Q&A: Why do different Tarot readers give different meanings for the same card?

Some Questions are so helpful, they are worth a revisit – or three.

Q: Why do different Tarot readers give different interpretations for the same card?

A: There are several different factors that go into any one card interpretation. When you factor all those different variables into it, any one card can have a huge number of possible “meanings”. Which is a good thing….humans are complex and ever-changing beings. As large as a 78 card deck may seem, just 78 ideas is far too limited to be useful over one lifetime…much less be inspirational to uncountable numbers of people over the course of centuries as Tarot has been. A single standard meaning for any one card alone just isn’t helpful.

So on the surface, the answer to this question is context. The card “meaning” is just the beginning, no matter what meaning you choose. Add to that the question at hand (career, romance, spiritual, general, etc.). Add to that the context of the card’s position within the overall spread (past, next step, things working for you, etc.). Add to that any shades of feeling behind the card and position meanings (advice, caution, validation, connection, etc). Add to that any pure intuition that comes through or any spiritual input. Put it all together ¬†and you can see why Tarot is more art than science. It’s easy to see why this is a learned skill. It takes a little effort to read Tarot and be “fluent” in it just like it takes time, effort and practice speaking to become fluent in any second language. Art takes a little work too…no matter how much or how little talent you have, there is practical learning involved…just like learning to paint, or blow glass or play an instrument or sing well.

The deeper key to answering this question is that the cards really are a secondary part of the process. There is nothing standard or special about the cards. Any “meaning” will suffice because the cards are just a key. They help unlock the door to human intuition which is at the heart of it all. No matter what meaning we give a card, it is only the beginning. It helps open the door, but it is still up to the human heart, mind and intuition to walk through the door, to hear the message, to live and to learn.

Change is a part of life. Even if you see the same card again and again, you are at a different place in time, in a slightly different frame of mind, in a different context and situation. All of those things can collude to bring a different message through the same card…the ultimate in customization.

As you’ve all probably heard on the Menage A Tarot podcast, “Doctor Who” is one of my favorite TV shows. When it comes to standard card ‘meanings’, the cards are a little bit like the Doctor’s Tardis (his living and conscious time machine). He accused the Tardis of “never taking me where I want to go”. To which the Tardis answers “Yes, but I always took you where you needed to go.” It’s natural to expect the same card to mean the same thing each time. Luckily, the cards mean what we need, not always what we expect.