At the start of my tarot journey, I always assumed that I can only be a proficient tarot reader once I memorised the keywords or phrases that were normally included in the little white book or LWB within a tarot pack. In my case, it was the LWB from the Halloween Tarot by Kipling West that I treated as the end-all-be-all of tarot knowledge, and even if my intuition was telling me something else I would ignore it because of being “wrong.” Although there were several instances where these meanings resonated with my younger self, the majority of the reading felt flat. I eventually expanded my knowledge by reading different tarot books, which helped me recognise patterns of interpretations that I stored in my memory to use.
However, it was during my college days that I realized the power of interpreting the images of the cards. I rarely remember readings that I gave out for people, but there was this one instance with a friend of a friend and the Queen of Swords from the Halloween tarot that came up in the spread and I saw the coldness from the character’s expression.
“You’re dealing with someone who’s cold and detached,” I said to the seeker. “It seems like she doesn’t approve of you or something like that.”
“That’s my mother-in-law!” she responded with disbelief. “She always hated me!”
I wish I remembered the rest of the reading but from what I can recall she was impressed with what I figured out and there was a sense of relief that she felt after the reading. This was one of the many instances wherein I followed my curiosity and it paid off.
Since I treated my tarot reading as a fleeting hobby, that skill slowly dulled and I eventually reverted back to reading books and listening to podcasts about the tarot. This time I was keen on learning more about the psychological and archetypal perspective on the cards. I paid for classes that taught me their interpretations. While this was a worthwhile venture that gave me valuable information, I did lose that sense of creativity and whimsy when I was doing tarot readings for myself and others. I would immediately draw on what I have learned rather than following what the image was telling me.
Don’t get me wrong there’s value in learning the basics as a beginner because it helps demystify the tarot. Trusting your curiosity and intuition takes time and practice. Reading books, learning techniques, and developing your sense of interpreting the cards can open the doors for you to have the confidence to let it all go. However, if you get too dogmatic with your practice, you end up closing doors that could potentially enhance your skills as a reader and it can leave your practice stale and stagnant, which I experienced firsthand while reigniting my tarot practice recently.
Reading Camelia Elias’ work and her iconoclastic perspective on the idea of tarot card meanings reminded me of the power of curiosity that niggled at me for the longest time. Her words, ideas, and methods shook my way of thinking about the art of tarot readings. Consuming her work reminded me that cartomancy is about reading the images within the cards and creating stories out of them. It is a potent form of meaning-making that creates more room for interpretations and possibilities than the seventy-eight traditional meanings could ever come up with.
Interpreting the images (the facial expressions and movements of the characters, the parallels between the symbols, the way the scenes meld together, etc) and digging the answers out of them can only be done with a curious mind. It’s about asking the cards “what do you want to show me in the context of the question?” and then answering the querent through what you see rather than what you know about the cards.
Being curious enough to follow the story within the image of the cards can empower you to take a step back and see the bigger picture. It opens up more doors to different possibilities.