OPEN THREAD: How can we build our confidence in reading tarot for other people?

One of the big things that emerged from my recent reader survey was just how many of you struggle with making that leap from reading tarot for yourself to reading for others.

The move from reading alone in your bedroom, just you and your journal, maybe some reference books or websites, and all the time you’d like to take…to a conversation.

As in, like, real people. Sitting in front of you. Live. EEEEEK!

beth and emma tarot

Okay that doesn’t actually look scary.

I completely get that. Because you know what? After years of reading tarot, four of those providing readings by email, three of those reading professionally…I still break out in a sweat at the thought of giving a face to face reading.

Does that sound ridiculous?

It’s not scary all the time. There are certain tarot-y friends (hi Bridget!) with whom card slinging is just part of our regular hanging out, fuel for our discussions. But most of the time. With most of the people. I’m more awkward than you might think, expressing myself verbally doesn’t come as easy as it does to some, and I tend to stumble, rush and fret.

What’s the problem? Oh gosh, where to start?

  • I worry about being judged.
  • I worry that the other person won’t get what I’m saying.
  • I worry that the other person doesn’t get tarot at all and is secretly thinking ‘what a load of rubbish’.
  • I worry that they will expect me to deliver some kind of bolt from the universe that will change their lives forever.
  • I worry that because this is what I do for a living they think it will be the best reading they’ve ever had.

This open thread is for those of you who find any of this familiar.

For folks who really want to make that leap, but are terrified to get their cards out in front of another human being, for whatever reason that may be.

This is an open thread post, which means I’m gonna offer a few suggestions, but then it’s over to you! My ideas won’t be right for all of you, so please, please add your ideas in the comments below. What barriers stand in your way? How have you overcome them (if you’ve managed it)? What tips can you offer the shyer readers among us?

Last time we did this, I asked “how can we make time for tarot when we’re super busy” – your responses were awesome! 

Here are my suggestions…

Make yourself do it

You know, like feel the fear and do it anyway. This is literally the only thing that works for me. It’s kinda like my whole approach to life – jump in the pool and then you’ll have to learn how to swim. Put yourself in a position where you just have to follow through. Because every time you do it, it gets a little easier.

Have a few simple spreads up your sleeve

One thing I realised pretty soon after I started doing event readings is that most people – especially if they’re not especially familiar with tarot – don’t need you to dazzle them with some special made-up-on-the-spot spread. Save your Celtic Cross for your best mate and a bottle of wine, or for next year when you’ve totally gone pro and have clients coming for hour-long sessions. What works best for me in most situations are simple three-card spreads.

Here are my favourites:

  • Three cards – simply lay out three cards in a row, no position.
  • Two card cross – lay one card, then another horizontally crossing it. You have the situation, perhaps what the querent wants or what they’re struggling with, and then (more on this in the Alternative Tarot Course, and on this Autostraddle post). You can always pull a third card for additional information or advice if the querent wants to go a little deeper.
  • Past, present, advice – three cards in a row again. Lay the centre card first and explain this represents the current position. Then the card on the left, indicating the past, the context, or what has brought the querent to this moment. Lastly, an advice card on the right – a suggested ‘next step’ or way to address any issues brought up in the other cards.

Simple one-card readings

This can be a totally non-threatening way to have a little fun with tarot and your mates, and it’s something I do all the time. Keep your deck with you in your bag, so that you can whip it out when it feels like a good time! Spontaneous tarot is always fun.

So let’s say you’re in the pub, chatting with some mates. Offer people a quick one-card reading, by shuffling your cards and handing the deck around so everyone can pick one. You can offer your own ideas about what the card might mean, and encourage everyone else to add their interpretations, too.

Work on your boundaries in advance

It’s especially important to have boundaries in place when reading for people you know (and strangers, too). Here’s a post about how to establish boundaries and why they’re important.

I also asked folks in the Alternative Tarot Network for their thoughts:

I’ve gained confidence in reading for others from reading for acquaintances or friends I’m not very close to. For one thing, they are people I trust to give me honest feedback. It helps that I have a fairly good idea of who they are, but it’s also helpful not to know them *too* well because then I am less inclined to let knowledge of their life and situation influence how I read the cards- I can rely more heavily on my intuition.

I also love doing readings for characters from literature/movies/tv shows. I did a reading for Season 4 Chandler from Friends and it was ridiculously accurate, and fun, of course, imagining how the reading would go!


For me, the biggest challenge about reading for other was definitely fear. Reading for others scared the unholy crap out of me for a long time. What helped was journaling about why I was scared and digging into what about reading for others caused me so much fear. I used the question “Why does reading for others scare me?” as a prompt and wrote out everything that made me uncomfortable.

