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Developing Personal Interpretations

I tell all of my students that they must discover what the Tarot cards mean to them, and once they have found their own personal meanings, to start using them in readings. I have found this to be a very useful approach, and in the interest of helping those who are interested in learning Tarot but do not know where to start, I offer it here.

The process can be divided into five distinct steps. The first step, as always, is the most important because it is the key to the others. It's really quite simple: just pick a system that feels right to you. Some beginners have a problem with this because they want to choose a system that is "authoritative", even if they don't like it. But there is no such thing as an authoritative system in Tarot, since nobody has the authority to dictate what we like or dislike.

What happens if you pick a system that seems good, but later you find out that it is full of all kinds of junk that no other reader would touch with a ten foot pole? Don't worry about it. If you picked it, you picked it for a reason. You can always get rid of the junk later. It may even turn out to be useful - you never know when you will find a diamond in a pile of coal.

The second step in the process is to learn your chosen system inside and out. Until you have learned it well, try to avoid going too deep into other systems. So if you are using Bunning's meanings, don't run off and study Waite's or Crowley's or Connolly's. Concentrate only on the one you've chosen and use it consistently until you have learned at least the basics - that is, the basic interpretations of all 78 cards and a few simple spreads.

Only once you're comfortable with your chosen system should you move on to Step Three and start examining other major systems. See where there are conflicts and agreements with the things you already know. If you find that you prefer some meanings from the new system better than those from the old one, try using them. There's no problem with interpreting most of the cards with Waite's meanings, half a dozen by Bunning's, and one or two by Crowley's.

At the same time as you're doing Step Three, ease into Step Four. This represents a transition from theory to practice. Instead of just learning about the meanings that various authors use, start doing readings and see which meanings consistently appear. Use as many different ways as you can think of to work with the cards - these include but are not limited to meditation, contemplation, creative writing, and directed dreaming. Try out various systems to see how they work in practice.

Step Five only comes after a few months of work with Step Four. Once you reach this step, you must take all the things that work from all the systems you have examined, and amalgamate them. Add any personal interpretations which do not exist anywhere else but which you found through working with the cards. Remove anything that's never appeared in the course of your work. Forget everything you have ever learned through books, and rely only on your experience. Now you have your own personal system.

Step Five never really ends. Personal interpretations are not written in stone, so you can modify the system at your discretion. If you read an article that makes you think of a great meaning for the Seven of Pentacles, by all means, add it to your system once you start seeing it appear in readings. But don't add it just because it sounds good; the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the proof of a new interpretation is in the readings. If something works on paper but never shows up in readings, it is worth nothing.

With this approach, you may end up learning some things you do not like at first, but you will end up eliminating them by Step Five. And if you find that you do like some of the untraditional aspects of the system you started out with, keep them. If a thing feels intuitively right, even if it is untraditional, use it! The only person to whom you must justify your choices is yourself.

In conclusion, it should be obvious that developing your own system of interpretations a necessary exercise for the devoted reader. Not only is it a lot of fun, but implementing your own system is a much better way to learn than memorizing others' meanings. It makes your Tarot work much more personal, and your clients will thank you for that.

Copyright 2000 James Rioux