What to Do When a Card Just Doesn't Make Sense

Mountain Dream Tarot Cards

We've all  been there before. You've laid out a big, beautiful reading and things are flowing along smoothly. All the cards seem to be telling a wonderful and cohesive story, connecting easily to each other and forming illuminating patterns. And then it happens.

One card just. doesn't. make. sense. The ease and rhythm of your reading is completely thrown off. Where the words once came easily now there's... nothing. What do you do?

This scenario fills a lot of us with fear. Why isn't this card behaving? What can't we see? Why aren't we able to pull on our knowledge to make things clear?

These hiccups happen to the best of us, no matter how much memorizing and practicing we do. But before you despair, I'd like to invite you to reframe the situation a little bit.

What if the card throwing you off is trying to tell you something important, something different? What if it's being tricky for a reason?

In my personal practice, I've found that these cards are a quick check on our ego as well as a gateway into a deeper facet of a situation. Their meaning isn't instantly clear because it requires some more work and finesse to get to the core message. As with most things, the hard work is usually worth it.

But back to that flustering, out-of-sync moment. I don't want to gloss over how unnerving it can be to find yourself at a loss for words, especially when you're reading for another person. (Sometimes, drawing a blank on a tarot card can also be as simple as a matter of stage fright.) Below I've compiled some tips for how to move beyond this moment, whether it's a matter of forgetting, nervousness, or simply being at a loss for how the card connects to the larger reading. 

I hope these are helpful as you navigate similar situations. And above all, remember to breathe, be kind to yourself, and take these moments as invitations to dive deeper into the cards.


How to Deal with Confusing Tarot Cards

  1. Take a Moment to Center - Before you move into a state of panic, take a quick breath or two to reconnect with yourself and the present moment. Remember, the stakes aren't high, and a tarot reading is as much an exploration as it is a message. Being in-control and certain 100% doesn't make for nuanced, illuminating, and intuitive readings!

  2. Ask the Card What it Means - Look deeper into the card without consulting the rest of the reading to delve into its nuances. Let the rest of the cards fall to the wayside and imagine that you're doing a reading on the same question with just one card and voila! you've drawn your problem card. What message does it portray when viewed alone? Let your intuition lead the way and reintroduce the rest of the cards when you feel confident.

  3. Start by Describing the Card - This technique is an oldie and a goodie and is especially helpful when reading for another person. Begin by describing the card out loud. For example, with the Four of Cups you might say, "A person is sitting beneath a tree with their arms crossed, gazing at three cups. They look bored and detached..." This exercise helps bring up any meanings and associations you may have forgotten in the heat of the moment and brings you back into the flow of the reading.

  4.  Explore Why it's Different - Take a closer look at the card. Is it making you draw a blank because it doesn't fit in with the rest of the reading? If so, look at how it differs from the rest. Could it be a warning? A new direction to move towards? A helpful attitude to embrace? In this case, the card's difficulty can point towards its meaning.

  5. Check-In with Biases, Fears, and Resistances - Is there something about this card that puts you on edge? It could simply be a card you don't resonate with naturally or one that brings up bad memories and incompatible concepts. (I'm thinking authoritarian cards like The Emperor or cataclysmic ones like The Tower) Bring all these associations into your mind and then let them go. Swipe them to the side! Say goodbye! See what the card says to you without all this baggage. Is there a new message or meaning that's now visible?

  6. Draw a Clarifying Card - I like to use this as a last resort, since it's easy to go overboard. This technique is helpful in situations where the tricky card seems to be missing information or only telling part of a story. Limit yourself to one card and place it next to the card that's giving you trouble. It's meaning is solely to illuminate more about the first card. Let the two form a dialogue and fill in any gaps of your understanding.

  7. Accept the Unknown - If, after you've tried the steps above, the card is still being resistant, give it some time. I've found that in these cases the card needs extra time and space to reveal its meaning. Usually it unfolds in quite a memorable way, so be patient and see what arises as you go about your normal life. This is just another part of tarot's mysterious nature. Similarly, you can now look to this card for inspiration in your future actions. How might you act to better understand the perspective or message of the card you drew?

I hope these techniques help you when you find yourself with a card that just doesn't make sense. Above all, don't worry too much - this happens to the best of us, so welcome to the club! If anything, these cards are reminders that there's always something new to experience with the cards.

How about you? What has your experience been with tricky cards? Do you have any techniques that help you through these moments? Please share in the comments below!