got into reading Tarot, and some are interested in finding their own way through the cards. So this post is discussing the four stages of my personal journey as a reader. Perhaps it will help you or interest you, although I guarantee that your mileage will vary as the only way you can do this is on your own.
I – Establishing Belief
I had owned a deck of cards for a long time, since I was a teenager. I loved the beautiful imagery of the deck and the format – so similar to the fashion plate format that influenced my illustration work – was endlessly fascinating to me. However, I did not take the cards seriously. I harboured affection for them in much the same way as I would a favourite fantasy novel – something I loved yet perceived as a made up fiction meant for entertainment and nothing more. This attitude made the cards wholly impenetrable to me when it came to reading, because I thought that placements in the layout were random and my interpretations were essentially arbitrary. Any apparent meaning was chalked up to confirmation bias, and as such readings that did not support my current view of myself and the world were registered as trash and discarded.
This is how the ego reads Tarot cards, by the way. It cherry picks information that supports your worthiness or justifies your victimhood, to create a narrow, self-centred narrative that confirms your current state of existence and resists change. This is why reading for yourself, especially if you are unaware of where the veil is between your ego and your spirit, is more difficult than reading for other people.
The less access you have to your unconscious, the more egocentric your readings will be. The ego is often afraid, it doubts and argues, it is always defending itself and trying to convince you, and the more powerful the ego is the more it closes your ability to believe your own senses. This limits the information you are able to process, in an effort to protect you from a reality where you are not the centre of the universe.
So the first step to be able to truly access the wisdom of Tarot is experiencing a temporary ego death, which unfortunately, requires being in an abject state. For me, this occurred when I finally admitted to myself that I felt like a failure as a fashion illustrator. I had to accept my pathetic inability to persuade the fashion industry, and myself, of my worthiness as an artist. That this thing I had been struggling with for a decade was an utterly hopeless endeavour. I surrendered to the impossibility of winning the validation I had been hustling for. My ego threw up its hands and stopped defending itself.
In case you’re wondering what this looks like, it’s the ugliest crying jag ever. To make it even more undignified, for me, it occurred in public, at The Louvre, surrounded by a crowd of tourists taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa.
At that point, defenceless with my spirit revealed in its nakedness, the Mona Lisa looked at me, knew me and accepted me, and I received her message. This was my first revelation, the moment at which I ceased to be an atheist.
Having belief in the divine allowed me to also believe in the art of divination. I connected the Mona Lisa to The Empress, and since that moment I have been able to see how the cards directly connect to life as it is and not just as my ego wants it to be. I became able to use Tarot as a practical tool to guide me through the process of remembering who I am.
To put it simply: in order to be able to use Tarot for divination, it helps to believe in the divine.
II – Intimacy with the Cards
Having established faith in the system, I had to learn the system. Up to that point, I had a superficial understanding of the cards from reading the guidebook. Having contact with the divine, revealing the connection between the Mona Lisa and The Empress, opened up the possibility of learning the meanings of the cards through experience instead of by the book.
This expanded the opportunities for learning about the cards infinitely. The world became my guide to the cards, and the cards became my guide to the world. Here’s some of the ways that this occurred.
I began to look at artwork differently than I did before. Every time I saw a work of art, I asked myself, which Tarot card is this, and why?
For instance, The Raft of the Medusa is the Six of Swords. It’s that feeling of being a refugee, shipwrecked, struggling to keep yourself afloat, and finally seeing that lighthouse indicating safe harbour on the horizon, giving you that shaft of light, the spark of hope, that your troubles will be behind you if you can just hang on a while longer.
Then I began connecting Tarot to geography. I found myself at Mount Currie in British Columbia and beholding its pearly peaks and recognizing The Emperor as a mediator between divine power and ordinary mortals. The Emperor shows you that it is possible to aspire to a pinnacle, and if you’re willing to work for it he will give you permission to achieve greatness.
I also began to look back through my past and connect individuals in my life to their corresponding cards. My mother is the Queen of Hearts. My father is the King of Pentacles. My ex is The Magician. That male model I met on Venice Beach is The Devil. And so on.
I used the Tarot as a way to meet people. For instance, before I went dancing, I would ask the cards “who will I meet tonight?” and I would pick, for example, the Six of Wands, where a mounted warrior wearing a crown leaps across the card in a blaze of victory. At the party, I noticed a beautiful young man with a haircut that looked like a crown, and I asked him “do you feel victorious today?” and he smiled and told me yes, that he was in town for one night only on a layover, because he won a trip to Tokyo. Later that evening he gave me a crucial piece of information; that indulgence is a form of grace.
Sex became vital in my education at this point as I began to identify with The High Priestess myself. The High Priestess connects the root chakra to the crown chakra, establishing communication through the body between primal instinct and divine wisdom. To put it bluntly, I fucked with information.
