It's true, there are an abundance of resources out there (especially online) that cover, from start to finish, how to read oracle cards. However, I haven't found any that I could put in front of someone, and say: "Here you go. This is comprehensive. It's easy to follow, and it will get you started off on the right foot."
Maybe I'm just picky, but I'm writing my own!
If you've found yourself stumped with reading oracle cards for yourself, then this is the article for you.
Step 1: Setting Your Intention, and Preparation
Setting your intention when reading with oracle cards involves deciding who or what exactly you are getting your guidance from. Here are some suggestions.
- The Universe/Source
- Your Higher Self
- Your Spirit Guides
- The Deck's Spirit
- Your Subconscious
- A particular Deity or Ascended Master
- Some unique combination of the above sources
Why decide? Well, when working with a tool like oracle cards (or tarot), there is no 100% agreed upon rule regarding where the guidance actually comes from. This means it's really up to you. Technically, the cards are going to work whether you decide on a source or not, but cementing your intention is beneficial anyway. When you decide who you are talking to, you will actually connect with that source of guidance. This can help to weed out any low vibrations, ensuring that you bring forth messages that are for your highest and greatest good.
Another intention that is helpful to set is how you will interpret the cards. Will you go by intuition alone? Or will you use the keywords and guidance that were provided by the deck's creator? It's important to decide this before you shuffle so that the right cards fall into place for your reading. If you're not sure how you will interpret the cards, then whoever/whatever moves the right cards into your hands will be selecting some cards based on potentially conflicting meanings. If you are set on where your meanings come from, there will be less confusion down the road.
Also part of Step 1 is preparing to read. Again, here are some suggestions.
- Cleanse your deck
You can do this by visualizing white light falling onto it, knocking it three times with your knuckles, blowing on it, placing a crystal on it, wafting sage or incense over it, etc. The idea is to symbolically remove any icky energy from your deck. If your deck feels fine to you, skip it! But if it was working fine before, and all of a sudden you get a bad feeling when you use the deck, or the messages are really dark, then your deck may be due for a cleansing.
- Prepare yourself and your space
This can be as simple or as intricate as you like. For myself, I light incense or a candle, wash my hands, take a few deep breaths, and clear off an area on a nearby surface to lay down some cards. Sometimes I say a little prayer. The intention is what's most important. With these little rituals, or whatever it is you intend to do, you put yourself in a mental space of focus and attunement. You say to yourself and the world: I'm Ready to Receive Some Quality Guidance Now, So Let's Do This!
The guidelines above are pretty fluid, but if you don't do any of the above then I recommend trying one little thing from each step of preparation. Essentially, it's up to you to decide what feels right, try it out, and stick to what works or try out new things as you feel necessary.
Step 2: Formulating a Question and Determining the Spread
This is a very important step, and can be a key difference between a reading that makes perfect sense, and a reading that's utterly mystifying. We start with the question. What do you want to gain from this reading you're about to do? Forming a question is a big topic, one that is a blog post all on its own (and one that I haven't written yet), but Joan Bunning has a fantastic primer on how to phrase a question for tarot or oracle readings, so take a little peek over here for excellent guidance.
- Do you want to understand a situation or event better?
Consider drawing three cards, one each to represent and illuminate the Past-Present-Future of the situation.
- Do you want to look at a potential outcome?
Laying out only one card could work, but you're more likely to get a card that just echoes your question back to you. For this reason, I always recommend drawing at least three cards when you're starting out.
- Do you want to move your career forward?
Here's a spread I created for just such an occasion. Ultimately, your question will determine the positions for each card you draw. Positions in spreads allow your cards to speak to you much more clearly. Spreads give you a framework, so that each card has a specific message to give. It can take a lot of the stress out of trying to interpret a card. So, whenever possible, let your question inform you (before you shuffle and draw any cards) how many cards you will draw, and when you put them down what each card will address. There are thousands of spreads out there, but the three-card spread is incredibly versatile and great for beginners. After you have your question, see if one of these spreads by Biddy Tarot provides a good framework to help answer your question.
Step 3: Shuffle and Draw
It really doesn't matter how you shuffle the cards, only that you do - and even that may be up for debate. Shuffling the deck gives you some time to focus on your question, and it also helps to allow your chosen source of guidance to get the cards into the right order, moving exactly the cards that you need to see to the places that they need to be. So shuffle away! However you like.
