I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast. Join me on an exploration of mindful modern magic, a journey towards deeper understanding of self and transformative individual spirituality. It's September 2, 2021, and today's episode is the fourth in a seven episode series on using tarot for self growth. Today we're discussing how divination is more of a mirror than a crystal ball, the ways we can see ourselves in the tarot deck, and how to look at ourselves with a less biased eye. Are you ready to grow your soul?
We’re at part 4 of the series, the halfway point, and today I wanted to get a little bit practical. I know that for a lot of people, this might be a whole different way to look at tarot, a whole different way of reading, and if you’ve never read tarot, are just getting started with it, this might make it seem even harder to learn. So I wanted to talk a bit about some actual techniques for learning the cards, learning to read the cards, honing your skills, becoming better at reading, in this whole context of using tarot for self growth.
And I want to, in case this hasn’t been clear, I honestly believe that even if you use tarot to try and tell the future or whatever, what it’s going to give you is direction for self growth. I see it over and over and over, like, people wanting to learn tarot, beginning to learn tarot, going to tarot readers over and over, and it’s that frustration of wanting a clear answer to a clear question and getting ambiguous, repetitive stuff instead.
And it’s because it’s pointing to what you need to know, need to learn, not what you want to know.
So this isn’t new, this isn’t really a radical thing. Lots and lots of, honestly, I think the longer you work with tarot the more clear it becomes that this is really the key, this is the way it works. Tarot isn’t like a crystal ball, tarot is like a mirror. It reflects back at you what you need to see most in yourself, in your life.
So let’s start with the very basics, and that’s the cards themselves. That’s where learning tarot starts, right? Memorizing the cards and learning what they mean. So, like probably everyone who has ever undertaken the project of learning tarot and reading for other people, I struggled for a long time to really commit all the card meanings to memory and to be confident enough with them to read for strangers.
Now, there’s actually nothing wrong with going to a reference when you’re reading, but I think we’ve all probably gone through that feeling of insecurity, not wanting to be seen referring to a book or whatever in the middle of a reading, because surely that would make us look like we don’t know what we’re doing, blah blah. That was my biggest hesitation about reading for strangers. Did I know the cards well enough?
I ended up just jumping in, learn by doing, trial by fire, and after a bit I realized that there’s a better way to not just learn the cards but learn them in a way that enhances your ability to do readings, to not just remember the meaning but be able to interpret and explain the interpretation. And that key is to not just memorize, not even to apply a story as a device to string the cards together. That was the first breakthrough I had in learning the cards, finding a story that strung all the major arcana into one narrative. But the key, I found, was to associate cards not with some constructed fiction to serve as a, like, a mnemonic device, but to tie it in with our own life, our own stories, our own experiences.
I actually created a workbook around this, you can find it on Amazon, it’s called A Tarot Reader’s Resource Workbook, and what it does is it asks you to think about each card in different contexts. What memory do you associate with it? What person in your life? What song? What fictional character?
Because not only is that an easier way to remember the cards, not only does it make it easier to explain to someone what the card means – because it may sound profound to be like, “this card speaks of disconnect from joy,” but it’s not particularly useful or clear. It’s so much more helpful to be able to bring it into real life terms, like, “you know how when you throw a party, sometimes you get so focused on how you envisioned it would be and frustrated that people aren’t into the activities you planned or get all obsessed with making sure everything is perfect that you’re not having fun and you don’t notice that people are having fun in their own way?” Or even to be like, “You know in such and such movie where this character did that thing, and they thought it was for a good reason, but it was actually hurtful to this other character? It’s like that.” Those explanations are more clear, more accessible to people.
But even deeper than that, practicing seeing yourself in the cards, your experiences and your life, makes it easier to see the messages of self-growth in the readings as well.
So that’s challenge number one, and it’s a great place to start if you’re just learning tarot. Associate each card with stories and people and references that are personally relevant to you, both positive and negative. It’s important to see how the cards, how every single card, can mean happy things and not happy things, both upright and reversed. Every card can be a mirror showing you your own reality.
