Breaking the Tarot Rules

Anyone who has dipped their toes into the tarot waters is aware of the Do’s and Don’ts list that seems to pop up on almost every tarot website and blog. Many of these things are superstition (stealing a deck is a no-no, and will not make your readings more accurate!). Some are pulled from tradition (such as sleeping with your cards under your pillow), and some are based in common sense. Most of the latter are along the lines of “What you can, or can’t use tarot for.”

Let me be crystal clear- there aren’t rules in tarot, other than the ones you choose to follow. However, there are certain things that tarot is not usually considered “good at”, and in this article I will go over some of those things with you, as well as how to (gasp!) use tarot for those very things!

One of the first bits of advice given to a new querent is “Don’t ask a yes-or-no question.” This isn’t bad advice, because ultimately tarot is a system created to give nuanced and complex answers, and many layers of meaning do not necessarily tie themselves up into a simple “Yes!” or “No!” But sometimes… well, you really just want to know something on a yes-or-no scale. It is possible to use tarot in this way, but you’re going to have to look at it a little differently. You need to interpret for the yes or no. I would personally recommend going with a single card for this- remember, we want to remove complexity, not add more of it!

Let’s say our querent Holly wants to know if the passion-project small business she’s running will become her full-time job this year. We pull a single card- The Star. Yes. Or at the very least, Holly should be hopeful that sometime this year, her business will grow. You can also add a little more detail to this- possibly, her small business will become her full-time job after she has a setback with her current full-time job. The small business is her beacon of hope during a dark time.

The next thing that I have heard is that tarot should not be used for timing. And it’s true- there aren’t really “time” cards in the tarot. However, you can use tarot to establish an approximate timeline for when something is likely to happen. Personally, I tend to see Wands and Swords as “sooner” and Cups and Pentacles as “later”, but aside from that, you can still use any card in the deck to establish a timeline. For this I would also recommend starting with one card at a time and pulling clarifiers if needed, since you aren’t really looking for the card’s interpretive meaning. The goal is to find out what the card’s meaning says about timing.

Now, let’s return to Holly. She’s excited about her career prospects, but now she wants to know about her love life- so when is her boyfriend going to propose marriage? The card we pull is Temperance. I would say that this represents a period of time between seasons, such as when you can still feel winter in the air, but a few plants are beginning to bloom. To narrow it down, pull another card- Ace of Swords, which represents both duality and cutting away unnecessary things.

I would say that Holly should expect a proposal during the time when the leaves are almost completely off the trees and autumn is becoming winter. I based this on the idea that the “unnecessary” thing that is being cut away are the dead leaves falling from the trees. The duality represented by the Ace of Swords also reflects the duality in Temperance- the time we are looking at is at the middle point, in between two distinct seasons, which are blended and intertwined to create a unique period of time.

The last thing I will focus on is whether or not you can use tarot to ascertain specific details. Tarot often paints with broad brush strokes, and it’s up to the reader to figure out what is being said. I can pull the Two of Cups, Four of Wands, and The Lovers and figure out that there’s probably a marriage proposal in the querent’s future, but there is no “marriage” card in tarot. So can you get detailed answers from a tarot deck?

Personally, I believe you can, but it’s important to keep up a conversation between yourself and the querent (even if the querent is yourself). When you pull a card, think about what that card really signifies. Going back to Holly, she wants to know what her wedding dress will look like. We pull the Nine of Pentacles. How does the meaning of that card apply to a wedding dress?

I would say that this either means that this is a dress she will design (or have designed for her) or a dress that she’s worked really hard to be able to afford. And for more detail, I’ll pull another card- The Tower. This is usually seen as a negative card, but in this case, I think it refers more to the idea that the dress that Holly is currently envisioning won’t be the dress that she winds up falling totally in love with, so she should try on things she thinks she may not like!

It’s true that tarot has some limits, but I think that these tend to be overstated. I think that if you want to use tarot for things on the “Don’t” list, all you really need to do is shake up what you might expect out of tarot, look at tarot concepts a little sideways. The answers are all there for you.


Chelsea is 27, and a professional tarot reader from Southern California. You can find out more about her at her website; Pigeon Sauvage Tarot.

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