Today, I'll be walking you through what tarot can and can't do for a querent, and how that helps us ask more effective questions. You will learn what kind of questions to avoid, and how to reframe them in an effective way.
Tarot and Divination
Sometimes, when folks hear the word divination, they think of magical ways to see into the future and methods for psychically reading people's minds. In contrast, I think of divination as a method for getting in touch with your own intuition in order to gain insight into a situation. I see tarot as less supernatural, and more a function of universal archetype and narrative. Others may see divine spirits, angels, or fairies guiding the selection of cards, but they still recognize that tarot is not predicting an immutable future or dictating literal instructions for us. Both of these approaches still necessarily acknowledge the role of free will.
Questions to Avoid
We want to phrase questions that allow for free will. For example, "How do I make this sexy dude love me?" is not going to yield satisfying results, because that sexy dude has free will, and he may never love you in a way you find satisfying, no matter what you do. Tarot can't change that.
Really, anything that is asking for advice on how to create a "sure thing" isn't great. Tarot isn't making claims for certainty; it's providing you a scaffolding to help you find a direction from your own intuition. For these reasons, I avoid questions that include:
- discerning or influencing motivations and actions of third parties
- identifying precise dates when something will occur
- asking for specific, literal instructions on how to make something occur
- anything that treats Tarot like a Ouiji board (yes/no questions, or looking for one-word answers)
I really like The Tarot Reader's explanation of questions to avoid, if you're looking for a quick and easy way to think about it.
It's also important to acknowledge that some people may come to tarot with specific questions about their physical health ("Why can't I sleep well?" "How will my surgery on Friday go?"). I will not answer medical questions with tarot, and will instead refer those querents to healthcare resources. If a querent is interested in learning more about dealing emotionally with the consequences of a medical situation, I may consider it. This can be a tricky rule, since what is a medical health problem and what is an emotional or spiritual issue isn't always cut and dry, but I encourage you to use tarot as it should be--as a spiritual tool--and not a supplement or predictor for medical care.
How to Phrase a Question
When we are trying to learn more about our place in the world, we tend to look outward for answers. After all, a querent has turned to you, another person, to help them translate tarot cards, an external tool. The truth is, tarot helps us focus inward. Questions should reflect that inward direction. I encourage people to frame questions in terms of internal mental or spiritual processes, and not minimizing their role in crafting their own future. (I've seen this described as having the querent take responsibility.) Let's look at an example.
A casual friend has asked for a tarot reading. They are tired of job searching, and they want to know when they will find a job. They ask you, "When will I get a job I'm excited about?" hoping that it will give them a timeline, and a way to recognize the right job when it comes along.
The querent is asking a question that looks at the job search like an inevitable, fixed destiny. If they could only pin a date on it, they wouldn't have to worry about the job search anymore! Well, unfortunately, tarot isn't really about eliminating our worries. It's about helping us find new ways to process and learn from them. So how could we change this question?
Well, spend some time finding out more about the querent's motivation. What urged them to ask this question? Perhaps frustrated and anxious, and just want the whole thing to be over. Maybe they don't know what to do next, so they are looking for simple, explicit answers. Ultimately, we want come up with a question such that the results give the querent a framework for introspection. I might suggest:
- What kind of energy should I try to bring to my job search?
- How will I recognize a good opportunity when it presents itself?
- What should I change about my approach to the job search?
You can see that each question is about the querent's internal life--the energy one brings, the ability to recognize value, and the need to adjust one's own perspective. I think Biddy Tarot's comparison of two similar questions is instructive here. Remember, tarot spreads essentially come in the form of a narrative; the responses we receive are stories, not solutions.
Ultimately, my rules for formulating tarot questions are pretty simple. Avoid questions that treat destiny as a fixed certainty, or that disregard the role of free will. Encourage questions that address internal processes. My go-to phrasing is often something like, "What kind of energy do I need to bring to [x]?" or "How can I move forward with [x]?" I will also often ask, "What can I learn from [x]?"
The links in this post all take you to some great sites with further suggestions for question-phrasing, so I won't list out other frameworks here. I will finish up by sending you over to Daily Tarot Girl, who has a great list of 20 simple, accessible questions for you to practice with. These would also be great questions for getting to know your deck better.
I hope this makes framing questions a little easier, and that this approach yields rich results for you and your querents!