First Throw Away The Book. Or Not.

Tarot clients often ask questions that involve a time element. I know of several methods to determine timing from the Tarot. Usually I can draw a card and read it intuitively. For example, a two card with a moon on it might mean two months, depending on the context of the question and the spread. Sometimes, however, I draw a blank. At that point I have to try and recall one of many methods I’ve read about or tell the client it’s not clear at the moment. I decided to look more closely at the Decans as developed by the Golden Dawn. That’s still 56 different time periods to learn, one for each of the Minor Arcana. I searched for a chart and found one, which I printed out and put it in my reading box. Now when someone asks a timing question, I pull it out and consult it.(1) Many readers see using a cheat sheet as unprofessional. Even worse is using a book while reading for a client!

Today many Tarot readers read intuitively, no need to learn all those definitions.(2) It wasn’t always that way. When I received my first Tarot deck at the age of 12, memorizing the meanings—upright and reversed—for all 78 cards was the only way we were taught to read. As a teenager, I relied on the equivalent of the Little White Book that came with my deck and Eden Gray’s The Tarot Revealed. In college a I found a few other folks who read Tarot. Most of them also had copies of one of Gray’s books (The Complete Guide to the Tarot and Mastering the Tarot are the other two). During this time, we encountered what we came to call “the Cosmic Blue Pencil.”(3) At our regular Tarot evenings, we relied on Gray to interpret our readings. We usually wrote down our interpretations for each spread, and while we were transcribing the meanings from the book, we found that there were certain words we just could not write down. Whether it was our gut feeling, our guidance coming through, or our logic ruling out words that just didn’t apply to the question at hand, we never really determined (probably all of the above).

A few years later I discovered Michele Morgan’s A Magical Course in Tarot, which introduced me to reading the cards intuitively. Not long after that I took a couple of workshops with a teacher whose motto was “First throw away the book!” Although she and I are the same age, her first encounter with Tarot came as an adult. Someone handed her a deck and told her to read, and she did. After reading for a few years, she began offering workshops at a local shop, which is where I first met her. A small group of us began taking a series of advanced Tarot classes with her that really opened up my understanding of the cards and working with them. She’s the one that encouraged me to start reading for clients. I never looked back, at least with the Tarot.

Later in my journey I encountered oracle decks. While one can read oracle decks intuitively, designers of these decks work with defined themes and card meanings. As a result, readers are dependent on the accompanying books. (Some decks include brief meanings on the cards, and no one questions a reader who uses those meanings in a client reading!) Of course, if one works with a particular deck often enough, the meanings become ingrained. However, many readers own more than one deck, and learning meanings for each card in multiple decks often proves daunting, if not impossible. In recent years, many readers have been rediscovering the Lenormand deck, which has specific meanings for each of the 36 cards and particular ways the cards relate to each other. Since I don’t often use my handful of Lenormand decks, I rely on books and cheat sheets when reading with them. The same goes for when I work with Runes, Ogham, and Astrology. However, I currently don’t use anything other than Tarot when reading for clients professionally, so I’m not using books or sheets (other than my timing sheet) in face-to-face readings.

The nature of client readings has changed radically over the last few years, even more so with the arrival of the Covid-19 Pandemic. An increasing number of readers works with clients online using platforms like Skype and Zoom. Many readers produce a written document sent to the client via email or snail mail. Some even film a video and post it on YouTube, providing a link to the client. Many of these methods allow a reader to do in-depth work for the client, using more than one deck, delving into the variety of permutations of individual cards and card combinations, and even providing some history and lore. For this kind of work there is no reason not to use books, whether they are deck companion books or other references. Even with books, you interpret information based on client’s questions and context and using your knowledge and intuition.

The longer you work with the Tarot, you begin developing your own meanings for the cards. Some folks keep these in journals or spreadsheets. Eventually you do move away from books and online resources. However, there is always more to learn, and any reader worth their salt continues to expand their knowledge through reading, taking workshops, and experimentation. As a result, you may find yourself in situations where you might want to consult a “cheat sheet” while reading for a client. There’s no shame in letting a client know that you want to give them as much information as possible, and you’re continuing to learn new skills to provide them with a fuller reading. Eventually, you will integrate the new knowledge and won’t need the sheets.

The bottom-line is don’t get rid of your books. Don’t be afraid to use them when needed. And there’s always bibliomancy…


  1. Here is an example of the decan chart: https://www.islevue.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/IsleVue-Tarot-Zodiac-Element-Sephiroth-Wheel-of-the-Golden-Dawn-no-color-fills-no-divinatory-meanings.png.
  2. Knowing the “book meanings” can be helpful, even to the most intuitive reader. From time to time I turn a card over and draw a blank. Starting with the book meaning, numerological correspondances, Astrological correspondances, etc. will often grease the wheels of my intuition.
  3. Before the advent of electronic publishing, editors used blue pencils to make corrections on written text because blue was not picked up by most reproduction processes. Red pencils were also used for the same reason, depending on the reproduction process. Now you know the origin of those pencils that are blue on one end and red on the other.

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