Updated: May 22, 2020
Why and How it Happens and How to Reconnect with Your Tarot Cards
Most of us turn to tarot when we need guidance, comfort, or as a tool to access our intuitive wisdom. As you develop your tarot reading skills, you become used to the experience of asking a question and seeing the answer illuminated for you through imagery, archetype, and spiritual connection. For me, it feels like the breathless exuberance of epiphany, I get it now! Or occasionally, the stomach dropping acceptance of, oh, I get it now. Regardless, you become accustomed to your tarot deck acting as a guide and resource, an ally in a world of illusion and aggression.
So, what happens when the cards stop talking to you? First, understand that this isn't uncommon. Just like artists and writers and other creators hit walls from time to time, accept that you will sometimes feel depleted, uninspired, or out of sync. Cycles of bounty and scarcity are normal in life, and just like the Wheel of Fortune reminds us, nothing is permanent. Understanding that the situation is not forever doesn't necessarily make it more bearable, though, especially if you feel disconnected from a part of your life that brings you spiritual or emotional comfort.
My process for identifying and coping with disconnect from my cards may or may not work for you. I hope that by talking about what it feels like to be spiritually stuck, readers take away a few universal truths:
You are not a bad witch or tarot reader for feeling uninspired.
Spiritual disconnect isn't permanent and can be overcome.
You aren't alone and are in fact in good company when you feel like chucking a deck across the room rather than lovingly wrapping it in silk. (I don't recommend it, but I've considered it.)
What Being Stuck Looks & Feels Like
It may sound obvious that you would know when you are in the psychic doldrums, but some of the greatest distress I've felt as a tarot reader has occurred when I did not realize that I was simply not in-tune with my deck. Since you can't banish an evil that you can't name, being able to diagnose what's happening is the critical first step in reconnecting with your tarot practice.
In my experience, being stuck or disconnected can look like:
Having difficulty discerning the meaning of cards or readings. During readings, regardless of whether I reference a guide book or not, I typically can add details and specificity to a broad card meaning based upon my intuition and the relationship of one card to others in a spread. But, whenever I'm psychically stuck, none of the cards seem to relate to the question I've asked or to each other. I may actually have difficult recalling traditional meanings, but more importantly I cannot seem to draw the cards together into a coherent narrative. It feels like trying to translate a language I do not speak.
Feeling as though I "should" consult my cards, but deciding not to. If there were Olympic medals for self-directed guilt-trips, I would be the world heavyweight champion. A sure sign that something is off in my life is if my inner monologue sounds like, "I really should do my weekly tarot reading, but I just can't bring myself to." Then, cue sad violin music and more internal berating. The cognitive dissonance between knowing that tarot is usually a source of insight and comfort, but feeling unable to use it, can be incredibly frustrating and further feeds my spiritual turmoil.
Avoiding your decks and any magical reminders. When my inner fire is roaring, I'm constantly surrounded by tarot decks and magical objects. I throw a deck in my purse, keep a few on my desk, shuffle cards when I'm thinking even if I don't intend to pull one, and I'll clean and arrange my altars every few days. But during a spiritual famine? Everything goes into boxes and drawers, out of sight and out of mind. I might even avoid the social media accounts of other tarot readers and witchy blogs I usually love to read.
Cancelling plans for readings multiple times (for myself or others). We all get busy, overbooked, or just plain tired, so cancelling a reading for someone else or bailing on a planned reading for myself on its own isn't that concerning. However, if I find myself rescheduling multiple times or pushing the appointment back indefinitely, usually only happens when something more distressing is happening at a subconscious level.
Buying new decks but not trying them out. Do you ever convince yourself that a new sweater or haircut or tattoo will solve all your problems, only to receive the coveted item and realize the problems are still there (but wrapped in pretty packaging?) I fall into a similar thought trap with tarot decks. If I'm having trouble connecting to cards, surely it's an issue with the deck. Solution? A new tarot deck! Then the new cards arrive and I ooooh and aaah and then promptly shut them into a drawer without doing a single reading.
These are several sure-fire signs that I'm not my usual, occultish self, but your "stuck" signs might be very different. If you aren't sure what your red flags are, start keeping a tarot journal and include descriptions of your frame of mind when you're reading (or not). You might see patterns emerge that correlate to times of psychic plenty and scarcity.
Why I Get Stuck
Once you've realized that there is an issue, it's important to quest a little further to identify why you are disconnected, stuck, out of sync. Knowing the why of the situation will help you decide how to address, and hopefully shorten, the disconnection.
For me, the Why almost always boils down to:
The issue I need to deal with is too big or scary to handle alone, or;
I have wandered too long without deep spiritual nourishment.
For the first case, I may or may not realize consciously that there is a Big Question in my life blocking out all the others. Reading tarot for yourself is an adventure - you know that there is a great journey in front of you, but you don't always know what the roads you'll travel will look like. Sometimes I sit down to do a reading for myself with one question in mind, just to discover that the cards have other plans for me. On a regular day, the trickster side of tarot is challenging and invigorating in positive ways. But as you walk deeper into the wild psyche, you encounter darker places and bigger monsters. Typically, you only find these obstacles when you are prepared to face them, after having successfully overcome the previous task. For those of us with traumas to process, ungrieved losses to face, addictions or mental health issues, we cannot face the Big Questions alone.
