Decipher the Image

Three techniques to help you interpret Tarot images: description, conversation, and exploring a card's suit.

The messages carried in Tarot images are universal, but your understanding of them will vary from time to time, depending on your situation at the moment you pull the card. Your attention may be caught by a particular object one day and a different object on another or by a particular color on one day and a different color on another. The images or colors may evoke a particular emotion from you on one day and a different emotion on another. These differences are important in helping you decipher both the image and your current situation. You should pay attention to any feelings, memories, thoughts, or bodily sensations the image evokes as you study it.

There are many techniques for working with Tarot images. Here are a few. Try them to see which work best for you.

Describe what you see

One way to work with an image is simply to look at it and describe what you see. On one day the Fool might appear to you to be somewhat foolhardy, about to step off a cliff and experience a disastrous fall because he isn't paying attention to where he's going. On another day the Fool may appear to be courageous and adventurous, confident in her ability to survive whatever awaits at the bottom of the cliff. On still another day, the Fool may appear to have decided not to leap after all, choosing to move back to a more secure position at the top of the cliff. Looking at the image in this way helps bring your own thoughts and feelings into conscious awareness. Let them rise to the surface. Pay attention to what they say. For more information on how this technique works, click here.

Have a conversation

Another technique for working with Tarot images is to use your active imagination to enter into a conversation with a character or symbol on the card. First study the card. Then close your eyes and try to remember the image. Open your eyes and study the card again, then close them and pull the image into your memory. Repeat this exercise until you can remember the card with your eyes closed.

After you have fixed the card in your memory, close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and call up the card character or symbol. Approach the image in your imagination; thank him, her, or it for coming to assist you, then ask what message it brings. Don't try to guide the conversation. Just wait silently for whatever comes next into your imagination.  You may choose to ask a question instead of asking for a general message. Or you may choose to ask the character or symbol what question it has for you.

After you open your eyes, write about your experience with the card and your reactions to it. You may gain some useful information in this way. For a more detailed discussion of this technique, click here.

Consider the suit

Fifty-six of the 78 cards in the Tarot deck are arranged in suits like a regular playing card deck (there are four royal cards in Tarot rather than three in a regular deck). If you draw one of these cards, you can use its suit to help decipher the message it has for you. Each suit represents a particular attribute: emotion (cups); mind (swords); spirit and creativity (wands); and the material sensate world (coins or pentacles). It can be helpful to give special attention to that attribute as you work the image. If the card is a from the suit of cups, for example, pay attention to your feelings about the card; if a sword, pay attention to your thoughts; if a coin or pentacle to your body, your physical environment, and your physical sensations; if a wand to your creative imaginings and spiritual yearnings. For more information about this technique, click here.