Difficult readings

There are times when I find myself looking at a spread wondering to myself, “What are the cards saying to me?”

Difficult readings

Difficult readings. Alchemical Tarot, by Robert Place.

Some Tarot readings don’t come easy. There are times when I find myself looking at a spread wondering to myself, “What are the cards saying to me?”

This was a conversation I was having recently with a fellow Tarot reading friend. Over coffee and reading practice, she asked if I ever read Tarot and not understood what the cards were saying. Did I then collect, shuffle, and try again? This, she said, was something she found herself doing quite often these days until something clearly came to her.

Not really, I said. I used to do the same thing she’s doing until I realized I was shutting out the real message Tarot was trying to share with me. What I was doing, subconsciously, was ignoring the best possible advice I could get, and looking for, or waiting for, the response I wanted. I was, in fact, treating Tarot the way I do my mother when she’s giving me advice: I shut her out.

We had a good laugh about that, but then I explained to my friend difficult spreads—or readings—are the best ones to learn Tarot. When the answers don’t come quickly, or when the spread doesn’t seem to make sense, these are the times when we sit with the cards, contemplate them, and work with them in order to get a deeper, more complete reading. This is how we learn.

HierophantOne thing I’m fond of doing—and a habit I learned when I started keeping a Tarot journal—is photographing daily and difficult spreads to refer to again and again. After shuffling the cards and laying out the spread, I use my phone to photograph the spread. I then do the reading, or write it out in my journal, depending on who the reading is for, in order to keep a record of readings. This is a way for me to keep track of readings, exercises, and lessons. I keep an electronic record of my journal in an app that allows me to have different notebooks, and gives me plenty of flexibility to write, mix media (audio, photo, text), revise, update, track, search, and refer to my notes and observations at all times and wherever I go.

Difficult readings, or readings that don’t quite make sense to me at first, get their own notebook. This way, when I need to refer to them, or want to go back and study them further, I have a special place for them. Normally, I refer to these readings after meditation, or when I feel I’m ready and more open to studying the cards’ meaning and messages. There are times when I’m expecting a response or an answer from Tarot that I don’t get. When I get cards I’m not expecting, or others that don’t normally show up in my readings, that is when a difficult reading occurs. There may be a card combination, a Major, or card showing up in a position that may alter its traditional meaning. In those moments, my brain may fart and I may not connect or grasp the message the spread is sharing. This is when reflection and contemplation are good practices to observe.

Another reason I keep these readings and don’t use clarification cards or try another spread is because I realized—if I’m honest enough with myself—that what I was hoping from Tarot was an answer I was looking to get, not one I needed to have. When someone asks a question or is seeking advice, I told my friend, more often than not what they’re asking for is permission to do something they’ve already made up their mind about, or a guarantee that what they’re about to do will turn out in their favor. It’s very easy to deceive ourselves. We can rationalize or make excuses for just about anything. Some people like to turn to Tarot for confirmation that something or someone is acting and behaving a certain way. Other folk turn to Tarot to rationalize an action they’re about to make.

Tarot, however, doesn’t work that way. Tarot, I’ve discovered, when approached and used correctly, is a very exacting, impartial, and objective advice tool. When handled properly, Tarot has the querent’s best interests in mind, and will give a proper snapshot of the present moment in order to make spiritually informed decisions. Tarot, I don’t believe, can predict the future, but it can inform the present on how to best go about reaching a desired goal or outcome. That is the reason why, when Tarot offers an answer one was not expecting, or hoping for, it can result in confusion or frustration. When this happens, a pause and meditating on the answer can yield better results than plunging ahead blindly and expecting the results we wanted.

It’s like pressing send on an e-mail we later regret sending, I told my friend. When a difficult reading arises, or we’re not quite sure what the reading means, instead of clicking the send button, take the message, store it in the Drafts folder, and come back to it later.

Tarot doesn’t have to make sense right there and then. One can take a reading and stick with it for days, or even weeks. Spend time with it. Get to know it. Work it out in different ways. See where it leads you. Not only does the message become clearer over time, but you’ll also develop a relationship with the spread and the cards! Don’t give in or give up so quickly. If you do, you’ll be watering down the advice, and chances are the opportunity for learning and growth.

This post first appeared in OMPawo, a sister site.

About the author Walter

Walter lives and works in and around South Florida. When not practicing or studying acupuncture, you can find him at one of Miami’s beaches, or in a coffee shop lost in the pages of a good book. Walter enjoys diverse interests such as reading Tarot, practicing Qi Gong and Tai Chi, learning Buddhist dharma, practicing shamanic healing, writing for his blogs, reading Oriental philosophy, traveling to new places and old favorites, exploring contemplative photography with his iPhone, sitting quietly in meditation, practicing healthy fitness, and promoting wellbeing.

All posts by Walter →


  1. Interesting. Do you shuffle the pack in a particular way, or get a feeling after shuffling that it has to be done again before the reading?

    1. It all depends on the reading and the moment. There is a way and skill to shuffling and like reading Tarot, it differs from reader to reader. I don’t riffle Tarot cards like playing cards. Others do, but I prefer not to. I first cut, then shuffle the cards, while concentrating on the question or matter at hand until I feel an internal (intuitive) click in my body that tells me the deck is ready. This is something one learns over time the more they work with Tarot. 😉

  2. When I get a difficult reading, I have one of the following:
    1 – the cards are basically telling to to go away and figure it out yourself, we’re closed
    2 – oh why don’t you just wait and discover what isn’t clear right now
    3 – deal a ‘clarifying card’ to help focus the picture.
    sometimes I send a photo of the spread to my card-partner and she 9/10 sees what I miss.

    1. Any, or all of the stated approaches are acceptable. I like, in particular, the last one: sending a photo for verification, clarification, or checking out blind spots. You’re a lucky reader with a card-partner who can help you verify or translate. 😉

      1. We do each other’s cards every Sunday. I like another reading me to reading my own.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: