How Tarot Cards Really Work

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There’s one question that my clients ask me more than any other:

“How the heck do you do this?”

They often say it slack-jawed, staring at me with a mixture of awe and skepticism, like I hold the magical, mystical answer to life, the universe, and everything. (Spoiler alert: I don’t.)

I’m adamant when I state I’m not psychic. I don’t know the lotto numbers, I have no idea which political candidate will win the next election, and, I’m sorry to say, I have no clue if your ex is ever coming back.

What I can do, however, is tap into the universal energy that’s all around us. This ancient, archetypal energy that connects all beings on this Earth is as prevalent now as it was 200,000 years ago, in the Middle Paleolithic era, when modern humans first began evolving. My ability to tap into this energy is very similar to what a Reiki practitioner might do during a long-distance session. 

Unlike a Reiki practitioner, however, I use tarot cards to project this energy outward, to translate it into shape and form, to give it context and meaning. 

I deal the cards one at a time, face down. Other tarot readers have other methods, but this one works best for me. This is because I prefer to focus on one card at a time, truly absorb it and take in the message before I relate it to every other card that’s come up in the spread.

The moment I flip over each card, taking in the image for the first time is like an instant jolt to my subconscious mind. A slew of ideas, thoughts, and further images flash in front of my eyes. Sometimes I need to pause and collect my thoughts before I can make sense of them, because my intuitive mind is so excited to play with the themes within the card. I’m not sure I could handle looking at an entire spread at once in that way! My mind might very well short-circuit from the instant intuitive overload.

So, then, the question I get second-most often is:

“How do tarot cards work?”

Ask this question of a dozen tarot readers, and you’re likely to get a dozen different answers. The reason for this is simple. Tarot is a tool. And like any tool, its usefulness and value are entirely based on who’s using it, and how.

What Tarot Is… And Isn’t

Long before I started reading tarot, I used the cards as story prompts. At the time, I was a romance novelist, and I’d discovered that examining the beautiful artwork on the various cards was an excellent way to create characters, come up with plot ideas, and develop extensive world building for my novels.

It’s not necessary to be a tarot reader, spiritual, or even intuitive to use a deck of tarot cards. You can use them as story prompts, journaling prompts, art inspiration, or even as bookmarks you slip into whatever physical book you’re currently reading

The cards are not magic. They’re merely ink and paper, not divinely projected artifacts.

The wisdom lies in you.

So — if you’re using the cards as I do, for self-discovery and introspection, then tarot can take on another dimension for you. Not a magical one, but a psychological one.  It becomes a metaphor for the journey of your life. It’s a mirror in which you can see yourself reflected back. And it can be used as an ephemeral key that unlocks your inner guidance system.

The standard 78 cards in a tarot deck hold infinite stories. Every human experience we have on this Earth can be found depicted in one of the cards. Not always literally, but that’s where our intuition comes in. The cards reveal the themes that keep coming up, over and over again, in our lives. They’re wonderful for kick-starting our thinking in a different direction, so we can approach our everyday lives with a deeper understanding of the concepts, threads, and motifs to focus on as we move forward.

But still, the question remains… why does this work?

I’ve given you my explanation above. I wholeheartedly believe I tap into universal energy when I do a reading and transform that energy into a physical presence through the use of tarot cards.

You, however, might be skeptical. So let’s explore a few other concepts and arguments that may be useful when attempting to figure out how and why tarot readings can be so incredibly on-point. 

Coincidence vs. Synchronicity

Carl Jung coined the term “synchronicity” to explain "the a-causal connection of two or more psychic and physical phenomena” when one of his patients had dreamt of a golden scarab, only to see it again appear in Jung’s office during their session the next day. Since these particular creatures were quite uncommon for the climate they were in, Jung began wondering about the connection between the scarab in the woman’s dream, and the scarab that appeared in his office.

Some of us would refer to this as coincidence and summarily dismiss it. 

But Jung thought there was something more at play. He believed synchronicity was a physical representation of the guiding forces of the universe. As such, he argued that we could see an incredible impact from simply noticing these synchronicities as we went about our lives. If we learned to recognize the messages from the universe, Jung claimed we could use them to make better decisions and guide the direction of our journey through life.

Thus, when a “random" tarot card appears in your reading, it could actually reflect your inner landscape, beliefs, and experiences in a synchronous way.

What If We’re Just Projecting?

Have you ever read those magazine horoscopes that are so generic, they sound as though they could apply to anyone? “Your family and friends love you. Expect challenges at work. Just keep going.” Of course you have. And yet, we all want to believe that those horoscopes were written specifically for us, that they’re relevant and intimately connected to our lives.

If the tarot holds the sum of human experience, then is it not safe to assume that any of the advice or themes that come up could also apply to just about anyone, at any time?

Well, yes. And no.

Let me explain.

Each card holds an infinite number of potential interpretations. This is why I’ve never been a big fan of memorizing meanings. There are times I look at a tarot card and instantly reject every traditional meaning. When I do this during my own reading, I often doubt myself, and I assume I’m shifting the message to suit my needs. Seeing what I want to see, and not what’s actually there because I’m intimately familiar with the situation and the players.

But this also happens frequently when I read for others. I usually apologize by default, assuming my interpretation must be wrong, but every time I’ve done it the client has let me know that the unconventional interpretation was spot on. So, in that case, how could I be projecting my non-existent knowledge of the situation into the images? 

The NFC Theory  

This is one of my favourites.

N - No

F - F*cking

C - Clue

Maybe it’s time we all admit we don’t really know how it works. The interesting thing is that we don’t need to know how something works in order to take full advantage of it.

I don’t understand the ins and outs of gravity, but I’m still not floating away into space.

I have no idea how my car engine works, but I drive just fine.

I’m still perplexed by the idea of invisible waves floating around us at all times, and yet I pick up my phone and text a friend, and — magic! — the text pings on the other side of the world thanks to those waves.

So, yeah, maybe we don’t really know why tarot cards work as well as they do. But if you’ve ever had a reading that left you speechless, or if you’ve ever pulled a card and immediately laughed, wanting to give the Universe the middle finger for hitting you over the head with what you already knew — well, then maybe you don’t need to fully understand in order to benefit from the wisdom inherent in those 78 cards.

Are you curious to see how a tarot reading would work for you, so you can make up your mind about which of these theories you believe? You can book your reading with me right here.

Still unsure? Here are just a few things my clients have said after a reading with me: 

"WOW! Just. WOW. I have so much more conviction and clarity around what to do next. Everything makes SO MUCH sense and is totally spot on. This literally blew my mind and every single expectation I ever had for a reading. You have such a way, and I hardly have words. Your intuition, presence, and power... just ... AMAZING! So freaking valuable. I'm grateful beyond words..” - Jacqueline Fisch, Writer and Writing Coach

"Thank you so so much for my reading. I have watched it 10 times over and had a good cry and taken some time to have a think about what you said.” - R. W.

"I just watched my tarot reading... You couldn't have been more bang on! It affirmed for me that I AM on the right path... that the work I'm doing is good and right and moving me forward. Thank you for this... it really is exactly what I needed to hear!” - Kim L.