Dissecting that fear made it easier to confront it. It made it easier to see the fear objectively and to notice what fears were founded and which ones weren’t.Journaling also highlighted areas where I could actually do something about the fear. In my case, one thing I worried about a lot was not knowing what spread to use, so I came up with a general go-to spread that I could use for most questions and build on for more complex questions. That way I could release the fear of not knowing what spread to use since I had that planned out already. This helped reduce my overall fear to more manageable levels.

Also, eventually I had to just decide that my desire to read tarot was greater than my fear and to just to do it despite feeling scared, even though my hands might be shaking. The more I read for others, the less scary it became.

The Tarot Parlour

I found it easier to start reading for others online, rather than in-person. Online I could take as much time as I needed to and I could look up what I needed to in the LWB when I blanked. That’s not an option in-person and losing that crutch was scary.So I’d do one-card readings in a livechat for people, and if they wanted 3-7 cards I’d PM them with it within a few days. Usually their reaction would let me know if I was correct or not. After doing that for a while I started getting the courage to branch out to a few select friends.I still enjoy doing exchanges and I feel that they’re very important to help folks learn, although I’m more likely to give them a reading back as part of my feedback. That way they can have a demonstration of how cards can be strung together to tell a story, too.

The key (for me) to getting over the fear was to trust myself. Just write out the first thing that worked and then send it off – and then go back a day later and think about “well, why did The Lovers mean choosing to embrace [option] rather than to go at it alone…?” (for example). You can’t do that sort of critical thinking while you’re reading – it just won’t work – but it’s still important to do. It just needs to happen in its own time and space.

So knowing that that time and space would be provided allowed for me to tell it “no! We’re going to criticize the reading tomorrow, brain. Now’s not the time!” and that gave my intuition a chance to spread its wings. I believe that this is also what is meant by the ego self trying to barge into a reading but I’m not entirely sure.


I joined a musical circus and would read for about 20 different people every night 🙂 When all you have is 2 minutes to improvise a reading, you don’t have time to build up the confidence – you just do it!!

Reading online or over skype has also improved my abilities (and probably keeps my cards in better condition). I had a roommate studying abroad in Ireland and I would do readings for her – without having someone in person, you can’t pick up on their nonverbals, so you really have to listen to the cards.

Ace of Sneakers

Over to you! What are the particular barriers that hold you back in reading for other people, and/or what ways have you found to overcome this? Let us know in the comments!


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  1. Alli says:

    I love Ace of Sneaker’s strategy because a similar situation is how I’m currently building confidence reading with others. My partner and I recently moved very far away from our hometown and so there isn’t a handy circle of close, tarot friendly folks that I have access to to practice with. But, whenever my partner’s graduate program has a party or an event, I tag along with my deck and notebook and casually mention somewhere along the way that I read tarot and that is cue for everyone to throw off the mantle of polite conversation and dig down with me into a spread. It’s been great because usually there’s a little wine flowing that loosens everyone up, and everyone in the group gets involved in everyone else’s readings so even if I flub up somewhere, there’s a pretty good chance the querent or someone else in the room is going to step up and make a connection, or ask a great clarifying question, and that brings me right back to home. Plus, I’m making personal connections with people that generally take a lot longer [or a lot more wine] to feel comfortable discussing, but there’s something about the trust people put in you when you’re handling a tarot deck that makes friendships bloom so quickly and beautifully.

    • Beth says:

      Wow, that’s so cool Alli! I love it that you go along with that outcome in mind, but then it happens so organically and so without pressure. It really is true that if you can just find the courage to put yourself forward a little like this, awesome things can happen.

  2. My biggest challenge is to elaborate the idea. Sometimes the cards tell me a lot of things but I only get the feeling of the whole situation and it’s SO clear but then when I try to translate that into words… well, that’s a huge problem for me.

    What I tried is to tell complex stories for me, I pull two or three cards for myself and then I try to tell an intricate story, I see the card details and imagine them as a characters of a complex world. Also my work with people, giving advice sometimes, helps me a lot to find the confidence to elaborate more and more, but I’m still struggling with that sometimes.

    • Beth says:

      I struggle with that same thing (though not when I’m writing, only when I’m on the spot with the querent right there) – it’s all there, I can usually *feel* it…but verbalising the story? Somehow it’s ridiculously hard! I love your idea of practicing with yourself by putting yourself on the spot. And practicing! It does get easier 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  3. tuitarot says:

    When I teach Tarot, I start by giving no “meanings” to the cards, but using the simplest method of all: describing the cards! Everybody is always so stressed to get the “meaning” right, but when they just start to describe what they literally see on the card, it becomes a lot easier and also gives kind of a safety net to use (you don’t have a LWB, but you do have the image!).

