If you are learning how to read tarot cards (hint: a good reader never stops learning) then this is the place to start. I will explain and demonstrate how much information a single card can give you…. if you are willing to look.
Memorising the card meanings is one thing but persuading them to spill the beans in a meaningful way is another. That’s where perfecting the one-card reading will form the basis of your tarot-reading career.
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Start the one-card reading…you’ll need a pen and notebook
Hold a simple question in your mind. Nothing too complicated. My example further down is “My fiancé has broken off our engagement; what do I need to know?”
Choose or turn a card.
Quickly, without thinking, write a couple of sentences of ‘first impressions’. You may find it easier to write them as a list. Write down what you think the card means, what the figure (if there is one) is doing and also list any feelings or memories that arise.
Here is the Robin Wood Seven of Swords and this is what I get when I first look at the card:
Where’s he going? He’s up to something. Gosh, he reminds me of that boy at college. He was always getting into trouble too. That cloak must be warm but it won’t be very comfortable if it starts to rain.
That’s all. You can add more if you wish but it really is just a first impression that you’re after.
Now it becomes even more interesting
Look at the card. Don’t write anything, just look. Begin to see more detail. Open your mind and allow the image to really sink in and your intuition to float free with thought-images. Roll the question around a little.
Now write down every teeny detail in the card – everything. It doesn’t have to be perfect and a list will do fine.
Here’s the Robin Wood Five of Cups and my detailed description:
The card shows a dark-robed figure looking down at three spilled cups. The robe covers the figure’s face, apart from a glimpse of nose and mouth and falls right to the ground in heavy folds. The person holds the robe closed with his or her hand.
A wide stream flows past the figure. The water may be deep as the surface is unbroken. A green field edged with trees lies beyond the river.
The cups are golden and banded with colour. Red liquid that reminds me of blood has flowed out of the three tipped-over ones. The other two stand to one side and slightly out of the line of vision of the figure. He seems to be focused on the fallen ones rather than on the other two.
The sky is heavy with grey cumulus clouds. There is a solitary bird in the sky although what could be cloud edges may actually be more birds. To one side rises a solid cliff face with the hint of buildings, maybe a walled city, at the top. In the far distance there are rolling green hills and some kind of structure, like a dolmen. Just behind the figure is a glimpse of a stone bridge.
I bet your mind is going clickety-click as you are writing. You get right into it in such a deep way. The details are beginning to latch onto the question and the reading is almost doing itself as you write.
Okay, now apply the general meaning to the card and see how the details that you wrote down support that meaning and give it so much more depth.
Staying with the Five of Cups for now. Robin Wood, the deck artist and creator, gives this meaning:
Despair. Sorrow, loss, disillusionment, bitterness, relationship ending (marriage, work, friendship). Despite feelings, do not give up hope – look for the positive.
A short précis but look how you are able to expand on it now you have examined the card in such detail. Here’s my interpretation, I shall pretend that I am doing an email reading and that the question was one regarding the breaking off of an engagement:
This card perfectly reflects how you are feeling right now… and it is fine for you to feel this deep sorrow. Your relationship has been the major part of your life for so long and you are grieving its loss. You are missing the stability and the illusion of permanence The sadness weighs heavily and I am sure it is difficult for you to think of anything else. You probably also see yourself as being alone and ‘outside of life’. No-one else can see it from your perspective; they cannot feel what you are feeling.
There may be more to this situation than meets the eye, and your ex may have valid reasons for taking this action. However, you must understand that like everything else in life, this ‘now’ is temporary… in a few weeks you will be able to see it as ‘water under the bridge’. Your focus will start to change and you will realise how many blessings you have in your life. Your mood will lift and your spirits will rise. You will feel like being sociable again.
There is much for you to learn from this experience and eventually you will understand that it had to be this way. From this current contrast, you will begin to realise your heart is leading you forward to a better life.
I got all carried away there! That’s how it is with tarot; there is so much depth in one card. Everything in that ‘reading’ came from the imagery of the card.
*Loss of stability and permanence – the dolmen in the far distance (this relationship is not going to be reconciled).
*Sadness weighing heavily – the dark, grey clouds overhead.
*Alone and ‘outside of life’ – the city on top of the cliff; flags are waving, life goes on but the figure is out here, alone.
*There may be more to this than meets the eye – the deep water hiding secrets?
*Valid reasons – perhaps these secrets need to remain hidden from the seeker as they turn away from the spilled cups.
*Temporary – water under the bridge. Also the card is a Five – all fives reflect temporary challenges. In the case of the Five of Cups, these challenges will always be emotional.
*Change of focus – pretty soon the seeker will see there is more to their life and they will realise that they still have two full cups to place their attention on.
*Mood lifting and spirits rising – the bird/s flying high.
*It had to be this way – this card reflects an unavoidable loss, taken from the general meaning.
*Heart leading you forward – Cups = hearts, 5 – temporary again. The only way is up!
Practice hones your intuition
If you can make a habit of doing one-card readings like this, you will become a very good and sought after reader. Paying close attention to the details in your cards will pay huge dividends in your understanding.
Making connections from those itsy-bitsy details back to events and experiences from your own life will enable you to understand what is happening in someone else’s.
Although I heartily recommend circumspection before blurting out anything that blossoms in your mind, don’t be afraid to ask any questions that might arise… the hidden face in the Five of Cups reminds me of a woman hiding bruises so you might gently inquire if the relationship was a violent one. Another thing that always comes to mind with this card is miscarriage. Be very, very careful how you word your thoughts but do get them out there somehow – very often the seeker is wanting to talk about these things with someone who is sensitive to their feelings. And you are, or you wouldn’t be doing this in the first place, would you?
When I started reading I did many, many one-card readings for the American Tarot Association. I built up a vast reservoir of insights which I could call upon – whether in a single card reading or as part of a larger spread. It is incredibly fascinating to realise that every reading you do adds to your own body of wisdom.