Baby Steps

So you’ve got your first deck, freed it from its shrink-wrap, browsed through it casually, counted the cards to make sure they’re all there, and are ready to dig in. There are a number of ways to start using the cards, all of which involve taking things in small bites. One time-honored approach is to go through the deck in sequence, card-by-card with book in hand, writing down your own associative and intuitive impressions in a journal as you go. (Hint: get yourself a genuine tarot textbook to do this and forego the LWB [“little white book”] that most likely came with your deck.) With 78 iterations, it could take a couple of months if you’re able to tackle one or two cards every day, but this is easier said than done since the tedium of having to record your thoughts can derail your best intentions. A slightly more inspiring way is to draw a single card randomly from the deck each day and perform the book-and-journal exercise in the same manner as before. This has the advantages of keeping things fresh and providing rudimentary insights into the day’s affairs right from the start, but also the distinct disadvantage of potentially taking much longer to cover all of the cards on the first pass. The “daily draw” is recommended by many writers and experienced readers as the most effective way to familiarize oneself with the deck. Over an extended period of time, you will build an internal inventory of personalized “keyword” meanings that you will be able to summon to mind without having to refer to books or notes. You will add to this inventory, either by reinforcement or exception according to the context of the reading, every time that card appears.

As I said in an earlier post, “any practice is good practice” when just starting out, and the daily draw is certainly preferable to rote memorization of the cards in an academic way. But taking the cards as single entities operating in a vacuum is too shallow a way to absorb their more subtle nuances. A one-card reading offers no sense of movement, and assumes that the flow of the upcoming day will remain in the same groove until the next daily draw. I find that this is satisfactory if all you want is to preview the underlying tone of the next 24 hours without consideration of developing “real-life” circumstances. But the cards don’t really come alive until they are brought together in combination, with one card segueing into the next, flavoring and being flavored by its successor. As a learning experience, I would suggest drawing a pair of cards each day and shading their meanings according to their interaction with one another in a two-phase, unfolding scenario. This will give you something to watch for as the day progresses, will sharpen your interpretive skills, and will leave a more lasting impression of each card’s versatility in different reading situations. That it will also be a far more interesting and informative exercise goes without saying.

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