    The second trick to use is to establish a routine for yourself. This could be something along the lines of: how many majors/minors there are; how many of each element there is; are there any doubles (e.g 2 8-s)? Are there any patterns on the cards?

    So you see, if you take a simple 3-card reading, firstly describing what you literally see on the cards, then add a short description of the elements (there’s loads of fire in your situation, lots of action and passion – that will suffice) and describe the balance between the minors and majors, you will already have done great!

    • Beth says:

      That is *such* good advice, and it’s a nice way to warm up, too, and get into a flow of just talking through what you see, letting the story emerge naturally. And the elements! Yes!

      • tuitarot says:

        Thank you, Beth, for your kind words. Yes, I often feel that people are intimidated by the depth of the symbols, the complexity of the structure, the heaps of meanings (which differ by deck, position, reversals… you get the idea). It is truly wonderful to see their faces light up as they merely describe their visual thought process and manage to link it with something! I had a very heartwarming experience just recently when a man tried to do a reading on how to improve his relationship with his wife and got the Devil (he was using the Illuminati deck). “Ok so we are bonded to the same entity, but she feels choked by the chains… Wait… Choked! She feels choked by all the responsibility! I must give her room and time to rest!”. No LWBs, just describing the image… Can work wonders sometimes!

  4. SJ says:

    I’m pretty scared of reading for others, but I want to do it, and I want to get better at it. So recently what I’ve been doing is “outing” myself to people who aren’t my close friends – who won’t devastate me if they suddenly can’t stand to talk to me. I’m used to people not realizing they’re belittling something I believe in, so I keep the most important things close to my chest. Now, the more I practice on people who don’t matter as hugely to me, the more likely I am to pull out the cards with those people who are really important to me. Just last week I had a friend over, told her about Witchling in Flight, then did a three-card reading for her. Today I told someone I am working on registering as a business in my state. Next thing you know, everyone in my life will really just like me for me and not for the protections and walls I put around myself. 🙂

    • Beth says:

      Love it, yes. I feel like you too SJ, a lot less pressure reading for friends of friends, rather than for my close friends. Your story is inspiring and practical, thank you! x

  5. Natasha says:

    I still have a long way to go…and I love hearing about things to try. I do carry a deck with me everywhere, but I haven’t pulled it out in public, but it sounds like fun!

    The thing I am the most scared of is reading for someone who knows how to read cards. I guess it’s about being judged.

    To begin to get past this I have started recording my daily draws and spreads on a voice recorder instead of exclusively writing in a journal. And I have started going to a tarot class meetup. We talk tarot, learn tarot, and get to practice on each other. It is fun and since we are all learning there are open minds and hearts and lots of giggles.

    • Beth says:

      Wow, I love the idea of speaking out your daily draws – and recording them – such a good way to get used to the sound of your voice, forming those words. I’m going to try this!!

  6. SJ says:

    Ooh, yes. I’m also pretty nervous about reading for people who have an idea about the cards. Going to a tarot class meetup is a great idea. I think I’m going to try that soon, too.

  7. Paulou says:

    I was really nervous about reading for others until I just threw myself into it. An artist friend was selling her wares at a local art festival a couple of years ago and invited me to join her. I set up a little table, and offered free three card readings to anyone who was brave enough to sit with me! Offering the readings for free really took a lot of the pressure off…..most people viewed it as fun and generous. I did about 100 mini readings in 2 days and it was a blast, not to mention great practice! Doing quick, off the cuff readings helped me learn to trust my instincts and not overthink each card to the point of distraction. I now offer free readings at this art festival each year, set out my little tip jar and enjoy meeting new peeps!
    There is always so much more to learn and I still get a bit twinge-y before reading for someone, but offering the free readings in a fun atmosphere has helped me build my confidence.

    • Beth says:

      Yes, I’ve found doing events like this really excellent practice. I know people say you shouldn’t give your skills away for free but in this kind of context it’s such a great way to build confidence. I’ve done a few events over the years (free and paid) and though I’m super-nervous beforehand I always without fail feel afterwards like it was a major buzz and my confidence has taken a real leap. Thanks for sharing!

  8. In my head words roll off my tongue, I can speak fluent tarot but when I open my mouth & start talking its a bit all over the place, Im not great at explaining stuff at the best of times but when I try to explain a spread before my eyes it can get a bit jumbled, I also feel like I have to explain everything about the card, like im justifying myself with what im saying as the querent will just think oh yeah right your just saying that! Practise makes perfect though eh?!

    • Beth says:

      I’m glad it’s not just me (and I’m so familiar with that feeling like you need to justify things) But yes – practice practice!

