Every now and then I'll read cards informally for a friend (if my favorite tarot deck isn't in my bag, I also happen to have the iPhone app). They are usually quick to ask a question, with the caveat:
"But don't tell me if you see anything bad in the cards!"
Thankfully I've never been the bearer of bad news and more often than not, the cards talk about blind spots we have at the moment. Is there anything missing from your approach or assumptions? How can we change our behavior to find ourselves in happier circumstances. For example, one of the most common questions is "when will I get a boyfriend" or "when will my finances improve" and rather than give a date, the cards might tell you to work on your self-love first, or be more mindful of expenses. If a new job is on the horizon, we can also get a glimpse of that, though I always ask what you can do to make the most of the opportunity. Being ready and prepared makes a huge difference.
That said, there are a few cards with imagery that can "scare" us if we are not familiar with the deeper meanings. Doreen Virtue's Angel Tarot are great for beginners as they convey the messages without using the traditional images. I still prefer the original decks because the so-called scary images can highlight parts of our shadow that are waiting to be acknowledged.
With that in mind, here is my take on some of the difficult cards:
Death: Let´s call this the Rebirth or Regeneration card instead of the Death card, as it´s usually about life stages coming to an end and the grief that comes with those endings, whether its a college graduation, moving to a new city or even getting divorced so that we can reinvent ourselves. Its not necessarily a card to be scared of. If we´re in a tough spot, the death card tells us that current and potentially unpleasant situations will come to an end soon. Sometimes it will also tell us that salvaging a situation isn´t worth the effort.
Judgement: This is one of my favourite cards even though the images are dramatic and a little bit spooky. In the Judgement card we see a graveyard waking up, as half a dozen people awake from their tombs in response to the sound of an Archangel´s trumpet. The images in Tarot are always symbolic, and this is about us hearing the call of our soul and awakening to our Higher Calling. The physical body represents our attachment to the ego-driven material world, and the awakening happens when we realise there´s more to life than ¨things¨
Nine of Swords: This is one of the scariest images, but it also happens to have the most reassuring message. In the Nine of Swords we see a young woman sitting up in bed at night, crying into her hands. Nine swords hang over her head. The suit of swords represents our thinking skills and mental acuity, and here its about constant worrying, losing sleep over our troubles, and how we can make things out to be worse than they are. When this card comes up, I see it as a sign to chill out, get some sleep and come back to the problem when you are rested. Also, the things we are worried about are not likely to happen =)
The Devil: Here we see a big, ugly devil holding a man and a woman hostage. They are chained to the devil, in sharp contrast to the lovers card where we see the same pair in the Garden of Eden. This is about obsessive thoughts, fear, worry, being a slave to our job and making choices based on fear instead of trust, love or self-confidence. If this card comes up, ask yourself what you would be doing if fear or lack were not obstacles. Its also about facing our inner demons (fears), our shadow side and embracing the things we are ashamed of.
Three of Swords: Another tough one ... the image shows a big romantic heart being pierced by three swords. Its a heartache card, and it usually comes up when a person has been severely disappointed or hurt. It´s often associated with miscarriages or premature endings. Lately I have seen it as a Three Musketeerrs card, where we are there for our friends in good times and bad. There are three swords, indicating strength and comfort in numbers. If this card comes up, the suggestion is to reach out to others for help, support and healing.
The Hanged Man: Here we see a man suspended upside down from a rock or a tree. This is the self-sacrifice card, where our needs will be met but not until others are taken care of. The image makes it look like the Hanged Man has been left to starve on the mountainside and that might be what it feels like. It´s just asking us to be patient for a little while before we get our share of the treasure.
If you would like to learn to read tarot, there are beginners that go through it in just enough detail so that it makes sense, but isn´t overwhelming. I like the classic Rider-Waite Tarot deck, and Kim Arnold´s Hay House Basics Tarot book. Funny thing is I have more than 10 decks and I really dig Kim's take on the cards. I have her book in my bag and I´ll often sneak a peak when I'm out and about. The more familiar you become with the cards, the easier it is for us to receive messages from our subconscious. Personally, I learned all of the card meanings years ago and have gone on to develop my own as well. More often than not, its about quieting the mind for a minute and asking yourself how you feel when you look at the image. Here is an example of a psychic tarot reading, called The Dark Forrest.