Keeping a Tarot Journal: You Have to Do It

Deck Image: Smith-Waite Centennial (U.S. Games)
Deck Image: Smith-Waite Centennial (U.S. Games)

Okay. ::pulls out lectern:: I’m about to get patronizing and preachy about tarot. Uh oh, you’re thinking. This won’t end well.

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Knight_of_Wands_Journal
Deck Image: Smith-Waite Centennial (U.S. Games)

If you are serious about mastering tarot, then you have to keep a tarot journal.

No “maybe consider” or “well this is how I do it” or “whatever floats your boat.” No.

You need to keep a journal.

You need to log your trials and errors. You need to record your ruminations and then go back to update those ruminations as your understanding of tarot evolves. You need to keep your own write-up of card meanings, which yes, in the beginning as a newbie will just be copy-paste general text from other sources but by the intermediate level, almost all of that copy-paste plagiarized (well, no biggie, this is private, personal journaling stuff) text will be transformed into your personalized, original understanding of each card.

There are no right or wrong fixed meanings to the cards. You’ll learn that right away. Instead, there are a few universally and traditionally recognized assignments that have become embedded into the collective unconscious. Each card meaning comes from its components, which you can deconstruct and analyze separately. It’s based on numerology, number philosophy, on elements, on essential dignities, on how the architectural structure of tarot can be superimposed over another theosophical structure (Western astrology, the Kabbalah, Taoism, etc.) and what the results of such layering can tell you about the card meanings.

Those components themselves are subjective and possess no innate right or wrong fixed meanings. Yes, of course there are recognized traditions, but true tarot mastery comes from personal attunement to the tarot.

You will attune yourself to your tarot deck and your tarot deck will be able to produce the cards during a reading that you, the practitioner, need to see to get the best divinatory answer you can get. The act of mastery comes from your practice.

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Reading a textbook, like Holistic Tarot, is merely the first step of your scientific method. Reading is your research part to see how others have done it in the past. You begin by borrowing those ways because those are your training wheels, but quite quickly begin to discard what doesn’t work for you and expand on what does.

That’s where your tarot journal comes in.

Think of it as the tarot practitioner’s laboratory notebook. Here‘s a great link on best practices and guidelines that scientists adhere to for keeping a lab notebook. So much of it can be applied to how we tarot practitioners keep our logs and journals.

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In Waite’s Pictorial Key, he notes that the Page of Swords has a vigilante energy to it, almost James Bondian with issues relating to authority, spying, and investigation. Here’s a link to read it for yourself over at Sacred Texts. Thierens writes that the Page of Swords is a very learned, intelligent, incisive individual, associated with Air, with a Gemini and Aquarius disposition, demonstrating deft communication skills. There’s a sense of speaking and acting spontaneously. Again, a Sacred Texts link for your reference reading. Eden Gray begins her entry on the Page of Swords in Mastering the Tarot with its elemental correspondence–Air, as noted by the symbolism of birds in the sky, she writes. The Page of Swords is referred as a him, he, with the male pronoun. It corresponds with a boy or girl with brown hair and brown eyes. Here, we are given the keywords: grace, dexterity, diplomacy, and when reversed, cunning, frivolity, and a possibility of ill health.

In Tarot: Voice of the Inner Light, Richard Palmer provides one of the most comprehensive card meaning entries I’ve seen. The Page of Swords appears upright to indicate one who is vigilant, ready to rise to a challenging occasion, a warrior of grace and diplomacy. The card can appear as a warning of unexpected events or receipt of upsetting news. In reverse, like Gray, Palmer notes that the card can indicate a cunning person. There may be exploitation going on. Joseph D’Agostino, too, in Tarot: The Path to Wisdom refers to the reversed Page of Swords as “frivolous and cunning,” echoing the same words chosen by Gray. I really love Yoav Ben-Dov’s interpretation in Tarot: The Open Reading, keyed to the Tarot de Marseille. Ben-Dov describes the Page of Swords, with the pronoun “he,” as one not exactly ready for battle yet, hesitating, indecisive, not sure how to work with the resources and abilities he possesses. There are hindrances, obstacles to  be removed before success can be accomplished.

