Updated: May 8, 2020
I bought my first tarot deck at 15 years old from the novelty section of a mall bookstore. It was a miniature Rider-Waite-Smith deck, no bigger than the palm of my hand, and came with a guidebook and an explanation of the Celtic Cross spread. For nearly 5 years, the words in that guidebook and on those cards formed the foundation of my magical practice. You see, growing up in a Roman Catholic family in the Bible Belt of the United States before the widespread home use of the Internet, that book, a handful of popular movies and shows like The Craft and Charmed, and my intuition were the only sources of guidance in tarot I had. I would read cards in the closet of my bedroom late at night and journal about the spreads, tracking their results over time. It was a quiet, solitary, dark path in those early years full of stolen moments, private visions, and so many questions.
With my first laptop purchase and the move to a Wi-Fi enabled college dormitory, my witchy horizons broadened considerably. The taboo melted away in the petri dish that is university student hobby groups and Reddit forums. Over the years I pieced together a coven, joined a kindred, and found my people. Many folks choose to be a solo practitioner, and I still find power in regular solitary practice. However, it's hard to describe the joy of belonging that comes after being so thoroughly alone in such an important aspect of life.
When I started making connections with other witches, one of my earliest desires was to read tarot cards together. Popular media and the professionalization of tarot reading (for which I am clearly grateful) has cultivated a particular understanding of tarot as a one-way transfer of knowledge. The reader understands what the cards mean and translates that meaning to the querent, who waits on bated breath to receive clarification. This is absolutely one aspect of tarot, and an important one, but it is not all. Like any magic, tarot can be practiced in groups, with multiple readers and querents. Picture in your mind any magical ritual you've ever seen, whether performed by real practitioners or in a movie or television show. Everyone has a different role, and each person is necessary to manifest the object of the ritual, weaving their power together to make something greater than the sum of the parts. This is also the power of a collaborative or group tarot reading.
One of the reasons that Dead Reckoning Tarot specializes in custom tarot spreads and aims to provide a unique spread for every querent's question is because I engage with my cards through conversation. That conversation can be so much broader and accurate when other Readers join me with their decks. Each person brings their experience and personal connection, their perspective and curiosity, and every card that is laid down becomes a new turn in a conversation that builds and clarifies. It's an exciting feeling when the cards and the readers and the energy in the room all align and a story starts to unfold.
3 Styles of Collaborative Readings
I asked a fellow tarot reader for their thoughts on group readings versus individual readings:
"I usually only engage in self readings which allows for more focused self-reflection but I find that group readings can be just as helpful in other ways. Other people bring their own insights, lived experiences and interpretations when brought into the mix. You have the potential to reach a whole new understanding with the help of these new perspectives alongside your own. It's always fun, too, to do a reading together with your partner(s) and see what fate may have in-store for your relationship." - L. Reid
I love L's suggestion to try a tarot reading with your partners. Tarot allows us to communicate with ourselves, the world around us, and each other, often helping us push past old ways of thinking and assumptions that do not serve us anymore.
There's more than one way to read tarot cards in a group. Depending upon what you want to achieve in a reading, the way each reader interacts with the spread will change. I've listed a few of the broad styles of collaborative reading that I've participated in over the years, but know that there are no rules here. Don't be afraid to play! Tarot does not have to be limited to the grave and serious aspects of our lives. It can be a tool for joy and creativity and just plain silliness.
In mirror readings, each person draws cards from their deck for the same position in a spread. If you have a group of 3 people completing a 3 card spread, there would be 9 total cards drawn - 3 for each position in the spread. I like this collaborative style because it allows you to develop a deeply nuanced understanding of the situation. With multiple different cards in each position, you can more accurately triangulate the message of a spread.
Mirror readings are great for complex situations with a lot of gray area. Questions about relationships are particularly suited for mirror readings.
Conversational readings play out just like they sound - as a conversation. There are many different ways to run a conversational reading. You could have each reader take on a role and lay cards from the perspective of the person or entity they are representing. This is a fun variation to use if you are helping someone make a tough decision. One reader could take the pro/positive side and another could take the con/negative, with a third still playing the part of the querent and asking clarifying questions. Alternatively, you could also have each reader take turns asking questions of a spirit or psychic entity with the cards acting as responses from that entity.
I find that conversational readings work well anytime I weighing options to make a decision. These group readings are great for questions about careers, finances, and any project you are seeking mastery in.
Mixed Methods Readings
Mixed methods readings are more so about what you use for divination than how you use it. Much like different tarot decks have unique energy signatures and personalities, different divination tools bring specific power to a reading. In ritualistic group readings, you may want each reader to take on a particular role as represented by their favored tool. For instance, a reader using oracle cards my be in charge of asking big picture questions about theme, while a Lenormand reader add specific details about people and situations, and a tarot reader identifies action steps for the future. When you add other divination tools, like runes, tea leaves, and scrying mirrors, the possibilities for large group readings seem endless.
I love mixed methods readings for their flexibility and breadth. Bringing so many divinatory tools to the table creates a powerful matrix to work in, so these readings are especially helpful for capital "I" Important questions and rituals. That doesn't mean you can't use them to figure out who the Bachelor is going to propose to on this season's show, but how much do you really want to know about what goes on behind the scenes? (That's probably a silly question. I'm sure lots of people would want to know everything, just please use your new power wisely!)
Some Tips & Suggestions
You absolutely can grab your closest friend, shove a tarot deck into their hands, and jump right into your first collaborative reading. That is, in fact, how I approached my first group reading. And it was great! However, if you are a slightly more thoughtful breed of witch than I, here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Talk about your plan up front: Ask your fellow readers what they'd like to focus on and how they want to approach the question. Maybe you have an idea for which style of collaborative reading you want to try, and that may inform what question(s) you ask. However you go about making those decisions, do it as a group. Getting everyone on the same page, like any group project, will facilitate smoother sailing once you embark.
Get intentional: You can read my full post on how to prep to receive a tarot reading here, but the (criminally) short version is that you should spend some time as a group focusing your energy on the reading and question. Since you are in a group setting, some ritual spellwork may assist your focus. Cleansing and preparing a reading space, taking turns speaking the question aloud, creating a sigil together that will act as a significator, or simply taking a few deep breaths and meditating on your question and role, can focus the energy of your group.
Process out loud: When you are reading cards collaboratively, regardless of the style, it's helpful to process your reactions to the cards aloud. This verbal narrative creates the dialogue of a group reading space, and allows the other readers to ask questions, provide alternative perspective, and point out things you may have missed. To me, this is the real joy of group readings. These spaces can be incredibly formative for new readers, as listening to others' process for picking out meaning and following intuition guide our own magical development.
Collaborative tarot readings are a delightful practice to many readers, nurturing your magical community and pushing you to grow your reading skills. Propose a collaborative reading the next time you're around other readers, and see what fun and wisdom unfolds.
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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.