Updated: Aug 5
When you are reading a book, an article, a poem, more than likely you are paying attention to the words and details and imagining the story in your mind. The same goes for watching a movie, television show, or stage performance; the setting, dialogue, movement, gestures, all of the details contribute to the storytelling.
Reading tarot cards is no different. You don’t simply look at the TV or theatre stage, you read the room, you think about the story that’s unfolding. Whether using a spread or pulling cards at random, when you look at your tarot cards displayed on the table or desk before you, you aren’t simply looking at the illustrations. You are reading the story those illustrations are sharing. From the colors to the animals, people, and symbols, you are observing the details in the card(s) and gleaning information (i.e., a story) from them. This explains the terms “tarot reader” and “reading” the cards.
As for reading tarot cards intuitively, the method, process, and/or approach are completely up to you. When you consider the painting The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, what do you see? What’s happening in the landscape? Where is that little town and who lives there? What’s happening in the weather to cause the sky to swirl? There’s a story in that and every painting, and there are stories to be read from the tarot.
What is the Little White Book?
When purchasing a new tarot deck, one of the first features you will become familiar with is what tarot readers refer to as “the little white book.” They call the booklet that, because, well, that’s what most early and/or discounted decks include: a small, chapbook-like booklet on white paper, stapled twice, and folded where the spine would normally be. More recently, however, deck designers are including robust, fully published books to accompany their decks. These books are sizeable enough that they are bound with a spine thick enough to include the title and author(s), illustrations, and table of contents; they’re like real books because they are real books. Yet and still, the concept of the little white book applies, as these substantial alternatives include everything found in their little white predecessors.
So, what’s inside the little white book? The average resource includes a brief history of the tarot, a list of the cards and their keywords, and a spread or two, one of which is typically the Celtic Cross spread. I thought it would be fun to adapt this spread from the storyteller’s perspective, so if you’re interested, I invite you to check out The Writer’s Cross in my shop, The Intuitive Storyteller Hub.
Although reading the cards intuitively and becoming a tarot tourist suggests closing the little white book, that’s not to discount the resource entirely. The little white book is a perfectly adequate starting place for tarot beginners, as well as for seasoned readers who might wish to cross-reference an intuitive meaning with what the book describes.
How to be a Tarot Tourist
Simply put, when reading tarot, be a tourist. Tourists are known for looking up at buildings, examining the stores and landscapes of a place that the locals may not always pay attention to, or no longer pay attention to because they’ve lived in that area and/or seen those details day in and day out. When reading tarot cards, be a tourist. Look at everything: color, animals, people, symbolism, every detail. And pay attention to how those details make you feel. What emotions or responses are you experiencing as a result of viewing the card(s)? Do the images spark a memory? Do they make you feel frightened? Happy? Intrigued?
No matter your experience with the tarot, reading intuitively asks you to be a tourist and look everywhere. Although it’s helpful to know the traditional meanings and keywords of each card, reading intuitively means setting aside the collective meanings that don’t resonate with you and your purpose for using the cards and gleaning your own interpretations. Examine the cards as you would if you were seeing them for the very first time. This curiosity is how you are going to ignite your intuition.
As you incorporate card-pulling and the use of tarot spreads to help inspire your storytelling, a good practice includes knowing which questions to consider while consulting the cards. Asking yourself the following 21 questions can help you consider the tarot intuitively, deciphering meaning and relevance that can season your project and/or amplify self-awareness.
What is my immediate, gut response to the card(s)?
How does the card make me feel?
What’s happening in the illustration(s)?
Are there people? Animals?
Who do they remind me of?
What are they doing?
What symbols do I see?
What numbers are there?
What colors stand out?
What is the weather like in the scene?
What’s happening in the background?
If this card were the main character of my work in progress (WIP), what’s happening to them and why?
Where are they going?
How did they get there?
What’s happening next?
What if the person/animal in the card was me?
How can I relate to the individual(s) in this card?
Why am I doing whatever is happening in the card?
How did I get there?
Where do I go next?
What overarching message do I believe this card might be telling me?
While these questions can be helpful in determining the meaning of a card or spread, what happens when you pull a card and it’s upside down? (Cue shrieking music a la the shower scene in Psycho) Reversals offer an entirely new perspective on intuiting the cards. In my post 7 Ways Writers Can Interpret Tarot Card Reversals, I can help you get comfortable embracing the cards when they flip the script.
Do you need to brush up on using tarot cards for writing?
If you are a writer who is new to employing the tarot for storytelling inspiration and writing practice, I’m happy to offer a few resources that can help.
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of literary, Southern Gothic, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative®, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, and she has worked as an instructional designer for nearly twenty years.
When she’s not writing, Mandy enjoys the movies, theater, music, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, and binging The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to enhance creativity and foster wellness. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four sons, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.