So let’s say you’ve got all that in your tarot journal notes, you pull the Page of Swords when you ask about whether you should dump Joe, your boyfriend, to pursue Bob, and now you’re scratching your head, because you aren’t sure exactly how all that published textbook wisdom on the Page of Swords has to do with your specific situation. I mean, you kind of have an idea, but it’s not a direct answer exactly, amiright.

Here’s what you can do. Don’t think of the card as in “what is the textbook meaning for this card so I can apply it to my situation” but instead, think of the card imagery as an omen, a pictorial message from beyond and now you have to scry into that image for the answer. What feature in that image is standing out to you the most, at this exact moment of scrying into the card imagery?

In explaining card meanings for the Tarot de Marseille, Ben-Dov approaches tarot interpretation with a similar method. For instance, in the Page of Swords entry, he focuses on specific imagery or symbols on the card and then unpacks his impressions of what the imagery signifies. He talks a great deal about the Page’s sword, for instance, its position in relation to other symbols on the card, etc.

Likewise, say that you’re asking that question about Joe and Bob and then draw the Page of Swords. For starters, let’s overlook the tiny but super significant fact that card positioning also matters. Let’s just assume a one-card draw. In that Page of Swords you’ve drawn, at that precise moment in time, for that question, you happen to most notice the sword the Page is wielding, and you see yourself as the Page for a reason you can’t exactly explain. The Page as a human figure resonates with you as you. Then you start thinking about what your first impressions, the messages that come across to you right away when you think about holding such a big sword over your head: severing ties; cut away; destroying and dismantling. Alrightey then. Whether you like it or not, you have your answer to your Joe Bob question, no?

Well, either way, write it down. Write down that you divined on the Joe Bob question, the date and time of that divination, and your reading result. Then free-write your first thoughts and impressions, that sword symbolism, and formulate an action plan, a conclusion. What are you going to do about Joe and Bob going forward? Then do it. Then in a few, revisit this reading and see how everything unfolded from the way you interpreted the Page of Swords. This slowly begins to form your personal connection with your tarot deck and how the symbolism keyed into your deck can be presented to you to provide critical information and counsel.

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However, I’m not saying you need to keep a journal like a lab notebook. How you approach tarot journaling is wide open and that’s not what this post is about. This post is about why you should keep one if you’re serious about mastering tarot. (If you’re not serious about mastering tarot and are just dabbling, then have at it, and no need for journaling. This post is not for you.)

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As a student, journaling helps me with memory retention and tarot learning. I also like to log personal readings and some time later, revisit those readings to write up post-notes on what actually happened and compare that to what came out during the reading. This has helped improve my accuracy as a reader tremendously. Note-taking and logging past readings also helps you become a more intuitive reader.

One more example. Let’s say during a reading about a career question, a blue jay depicted on one of the centrally-positioned tarot cards in a spread keeps drawing your attention and at the time, you’re not sure why. For the sake of this hypothetical, we’re going to say that you’re using a tarot deck where the blue jay is depicted as the bird in the Nine of Pentacles (RWS tradition). You keep looking at it and don’t know why. At the time, you decide to ignore that feeling and interpret the Nine of Pentacles by textbook card meanings. You say to yourself that it’s prognosticating prosperity and your own financial independence. And you end the card interpretation there. Yet you note all this in your tarot journal, along with the notation, “Kept fixated on the blue jay in 9 of Pents in the [so-and-so] tarot deck, don’t know why.”

Later on in time, you’re visiting a college campus, and you’re a teenager still trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, and it so happens that you hear the chirping of a blue jay, look in its direction, and see it perched near a building. You look at the building, and it’s the university’s law library. That gets you thinking about law as a career. You’ve answered your career question.

Variations on that happen all the time—sunflowers appear throughout a reading for some reason and then it turns out the seeker has a sunflower tattoo that bears some deeply personal significance; you keep seeing butterflies in the cards and that ends up bearing great importance to the seeker’s situation.

