The Tarot Muse
Carolyn R. Guss
Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Teacher

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Card-a-Day Tarot  
by Carolyn R. Guss, The Tarot Muse ©

So you have a deck of Tarot cards—bought by or given to you—and maybe even a book to help you understand the meanings. Now what? As a Tarot instructor as well as a reader—one who struggled for years to work with the cards on my own—I heartily recommend finding a teacher or joining a class, at least to get you started. Once you absorb the basics and have obtained some practice reading for yourself and others, you can progress on your own quite nicely. But if you choose to go-it-alone, how and where do you start?

 Approaching the Tarot—a deck of 78 cards rich in symbolism and meaning—can be a bit daunting. One of the simplest yet most effective ways of getting your feet wet is to use the "card-a-day" method. James Wanless, Tarot scholar and co-creator of the popular Voyager Tarot, encourages choosing a single Tarot card every day as a practice, much as one might do yoga, meditation, or any other daily discipline. Working with a card a day doesn't require a significant investiture of time, such as doing a reading for yourself would. If, as your instructor, I suggest that you do a reading every single day, the odds are pretty good that you won't follow through, even given the best intentions. However, if I ask you to choose just one card from the deck each day and spend a few minutes contemplating it, you might find yourself able to do that—at least, say, four out of seven days a week. (Of course, seven out of seven would be even better.)

 In her spirited guide on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott explains the title—and one of its basic tenets—by describing her ten-year-old brother attempting to produce an entire report on birds the night before it was due (after three months of procrastination). Their father encouraged his desperate son by advising, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." One might easily say the same about the Tarot, substituting "card" for "bird." And to paraphrase a sixteenth-century adage, "Even the longest journey begins with a single card."

The Tarot is a journey, as a look at the opening card—THE FOOL—will show you. And it is a long journey if one chooses to make it the trip of a lifetime, as some of us have done. But ultimately it is a journey of 78 steps, which really isn't that many. For example, I just left my office and walked downstairs and out into the back yard to check on our cat, who is stalking cicadas—a trip requiring precisely 78 steps (and that netted me a "why did you bother?" look from the cat).

Choosing a Tarot card is just as easy—as well as more productive than keeping tabs on a self-sufficient feline.

Working with a card a day helps you to both learn the meanings of the cards and interpret them, by applying each one to your daily life. Basically, you can use one of two methods. If you wish to be methodical about it, just start with the first card in the deck—THE FOOL or THE MAGICIAN, trumps 0 or I, respectively—and move on through to the last. Such a practice will help you to see patterns and progressions in both the Major Arcana (the 22 archetypal cards) and the Minor Arcana (the four suits, including the court cards), and will prove immensely satisfying. With this method you will have engaged with every card in the deck in two-and-a-half months—less time than it takes to finish a bottle of daily vitamins.

If you prefer a more free-form approach, shuffle the deck each day and, after quieting your mind, randomly select a card: voila, your card for the day! With either method it is a good idea to study the card you have chosen—and by study, I mean stare at it in a concentrated fashion for as long as you are comfortable doing so—and then write about it: first a basic physical description of the card, followed by your own impression of what it signifies to you. You can also, of course, feel free to consult your Tarot manual of choice for the book-meaning of the card—but not until after you have formed and noted your own impressions. (Keeping these in a notebook or journal will prove immensely helpful to your Tarot progress both now and in the future.)

Although if you are a beginner you will not see the pre-determined patterns that you would in working systematically through the deck, this method has the added benefit of offering the possibility of repeat cards, which can be especially significant to you on a personal level. For example, you might find yourself receiving THE HERMIT (trump IX) three times within two weeks, which would indicate pretty directly that you might want to spend some solitary time and/or that you need to start listening more closely to your own inner voice—one frequently being contingent on the other. I always watch for "repeat" cards, tallying up at the end of each month those that have appeared as my daily card more than twice in thirty days.

 Of course if you are already familiar with the cards and are using the card-a-day method as an intuitive practice, you can skip writing out a physical description (although I would still take a moment to stare at and absorb the card visually: you will notice different images at different times), and simply jot down what relevance you think this particular card might have for you today, or anything that comes to mind regarding the card.

Sometimes the connection between the card and your day will be elusive or esoteric, and at other times so wholly literal as to be laughable. I am currently using The Alchemical Tarot for my card-a-day practice; recently I selected the 10 of Coins, which depicts an older man whose copious hair and opulent beard are rife with gold coins; two more reside on his cheeks, and a final pair are pinched in his eyes like twin monocles. Clearly this is a card of abundance, possibly over-abundance. After studying it, I wrote in my daily log, "Do not let concerns about money get in the way of what you are trying to do, such that you are blinded to the work itself. There will be enough." Later that day, due to an unfortunate mix-up with a client, I lost $20, a not-insignificant amount of money to me these days. After the initial upset, I turned to the image of the coin-covered man and realized that the loss was okay, that "there will be enough." On another day, after choosing the 6 of Cups from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck—in which two children play in a courtyard with chalices full of flowers—I was asked to take care of a woman's houseplants and garden while she was away on vacation.

James Wanless considers the daily card he selects to be a window-into and mirror-of his day. He sees choosing the card as "a directive, a pro-active device." Wanless encourages following the message you determine from the card with a direct action, thus bringing the subconscious quality of the Tarot into conscious awareness, a process he deems "intuition into-action."

Choosing a card for the day in either the morning or the evening can be an effective tool for understanding your day (and the Tarot), particularly if you make it a habit. In the morning you might want to ask, "What is it that I most need to be aware of today?" or "What will my day be like?" If you select the card in the evening, an appropriate query might be, "What was the message of my day?" or "What do I most need to consider as this day comes to a close?" Alternately, ask nothing: just keep your mind clear, simply opening yourself to whatever card the Tarot offers you. In that way you might view the card chosen as a theme or motif for your day. One of my students, too rushed in the morning and too tired in the evening, chooses her daily card in a quiet moment during her lunch hour, a practice that centers and directs her in the midst of a busy day.

And what if you receive a difficult card? Wanless suggests identifying to yourself just why you find the card problematic (that is, what does it signify to you?) and then "grounding the negativity" of the card. If all else fails—and you absolutely cannot deal with the energy of the card you have chosen—or find it to have no relevance whatsoever to your day—well, pick another card (although I recommend attempting to work with the card you originally selected: and never, if you are serious about the Tarot, continue choosing cards until you receive just the card you think you want to see).

Most proponents of the card-a-day system recommend placing your daily card in a spot where you might glance at it several times during the day, such as atop a desk (or in a desk drawer if you need to keep it private). If you choose the card at night, you can place it on your bedside table or dresser so that you will see it before sleeping and upon awaking. In The Complete Book of Tarot Spreads, Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig explain that, in revisiting the card throughout the day, "the significance of the card will grow; it will come alive, and will start to ‘speak' to you."

If you are just discovering the Tarot, drawing a daily card is an intriguing introduction and effective learning tool that, as Burger and Fiebig state, "forms a continued involvement [with the Tarot]. Using Tarot each day for a few minutes will become more rewarding than doing an occasional reading." For the more advanced practitioner, the card-a-day method creates a unique dialogue between the Tarot and each reader's intuition: an interior journey that is, as Shawn Colvin sings, "a mystery that goes on and on and on."