I was a bit wary of doing the reading, feeling my perspective on things would limit its usefulness, but I figured that trying could at least be fun. I like spending time thinking about how things like tarot work. The experience conveys a strong sense of meaning and applicability to querents (the ones with queries) so it's effective somehow.
I like to think of it a bit like I think of natural selection: of course it works, because it must inevitably work, the universe can't work any other way. With natural selection, something more fit will generally out-compete something less fit: that's why it's more fit, better adapted to its environment.
With tarot, the Major Arcana represent 21 familiar, easy-to-access and not-too-specific sets of related concepts. The Minor Arcana are a bit less distinct, but common meanings are established under themed suits. I've seen two styles of tarot readings: one where there's a layout to the cards, and one where it's free-style. The layout makes things a bit easier, at least for me doing it for the first time. The layouts create a framework for interpreting and relating the cards that you draw.
|one such layout: Celtic Cross|
The next part is the most fun part: interpreting how a given card and its potential meanings relate to the person's situation given its position in the layout. Over the course of the reading, a sort of story builds up as additional cards are interpreted. The amount of information the card reader has on the querent can bias interpretation a little, but I tried not to lead myself down any specific routes. Avoiding specificity seems key to the reading being useful: the reader doesn't generally know the specific query of the querent (though sometimes they seem to?), so they're relieved of some responsibility over how the reading gets applied to the querent's life. If the reader pushed a specific interpretation, the perspective the reading give would end up depending on assumptions about a situation that could easily be false and render the reading practically useless.
I'm not stating that it's general enough that a given reading couldn't be wrong because it could apply to anyone, but in some sense, given the thematic nature of the cards (and very-well structured layout, if that's being used), it's hard not to be able to say something useful about a person's situation and query on at least some scale. Death for example: it can mean endings, beginnings, change, transformation, transition. It and other cards deal with fundamental components of life experience, so it's possible for them to speak to some part of a querent's life or their query. I feel like you should be able to find something at some scale, great and terrible or relatively minor but still real.
I feel like the benefit is derived by proposing a framework for a query drawing on elements from the querent's actual life to help them view issues or questions. I feel like applicability is inevitable. A combination of knowledge that gets shared or established throughout the tarot dialogue helps provide some specificity and direction. Yay!
I've seen people do it "free style" without a layout and that's fun, though the one time someone tried to do that for me, they got flustered and sort of gave up. I think I wasn't really cooperating though, so there was no information for them to advance with.
So, briefly, what I enjoyed about tarot was
- negotiation of information
- a structured framework (the layouts) to organise and relate concepts
- a conceptual framework (the cards) that speak to different areas of living life
- interpretation of information connecting concepts to a structure
- cooperation between the querent and the reader to construct meaning
- despite incomplete knowledge on the part of the reader and a lack of control by querent