These are the ways that the Tarot became intricately integrated in my life. Every card began to hold powerful associations with images, locations, music, objects, people, and personal memories. Recognizing each of the 78 cards became as natural as breathing.
All of this personal work is in addition to reading literature, studying history, religion, philosophy, psychology, futurism, neuroscience, mathematics, mythology and mysticism. For The High Priestess, the act of learning and sharing knowledge is an erotic impulse.
III – Developing Intuition
After belief and intimacy foster a personal connection to the cards, the Tarot reader must nurture their intuition in order to be able to communicate the information to others. Intuition is what gives the ability to be able to see how cards combine and connect in a layout to form a narrative or a message. Essentially it’s being able to trust your feelings and spontaneously communicate them.
When your intuition is strong, reading a layout feels effortless. You enter a state of ‘flow’ and the words seem to cascade through you without relying on conscious thought. Synchronicities leap out at you in a natural order, and the narrative is emphatic and immediately useful to the querent.
When your intuition is weak, reading is a struggle. You have to think hard to justify how the symbols connect together logically. There’s a lot of “well, it could mean this or it could mean that”, and the querent is left feeling ambivalent or confused.
This could just as easily be applied to life itself. When you’re on good terms with your intuition, your life flows easily and feels meaningful. When you’re alienated from your intuition, life is frustrating and you struggle at every step you take.
The One Easy Thing that you can do to improve your intuition and your life in general is… (you guessed it) …Daily Meditation. There’s no shortcut around this practice. I am absolutely unable to provide service as a Tarot reader without it.
Meditation helps you to identify the difference between your conscious mind, which communicates in thoughts, and your unconscious, which communicates through feeling. With continued practice, you become more and more sensitive to the subtleties of feelings and what they mean, so you can use them to gather information. Emotions, expressed naturally, are incredible tools for learning.
Of course, besides meditation there are other self care things you can do to get in touch with your emotions. Having a good exercise routine really helps, as well as eating a varied diet. You’ll need to pay close attention to what substances you consume, to determine if they enhance or inhibit your ability to feel, as every body responds to various chemicals differently. Sleeping a lot and paying attention to your dreams is useful. So is creating art and dancing to music. Whenever you can, turn away from your screen, take your earbuds out and practice noticing how many small, interesting things are happening all around you, all the time.
The Other, Much More Difficult Thing that you can do to improve your intuition is to release judgement and practice discernment instead. Judgement comes from the ego and it separates the world into categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Discernment comes from the spirit and it determines whether something is true or false.
I could go on a lot longer about meditation, emotions and discernment, that will have to wait for future posts. For now, to make it short, the best thing you can do to develop your intuition is to stop judging your feelings.
IV – Awakening Values
Once I had belief in divination, intimacy with the content of the cards, and through a dedicated period of self care, a more sensitized intuition, I woke up one morning with the certain idea “I am ready to read the cards professionally.” This turned out to be true, although it was a leap of faith. It would be very embarrassing to hang a shingle as a Tarot reader if I wasn’t ready. So I spent a month giving away free readings to make sure I could legitimately claim value for my offerings. Reading for others resulted in an exponential expansion of my education.
After doing many dozens of readings, I began to recognize patterns across readings and discovered through trial and error my own best practices. For instance, I prefer to read from the same side of the table as the querent so we can both see the cards from the same orientation. I always let the querent choose one card for themselves. You can tell a lot about a person by how they pick a card.
Further to that thought, you can tell a lot about a reader by how they interpret the cards. For my readings to be useful, my values have to be useful. To make sure they are, I must practice what I preach. My life has to be aligned with my interpretation of the cards, or my readings will be meaningless.
This is the real test for a Tarot reader, and living up to my own personal values is a tricky test that never ends. This is because the jewel at the centre of my philosophy is freedom. Free will is embodied by 0 The Fool, the most important card in the deck.
To walk The Fool’s talk, I am working on liberating my mind, which is sometimes called an awakening process. It goes like this: I think I know something and feel proud of myself (ego!), until I encounter a new problem, make a terrible mistake, feel humiliated, and despair that I know nothing. Once I am in an abject state I am invariably granted another divine realization (spirit!), leading me to think I’ve got it figured out this time, until guess what… and so on and on and on.
Each realization builds upon the one that came before it, and releases me from a limiting misunderstanding, which is truly liberating. Each problem is an opportunity to keep me humble. Admitting you don’t know is the ideal state for learning. This endless striptease of veils gradually creates a beautiful pattern of knowledge, which I find very rewarding, and it always benefits my Tarot practice.
The reality is that freedom is a joker. As soon as you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. That’s because you can only experience freedom when you are changing your mind.
We were made to evolve. If that resonates with you, you’re my kind of querent… and I know you’ve got something to teach me too.