So keep a journal about it, start a reference. The Resource Workbook is a great place to start, and I’m thinking about a second volume, actually. But you can also just get a notebook or start up a file on your computer and dig into the deck that way. Reflect on a card a day, not as a predictor of anything, not as a meaningful reading, but as an exercise in exploring the deck, making friends with the cards, and learning to see yourself in them.
If you're enjoying this episode of Waxing Soul, subscribe to the show! Each week we will dive into a different part of the world of spirituality, magic, and self-evolution. Check out last week's episode where we discussed why our deep self is a mystery to us, how we can uncover more of the unknown parts of ourselves, and why it's so important to practice radical self-honesty. And come back next week for part five of this series where we will discuss how to find the cards which represent you in the deck, the various aspects of self which you can look for, and why it's important to sometimes focus a reading around a manifestation of you.
The second really key skill in learning to read tarot is to learn to string cards together into a cohesive narrative. And this is one of those things that definitely gets neglected or missed in most advice I see on reading tarot.
Unless you always do one card, standalone readings, the cards you deal relate to each other. Any spread we do is made up of various bits of information that paints a whole picture, tells a whole story. One of the biggest steps forward for me in learning to read tarot and to really feel confident in it was realizing that it wasn’t so much about the individual cards as much as how those things fit with each other.
It was storytelling.
Our own stories. It’s stringing parts of our own experience together and putting the message in context for us. And the really important thing about storytelling is the way we use stories not just to convey ideas or entertain, but it’s how we understand who we are, what our place is in the world, how we relate to others, and it’s how we express and communicate difficult things.
In my anthropological research that I’ve been doing, one of the really interesting things I learned about nomadic forager societies was that storytelling is used as a way of teaching what’s acceptable and what’s not to kids and such in the group, which makes total sense, but it’s also the main way of shaping the behavior of others, reprimanding them without upsetting the social fabric that holds the group together. These are egalitarian groups, so it’s not cool to call someone out because nobody has that authority to individually target someone. That’s not acceptable. But if you tell a story about a fictional character that gets across the idea that whatever someone has done is not okay, that communicates to them that they’re out of line without calling them out and without upsetting the social structure.
So, for instance, instead of yelling at your coworker for not cleaning the microwave in the break room, you could regale the whole office with a funny story about how some character who didn’t clean the microwave had some bad thing happen because of it. That’s how it would go if your office was an egalitarian hunter-gatherer society. It’s a really great example of how storytelling isn’t just narrative, it’s educational, it’s relational, it’s really fundamental to how we construct, maintain, and understand our worlds.
And the stories we tell about ourselves, the stories we find most important, those are reflections of who we are. Two people can live the same life and yet see and understand that life completely different just based on what things and people and experiences they tell stories about. It’s a matter of where the emphasis goes, who or what is painted as hero and villain, that kind of thing.
It’s not just the experience of it, it’s how we re-experience it every time we tell the story.
I think we all have those stories where, if you’ve talked about something over and over again, maybe at the time it didn’t feel like a particularly significant thing, but somehow in the retelling it takes on an epic quality. It becomes something important. It defines a relationship or a moment in time. And these kinds of stories can take something that happened and shape those memories and change our memory.
And, you know, in that same vein, there are stories we never tell. Things that happen that someone else, if they lived our lives, might find kind of significant but because we don’t tell the story, repeat it to others, live it again in our heads, we just forget about those things. Or, well, suppress them. That happens, too.
But part of this whole thing of tarot being a mirror rather than a crystal ball comes down to the way it reflects our story back to us and helps contextualize parts for us that we might otherwise ignore.
So here’s what I mean by that. Let’s say you do a spread for yourself, a basic past-present-future spread. I would imagine that what pretty much any reader does first is look at the past card and fit it into their own past in the way it logically fits, right? And the present, we find context in our current existence, and then that forms the foundation for explaining what the future card might mean. All logical, if you’re wanting to figure out what’s coming. But when we’re talking about tarot for self growth, the emphasis is a little different. It’s not just figuring out what in our past and present the cards point to, it’s a whole story. They’re plot points. They’re plot points to a story which has a moral to it of some kind. A lesson, a message. It has a point. It’s not just three pieces of data. It’s parts of your story which you can pull out understand as a unit, and see the direction the story is pointing. It’s not a foregone conclusion, it’s about us considering whether that story is the one we want to be living and telling.
