You're getting together with a friend to do a tarot reading and as you pull the cards, BAM! There it is. A “hard card.” Maybe even a few hard cards. If you are like me, the sight of these cards brings up at least a little worry, because I know that we’ll be working with deep and difficult experiences/patterns/feelings, and that it will be up to me to bring those conversations to the table. But here’s the thing; in my experience, most people don’t turn to tarot when everything is genuinely running smoothly. So let’s just ASSUME that if you are doing any reading, for any reason, that you will have a card that holds up a mirror reflecting where the trouble lies. You, as the reader, are responsible for communicating about that card in a useful way. So how do you face the hard cards in a reading?
1: Life has hard parts, that’s why there are hard cards
This is a philosophical perspective you have to accept within yourself if you are going to be effective at tarot. You can really get in the way of a useful reading if you try and wiggle out of the lessons that are possible when you engage willingly when the tough cards surface. If you see a card that brings up some tender/vulnerable/scary topics, it’s almost always best to face it head on. Remember, for most people it’s a relief to bring visibility and support to the troubled places. That’s why they (or you) turned to tarot in the first place!
Example: 9 of Swords
Often called the “nightmare card,” The 9 of swords shows a situation where anxiety is running high. If I see this card, I will often ask “I see this card about anxiety. Is that something you experience often? If so, is it being triggered lately by any particular situation?”
2. We’re not here to scare anyone
“Willingness to face” the hard cards doesn’t mean that we are trying to scare or intimidate people. At its best, tarot gives people insight about the lessons that are available to learn right now or the healing that is asking for attention, as well as manageable tools to take next steps. So even when you get a hard card (or two or three) be mindful about it and do your best not to be ominous or dramatizing. Simple and direct works best.
Example: The Tower
The Tower in the Major Arcana often produces a reaction in people who have some knowledge of the tarot. And for good reason. Of all the 78 cards, the Tower is definitely the one that shows up when the universe wants to you to pay attention and stop fucking around. Shit’s about to get real if change isn’t made to correct an old pattern. But how you talk about it makes a huge deal of difference. The person getting the reading can take this card as a wake up call, and you as a reader can talk with them about what the pattern has been, and how to change it moving forward.
3. Use the Context and Ask Questions
If you are using 3 or more cards in your reading, pay attention to where the “hard card” lands. I think it’s useful to explore whether the tough card is telling you about something you are facing now, something recent that needs closure, or an ongoing pattern that needs attention/resolution. The placement in the reading can sometimes give information about that, and may change your interpretation.
It’s also important to pay attention to the other cards in the reading. These cards often provide the next steps or strategies for healing. It’s always a good idea to ask questions when a hard card comes up. This is an opportunity for someone to share deeply and experience visibility and support. Plus, you will often be able to hone your reading tremendously by sorting out the specifics of their story.
Example: 5 of Pentacles
The 5 of pentacles shows poverty or economic struggle - not having the basics of what you need to thrive. In a simple 3 card reading, using past, present and future, you could think about it like this:
Past: money trouble/housing insecurity/loss of home in your own adult life or family history
Present: facing serious shortages, caught in a cycle of money struggle
Future: Be careful and strategic about your plans, and get some support thinking through the material ramifications
In this example, you want to find out if the issue is money, housing, health or all of the above. You want to find out WHEN it happened, or if it’s a risk coming up. By looking at the context and asking questions, you will end up with a much clearer path to solutions or next steps.
4. Get Clear on the Details
The more you understand the details and nuances of each card, the better. The swords, for example, are famous for looking ominous. Many beginners will look at most of the swords and just generalize as “shitstorm coming your way.” You may get close to the target this way, but you will likely miss some things too.
Example: 8, 9, 10 of swords
We already talked about the 9 of swords, or “the nightmare card” and how it represents anxiety. The 8 of swords depicts when you are holding yourself back, or getting in your own way. The 10 of swords shows a situation where something has ended badly. These are real life situations that happen all the time. Anxiety/#9 and holding yourself back/#8 can go hand in hand. But they are not always the same. Your worst fears/#9 about things ending badly aren’t necessarily the same as when something actually DID end badly/#10.
5. Finding the Silver Lining
I firmly believe that the hard cards present healing opportunities that we are ready for, and that we need. But it’s not always easy to hear, and sometimes the wound we see reflected at us feels impossible to change. To find the silver lining in a reading, first and foremost, look to the other cards. Each card doesn’t need a “positive side” if there are other cards to help create balance. If you are just drawing one card, or you have an abundance of cards that really do amount to a shitstorm...BREATHE. And then specifically ask the universe for some help with useful strategies for addressing the stuff that came up. This is a great time to pull a “helper” card (but only after you’ve thoroughly explored all of the cards you pulled in the first place.”
Example: The Devil Card
The devil card shows places where you are stuck in patterns of behavior that are addictive, abusive or oppressive. It also reflects a world where systems of oppression are unavoidable, and where we play a role whether consciously or unconsciously. Often, when this card comes up you are asked to look at your relationship with power in various parts of your life. Like the Tower, this card is no joke.
When the devil card comes up in a reading, I use all the tips above. I don’t avoid it, but I approach it with compassion. I use the context to help me zone in on what we’re talking about specifically (is this a romantic relationship pattern? Is it time to look at your privilege and power in a situation that you may not have acknowledged?) I breathe. I pause. I take time to consider what’s in front of me. When you rush, you miss things. I look to the other cards in the reading to help provide support for moving forward. Without fail, we end up with some seriously powerful revelations.
The hard cards are there for a reason, folks. And they work some powerful healing if we work with them.