A common mistake to make when approaching a system of divination like tarot is approaching it with the intention of having it give you answers for what decisions you should make.
I will preface this article by admitting that I am incredibly guilty of trying to use tarot to make decisions for me, particularly when I am feeling my most vulnerable. Everyone goes through challenges where they wish someone or something would tell them irrefutably what action they should take or what choice will bring them the deepest sense of security and contentment. It’s easy to project this kind of authority onto systems of divination, or even onto friends, family, spiritual mentors or Spirit itself. It is tempting to seek the comfort of absolute certainty about our choices and curtail any risk of failure or setback, but we need to resist this temptation as much as possible.
The ability to make a choice of action is one of the few things in life we have any control over. When you look to external sources to give you answers and tell you what choices to make, you disempower yourself and perpetuate a fear-based cycle of doubting your own authority to know what is best for you. There are many reasons why someone can end up in this cycle – a history of interpersonal trauma, such as gaslighting or attachment injury, is a big one. The message you send to yourself when you disregard your own agency is that you are not trustworthy or able to be relied upon to make sound decisions – and if you grew up in a dysfunctional household, then you may very well just be repeating the pattern you felt towards your own guardians when they failed to be reliable and trustworthy towards you. I know all too well what this feels like, and it can absolutely be terrifying to depend on yourself as an adult if you never experienced what it is like to be in the presence of a safe and trustworthy adult. However, part of healing this means we have to make choices and live with whatever results from them, and sometimes it’s really difficult to bear. The lived experience of making choices – whether for good or for worse – is critical in developing confidence about your identity and needs, as well as learning to trust yourself. How else do you discover what you like, dislike, want, need, or desire if all your choices are made for you? You are depriving yourself of the opportunity to connect to your natural-born intuition when you outsource your agency to external figures or systems.
Receiving answers or revealing choices?
In terms of tarot and divination, asking for answers usually looks like coming to a reader or busting out a deck with a question along the lines of “What should I do about my situation?” Especially questions like, “Should I end my relationship?” or “Should I leave my job?” You’ll notice these questions all have “should” in them – which is a great indicator that these questions are asking an external source to confirm or make a decision that is not theirs to make.
While it is perfectly normal and acceptable to seek guidance and advice on issues that face us, there is a subtle difference between seeking guidance to gather data and explore a situation and seeking guidance to have a decision made on one’s behalf. Typically, we turn to external sources to make decisions for us when we are scared, confused, and unsure – which will inevitably be reflected back to us. With tarot and oracles in particular, my experience has been that the cards really function to reflect what I already know back to me – in messages and symbols that are arranged in such a way that I either perceive additional insight and confirmation into my situation, or experience further confusion and doubt. If I am confused, scared, and doubtful about the decision I have to make, I always pull cards that state this plainly, and often in my fearful state I take these cards to mean that I am making a bad choice. No matter what the situation is, every option will seem scary or incorrect if you approach it with this state of mind. This is why the way you frame a question and ask for guidance can make such a huge difference in how much clarity you gain from a reading.
I believe tarot and other divination systems can be incredibly useful for processing and organizing how we are experiencing a situation, leading to new perspectives or revealing ways to think about a situation that bring about clear, confident solutions. Tarot – or astrology, runes, or whatever other divination system you prefer – is best used to reveal choices, not provide answers. However, in order to make the most out of tarot you have to be conscious of the mindset with which you approach it.
An example situation might be that someone is burnt out on their job, though they feel a lot of affection for their colleagues and the work that they do. In spite of this, this person is struggling to make ends meet and feels incredibly stressed about the situation. They start drawing tarot cards over and over, asking, “Should I leave my job?” In my experience, time and again, this type of approach leads to confusing messages – cards that simply don’t make sense, or trigger fearful reactions. This person just wants to be told what will make them the most happy – what is the correct way to act? But the mindset in this approach is inherently powerless – they do not trust their own ability to know what would make them happy, and it shows in the cards. They need to reorient their mindset to an empowered one before they can receive empowering messages.
What would an empowering mindset look like? If you relate to feeling confused, unsure, or like you strongly fear making the wrong choice, try imagining this instead: what would it feel like if you trusted yourself to know what you really want, so long as you have access to enough information? Furthermore, what if you know that you possess what you need to obtain enough information to make a satisfying decision? What if you could always create a solution to any challenge or setback you experience?
Launching from the previous example, it’s likely a person in such a situation, deep down, already knows whether they want to stay at their job or find something else – the problem really is that being able to access this inner knowing is easily blocked when someone is experiencing doubt and fear. Someone can live in this state 24/7 – as I have experienced in my past. There are many exercises and tools you can use to recover your connection to your inner knowing if you think this applies to you. In my previous article on ambivalence, I outline steps you can take to access the part of you that already knows what you need.
The person from the previous example may be passionate about what they are doing and feel incredible kinship towards their colleagues. With a fear-based mindset, this person will notice the burnout and the financial struggle and become worried that they may have to leave their job in spite of loving it, so they begin asking “Should I leave my job?” with the desire to be told what to do to save themselves. In a secure mindset, where the person is aware of what they want out of the situation, the question with which they approach the cards may look drastically different: “How can I improve my job?” or “How can I make more money?” Notice how these are open-ended questions, which create space for the cards to paint a picture of your situation and reveal solutions. When you approach your queries this way, you are claiming your agency and empowering yourself to create solutions, rather than resigning yourself to being a passive participant in the unfolding of your own life. This is really the essence of The Magician, by the way.
The impact of your mindset extends to pick-a-card readings on YouTube or selecting a reader too – when you approach your query from a mindset that is grounded, confident, and curious, you may find yourself drawn to different readers or piles than you would have selected when you were perceiving yourself as powerless, vulnerable, and lacking judgment. At least, that has been my experience.
I know that it is hard to channel this mindset if it does not come naturally to you. I hope that by explaining the issue with using tarot for answer-seeking, that you can notice when you are doing this yourself and utilize the tools I linked earlier to re-center and re-approach your queries with an empowered mindset. It becomes easier over time to catch yourself and reorient your thoughts. Try it out and let me know how it works for you! Since I started approaching tarot this way, I feel more confidence in my decisions even if they don’t always yield the best results. I know now that I possess the ability to create solutions to any challenge that meets me in life, because I trust in my own authority to know what is best for me, and I want others to feel the same way.