The second case is a situation that is not specific to tarot readers. All people are at risk of burnout regardless of the work you do or religion you practice. For me, the sensation of burnout or spiritual hunger feels like rappelling into a deep canyon, going further and further, until I suddenly run out of rope. There's no way down, and going back up feels like an impossible task. I've heard others describe it as a well that dries up when overused, a muscle that cramps and tires when worked without rest, and so many other visceral metaphors. What I believe makes spiritual burnout or hunger different from other types of workplace or school burnout is that spiritual burnout almost always develops when we spend too little time practicing spirituality, rather than too much. The exception here is for professional tarot readers and witches, where magical practice is also your primary form of employment.
How do I get to the end of my psychic rope? Usually, I go too long without intentional ritual or meaning making. My witchcraft is tied to the cycles of seasons, the phases of the moon, wonders of the natural world. I extend my psychic rope by being in nature, noticing the subtle changes of life/death/life processes, exploring my inner world through scrying and trance work. But if my life gets too busy and I don't prioritize the time or space to lay my hands on the earth or unspool my soul from my body, then I become trapped, static, lost. In that space, the last thing I want to do is grab my tarot deck.
How To Get Unstuck
Why you are stuck will have a profound impact on how you move through the blockage and reconnect with your tarot practice. If you are disconnected because you are scared of dealing with the Big Question in front of you, guess what the surest way to get yourself unstuck is? Deal. With. It. (Lots of 2 of Swords energy here). When in doubt, start with the basics of self-care: sleep, hydration, and trusted confidants.
For me, I use a few strategies to start that long climb back up the rope (I don't even know if this metaphor works anymore).
Seek professional help.
First and foremost, if you are feeling hopeless, depressed, or thinking about harming yourself or others, find a professional counselor or therapist to talk to. You can also utilize the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Some things are not meant to be handled alone, and no matter how strong your magical practice is, you cannot always heal yourself in isolation. I find the input of other professionals particularly helpful when I can't quite get to the "why" of my disconnect - just like consulting tarot cards, getting the perspective of a counselor is an invaluable resource.
If I am feeling relatively stable emotionally and psychologically, but I still feel hopelessly stuck, I'll often seek the advice of another professional tarot reader. It's amazing how quickly someone not in your shoes can point to the 300 lbs gorilla hanging on your back and say, "uh, that's probably the issue". I cannot say it enough, though, tarot readers are not counselors or therapists.
Especially when I fall into the spiritual hunger/burnout camp, one strategy I have found particularly effective is to change something, anything, about my magical practice. Tarot is my primary tool for introspection and divination, but when I get stuck in the psychic doldrums I might pour a large bowl of water and scry, or pull out my bag of runes. A change of scenery can be powerful as well, and I've been known to set up ritual space in a park when my home feels stale, or stay up until 3 a.m. to work a spell that I normally would perform at 10 p.m. Solo witches might benefit from group practice and vice versa. Any change, large or small, in your routine may be enough to shake you loose from the morass.
Find new sources of inspiration.
Reading is one of my favorite leisure activities, but I generally choose fiction over nonfiction magical books. Yet, when I discover a book that makes my blood sing or a new blog that feels like coming home, it can help me reconnect with the larger sense of community I feel in witchcraft. Some of my favorite books include Melissa Cynova's Tarot Elements: Five Readings to Reset Your Life and Peter Grey's Apocalyptic Witchcraft. Bloggers that always fill my cup include Little Red Tarot and Cassandra Snow.
I curate a list of my very favorite magical books on Bookshop, which supports indie booksellers across the U.S. You can browse my storefront here.
Journal and breathe about it.
If you are a regular practicing witch, chances are you already have a daily meditation habit. Casting circles and creating sacred spaces are strengthened by regular meditative practice, which I've always found go hand in hand with daily journaling and breathing exercises. Set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes and write down everything that comes to your mind - don't worry about full sentences. If the timer goes off and you are still writing furiously, then keep writing until you've used up all the words in your head and your heart is a little quieter. Then read back over what you've written. Highlight themes and draw arrows between connected ideas, ask yourself additional questions. Repeat this exercise for a few days, drawing connections from day to day. Have any overarching themes or concerns emerged? This activity is incredibly useful if I'm struggling with a Big Question or have yet to identify my "why".
If all else fails, stay stuck.
Some practices take time to bear fruit, and sometimes we are meant to stay in a place for a little while before moving on to new pastures. It may seem counterintuitive, but part of developing your intuitive wisdom is understanding when things need to lie fallow. Winter lasts for months (at least in my neck of the woods), and it's not uncommon for your psychic roadblock to stick around for a while, too. I'll reiterate it again - if you're feeling depressed, hopeless, or think you might harm yourself or someone else seek help. But if you're mainly just...bleh...it's OK to not have a quick fix 12 point plan to reinvigorate yourself. Seek comfort in other quarters like hobbies, comforting media, friends and family, or simple quiet and solitude. Keep your witchy eyes and ears peeled for signs that it's time shake out the cobwebs and move on, but until then embrace your inner Hermit and hibernate.
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 book a tarot reading with Alex here.