What to Do When You Draw a Tarot Blank, by Jenna Matlin
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
She was sitting at the edge of her seat looking at me expectantly. "Well?" she asked, unable to contain her excitement, "What do you see?" There was a long line of people behind her wanting a reading at this event, and they were all asking me to hurry up with their eyes. My querent had asked me, "What do you see about my love life?" And while that is often a question that single people ask, the cards were screaming "marriage" at me.
Instead of asking her if she was married, I plowed through the reading as if it was talking about her single love life. It felt like I was fighting the cards. Besides marriage, it just did not make sense. I forced the reading even though my intuition told me otherwise. As I finished, she said, "Oh, that's interesting because I am married."
Instantly, I knew she had intentionally misdirected me to test me. However, as soon as she confirmed that she was married, the reading fell right into place. The reading I had been fighting relaxed into comprehension, and I was able to give her what the cards were telling me all along. What I've learned is that when I draw a blank as a reader, something is off, and it typically isn't because I cannot read tarot!
Yet, many readers (especially newer ones) will blame themselves when a reading is not working. There are many different reasons why we are unable to make sense of what we see, and we can use the device of "drawing a blank" to be a warning sign that something else is afoot. So, instead of panicking, we can remain calm, cool, and very tarot-collected.
Why are we drawing a blank, anyway?
Misdirection: Sometimes, like in my story above, the querent may give us a question that is a trick. It is not the real question, or it is a vague question when the querent wants a more specific one but is scared to say out loud or even consciously to themselves.
Disrespect: If a querent thinks tarot is a joke, or they sit at my table inebriated, it will often cause the cards to go strange. It's almost as if my tarot deck is mad and won't help the querent unless proper respect has been given!
Chaotic Energy: If the querent is highly emotional, confused, or is thinking about two things at one time, it can often show up as a confusing card reading. Also, if the energy around the session is particularly messy—like a loud party—that can have an effect, too.
Jumping to Conclusions: Sometimes I jump to conclusions and expect the spread to talk about something that it is not talking about. This is where my ego gets in the way. If the cards show something I did not expect, then I may not see what it is trying to tell me.
I Was Triggered: Perhaps there was something about the querent or the question that triggered my own baggage. Perhaps it hit too close to home, and I got emotionally involved in a way that kept me from seeing the cards clearly.
I Am Too Close to It: We can draw a blank if we are reading for ourselves for a situation that we feel emotional about. Because we are in the thick of the situation, we can look at the cards and see the trees but not the forest. We simply do not have enough distance to see the big picture.
As you can see, there are many reasons why a tarot reading is making you go, "Huh?" and it rarely has to do with your skill as a reader! The good news is that there are many techniques that you can use to turn that confusion into some solid clarity, instead! Here's what to do when you draw a blank.
First, don't panic. Take a deep breath and slow down. If you are reading for another person, you may feel pressure to start talking right away. If you don't instantly start speaking, your querent may get anxious and begin to prod you for information: "So, what do you see?" Don't take the bait. Let them know that you are listening for impressions and to give you a second.
While you take that second, visualize above your head a glass container of clear, clean water. Focus on the clear water and breathe into it, allowing any worry or stress to fall away. While you do so, visualize yourself as asking a question and ready to receive a response without forcing it. It is important to stay as calm and centered as you can.
As you feel yourself start to settle, check in with your intuition—is anything nagging at you, no matter how implausible or strange it sounds? Is your intuition telling you that the question is off or that something is missing that you need from the querent? Be honest and tell your querent that you are sensing something off and ask whether there is anything else they need to share to clarify the reading. Ask them if they were thinking about something or someone other than the stated question. Or ask if there was something they were worried about in their lives that they did not express.
Asking for clarification as a reader is not an indication that you are a bad reader. It is an indication that you are a careful reader who is not a mind reader. Most querents will end up appreciating your transparency around your process versus trying to force something that does not feel right (and if they aren't, do you want to read for them, anyway?) If the querent reveals a question or worry that they did not express, take a look and see if the reading now makes sense. If the querent expresses no further detail or information, take a look at their emotions. Are they anxious? Do they seem afraid?
If a querent is very emotional while getting a reading, it can often influence what tarot cards show up. I liken this effect to a rainstorm on a lake: the rain is acting to mask the clarity beneath. If you find that this is the case, then you can help the querent center themselves and try again. Usually, the second try from a calmer place will make the cards regain the clarity you are used to seeing.
However, before you fold your confusing cards, try to salvage what you can by sharing what you see even if it does not make sense. As readers, we can lean into dangerous territory if we take on the idea that we have to make everything make sense. That is not how oracles work. Sometimes, we get information that will only make sense later or is meant for someone else. But if we try to make everything make perfect sense all the time at the exact moment we are reading, then we are leaning into speculation. Speculation is logic and reasoning, not a tarot reading necessarily!
When you just spit it out—when you say what you see without trying to make it all make sense—you could be far more accurate than you know in the moment. And, it is okay if your querent is still confused at the reading; they have the rest of their lives to figure out the meaning after!
Another thing you can do is take the confusion directly to your deck. If you decide to ask your deck what's going on, here is what I recommend: use your deck minus the spread currently on the table. Then, as you normally do, ask your deck, "Why is this spread confusing me?" Pull 3 cards and see what it says. Typically, you will get some information as to what is going on: whether it is you, or something happening with the querent. But, if your second reading is just as confusing, then it may be time to scrap the reading.
Scrapping the reading often feels like a cosmic, "Ask again later" scenario, and who are we to defy the Gods? If, at this point, there is still an opaque feeling to the reading and I have not figured out why, then I tend to see it as something that the Fates, the Universe, the Gods—whomever, for whatever reason, does not want to talk about. So, why would I want to go looking for trouble by asking yet again?
One thing I am constantly reminding myself and my querents is this: I am only entitled to ask the question. But, I am not entitled to how the cards wish to answer that question. I am just grateful when they do. If we expect the cards to always tell us the message, every time, in exactly the way that we want it, are we being good tarot readers or good toddlers? Who are we to demand that all tarot readings come to our beck and call? Tarot is not the servant. I am the servant to tarot. At least, that is how it works for me.
At the end of the day, once we have tried to solve every for every aspect that could be interfering with our desire for truth, we have to let it go. And, letting it go doesn't mean that we are bad readers. In fact, learning when to let go is the mark of a very good reader. So, the most important tip in all of this is that we need to be kinder to ourselves. Tarot readers are working with the magic of this indefinable something, a dance of magic and mystery. It is a wonder we get anything at all, isn't it?
The more we acknowledge that we are merely humble readers trying our best but ultimately, there are a lot of things going on above our spiritual "pay grade," the more we can get out of our way and let the cards do what they will. And as you know, they absolutely will!
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2022. All rights reserved.