The cards tell us a story and we decide if that’s a story we want to keep telling. We decide if the person the story tells us we are is a person who is thriving at the current moment and doing what’s authentic or if the person it describes is hiding and avoiding and making damaging choices.
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The thing about divination as a mirror that’s the most challenging is learning to view yourself through the eyes of others rather than your own distorted way of seeing yourselves. Like, when we actually look in the mirror, our eyes go straight towards the things we like least about the way we look, the things we most worry about when it comes to our appearance. Either that, or we’re using the mirror to accomplish something, like doing our hair, getting dressed, plucking eyebrows, whatever.
As much as we’re the only ones who can really get to the inner depths of our selves, we’re also often the least objective when it comes to seeing ourselves. We look at other people and find them attractive. We find other people interesting or beautiful or whatever in ways that we rarely see ourselves.
A while back, probably, well, like fifteen years ago, I went shopping for a dress. The couple of years leading up to that point had been stressful, I’d started that business which eventually failed, I’d gone from a job where I was on my feet and active all the time to a more sedentary one, and I’d gained weight. I knew I had. But then I had to go to a big convention. A sorority convention, actually, so I had to have dresses and such, meet the dress code for the different events, and prior to that for a few years I’d basically existed in jeans and hoodies. So I picked out a dress I liked and tried it on and I was absolutely devastated. Which, okay, now looking back, I’m like, I weigh more at this moment, recording this podcast, right now, than I did then. By, like, 50 pounds.
So first of all, everything is relative and my relationship with my body image is much different than it was then, but that’s not the point.
And the moral of the story isn’t about weight loss. The point is that anyone else seeing me in that dress wouldn’t have had anything like the same reaction I had in that dressing room. I had an image in my head of, at the time, what I felt like I would or should look like, and so everything I saw was compared to that mental image. Not to mention all the little body hangups I had about myself that other people don’t unless they’ve got some sort of weird obsession about certain body parts.
Like, I’ve had this thing about not how big my stomach is, but the shape it has. When I look in the mirror, that’s where my eyes go. That’s where my attention goes. But when we meet other people, we look at them with much more, like, a whole picture. Even if we notice whatever they might be self-conscious about, that thing is a way less important part of the overall picture than they make it out to be when they look at themselves.
Divination, tarot is the same way. If we’re reading about ourselves, we’re going to either hone in on the things we’re most conscious of, most worried about, the things we’re obsessed over most, or we tend to completely avoid those things. Like people who just, you know, don’t look at themselves in the mirror unless they have to. It’s the same thing. We usually turn to divination to solve problems or try and fix things or give us a way to avoid things, and even when we try to use it to elevate ourselves, shape our growth, we zero right in on what we think is wrong with us or needs changing. Like, “Hey tarot cards, hey universe, how do I stop being the me I don’t like and start being who I think I ought to be?”
And that’s not really self growth. That’s just more inauthenticity.
And so we have to make a concerted effort to see ourselves through less biased, more neutral, less judgmental eyes. Honest, yes. I mean, divinatory practices don’t screw around. Tarot doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s not going to make you feel good about yourself just to stroke your ego.
But there’s a reason why so often we turn to the cards for specific questions and get answers that seem to be about something else. It’s because… It’s like looking in the mirror and asking your friend, like, “My arms look weird. Don’t my arms look weird in this? How do I fix it?” and your friend saying, “Your arms are fine, but there’s a rip in the back of your pants.” Tarot is going to point us to what is most relevant to the moment. It’s going to reflect your current reality back to you and put it in context.
So it’s really crucial to practice not just reading the cards, but to practice being honest with yourself in the sense that you don’t use it as a way to reinforce whatever distortions you have in your self image and self perception. To get in the habit of asking yourself to consider yourself and your life in different ways. To look at the cards and try and see as many different interpretations as you can and pay attention to how you feel about them. Is it telling you what you would like to hear, and how would you feel if it was? Is it telling you what you most hate to hear, and how would you feel if it was? What if someone else was reading those cards? What might they assume about you? How does that make you feel? This is an important part of not just learning to be a better tarot reader, but also to be more honest with yourself and to open yourself up to the potential of growth.
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.