Updated: May 8, 2020
Tarot readings are an energy exchange ritual. Whether you're a practicing witch or an atheist, the bond between Querent and Reader is forged by a trade. At the very least, it's an exchange of resources; the Querent's money for the Reader's time and expertise. Beyond the economics of booking a tarot reading, though, there is also a transfer of trust. When you ask a question, it tells the Reader what is important to you, and often comes with context details: personal stories, hopes, and fears. When a Querent receives the Reader's interpretation of the cards, it tells them about the Reader's experiences and spiritual practice, and may come with a story or two.
Regardless of whether you just booked your first tarot reading or your 50th, there are things you can do in preparation to get the most out of a reading. I've outlined a few of my favorite ways to get focused, reflective, and ready to receive guidance. Try a few of these out before your next reading, and let me know in the comments how it worked out, or share your own tarot reading prep rituals.
Think of the question as the foundation upon which a reading is built; the stronger the foundation, the bigger and safer the structure you can build upon it.
Most good tarot readings start with a good question. (I say most because I'd be lying if I said I didn't ever show up to my deck with knowing but a blank sense of dread driving me.) If you're working with a professional tarot reader, chances are they are going to ask what you'd like the reading to focus on. Even if you aren't able to articulate a clear question, having a strong sense of what you want to explore can be a deciding factor in whether you get concrete guidance or not. Think of the question as the foundation upon which a reading is built; the stronger the foundation, the bigger and safer the structure you can build upon it.
How do you get clear on your question?
Work with your tarot reader. If you're struggling to pin down a specific focus area, be upfront with your Reader. You probably picked them because you think they're good at what they do, so don't hesitate to lean on that expertise. Sometimes just saying or typing out what you're thinking about can make the question more obvious.
List and rank what's on your mind. The simplest strategies are sometimes the best. Set a timer for 5 minutes and list out everything that's either stressing you out or important to you. It doesn't matter how big or small the thought is, if it comes up then add it to the list. Once your 5 minutes are up, reset the timer and spend another 5 minutes ranking each item. Is something obviously least important? Is something else time sensitive and need to be addressed sooner? You may be surprised at how much easier it is to prioritize issues when they are laid out together.
Keep a dream journal. This is an especially helpful strategy if you have a pervasive sense that something is off but you can't quite put a name to what's causing the dissonance. Dreams can be a medium for our unconscious to talk to our conscious minds. The content of our dreams isn't always meaningful (sometimes they're just the product of cough medicine and too much reality TV), but they do have a way of showing us in strange detail the things that we can't always see with our eyes. By tracking the content of your dreams, you may start to see patterns or important symbols that can clarify an area to focus on in a reading.
You've listed. You've dreamed. You've bared your soul to your tarot reader. It's time to commit to your question. Tarot deals in energy, and there are a lot of competing drains on our energy in the modern world. You may be really excited to take a deep dive on a new creative project, but if your head and heart are chock full of relationship woes, family commitments, the 957 unanswered emails in your inbox, this week's grocery list, and whether or not you can squeeze another meeting into your schedule, it can diffuse the potency of your reading. I can always tell when a Querent (myself included) is having trouble focusing on their question. The cards in the spread are disjointed and sometimes contradictory and when I ask for further context or response from the Querent, they generally have a hard time relating what's in the cards to what's going on in their lives.
It's time to commit to your question.
There are a lot of reasons it may be hard to focus in a tarot reading. Often, it's because the question you asked isn't really the biggest question in your life right now. That doesn't mean that tarot can only be used to talk about the Big Issues we face, but it does mean if you want to focus on a side question, you're going to need to be very intentional in preparing for your reading. Luckily, there are a lot of great ways to set your intentions internally and externally before pulling any cards.
Write your question down. I told you, simplest is best. The age old practice of journaling to find focus will bear fruit for you in tarot as well. Asking your brain to translate a thought from your mind to the page allows you to a) see the thought plainly spelled out, b) read it back a few times, and c) makes it seem real and purposeful. You might want to write the same question out a few times, or try a few variations. Maybe you want to turn this exercise into a full writing prompt and explain why you are asking this particular question. All of these options have the benefit of turning your mind to this issue to the exclusion of others, and pointing your energy at the heart of the matter.
Collect objects that represent your question. I've been a witch and a tarot reader for over a decade, and so when I want to visualize a problem I tend to use symbols from the tarot itself. Relationship trouble? Grab a chalice or favorite tea cup (cups represent water and emotions in tarot). Stuck on a project? Burn a cinnamon candle (fire is associated with creativity and the wands suite). Your objects can be personal like jewelry or letters from loved ones, or abstract, like a paper weight you've decided will represent your career. Gather your objects and place them in a prominent location in your home where you'll see them and be reminded of your question frequently.
Engage your senses. Awareness is the key to focus. We can get stuck on autopilot in our daily lives, getting stuck in fog that obscures what it is we actually want. Breaking out of the rut to be mindful of what is actually going on inside and outside yourself will strengthen your intuition and focus for a reading. Go for a walk, stretch for a few minutes, take several deep breathes. Make a mental list of what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch. Find new ways to delight each sense. While you strengthen this habit, set external reminders like a recurring calendar reminder or phone alarm to remind yourself to step out of the routine and pay close attention for a few minutes.
Get Ready to Act
This may be more work than you bargained for when you hit that "confirm" button to book your tarot reading, but I promise that taking the time you prepare your heart and mind will pay out in once you receive your reading. Which leads me to the final piece of guidance on preparation; get ready to take action once your tarot reading is done. The potential paths and outcomes that your Reader interprets from the cards are not set in stone. Nothing on this earth is promised to any of us, least of all the dreams we chase or the monsters that stalk us. A tarot reading is meant to act as a guide book or compass. The cards point you in the right direction, give you a peck on the cheek and a gentle shove out the door while hollering "best of luck to you" while closing the door firmly in your face. It can be...jarring.
I am strong enough to hear this message, and I am ready to do something about what I hear.
Once you realize that you are in charge of your future, seeing the various paths before you is exhilarating. After all, you came to a tarot reading to get some clarity, and now that you've got it you can finally start manifesting those dreams! I like to set my intention for action at the beginning of a reading by repeating this motto to myself, "I am strong enough to hear this message, and I am ready to do something about what I hear." You can use that phrase or find your own. Maybe you don't need a set motto to repeat, but the deep knowledge that you are poised for action - and you are serious about taking it - can be empowering.
Now, dear Querent, are you ready to go on this adventure?
Alex is the founder and primary spiritual navigator for Dead Reckoning Tarot. She has been working with tarot cards since she was an anxious and overeager teen, and now as an anxious and overeager adult enjoys finding ways to infuse the every day world with magic. You can also find Alex writing book reviews and short stories at A Thousand Lives when she isn't slinging cards or chasing her miniature dachshund around the house.