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There are many types of ways to make decisions, both big and small. Some people create a pro/con list, while others mull it over until their heads feel like they’re going to explode. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it, but there are ways you can connect with yourself to access one of your most powerful decision-making tools: your intuition.
Tarot cards are just one of those ways you can tap into your inner self to get clarity around what’s best for you. Tarot is a highly personal practice, as well as a subjective one. Just as different people have different interpretations of the cards, there are also different methods to tap into the wisdom of a deck.
Of course, using the cards in your daily routine can be an excellent guide for helping you gain clarity and perspective. If you’re interested in starting a tarot practice or enriching the one you have, Jessica Dore, a licensed social worker, tarot reader, and author of the book “Tarot for Change,” believes you can integrate the cards into your routine for deeper fulfillment — and transform yourself in the process.
“I’m a big believer in making your practice your own, doing what feels best for you, and not getting too caught up on thinking these are the rules of what a tarot practice should look like,” she tells Apartment Therapy. Instead, getting familiar with your deck and learning the council of characters or archetypes presented to you can help you explore many different facets of yourself while putting the right questions in front of you. Dore talked to Apartment Therapy about her tarot reading process and how you can interpret and interact with the cards for deeper self-insight.
Apartment Therapy: How has tarot played an important role in your life? How can it be a valuable tool for others?
Jessica Dore: When I started reading tarot for myself probably 10 years ago or so, I found it very helpful to have a physical object that I could sit down with every day and have this ritual of pulling a card and then maybe journaling about it or looking up some meanings in books or on the internet. I just found having that time to check in with myself incredibly powerful. I think that really brings it back to a very basic thing that seems so simple, but it was really amazing, you know? Life is busy and it can be really transformative to do something very simple, like have a daily practice of pulling a tarot card and interacting with the image.
AT: How can someone use tarot for daily guidance and insight into their lives?
JD: Well, I think it’s common for people to feel intimidated by the deck — like you have to know what all the cards mean in order to get anything out of it or you have to have some pre-existing knowledge. I think the most important thing if you’re interested in using cards in this way is to find a deck that feels… you know, it’s a collection of 78 images and so you want to find images that are resonant for you. It’s like finding images that feel good in whatever way you need them to feel, and then just pull the card and experiment.
You don’t have to have any pre-existing knowledge, you can use a book like my book, or there’s many other books out there. There’s a lot of information on the internet — you can look up what the different cards that you pull mean but you can also just interact with the image. When I teach tarot classes, I encourage people to find a balance between relying on books and resources online that will tell you set meanings for the cards, and then also giving yourself space and time to interact with an image and just see what it brings up for you, just by looking at it.
I think that in itself can be really, really powerful and it’s one of the things I wanted to relay in the book, by offering writings about the cards that were not prescriptive. It doesn’t say, “Here’s what this card means.” It’s just a reflection that came from my own interacting with the image and then obviously various sources. I wanted to show people how anyone can do that.
AT: How do you suggest interacting with the image on the card you pull?
JD: I use the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck with the illustrations by Pamela Coleman Smith and they’re very rich, very detailed. There’s a lot of different symbols in each card so there’s just a lot to look at. A deck like that, I think, lends itself naturally to a way of interacting with the card.
It’s sort of similar to what I’ve learned about dream analysis. There’s a lot of different ways of doing dream work, but you look for the symbols that are there, the objects that are in the dream, or the scenes that you’re in, and then you ask yourself, “What do those things have to do with?” If there’s a sword in an image, you might ask yourself, “What is the sword used for?” If there’s a butterfly in an image, you might ask yourself, “What does a butterfly have to do with?”
It’s like, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind?” You don’t have to think too hard about it, but sort of let yourself go with the first thing that comes up. That simple practice of looking at the symbols and then asking yourself what these symbols mean can really take you in some incredible directions.
Another way is you can look at the image as a whole and just say to yourself, “How does this make me feel looking at this image?” I like to think of the cards as doorways. It’s like, these are different ways to walk through the doorway.
AT: What if you pull a card and nothing resonates?
JD: I think in that case, there’s a couple things you can do. You can say, “Okay I’m going to pull again, you can put the card away and shuffle again and pull again until you get something that does resonate. And you’re allowed to do that. I don’t think there are rigid rules about what you can and can’t do. So, you can put it back and pull a new one or you can ask yourself, “Why do I feel that none of this has anything to do with me?”
One of the cool things you can do with tarot is, maybe you come to the cards with a question, and you’re sort of expecting that the cards are going to give you an answer, or they’re going to respond to the thing that you’re bringing. Well, what if you flip that and say, “This card isn’t giving me the answer that I’m looking for, but does this character in the image have a question for me?” You can use your imagination to think about ways to interact with the characters and the images and the symbols in a way that isn’t just you projecting onto them.
Also, if it doesn’t immediately resonate with something, you might still be able to do that exercise of — you know the Devil [card]. “This doesn’t really feel like it rings true in any situation that I’m in, but what do I think of when I think of the Devil? What are some words that come to mind or experiences that I’ve had, or even films or books where I’ve seen characters like this or stories of seeing characters like this?” It’s a way to just bring yourself down a path.
AT: How do you suggest using tarot for decision-making?
JD: Broadly speaking, if you have a tarot practice and you’re pulling cards and you’re making that time to connect with yourself, and seeing what an image is bringing up, you might be going to the cards with questions. Maybe it’s not a daily decision. Maybe it’s a bigger decision. But I think in that process, the cards have a way of showing you how you really feel about things. You might just notice that certain cards feel really validating and certain cards feel really like, “The fact that this card is here saying this one thing, really makes it clear that I feel this other way.” I think that can be a natural byproduct of a regular tarot practice, that you’re kind of learning how to better connect with your life like some sort of inner voice that is supposed to be supportive in decision making.
AT: What is your tarot reading process like, especially when you work with other people?
JD: I really try to be in it, to have an interaction with someone [and] with the cards that is expansive. So when you think about trying to make a decision, you’re trying to minimize what you’re seeing as a parameter and cut that away and then eventually you end up with a choice when it’s clear. That’s a very particular way of engaging with a problem or a question.
In my work, I’m interested in being a bit more process-focused which means that instead of trying to narrow down, we’re trying to see things from a larger number of vantage points than we did when we started. Paradoxically, and maybe counterintuitively, a lot of times when people leave the session with me, they have more questions than they came with. But to me, that’s valuable because it can show you dimensions or aspects of a question, problem, or challenge that you didn’t have already. It might not give you that quick satisfaction of being able to make a decision or have an answer, but it gives you something that potentially is another way to address the things that you’re going through, especially when people have bigger life questions. I find that this can be a really rich process even though it’s not always the most immediately gratifying.
AT: How can people recreate this [process] for themselves? Do you recommend pulling daily tarot cards?
JD: I personally am very routine-oriented so I love having daily rituals, that’s very grounding for me. Not everyone is like that, but if you are that type of person and you feel like that could be helpful, I think definitely it’s a good way to start to build relationships with the cards because you start to see the same card over and over again and you see how it feels different depending on which day it is that you pulled it and when. It can make the practice feel more accessible because you start to get familiar with the cards and the characters and the symbols, and then it becomes this thing that you want to go to when you’re processing something or when you do have those big life questions. It feels like going to a council of characters.