There is mixed opinion in the tarot community about whether it’s necessary for a reader (at least in a face-to-face setting) to know exactly what a sitter wants before attempting a reading. Some ask the sitter to tell them the specific question, others want to know as little as possible in advance. My early tarot education came under the Golden Dawn system, as augmented by Eden Gray’s Waite-inspired methods. In the Golden Dawn’s “Opening of the Key” spread there is an instruction in the First Operation, after examining the location of the Significator card in its elemental pack, to “Tell the querent what he has come for; if wrong, abandon the divination.” In her book The Tarot Revealed, Eden Gray advised: “The question can be spoken aloud to the reader or left unspoken.” I took both of these to suggest that it’s best for the reader not to be pre-conditioned by foreknowledge of the question, and to just let the cards “speak their piece” (which will often help shape the question itself, especially if the querent has no particular topic in mind). For a variety of reasons, the forewarned reader may harbor preconceptions about the thrust of the answer that don’t come solely from interpreting the cards; this insertion of personal opinion amounts to interference in the sense of communion that ideally forms between the querent and the cards through the steps of shuffling and cutting the deck. As most of us know, the reading will often go off-topic anyway, exploring aspects of the situation that were not consciously acknowledged by the querent but were instead lurking in the subconscious, a fertile field for harvesting via the tarot.
A long time ago I drew a line for myself that I’ve rarely crossed. I tell the sitter I don’t want to know the question, and to just concentrate on the area of interest while shuffling (because I believe tarot works through subconscious induction, I’m not a believer in my clients “emptying the mind” as some writers propose, although I try to clear my own during the card selection process). The sitter’s act of focusing on the shuffle allows any subconscious foreshadowing of the future to emerge through the channel made for it by the resulting “bridge of cards.” The reading thus becomes an instrument for zeroing in on what is on the querent’s mind through carefully analyzing the testimony in the spread. My personal experience has been that the Celtic Cross is one of the most effective tools for doing this. However, this method of “finding the range” can take a fair amount of time to produce meaningful results, and professional readings performed on-the-clock often don’t enjoy that luxury.
Lately, while revisiting my “Aces as Significators” post for another article (https://parsifalswheeldivination.com/2017/08/08/aces-as-significators/), I realized that having the sitter identify aloud a general “area of life” for the reading (as shown by the nature of the element that most closely aligns with what they want to know), can give me a time-saving leg up on the outcome without unduly influencing my own impressions of what I “should” be telling the individual about the situation. In fact, I’ve done this once or twice by showing sitters the “Aces” template and asking them to pick the most relevant suit for their question. But being shoehorned into 15 or 20 minute reading sessions discourages resorting to even this limited amount of preparatory groundwork. My recent decision to stop accepting such abbreviated reading assignments will open the door for slightly expanded advance probing of the subject area, and allow me to give my clients more “bang for the buck.” As an aside, I should also mention that I’ve never abandoned a divination because the cards didn’t make sense at first glance, and I also don’t use additional “clarifiers.” I just follow James Ricklef’s excellent advice to let problem cards “simmer in the consciousness; they will eventually make sense, they always do.”