How to Read Cards II

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I want to be inspired by the Gods! – Continued from How to Read Cards. As I was saying-

Tarot -or any deck of cards- is already the tool used to achieve so-called divination. You just have to use it! Playing cards are designed to be shuffled and laid out in a spread. That’s the method– just add divination, so far we have a mind clear of preconceptions, and a question. Ready for practice.

But, you want meaning?

Here’s a little ‘secret’ you may have discovered already. The practice of Magic is very much concerned with language. A grimoire sounds fancy, but it means grammar; a spell is a collection of letters or words- a story.

Magic words

Unlike the narratives woven together (context) by Culture (cultivation): “This is who you are.” / Science (knowledge): “This is reality.” / Religion (from ‘ligare’ binding- like a contract): “Believe or be damned.” All of them powerful ‘spells’ of definition (that BTW means ‘set bounds’) which offer ‘meaning ‘ to your life. To hell with that. 

The narrative we aim for with divination is a much finer (and simpler) spell. One of clarity. Clairvoyance means Clear Vision. As you will see the entire concept of divination is concerned with it. Writers like any artist (who are magicians too) love to be inspired. They hold rituals and have secret recipes to call on the muses, daemons and Gods. When it all fails they call it Writer’s block, like a veil between them and the ‘magic place’ of inspiration.

Peek through the veil. There’s all this talk about crossing the threshold, the veil, the door, curtain etc. What exactly do you think this veil or curtain is woven with? Ding ding ding . How about cultural dictations, religious beliefs, scientific knowledge, definitions, assumptions, facts, stereotypes, rules, fears, desires and all these dark entities that don’t allow you to see clearly. Jackpot. Why do you think the devil shows up at the crossroads and tells you all about the darkness? It takes guts to defy these things, but you better start now if you want to go beyond.

In Divination with cards, the language is a sequence of images, numbers and symbols. We weave these into stories, expressed in words and the context for these stories comes from you (or the concerned party). Not the Ancient Egyptians, the Celts, or the Gypsies. Not by the cards themselves which don’t speak and are inanimate. You are the Oracle, ‘the speaker’. The word language itself comes from tongue. (No wonder Magicians like snakes so much).

The Secret Recipe Revealed

The three main ingredients for divine card readings: a question, a spread and a vision.

Ask Again Later

When you use cards to divine for answers, naturally you start with a Question, which acts as the grammar, the grimoire for the operation that gives context to your story, the spell.

No question? No answer. This is where you aim for precision. Formulating questions is an art. A pattern for weaving (context). Think story prompts, and reverse logic, Magic is all about reflections too. What are you aiming to reflect back? I’ve spent many a card session with my brother asking me “but what about this or that other thing” to which I answer “that was not the question”. Ask again later. After the Question you proceed to use playing cards as they are used: shuffle and spread. Have a good look at what’s on the table, and speak.

Practical Terms: Use the best of your hard-earned word knowledge to formulate questions. Yes or no questions lead to those answers. Specific or vague usually take you back there. Practice writing your Question down on paper and answer hypothetically, without cards, see what kinds of answers you can retrieve with the questions you use.

Boo Shuffle

The shuffle, is perhaps the main reason cards are used to read fortunes. Divination of all kinds includes acts of randomizing, or mixing. This is a magical act of course, a play on meaning and language, linearity and causality. Total rebellion against logic, control and belief . A devilish challenge, a dance. We could say it’s a communication in and of itself.

Astrologers who are also diviners, observe and read the skies, although the sky is already in a shuffle, so they just freeze frame it. Then work with the conviction that the moving sky is not random at all. Same here.

I see the shuffle of cards as a gesture to the fortunes. Saying: You are welcome here. It is also a great moment-like dish washing, long walks or driving- to bypass pesky thoughts. Many great writers will attest these mechanical moments have at times been followed by divine inspiration.

Overhand Shuffle

Practical terms: Shuffle any way you like. Unlike Casinos you are not required to achieve perfect randomization. The Shuffle is like your lime and honey before karaoke (I take coconut oil). My choice of style is the overhand shuffle because I like to feel the cards in my hands. That helps me know when to stop. You stop when you feel like it, if you must have a cue, stop when your mind clears.

You are Here

Once shuffled, cut the deck if you like (I don’t) then pull cards and place them over the table (or whichever surface) in the spread of your choice. I recommend the tried and true Tirage en Ligne (which is French for Throw in a Line) of three cards to begin with. Save the more complex spreads for special occasions. I rarely use more than nine cards (which I do so in a Square of 3x3x3) unless I’m in the mood for a Grand Tableau with the Lenormand cards or some fun with Etteilla games.

Whenever I read a map, like the one at the mall and find the inscription You are Here I’m always amused. What any good map does is first show your current location, which is what guides you to the next. The reminder is there if you want it. You do. The cards on the table form a little map of their own, and it says you are here. The map is not the territory, you use it for clarity and until you are ‘there’ you’re just here having a look.

So before you go all Mademoiselle Lenormand on people, remind yourself that any past and future projections are anchored in the now, hopefully the card reading itself will remind them.

Snap out of it!  

So, shuffle your thoughts to a blur, then lay down the ‘cards on the table’ and return to the present moment. You can’t have a vision if you’re not looking.


Observe. The time has come. Hopefully the preconceived notions are at bay, and you’ve decided to peek behind the veil. So what was the Question? Set the context with it and make that neon sign with the eye live up to its reputation.

Meaning Bonus: Intuition is a fancy word. It actually comes from the Latin intueri ‘look at’. Even the word insight is pretty obvious ‘in sight’. Intuition is defined by the modern dictionary as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” I think we’re on track here.

If the question is one of Love see if there are any hearts (or Cups) if about money look at the diamonds (or coins). Projects and work, watch for clubs (or wands/batons). Hardship, death, or samurai warriors, check the spades (or swords). What are these doing? If the question involves people, are they around? How do they behave? Who’s be-heading whom. Time to weave. Keep it simple.

Coming up next. A look at the fascinating images of the pip cards. Continues here.

Jorge Cuaik

Jorge Cuaik

Mexican sorcerer, likes to travel.
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2 years ago

I agree there are so many “formats” to reading the cards you almost get caught up in that fact you will steer the answer in a particular direction unintentionally. The entire point is to feel it, see the energy unfold and then give the answer.
Great and informative post

Judy Kerr
2 years ago

This whole post “speaks to my condition” (as Quakers say). I particularly enjoyed the map analogy. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

James Himm Mitchell
2 years ago

Jorge, this was so great. I especially loved the part about the question. When I read for others, I talk about the importance of asking a specific question. I tell them, the better (meaning more specific) the question, the better the answer. I had this thought: When people say, “I just want to know what the cards have to say,” the cards will say something–it just might not have anything to do at all with the seeker. 😉 And the last bit about the playing cards, and what to look for in relation to the question, was a simply wonderful… Read more »

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