If you keep copious notes on your readings and remember to go back and write up post-notes (post-notes in your journal are, in my opinion, the most important part of all), then as a tarot student and reader, you’ll make that conscious connection of symbols that pull at you during a reading, like the blue jay. In the future, when that feeling comes over you and one particular symbol in the spread keeps drawing you in, you won’t ignore it. So from that experience, for example, the tarot reader will learn to say during the reading session, “A blue jay is very significant here. Keep a lookout for a blue jay. It seems like this is important in pointing your way to your future career path.” Then when the seeker visits that university campus and hears that blue jay chirping and sees that law library… bam. Score. You’re welcome. [Also, blue jays can symbolize careers such as law, or careers in communications, persuasive writing, etc.]

As a professional reader, many of my clients are repeat clients who are with me over long periods of time. By keeping copious notes (under lock and key, by the way), the client and I are able to revisit past readings to better gauge how that person has been progressing on his or her life path. Organizing those notes well also means I can revisit those past readings quickly if I need to, look at the mascroscopic picture created by all the readings over time, and note any significant patterns. This has proven to be immensely helpful in my practice.lineYes, I am of the school of thought that journaling is important. If tarot study is important to you, then you need to keep a journal on it to log your progress. Journaling is the difference between basic, robotic proficiency with the tarot and mastery of it.

29 thoughts on “Keeping a Tarot Journal: You Have to Do It

  1. 01/25/16, 10:20 am. update: So sorry, folks, that an incomplete draft of this post went up live on Sunday, January 24. I didn’t realize that until I started receiving email notifications of people “liking” this post. I was like, what the —–?!? Doh. Somehow it got scheduled for posting but I never actually finished writing it. Apologies!

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  2. Awesome post!!! Totally printing this out to paste in the front of my tarot journal!! (I especially learned a lot from the blue jay example…very, very helpful!!) Thanks!!

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  3. Thank you for this most enjoyable article. I appreciate your kindness in citing my work. I might add that in the spirit of Dr. Carl Jung, a Tarot journal might be integrated with a life and dream journal so as to merge the psychic energies of the Tarot more completely with the energy of the individual consciousness.

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    1. Maybe one could if they so desired adapt the Ritual for living dream book to incorporate their night dreams, personal interpretations of those dreams and not just those for life aspirations dreams as is the case now, in addition one could also have a Tarot journal, by simply writing them in the sections for writing. Alternatively by selecting a download and printing it out you can create more space to cover your personalized content . Advanced practitioners should have no difficulty but if you are a Newbie like myself there is information to be found on the internet, Blog sites,YouTube, books about Tarot Journals and to Dream interpretation and Analysis.

      The dream book ritual for living as it stands now features life aspirations dreams, meditation and planning.
      Website:
      http://dreambook.vision/

      Helpful books to accompany you and provide one with inspiration.

      Tarot:
      Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen
      Tarot Tour Guide by Christiana Gaudet

      Dreams:
      The Everything Dream book by Trish Mcgregor basic
      Lucid Dreams Charlie Morley uses Buddhist techniques
      The Jewish Dream book by Vanessa L. Ochs PhD
      Dream Book series by Psychoanalyst Lawrence Lauren
      Dream Keys for unlocking the power of the unconscious mind.
      Dream Keys For Love
      Dream Keys For the Future

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  4. I’ve just received a new deck, the Dreaming Way tarot which I find inexplicably delightful. However, it truly lacks the traditional detail of the RWS deck. Would this deck provide effective journaling observances do you suppose? (It doesn’t have that beautiful Blue Jay in Pent9 … and I know who that seeker is 🙂 ). Great blog as always.

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    1. Haha yes, Mercury retrograde has been wreaking havoc for everyone it seems.

      I think a very long time ago I wrote an unfairly scathing review of the Dreaming Way. In retrospect, it’s a very nice deck and I wish I could take back some of what I said about it… not that it was untrue to my sincere thoughts on the deck, but just that I could have phrased it better. 🙂 The art is delightful and there’s an energy about it that makes it very appropriate for children or adolescents to learn tarot on. I guess it’s a totally personal thing. For me, I didn’t connect with the Dreaming Way. However, I would say yes, it certainly has beautiful symbolism and would work for such techniques mentioned.

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      1. I don’t even know why I referred to myself as an “old crone.” Guess that’s how I felt at the time! Arrgh. Such is what happens when you write and post before thinking.

