Earth-Centered Practices for Everyday Mystics, Healers, & Creatives

How to Read a Tarot Card Intuitively, without Looking it Up in the Book

in Tarot

When you’re first learning to read Tarot cards, you sometimes despair of ever memorizing the meanings of 78 cards (not to mention the reversals). But never fear! You don’t have to memorize a thing, unless you want to. As you work with the tarot cards on a regular basis, you will begin to have personal associations with them.

Almost everyone starts to play with a new tarot deck by laying cards out in a spread, then looking up the meaning of the cards in the companion book. There’s nothing wrong with that approach; it’s definitely a good idea to know why the deck creator chose certain elements and symbols for each card. But you are not limited to the deck creator’s interpretations. You need to develop your own. Trust your own intuition and responses to the tarot cards.

Here’s a few ideas for intuitively reading the cards.

Description Method:

(I learned the description method from Mary Greer at a workshop some years ago. It’s the second “way” she lists in 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. It’s one of my favorite Tarot books.)

Gaian Tarot Star1. Simply describe the card, as if you were describing it to another person. Use lots of adjectives and descriptive phrases. What is going on? How do the figures seem to feel in this situation? What is the atmosphere of the card?

(Example: Gaian Star)
I wrote: “A beautiful woman in a white gown is kneeling on soft green moss and ferns next to a spring or pool. A kingfisher is perched on the moss next to the pool.  A starry sky is spread out behind her. She has an expression of wonder on her face. Her hands are cupped and she is holding a ball of glowing light in them. It might be starlight. The light “drips” stars into the spring, making ripples on the top of the water. She is experiencing a moment of magic, grace and communion with the Divine.”

2. Repeat what you’ve just said, but in the declarative first-person, present-tense form: “I . . .”

“I am a beautiful woman in a white gown kneeling on soft green moss and ferns next to a spring or pool. A kingfisher is perched on the moss next to the pool. A starry sky is spread out behind me. I have an expression of wonder on my face. My hands are cupped and I am holding a ball of glowing light in them. It might be starlight. The light “drips” stars into the spring, making ripples on the top of the water. I am experiencing a moment of magic, grace and communion with the Divine.”

As I say those words aloud, using the present tense, I can feel the energy of the card filling my body and spirit. The “meaning” of the card came to me in the last phrase: “experiencing a moment of magic, grace and communion with the Divine.”

I know from my years of study that most Tarot writers ascribe keywords such as hope, inspiration, the Muse, peace, calm after the storm, bright promises, faith, destiny to the Star card. But my own personal association with the card has more to do with connecting to God/dess while I’m out in the natural world.

But they’re not so far apart, are they?

3. You can go further with the Description method by asking yourself questions based on your description, and then answering them.

Other ideas for intuitively reading a card:

  • Ask yourself: What does the card look like? What does it remind me of?
  • Notice your first impressions, and your emotional reaction to the card. Love it? Hate it? Puzzled by it?
  • Throw out a few one-word descriptions (like “serene” “innocent” “peaceful”).
  • Give it a title, as if it were a dream (“Woman in the Water”).
  • Be open to wild ideas or associations that fly into your head.

When you are first learning about a new tarot deck, I encourage you to turn up a card a day, and jot down your impressions of the card in your tarot journal (you have one, don’t you?) before you look up the meaning in the book. Then compare your own impressions to the text in the book. What insights do you have that are not found in the book?

(I’ve been teaching workshops on how to read the cards intuitively for more years than I can remember. Students will practice these methods in my  online course, Gaian Tarot for Tarot BeginnersSign up for my mailing list if you want to be among the first to hear all the details about the class!)

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Loran Thu - Apr 21st 2011 8:53 am

    I tried the intuitive method with the 10 of Air and got good results. What was in the book didn’t quite “fit” but the card was perfect!

    Reply

  • Joanna Thu - Apr 21st 2011 9:01 am

    Love hearing that, Loran! I always say that your own intuitive take on the card trumps the book meaning every time. Even when it’s my book! LOL 🙂

    Reply

  • Atarah Sun - Sep 18th 2011 8:22 am

    Thank you for sharing this with us readers. I’ve been searching for a way to come up with my own personal meanings of the cards, instead of memorizing the meanings that the book that comes with the deck tells me. Will give this a chance and let you know how I do. Again, thank you.

    Reply

  • Atarah Mon - Sep 19th 2011 4:44 am

    I ended up trying the Description Method a few of the cards ended up almost just like the meaning that book stated but when I did it on the 6 of pentacles it ended up kind of different. I ended up coming up with the meaning being that things have been tough but not to fret, help is on the way, things will get better and equal out.

    The book stated that debts will be paid and that rewards will be given for hard work. Should I stick with the meaning I came up with?

    Reply

  • Robert Aaron Wed - May 09th 2012 10:26 pm

    I have been away from Tarot (and Earth) for many years now. Tonight I held a bag of Ruins and it rekindled the fire that burned bright before life got complicated. I can’t say I found this deck, nor would I have chosen it had I made the choice. (I would have complicated my own life and gotten one that I could not remember) Then in a simple enough search, this became the deck with an image that just caught my eye. Before I knew it, I placed my order through Llewellyn moments ago. May strive for the online course if I can swing it, but even if I can’t make it for the next few months, I will be surely studying and finding my balance once more. Thanks for your hard work

    Reply

  • Brigit | Biddy Tarot Sun - Aug 26th 2012 1:47 pm

    You know, even now, with 15 years experience under my belt, I still use this method if I draw a blank with a particular card. If I can’t figure out how it fits into a reading, I start describing the story in the card or the picture. It is amazing how just the first few sentances of such a description will often be the boost you need to tap into your intuitive mind again and create a meaningful and insightful Tarot reading.

    Reply

  • karla Sun - Sep 01st 2013 10:11 am

    hi i find it works better for me to say what i feel,rather than the traditional method although i do use both together when needed.

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  • sandra Mon - Nov 03rd 2014 2:45 pm

    thanks!!! been reading them from a book since I was 15 (im now 46) and now thanks to your advice im on my way to chuckin the book,lol! awesome!!

    Reply

  • Sue Sat - Apr 18th 2015 12:39 pm

    I fell in love with the Gaian Tarot from the first moment a friend showed me her deck. It is perfect for me!

    I use it every day as my primary deck, and the more I use it, the better I get at using intuition to interpret the cards. I do still use the book, as I’ve only been reading tarot for about a year and still have a lot to learn. I especially love the explanations of all the symbols (birds, flowers, etc.) on each major arcana card.

    My only concern is that the binding on the book is falling apart–if I wasn’t taping pages together, most of them would have fallen out by now. Is there another version of the book with a better binding? And could I buy just a copy of the book (without cards) to replace it?

    Thanks!

    Reply

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