At the Minnesota State Fair, there are many, many different categories for entering your best efforts in the arts, baking, knitting, crop art, and more. In each category, there a many different lots, or subcategories, you can enter. In the baking category, there is one that I always find interesting. Each year, they pick a different recipe—in 2015 it was Snickerdoodles—and each entrant bakes the cookies using the exact same recipe.
The picture above is just a few of the many cookies entered. As you can see, even though they all supposedly used the same recipe, the results are all different. I'm sure there are many reasons: quality or specific types of ingredients, relative humidity, technique, tools, the type of oven used, and timing. Even if they controlled for all of that, I think the cookies would still come out differently because each baker adds something of him or herself to the mix, something that is uniquely themselves.
Besides making me want to eat many cookies, looking at them reminded me a lot of tarot readings. In some groups or on Facebook, sometimes people will do a reading for themselves and ask the group for input. I always wonder about the usefulness of that, because I think that you can put the same, say, three cards in front of a dozen readers and even using the same question and positional meanings, you will get different conclusions. The reason goes deeper than tarot education and experience. Underneath all of that are our personal beliefs about what tarot is, how it works, where the answers come from, the role of the reader, etc.
These are all questions (and there are even more) that I have my students answer before we even get into "what the cards mean." Because what the cards mean depends on your core beliefs about how the world works. Good bakers understand that baking is more than measuring ingredients and following directions. Just like a good artist doesn't simply make a painting that looks like a photograph, they make a painting that expresses a core truth that lies in their heart or mind or soul. There is an alchemy that happens in the creation, an alchemy that starts from within.
In fact, the alchemy starts from within and affects the reading before it even begins. It will influence what kind of sitters you read for, how you handle their questions (including type, wording, and approach to the reading), how you interpret the cards, and how you present the information (as well as how, if at all, you "edit" the information you see in the cards). These are all things for which new readers want to know the "rules." But unless the rules come from their core, it's not really their most authentic reading.
Many readers tap into that core accidentally, because they are trying to access their intuition or something "more." I think that cultivating a firm understanding of your beliefs will help a reader tap into that place of alchemical wonder more easily and more consciously, and, in the long run, it will help them become a better reader.
And this is, precisely, why I wrote Your Tarot Your Way. This book is available by itself under that title. It is also available packaged as a kit, along with the Llewellyn's Classic Tarot. The kit is called Tarot Made Easy. Llewellyn approached me, saying they wanted another beginner-level kit, but did I have any ideas for presenting either new tarot information or classic information in a new way? The timing couldn't have been better, because it was time for all of these ideas to culminate and find expression in a book.
How is this book different? It starts at what I think should be the beginning: asking you to explore, understand, and define your belief system. Many books for beginners include text addressing the question: How does tarot work? Well, I can tell you how I think it works, but what difference does that make, unless you and I share the same set of spiritual beliefs. And maybe you don't even think tarot is spiritual, but rather psychological. More importantly to YOUR development as a reader is: how do YOU think tarot works? Likewise for any of the commonly asked questions about tarot: can tarot predict the future (well, do you believe the future is set in stone and can be predicted?), can you read about other people, do the cards predict death?
Some of the important foundational questions have to do with ideas and beliefs, and then these ideas and beliefs shape and influence your practice. New readers often ask: should the querent shuffle the cards? The answer depends entirely on your answer to "how does the tarot work?"
The first part of the book explores these questions and guides the reader in formulating their own answers. This foundation is essential but, sadly, usually skipped entirely when people first pick up tarot. While it is a bit of work to figure out what you think, it does, in the long run, make reading tarot much easier, because your practice will be built on a solid foundation and come from your core essential beliefs, and therefore will feel more authentic and natural.
After you've got yourself sorted, we turn to the cards. The latter part of the book includes, as is usual, interpretations for each card. But before that, you are guided through an exploration of the structure and symbols of tarot. There are not set-in-stone, true forever and ever, meanings to the symbols in tarot. They evolve, they change, they are alive (this is one reason tarot fascinates us for so long…it is a living experience). Whatever traditional interpretations you incorporate into your practice, they will feel staid and dull unless you also fold in your own soul's response to the symbols presented.
These two practices—being clear on your beliefs and being clear on your symbolic associations—will do more than almost anything else to make the tarot feel alive and organic in your hands. If you are looking for that "something extra" in your readings, it's not somewhere "out there." It's within you. This book will help you find it.