Tarot is a communication tool. We speak to the cards, and the cards speak to us. They speak to us in different ways: through their imagery, through thought, and through feeling. Over the centuries, people have used many words to try to describe with whom or what they communicate when they read the cards. They use such words as cosmic consciousness, higher power, the divine, psychic powers, creative spirit, intuition, and other states of higher awareness. The list, like the art of Tarot itself, is mysterious and ever-changing.
Many of us are used to thinking of Tarot as one-sided communication. We bring questions to the cards, and they answer us, either directly or through a reader or interpreter. We sometimes overlook the fact that the cards can carry questions for us as well—questions that can be powerful tools for self-development. Communication with the Tarot is a two-way street. The cards can answer, but they can also ask, and the questions they ask can be life-changing.
Holding a conversation with a card is easy for some people. They have active imaginations and are able to see or hear Tarot characters in their minds. Others find it more difficult. They have to re-learn what they knew how to do as children but have since forgotten. Children don't have to be taught how to pretend. It's one of the ways they learn. Unfortunately, parents sometimes discourage this trait as their children age. Older children get the message that fantasy is bad—that they must leave the world of play behind before they can enter the adult world.
If you have trouble communicating directly with the cards, there are two tools that can help you recapture your imaginative gifts. The first is the ability to relax. The second is the ability to see or hear things in your mind. These tools are discussed below.
There are many ways to relax our bodies. One commonly-used technique is known as progressive muscle relaxation. It is used to retrain our muscles to release tension instead of holding it in. Because our muscles respond slowly to this exercise at first, it can be somewhat tedious to learn, but with practice, relaxation comes faster and faster.
When reading the cards, it helps to be in as relaxed a state as possible. If you have trouble relaxing, you may wish to try the following exercise before continuing with this article. Don't be discouraged if you don't feel an immediate sense of deep relaxation after completing the exercise. It takes time to train tense muscles to relax.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise
- Find a quiet spot where you can lie comfortably on your back. A floor or other surface that gives you a firm support is best. Loosen any restrictive clothing. Close your eyes and begin to focus on the muscles in your feet. Curl up your toes as tight as you can, and then let them go. Pay attention to how your toes feel when you curl them curled (tense) and when you let them go (relaxed). The purpose of this exercise is to call your mind's attention to the difference between these two states so that you can relax easily when muscle tension is not required.
- With your toes still relaxed, point them down towards the floor. This will cause your ankles and arches to tense. Be aware of the tension in your ankles and arches. Then release your feet, and let them return to a comfortable position. Pay attention to how it feels to have relaxed feet.
- Repeat this exercise (tense, then relax) for other muscles, moving progressively up your body. Tense and relax your calves, your knees, your thighs, your buttocks, your abdomen, and so forth. When you reach your shoulders, move down your arms to your fingertips. Then give attention to your neck and head. Don't forget your mouth, your eyes, your forehead—all the little muscles that carry tension in your face. When you have finished, take a few minutes to enjoy your relaxed body before getting up and resuming your activities.
The second technique involves teaching your mind to see images when your eyes are closed. To practice this, take a card from your favorite deck and study it for a minute or so. Pay attention to the background color of the card and to the color and shape of its main image. Now close your eyes and pull as much of the card into your mind as you can. See the background color and the color and shape of the main image. If you have trouble doing this, open your eyes and study the card again. When you are able to see background color and the main image, open your eyes and return to the card. Focus on the color and shape of another, smaller detail. Repeat this exercise a few more times, trying each time to increase the vividness of the image in your mind.
This exercise can be useful not only in increasing your mind's ability to "see" but also in helping you remember the images on the cards. If you want to use this exercise to help you remember Tarot images, it is best to practice with the same card at least three days in a row. Repeated practice spread out over time helps us move information from short-term memory to long-term memory. It is better to study something ten minutes a day for three days than to study for 30 minutes on a single day.
Once you can see a card in your mind, you are ready to begin conversing with the character or image on the card. Your conversation can be spoken or unspoken. You can imagine the character speaking to you, or you can use your imagination to see what the character does.
Close your eyes, see the card in your mind, and wait to see what happens. The character may move or speak. Or the image may remain still, while you become aware of a memory or a feeling. Cards speak to us in all of these ways.
You may wish to respond to the card during this exercise by speaking, moving, or feeling. As you respond, what the characters do and say may change. Eventually you will find yourself engaged in a dialog or conversation with the card. You will learn to ask questions and wait for answers. Sometimes the answers will come in the form of questions to you.
When you are ready to end your conversation, thank whatever Tarot image you are engaged with for its time and begin to return to the "real world." Let the image fade, and open your eyes. It is useful to make a written note of your experience in a journal or to draw it in a sketch book.
Don't be discouraged if very little happens when your first begin this exercise. Imagination grows rusty when it isn't used. But it is still there in all of us, and it returns to those who are willing to patiently nurture it.
If you like working with Tarot in this way, you may wish to consult the following books for further suggestions: The Magical World of Tarot, by Gareth Knight, published in 1996 by Samuel Weiser; and Tarot Journeys, by Yasmine Galenorn, published by Llewellyn Publications, 1999.