Using the Book: Training Wheels, Reference, or What?


As readers, we all feel a certain pressure to be “off-book,” as they say in the theater. Especially when reading for others, nothing kills self-confidence like having to pause and say, “Hold on while I check the book!”

Other People’s Wisdom

Besides wanting to look cool and confident, there are other reasons you as an experienced reader should try to wean yourself from dependence on the book. When you’re just learning, using the book that came with your cards is a necessity–there are a lot of cards to learn, and no-one should expect themselves to just instinctively know all the meanings.

After a while, however, books become like training wheels. They can become a crutch, something a reader uses when they doubt their own intuitive understanding of the cards and their insight. Like training wheels, books provide a stability and safety that can become addictive if used beyond their normal instructional capacity. It takes courage to take those training wheels off the bike, knowing you’ll probably fall multiple times before truly gaining your balance.

Over-reliance on the book gives your power as an intuitive reader over to someone else, and substitutes their wisdom for your innate wisdom and understanding. It also robs your confidence and stifles your growth as a reader. At some point, you’re going to have to learn to trust yourself and the insights that come to you during a reading. What comes to you may not be 100% in alignment with what the author suggests in their book, but if it works….?

From Training Wheels to Reference

Moving from book-dependent to independent as a reader does not mean that you toss the book into a fire and never think upon it again, huzzah! Most readers I know do turn to the book from time to time, even after decades of experience, for a few reasons.

  • Clarification: If a certain card in a certain context seems off, and you simply can’t find a way for it to fit, sometimes checking the book can provide an insight you’re missing. It’s the tarot equivalent of asking a second opinion, or calling a help-line.
  • Deeper Dives: We all develop a certain short-hand after a while reading our cards. I know, for instance, when I see the Four of Pentacles I get an immediate blast of context from the times I’ve seen it in the past. But these learned contexts we develop from personal experiences might not always be appropriate for the person currently getting the reading. In that case, checking the book quickly can help you re-contextualize the card in order to clear out your preconceived notions and biases.
  • Multiple Decks: I’ve used the same deck since 1994, exclusively. But many people, including Kat, use multiple decks in their readings. Imagine your 78 card tarot deck, multiplied by four or five decks! That can get pretty overwhelming for the best reader. It’s no crime to double-check your intuition against the book when reading from one of your non-primary decks.

Weaning Yourself Off the Book

So let’s say you’re ready to make the break from book-dependence. You have studied, worked, and practiced. You are grounded, centered, and ready to intuit like a boss. What steps can you take to get yourself off book and out there reading ex tempore from your mother wit?

  • Accept the fact that you’re going to be wrong sometimes. Just like taking off those training wheels is going to lead to a few scraped knees, letting go of your dependence on the book is going to lead to a few wrong interpretations. Generally, this happens as you’re still trying on some level to remember what the book said, before you’ve gotten to the point of knowing what your intuition tells you. It’s cool. Show me a reader who’s never been wrong, and I’ll show you a big ol’ fibber.
  • Make a cheat sheet. Now, I’m not talking trading one set of training wheels for another. I have a tarot card keywords sheet stuck in the back of a binder I always carry with me. It helps when I have a senior moment and can’t remember the difference between the five and six of wands. Just a few words per card, no depth, to jog my memory.
  • Lose the book. I’m not talking metaphorically here. I mean, literally lose the book. That’s what prompted me to learn to trust my intuition–I lost my book for almost six months! I strongly suspect it was my cards showing me tough love, because once I got comfortable reading without it, the book magically reappeared in the back seat of my car. If your cards don’t have the attitude needed to hide your book from you for half a year or so, you can simulate it by storing the cards and the book in separate places physically. You will refer to the book less frequently if you have to get up and go to another room to do so!

The bottom line is, it’s no sin to use the book, even if you’ve been reading for years. But if you truly want to develop as a reader and learn to trust your own intuitive voice, you’re going to have to remove the training wheels and go it alone most of the time. Don’t worry–it’s scary at first, but eventually, you’ll love the freedom to use your own voice and your own wisdom in your readings!

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Peace and Love,


Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash.

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