Allowing a tarot card to work with us

I am currently holed up, at the tail-end of Africa, with a bad cold — and my intention to write an article on The Devil and The Star has been stymied until I’m back on my feet again. Which is why I’m so grateful to my colleague, Emma Sunerton-Burl, for stepping into the breach as a guest writer this week. Emma is a tarot reader, teacher, and counsellor. You can visit her website here. — Sarah

By Emma Sunerton-Burl

Often when we read tarot for ourselves, we have a position in the spread which is the focal point of our reading. It might be the outcome card, it might be the ‘card to focus on’, it might be the ‘key’. It is the card that we are most drawn to and seek answers from.

La Papesse - Jodorowsky and Camoin Marseille Tarot deck.
La Papesse (The High Priestess) from Jodorowsky and Camoin's Tarot de Marseille.

Sometimes in readings this card we are drawn to is the very one that we understand the least — or in a particular reading it seems not to provide the direct answers we usually gain or expect. This is a good time to build your tarot knowledge, both in a traditional way and in a very personal way.

These perhaps confusing yet central cards hold a key for us. There are a number of different ways to approach this:

— the academic study
— the meditation
— the journey
— the holding the card with you through life

I want to focus on the last of these here, but before I do I will briefly talk about the others to give you an idea of what I am not meaning with the last one.

The first is to use the books you have, the online resources you have access to and to read all anyone has ever seen in the card — and go with those statements and concepts you have a intuitive reaction to. You are starting to gain a deeper understanding of the card and how it relates to you specifically in your situation; and you are adding to your remembered bank of card meanings.

In this section I would also include studying the things that have been associated with the card by the deck creator, so, with the Thoth for example, you may also be going to references about the astrological associations of the Thoth card you are dealing with; the Kabbalistic position of the card; the meanings of the sephiroth or path connected to the card.

All of this can lead to greater depth — and often when we have a personal experience of a card, that particular interpretation stays with us much more strongly than other interpretations that we have read, but which we haven’t resonated with. So picking out the parts that you feel an ‘ah-ha’ with is a powerful way of learning.

Then we come to the second way of working with the card: to do a traditional meditation, by sitting quietly and still in front of the card and allowing the different parts of the card to draw you in and to wash over you. Once you are at a point of peace with the card, then you can allow intuitive understanding and inner wisdom to arise within the session. Connected to this is the “Inner Discursive” method of meditation, where you can allow yourself to first describe the images you see within the card and then to think about what this image means and what other concepts and situations are also connected with the image.

Next comes the creative visualisation, pathworking, or journeying technique with a card, where you prepare yourself for an inner journey in your usual manner (whether sitting still and focusing on your card, or breathing deeply) and then allow yourself to ‘walk’ directly into the card. Initially you might focus on some or all of the pictures on the card. But as you progress you see the environments change — so much so that you may travel on a very personal journey into different terrains with the same card on separate occasions. This gives you intuitive insight as you assess and reflect on your journey after you return to ordinary consciousness.

Then we come to allowing the card to work with you.

You can incorporate all of the methods I discuss above — or you can use the following method on its own. You look at the image and see it clearly in your mind’s eye, then you ‘take it with you’ as you go about your day-to-day activities. In essence, you are setting your unconscious mind to work on the issue of finding the card’s true message for you as a background process of sorts. You can then forget about the card itself, and watch out for patterns of action, behaviour or events around you in your day. Any time something stands out for you, hold the card in your mind and against the activity or event.

Ask yourself what is the connection between these two things — if any?

  • Sometimes a connection will be clearly made, and you can log this as a confirmation of a certain slant of meaning of this card at this time for you.
  • Other times there is a tenuous connection. When this happens, you can hold the connection in a ‘maybe this’ pile and wait for further confirmation or a missing link.
  • Sometimes there will be no connection — in which case you can leave the situation as being about a different part of your personal process — and in fact perhaps it relates to one of the other cards in the deck, or perhaps it is just in a different realm of your life.

You can also look out for connections between your thoughts on the topic you have asked about. At this point you might find yourself reflecting on the issue and exploring it in its own nature (i.e. separate from the card) — then remembering the card and looking for these same connections inside it, its images, energy and the relation of this to your situation of enquiry.

As we set intentions like this with our unconscious, often these processes of inner analysis take place by themselves. We simply come in and out of awareness of them through our day. As we become more conscious of what we are doing, we start to become conscious of our own intuitive knowledge making its voice known in our conscious world. We come to know what we have been seeking, triggered by the tarot, which then feeds back into a depth of knowledge of the tarot for future use with others.

You can also allow this intention to enter into your dreams, deciding to ‘sleep on it’. You might do this by putting the card under your pillow as a symbol of your intention, and mentally asking your unconscious for a dream to clarify the card’s action in your life at this time. Make sure you have a pen and paper at the side of your bed for when you wake up, so that you can record anything you dream about. Even the smallest snippet of a dream, or the ‘feel’ of a dream, can give you more information about the card’s meaning.

Have a go at this process yourself. See it working in your life. And remember that anything that comes to you is both valid and worthwhile. You then have access to a very rich and personal experience that can accelerate your own inner growth and the skills you have to offer others.

8 thoughts on “Allowing a tarot card to work with us”

  1. Sarah, thank you for sharing Emma’s article. It seems to lay out in simple-direct steps some ways one might begin to work with the physical Tarot cards – after which necessarily comes understanding the symoblism and actual “reading” of the cards.

  2. Sarah – I’m just saying that the underlying issue in this essay is how to interpret and give meaning to symbols, and that it might clarify things if this was made more explicit. My opinion is that study of Tarot is largely about our ability to create mental mechanisms for interpreting interactions of symbols. This starts with visual sensing, but most people do not have highly developed visual thinking. It quickly becomes something else, something more abstract. Developing rich, abstract thinking patterns is not easy. But every effort will pay off.

  3. Charles – Emma works directly with the symbology in her writing on journeying into specific cards.

    Emma, is there a link to those articles that you could share with us?

  4. sarah — glad to hear you’re feeling better!
    i seem to have caught something similar wednesday into yesterday — really knocked me out but haven’t had the option to truly rest. hopefully soon!

  5. I think this essay dances around the central issue: Tarot cards are symbols. They contain a rich symbolic language. How do we interpret symbols, and how do we give them meaning?

  6. hypnotic – I agree. Emma writes with a real sensitivity and warmth. I especially loved the idea of living with a card because it invites synchronicity. Thank you for standing in for me on this one, Emma!

    I’m feeling better today. Yesterday I was down, but not out — but seriously doubted my ability to string together a coherent sentence!

  7. Emma, thank you for this lovely post. Your writing is very warm and accessible and your suggested processes are intuitively “right on”.

    Sarah, be well. Sending you ((((healing love vibes)))) across the nations…

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