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      2. Thanks for the review link. 🙂 I understand what you meant. The deck does seem optimistic and fresh in an illustrative and linear art way similar to the Wild Unknown. I’ll have to use it a little and see what vibes I get!

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  5. Wow, kudos to you and this post. This is one post I wish every Tarot reader read and re-read as much as their Tarot card definitions. Keeping a journal is so important…for me, it helps me chart my growth, learning, and understanding of Tarot. Over time, my journal has become a map not just of my study of Tarot, but my spiritual practices as well. What began as clumsy interpretations have grown to observations and questions about life, my spiritual journey, and the world around me. Thank you so much for writing about something so very important.

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  6. I am not good at keeping a journal because I cannot stand writing by hand, but you have inspired me to start doing so on MacJournal, it might not have the romantic (to me) aspect of hand written journals but it is better than not keeping one at all!

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    1. I definitely do a ton of my journaling on my computer in digital files! For starters, it’s so much easier to edit or re-organize. The biggest problem with my handwritten journals is organization– or complete lack thereof. So what ends up happening is post-completed journal, I go back and create an index. :-p [I also suffer from OCD…]

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  7. I’m not one to keep journal (I might have undiagnosed ADHD, lol). Your blog post makes me want to keep note (journal might be too disciplined for me to promise) on my self-readings and explorations! I remember taking notes for the 3 of swords card which from a deck that associate sword with fire. It was quite interesting interpretation. I was worried sick of sorrows but it then turned out to be a personal conflict of ideas in my mind. It took a long time (and I kinda forgot to go back and note it) but the card stalked me for a long while until 2 years later, now I understood its meaning!.

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    1. I cannot stress how important (I think) keeping journals on our journeys is. I get lazy, too, and don’t keep a proper dream journal, for example, only to on occasion have incredible dreams that I’m “sure I’ll remember” only to forget and regret. Some dreams I have written down and years later when I revisit those entries, am overcome with so much sentiment. That alone is enough reason to adopt the diligence of journal taking. 🙂

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    1. Always happy to! But what do you mean exactly? I think I have templates for a print binder-like journal in case people want to use. Do those help? Or were you thinking of something specific?

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  8. Oh I always feel guilty when people talk about tarot journals lol I can be very lazy when it comes to journaling. 😉 For a while it felt like such a chore that I actually avoided reading the cards because I knew I “had to” journal afterwards and I was too tired/lazy/lethargic.

    For me the importance of a tarot journal is to clear my thoughts and come to conclusions. I rarely go back to read about my readings, but just writing them down helps me remember them, and to just sort my thoughts and make it all clearer. I’ve tried on several occasions to dedicate a journal to “my own meanings” for each card, but I just cannot bring myself to do it, I get bored so easily. 😦

    I do feel that journaling has to be adapted to the individual. Some people are very text- and word oriented and can write 3 pages of meaning on a card, then a poem dedicated to it, then a page of keywords etc lol 😉 While others might do better just writing a couple of keywords and maybe doodle a little image next to it on half a page or so. And like someone mentioned, writing on the computer is very underrated! Sure, it looks “nicer” with a fancy handwritten journal, but it can definielty be more practical with a big word document (that search function is freaking gold sometimes, right? 😉 ).

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    1. Great points, Ania, and thank you so much for bringing them up. You’re absolutely right. The effectiveness of journaling does depend on the individual and it’s not right to say that journaling should be for all. I agree with that. As for keywords and doodles, that’s exactly what my journal notes look like. 🙂 I don’t write simply straight text, though when hard at study, I do a lot of outlining and jotting in substantive, meaty paragraphs! I think that’s just my academic training, and that approach is certainly not for everyone!

      Also, I too have journals that are Word document files on my computer! ❤

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  9. Hi Benebell, I’m so curious about the Smith-Waite Centennial Deck you feature in this post – I notice it includes elemental and zodiac symbols. I haven’t yet found a Rider-Waite that I like visually (the bright colours put me off) but the muted colours of this deck look quite beautiful, even more so if the images include corresponding elements and zodiac signs. Does the deck come with these extra symbols or were they added by yourself? If so, I’d love to hear more about that practice. Thanks!

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