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When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading

By Tina Gong


We’ve probably all been there. We’re in the middle of a reading and the topic, question and intention has already been set or asked. We’re pretty clear about what the goals of the tarot reading are, spoken or unspoken. We understand the context of the situation that is being asked about. The time to draw our cards has come, and as we turn them over, we realize with disappointment, that none of the cards quite make sense in response to the question or intention. Usually you’re able to start connecting the dots, but instead, you’re drawing a blank, as you ask yourself “What does this even mean?”

Everyone goes through this at some point and navigating these issues is a part of learning to become a better tarot reader. Sometimes things just don’t fall into place as neatly as you had hoped; you get a bunch of pentacles cards when reading about a relationship, or you get “the world” (a card meaning fulfillment and completion) in a position about the past, when you felt anything but fulfilled.

While you may initially feel discouraged, don’t worry - this too is part of the learning process and a way that we build a closer, more intimate relationship with our cards.

Setting Expectations

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading - Set the right expectations

A huge part of avoiding a confusing tarot reading is setting the expectations before the reading even begins. While one of the biggest mystiques in the tarot is its reputation for being predictive, I’m personally in the camp that believes that this is not the most productive and healthy way of approaching the tarot. This means that for some people, accuracy is a big deal. But I would argue that the most valuable tarot readings are those that bring you different perspectives, and empower you to take responsibility of your life and your actions.

For me, that means that accuracy doesn’t play such a big role. We all have used the past, present, future spread; but it doesn’t mean that we have to take things literally. For example, when reading about my past career prospects - I may have had a pretty bleak situation, but I drew “The Sun” card. If we follow the literal meaning of the card - sure, it may sound absurd, and leave you feeling cheated and dismissive of the entire reading. But learning to interpret that card not just at face value, is a skill that will become helpful in not just your readings, but in your life going forward. In this example, I would be thinking about how my search for happiness and success has affected how I felt about my past career prospects back then - what was I searching for? Did my expectations of what I felt like I deserved change the way I felt back then? Questions like that can change the tone of the entire reading.

Asking the Right Questions

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading - Ask the right questions

This topic was so important that we wrote a whole blog post about it! Great readings come from great questions, and this goes hand in hand with our previous point about setting expectations. Asking the right question naturally helps us avoid having a confusing tarot reading. When we ask questions that stretch towards being predictive - it puts the responsibility of the future in our cards, not ourselves. There’s a huge difference between asking a question such as, “Will my crush fall in love with me?” versus “What can I do to improve the relationship between my and my loved one?”

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Take Note of Your First Impressions

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading - take note of your first impressions

Another thing that I sometimes find helpful when getting a confusing tarot reading is to do a little emotional check-in with yourself about the tarot reading. How do these cards make you feel? What in particular are you drawn to - what do you see first? Or even, how does this reading make you feel? Is there an expectation of giving the “right” answer, whether it’s for you or the client? And how can you separate that from the reading itself? Much of a successful tarot reading also hinges on the fact of how well you can tap into the emotions of your client or yourself.

Describe the Tarot Card

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading - start describing the tarot card

Often, when I find myself stuck with getting an interpretation, this is where I start. Being able to simply talk aloud about what you're seeing can be a good start to making sense of a confusing tarot reading. You’d be surprised, once you begin speaking about the card, you also start to notice certain details in the cards you haven’t before. You start seeing where the character in card points to, what symbols are hidden in the background that you may not have noticed, or the expression in the character’s face.

Tarot cards are multi-layered, and each artist’s interpretation of the cards have hidden meanings throughout. Thinking about them from just a top-down perspective oftentimes can erase that kind of subtlety. An approach where you understand the general meaning of the card as well as take into account the individual details of the tarot card oftentimes give the most comprehensive tarot readings.

Search for Patterns

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading - search for patterns

Reading card by card can be helpful when you’re first starting to ground yourself, but if you’re still struggling to get the bigger picture, it can be helpful to start looking at all your cards. See if you can find commonalities within the cards, regardless of their position or placement. Getting a large percentage of different types of cards can indicate the larger theme behind the reading and can help make sense of a confusing tarot reading. Here are a few patterns to look out for:

  • Elements / Suit - Being skewed towards one suit can indicate the reading being affected by that corresponding element.
  • Numerology - Most helpful for the minor arcana. A higher percentage of one number can represent being preoccupied by something - numerology can help guide you here.
  • Direction - What are the cards facing? What are they looking at?
  • Topics - Certain cards are particularly indicative of different topics. Getting many love tarot cards in a tarot reading about spirituality can indicate a relationships affect on one’s self-growth. 

Draw a Clarifying Card

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading - Draw a clarifying card

If you’re still stuck on where this card is leading you, some tarot readers find it helpful to draw a clarifying card; an additional card that gives an extra dimension to that particular position in the spread. Although I’m listing this here as a possibility - I only use these as a last resort when dealing with a confusing tarot reading. Sometimes adding more layers to the story when you don’t understand the reading can muddy the message even more.

Give Yourself Space and Reevaluate

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading - give yourself space

Oftentimes, if you’re struggling in a reading, it’s best to take a break. Obviously, you may not have this option if you’re doing a reading for someone else. What often may not make sense to us now may become clearer in a later date. I always record my readings (we have a handy function for this in our apps) and as I look through them, I oftentimes find a new layer of meaning where the reading was superficial or I was confused before.

Tips for How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading Infographic

When a Tarot Reading Makes No Sense - How to Interpret a Confusing Tarot Reading Tips Full Infographic

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  • Nidhi K
    Tina, This post is very very helpful for beginners. Thank you very much :)
  • V
    I’m committed to learning tarot for guidance in my life and as i have always been fascinated by anything spiritual so thanks for sharing!
  • Anna
    Only one time in many years have I done a spread that simply made no sense. It was at a party, and I had a line waiting for a reading. I looked at the person in front of me, and told them they had only chosen to do this to prove that it was meaningless. They agreed, and asked how I knew. I told them that the way the cards showed up in the spread was entirely meaningless, and as I had never had that happen before, the only explanation I could think of was that the person I was reading for expected the cards to be meaningless. They walked away with rather a shocked look on their face. I was pleased.
  • Sam
    I would say I’m an intermediate tarot card reader. Most of the time I can read but I actually asked a yes/no question. I got back a difficult read. Not sure how to interpret the strength card reversed Knight of wands reversed and the moon reversed. My first thought was it being highly negative, but now I’m not sure. Need a second opinion as sometimes we can all be biased towards our own selves.
  • Tina
    @Kathleen I can’t say that I personally believe in negative entities, but I do believe in negative feelings that we sometimes personify as entities; something that live outside ourselves instead of within. We actually wrote a whole post on reading negative cards – here’s the link so you can explore yourself:

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