Bad Tarot Cards

There are two links I’ve found discussing “bad” tarot cards.

First, Psyche addresses cards that readers and querents alike can get nervous about.

We’ll tackle the second part first: cards which are difficult for the reader to interpret. This seems to come down to experience and exposure more than anything else. A good exercise to overcome this might be to go through your deck and vocally give a brief interpretation of the card2. Where you have trouble, separate those cards from the deck to work with. Write down what you feel your trouble is with that card, and what it could mean both as a card and in relation to the difficulty you experience with it.

The understanding and depth of interpretation for any given card will change and grow naturally with experience in using the cards, and also with one’s magickal practice – especially in regards to specifically occult decks such as the Crowley-Harris Thoth tarot.3

Now we come to the potentially tricky part: assuaging client’s fears about “negative” cards. Earlier, we talked about providing information that was useful to the client and this applies here, especially. We don’t want to sugar-coat a card’s meaning, but we also don’t want to have the client feel we’re deliberately leaving something out.

For example, upon seeing the Death card come up in a reading, immediately rushing to say “Don’t worry! It doesn’t actually mean death!” can come across as disingenuous. Even if it is (usually) true, expressing enthusiastic concern for the card may come across as over-anxious, and this tends to alarm the client more than reassure. Better to calmly take it in turn, rather than leaping to defend the card, unless the client specifically mentions it, in which case a smile and a comment on its metaphoric gloss might be helpful.

Cards like the Tower and Death don’t pose much of a problem for me. (Maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio.) I can explain change to a querent fairly easily, even unpleasant change: you now know it’s coming, so take advantage of it. What do you want to change? If it had to change, how would you change it? The Moon and Judgement are more potentially difficult for me, since one requires identifying what appears good from what is good, and the other requires accepting what can be salvaged and what must be gotten rid of. Querents like options.

Court cards are where I go batty. After 17 years of tarot they still confuddle me. Only Lon Milo DuQuette’s Chicken Qabalah has helped me make any sense of them. (And I got a tarot deck with two extra court cards in each suit! What was I thinking?)

And Barbara Moore offers some insights into an experience with the Tower card:

My partner, knowing how I’ve been talking about the Tower lately, asked me why I thought it was a Tower experience when it didn’t seem painful, just freeing and exciting. This caused me to think about it. How and why have I come to this idea that the Tower, with all its change, was always painful. I looked back on what I wrote about the card in Tarot for Beginners (which I wrote in 2009/2010):

“Sometimes we build something, such as a home, career, relationship, or belief system. We care for it, love it, and come to depend on it. Then, out of the blue, something occurs that changes everything. Our cherished creation is knocked down, utterly destroyed, and we are surrounded by shambles. The Tower represents this experience–and a little more. It is not merely destruction for destruction’s sake; it is a breakdown that allows for a breakthrough. It releases us from what no longer serves our best interest. It takes away what is no longer good or sound. The Tower destroys something as we know it, thereby providing the raw material and experience to re-create something new.”

My experience this morning did feel like the Tower. I was listening to a podcast (Why Shamanism Now) and the host, Christina Pratt, said something and suddenly it was like thoughts were exploding in my head. The thoughts were blowing to bits my idea of myself as The Practical Tarot Reader. For years, I’ve loved my practical approach, so you’d think the destruction of that would have been upsetting. But it wasn’t. It was “a breakdown that allows for a breakthrough.” I was ready for it, even though I didn’t know I was.

In addition to my breakdown/breakthrough, I learned an additional lesson: beware of tarot ruts with card interpretations. Seems simple, but apparently even seasoned readers can develop bad habits.

The Tower doesn’t have to embody negative or painful change; as Psyche says in her article, it can be a relief to a querent seeking a divorce. The Tower is more about the inevitability of change: it is coming, so use it to your advantage.

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