When you feel like you've shuffled enough, stop, and draw the cards from the top of the deck, or the bottom of the deck, or different places within the deck (again...this is all about what feels natural and appropriate for you) and lay them out in the spread. I prefer to lay out my cards face down with my left hand, and then flip them over with my left hand, so if you're not sure how to start then try that.
Step 4: Interpretation
Now for the fun part. After you've laid out your cards it's time to figure out what they mean. When you use a spread, this should be easier than if you were to draw several cards without any intention for what they will communicate to you. If you've decided to let the guidebook determine what each card means, then now is the time to dig into that. Read the keywords, read the description, and pay attention to what strikes a chord. Forget the rest. I'm serious. It doesn't all have to fit or make sense, but there should be one word or phrase in there that makes sense when applied to your question and the card's position.
I'm asking the question, "What do I need to know about establishing a bee hive in our backyard?" and I've decided to use the guidebook to interpret the reading. I decide to draw three cards. The first card will represent benefits, the second will represent challenges, and the third will represent the initial outcome of this course of action.
I shuffled, thought of my question, laid out the cards face down, turned them over, and went to my guidebook to pick out the keywords and phrases that ring true for me.
Benefits: Rebirth. "A scorched forest clears the way and feeds the soil so that new life can spring forth." Right now, our backyard is in a state of extreme disarray. There is a lot of clutter that needs to be removed, a lot of rearranging, planting, and so this card makes sense even though I have no plans to set fire to anything. Choosing an appropriate place for the beehive is going to involve a little destruction before new life can spring forth. And that's a good thing. It's a reason to clear away everything we don't need.
Challenges: Solitude. Journey in the dark. "When the moth appears in a reading, it's a sign that you may have to do this alone." My husband and I used to live in close proximity to some expert beekeepers, but not anymore. Our big challenge is going to be going into this adventure without the handy support and guidance of people who know what they're doing. We are essentially doing this all alone, and that could prove to be a challenge.
Initial Outcome: Roots. That is the only part of the guidebook description that I feel is applicable at this time. By setting up a beehive, my husband and I will be truly making this new house or home. We're putting down roots. It's also interesting to note that what we have here in the picture is a bounty of apples, which are sweet. I think we can expect to learn a lot in the process of this activity, grow, support the local ecosystem, and benefit from the excess honey!
If you've decided to let your intuition guide you, resist the urge to look at the guidebook. After all, the cards that came up are there because they have a built-in association with your life experiences, memories, and emotions. Look at the cards that are drawn and ask yourself what feeling they evoke in you. Alternatively, you could choose to use the guidebook for the bulk of the interpretation, and let your intuition bring additional meaning and value to the reading.
Reading with intuition is a larger topic, so I'll save that for another post.
Finally...you have one last step.
Step 5: Action
Now that you've gotten your answer, what are you going to do about it? There are times when your card reading will bring up more questions. In the above example, one of my challenges to establishing a beehive is a lack of community. Just because that's how things stand right now, it doesn't mean I have to struggle. I could pull more cards for suggestions as to how to find some help, or I could use logic: Maybe we should get some books, look for a local beekeeping association, ask our friends and family, or do some intense Googling?
A reading is only as good as the action it inspires, so don't forget to take a minute at the end of your reading and think about how you want to use the information and guidance that was given to you.
- Select the right deck for the job. If you only have one deck, then don't worry about this, but if you have several, consider that the artwork and the library of meanings in one deck may be better suited to certain questions. For example, I find that my Faerie's Nature Oracle deck is well suited to spiritual questions, and is sometimes appropriate for mundane issues (like beekeeping in the example above.) My Secret Language of Animals Oracle is great for broad advice, and my Soul Cards are best used when I want to look at the root causes of things, and meditate deeply on a subject.
- If you choose to use your guidebook, but you're still having trouble with interpreting your reading, try creating your own list of associations for each card. Your intuition may be overriding every attempt to learn the deck, and if that's the case...why not go with it?
- Practice practice practice. The more you read with a deck, the easier it becomes to understand it. I promise. Try pulling one card each morning with the question in mind: "What do I need to know today?" At the end of the day, come back to the card and see how its imagery or meaning popped up for you. This is a very popular exercise, and it's one that I do pretty consistently.
- Of course, there are some rare occasions where readers and their decks are completely incompatible. I personally haven't experienced this, so if you have - please leave a comment below! What did you do? How did you know?
Good luck, have fun, and happy reading!