Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Memorize That Shit

Or don't.

Card readers often talk about the "best methods" for learning to read Tarot competently. Most recently I've been seeing a lot of internet chatter about how taking an academic approach (often associated with memorization) to learning card meanings is not effective, while using strictly "intuitive hits" from card images as a starting point is best. 

The reality is that everyone is different, thus there is no single best way to approach learning the cards. What works for me may not work as well for you. Fortunately, there's something out there for everyone. 
Wild Unknown Tarot; K. Krans
Some aspiring card readers have a hard time memorizing card meanings, and at times feel that it puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to reading Tarot. In language learning, there is a concept called the "affective filter," which in essence says that the more anxious a student is, the less knowledge they will be able to process and acquire. For people who have anxieties around formal study, or who have convinced themselves that they must memorize all card meanings before attempting to give readings, it may be helpful to understand that beginning the process with an intuitive approach is perfectly appropriate. Rather than focusing on pre-determined meanings, they may pay attention to the images depicted on each card and use those pictures to as intuitive triggers that can help to convey messages.  Over time they may choose to pay increasing attention to numerical meanings, to elemental associations, and eventually may even choose to study the various "traditional" card meanings. 

Others who enjoy academia may find it a pleasurable experience to make lists of all 78 cards, their meanings, perhaps even creating symbol charts for the Major and Minor Arcana. If they enjoy memorization, if they enjoy envisioning the Tarot as a giant archetypal puzzle to be explored, then this may be a powerful method to employ. Perhaps after they feel generally secure in the meanings for each card, suit, numeric series, they will begin to experiment with the intuitive approach. 

In the end, it is a combination of these two basic approaches that will lead to the most balanced and integrated reader (and reading!).

Yes, card meanings can be dynamic: a single card that highlights one energy in one reading, may underscore quite another energy in a different reading. But the Tarot system wasn't developed in a vacuum, and the traditional meanings provide a valuable infrastructure that can help fill out intuitive readings. 

In language learning, we teach rules, but eventually the students learn that just about every rule has one or two exceptions (they hate that part!). Teaching is incremental for a reason. This is why we call learning a "process."

If you are turned off by memorization, don't feel boxed in to that approach - start with listening to what the card images tell you, and work from there. 

But if you are the academic type, don't let anyone tell you that it's not the best way: go ahead a memorize that shit!


  1. Balance, as always is everything. After a long time of studying like a good Queen of Swords is supposed to do, I discovered the intuitive approach in "A Magical Course in Tarot" by Michele Morgan. It was such an eyeopener for me an it was then that suddenly stories enfolded much more naturally en reading became actually fun. :)

    1. Absolutely! I had a similar experience- I studied diligently (which I loved) but allowing my intuition to speak was scary. It has been a wonderful experience learning to listen to it, and embrace its voice :-)