Interpreting a Single Card

When I interpret a reading, I go back and forth between sensing the cards as a whole and examining each one individually. The two approaches reinforce each other. In this lesson, we will look at how to interpret one card in a reading on its own. There are four sources of meaning:

  1. The first is your unique response to the card based on your background, personality and state of mind. This element keeps the meaning of the card personal and fresh.

  2. The second is the set of meanings that have built up around the card over the years. These vary with different tarot writers and teachers. My suggestions for each card are given in the Card Section.

  3. The third is the set of meanings associated with the position of a card. These are also based on convention and common experience. My suggestions for the Celtic Cross are given in that section.

  4. The fourth is your question or life circumstances. This element provides a framework for your responses. It sets boundaries and helps you relate a card to one area of your life.
To interpret a card, you need to combine these four sources of meaning into some composite that makes sense to you. This is a fluid process. These areas seem separate, but in practice, they blend together, and your response just happens.

[picture of 3 of Pentacles] At first, you will probably rely on the card and position meanings to guide you. Later, your personal reactions will be more important. Your reaction may be triggered by a card's image. The scenes on the cards can seem to relate to your situation very directly. For example, if you are building a house, the document on the Three of Pentacles might strike you as a set of blueprints.

[picture of 7 of Cups] Assume that you have drawn the upright Seven of Cups in Position 5. Your question is:

"How can I improve my chances of receiving a bonus this year?"
To begin reviewing this card, you would first note your reactions. Perhaps your glance falls on the cup filled with jewels. The figure in the foreground seems to be looking directly at this cup. You identify with him as he reaches out for treasure. This fits your question - you're reaching out for a bonus.

Next, you look at the keywords for the Seven of Cups. They are:

When you read through the actions, you are struck by the following: These phrases suggest someone who is passive and unrealistic, someone who lacks the energy and desire for success. They reinforce the idea of wishful thinking.

On reading over the meanings for Position 5, you feel a pull toward:

The sense of this card is beginning to take shape for you. The card seems to be suggesting that you are too busy daydreaming to act constructively. The figure now strikes you as awed by the cup dangled in front of him. You decide that this card represents for you at this time an attitude of unreasonable hopes and unproductive dreaming. This is your first feeling about what the card is saying. You may modify your assessment later when you examine the other cards.

Clearly there are other possibilities. You might have been struck by the array of delights floating in front of the shadowy figure. He seems to have many options, another meaning of the Seven of Cups.

There is never just one right answer in tarot work! Both of these interpretations make sense. You may wonder how you can decide on the best meaning when there are so many possibilities. You must trust your intuition. Your Inner Guide will give you hints that will lead you toward the ideas that are most important for you. An insistent thought may keep popping into your mind. You may circle around a meaning - thinking about it, moving off, then finally coming back. When one meaning hits you with particular force, you know you are on the right track. This is the "Aha" reaction. An "Aha" reaction may not happen for every card, but when it does, you know it is important. These are the ways that inner knowing manifests.

Exercises for Lesson 11

Lesson 12

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