  9. I make no bones about referring first to whatever guide book I have for the deck I’m using. I don’t have the meanings of all the cards down pat and I possibly never will, and I’m comfortable with interpretations changing with deck and art and circumstance and queerness, so I’ve become happy with making stories around the spread using the book as a starting point and, as appropriate, what I know of the person I’m reading for.

    I also set expectations out in advance, “I look on tarot as a way to pull out things to think about, from of the back of our heads. The way our minds work is to match patterns, and the tarot is a rich set of meanings and contexts that could well correspond to something in your life. Or not.” That actually makes it easier to refer to the book because I’m looking up patterns, not making some kind of mystical scrying from the spread.

    There is also a really nice five-card spread that I found in the back of one of Rachel Pollack’s books, about an opening door and the person opening and the consequences of opening, that I used with friends until I was happy with the celtic cross and others. I should go back to that, it was actually really useful.

    • Actually the first reading I did for someone was twenty years ago at a party and I wasn’t into tarot at all at the time. I happened to have a Rider-Waite deck and I just laid the cards out and looked up the meaning in the LWB. He was so freaked out by the interpretations that were going on in his own head of what I was saying that he had me stop the reading halfway through. That was when I started to wonder if there might be something in this Tarot thing.

  10. squareflowers says:

    I did my first reading for someone else this week – a close friend in a pub, so different from strangers or at an event – and I enjoyed it so much. I read for her like I read for myself – in that I pulled a few cards, gave some sketch-outlines of their meanings, and asked her what bearing this configuration of symbols, ideas, characters and stories had on her situation. So it was mainly her speaking, not me. She was a very enthusiastic participant in this, spontaneously identifying with the figure in the court card I drew, and in the other minor card.

    Her reading was pretty full-on – four cards, two trumps and two swords, including Death and the nine of swords – which might have been trickier to deal with if I didn’t already know and have a trusting relationship with the querant – but, you know, sometimes tarot demands you to be serious! And you can always subvert that seriousness through making a joke of it if you want. And I’ve found Beth’s always-warm, always-compassionate, always-optimistic characterisations of the cards (e.g. a real help with this. The nine of swords is about misery, but it’s transient, a stage in a journey; and I drew it in the ‘resource’ position, which was really interesting and inspired lots of thought, about taking feelings seriously and working with them and drawing strength and wisdom from them.

    When I read for myself, I pull some cards, look up what a few blogs have to say about the meanings, think about these meanings in relation to the positions I’ve pulled the cards in, and then spend way too long journalling about what that means for me, in relation to where I am. Tarot for me is a tool for meditation, journalling and – when done for someone else – a kind of light talking therapy, maybe, if it’s them doing most of the talking, connecting and thinking, within the framework and the safe space you set up together – reader, querant and cards. Tarot is, I think, a really good framework within which to explore your feelings, thoughts and intentions. The pictures, symbols, stories, characters and glimmer of magic can be really encouraging, validating and grounding, because it enters your feelings and thoughts into an intersubjective frame, a flow of co-created meaning, through language and symbols – which I find (and she found too) makes you feel more sure of yourself, an actor in the social world, rather than an aberrant solipsistic mind floating on ruminative seas. This is maybe even more powerful when you’re reading with someone else – or at least can be, if the social chemistry is right – because you have to put across your meaning in language to another person.

    I guess it takes the pressure off that I’m definitely not a predictive reader, so I don’t make any effort to use the cards to make predictions or guesses about things in the future or in the present that I don’t know.

    So yeah – in my super-minimal experience of only having read for one other person ever, it’s worked really well to provide an outline-framework of meanings, symbolism and stories etc relating to the cards, basically as a prompt for their own thoughts, and then get them to do the work of working out how this connects to their situation!

    And tuitarot’s advice about describing the cards is really great – I didn’t spontaneously do this that much but my friend did, immediately having a response to each of the cards as they were drawn just based on the intense visuals of the RWS pack I was using, and it reminded me about how powerful those pictures are in themselves, in illustrating and provoking thoughts and feelings.

  11. Sue Todd says:

    Here are my 2 cents. A lot of it has to do with business and advertising and teaching. First of all, no one wants you to fail, the person you are reading for is rooting for you, so go for it. If you have difficulty charging people for the ‘intangible’ of a reading then remember your time. and remember they are paying you for a reading, not for the quality of a reading. I also read the cards for myself and my family very frequently, I don’t get paid for these but they are invaluable because the images I discover in the cards help to set up my library of imagery I can share with the client. Just go for it, you won’t be sorry. Everything is a learning experience, everything. Sometimes you will learn what NOT to do and that’s just as valuable as what to do.

    • Beth says:

      As well as all the other great advice you shared, I think that point that the querent *wants* you to do well is really worth keeping in mind. Thanks for this Sue!

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