WORKING WITH VAGUE OR COMPLEX QUESTIONS
In this article we will work with two of the challenges that readers often have – questions that are either vague or nonexistent, and questions that are too complex or multi-faceted for the reading context.
Techniques for Vague Questions
Sometimes a person may not be sure what they want to know, and may ask a very general question like “what does my future hold?” or “what advice do you have for me?”. They may say something like “Oh, I don’t really have a specific question in mind.” In some cases, they may not want to tell you their question – there may be a lot of reasons for this, and the reader should not assume that they are just testing or trying to trick you. The situation may be too public for them to express their concern out loud, or they may be embarrassed to do so. There are also many readers, as well as clients, who actually prefer not to have the client state their question because they believe this will help minimize any possible bias in the reading (sometimes called a “cold” reading).
The first and most important technique is not to be concerned or upset by this. Your reading will be just as good as ever, even if you do not fully know the situation. Trust the tarot to give you the cards that the person needs for their situation, and place yourself in the hands of the universe or your guides. Have some tools and techniques ready for handling this ahead of time, and it will not seem difficult when the time comes. Here are some ideas for these situations:
- Use an all-purpose, general spread. Especially if you are doing a tarot fair or other public reading event where these situations are likely to arise, have some general tarot spreads handy for answering these types of “non-questions”. For example, one that I like is a “health-wealth-happiness” 3-card spread, that looks at the near future (whatever timeframe you are comfortable with). Or you could do a spread like “work-family-personal life”. Finally, you could simply ask a question like “what is the most important thing that xxx needs to know about his/her near future?” and then use a situation-challenge-path forward spread. Readings of this type are necessarily going to be more general and vague, and don’t let this worry you. Remember, it is the client’s choice whether to ask a specific or a general question, and they will get an answer that is commensurate with what they ask.
- Ask questions. If the client doesn’t know what to ask, gently guide them with some questions you have prepared in advance for this situation. For example, you could say “I can do a reading about some area of your life over the next six months – would you like it to focus on work, love, family, friends, or other activities?” Sometimes providing suggestions will encourage them to narrow the focus a bit. You could also have two or three general reading options listed on a card or poster, and ask the client to choose one of them.
- Do a “text-book” reading. When the client knows the question but doesn’t want to tell you, the first thing to do is to tell yourself that this is OK, and your reading will be just as good even if you do not know the context for the cards. Simply describe each card along with the position it represents as if you were teaching someone about the card and the symbols on it (that’s why I call this a textbook reading). In this case, you must just trust that the client will be able to discern how your description relates to their situation. You may want to practice this with a friend in order to get comfortable with this technique. Afterwards you can discuss with your friend how your answer related to their question, and this will help you gain confidence that this approach actually does work.
- Incorporate a “question” card into the spread. Spreads such as the Celtic Cross are very good for cold readings, because they incorporate card positions that describe the question or situation being asked about – in the case of the Celtic Cross, the first three positions describe the client, the situation, and the challenge they are facing. For smaller readings, or e-mail readings, you may wish to choose one or more cards that tell you what the area is they are asking about, and simply define these as “question” cards. Then choose an appropriate spread to answer the question and do the reading as usual. For reasons described above, you may not want to do this in a public reading situation where the client does not have adequate privacy.
Exercise #1. Imagine that you are preparing to do a tarot fair, and you will have 20 minutes to do each reading. Prepare in advance two general all-purpose readings that you can use for people who don’t have a specific question in mind.
Exercise #2. Do a “cold” reading for someone you know well, using any reading format you are comfortable with. Ask them to hold their question in their mind while you are preparing to conduct the reading and shuffling the cards. After the reading, discuss what their question was and how they felt your reading answered the question.
Techniques for Focusing Complicated Questions
Some clients will have the opposite problem – they will have a dozen different questions about a situation that they want answered, or several that are clearly unrelated. Sometimes the number of issues they want to address would be difficult or impossible with the number of cards or the amount of time you have available. Here are some techniques for focusing a reading when the question is complex:
- Generalize the question. Think about all the questions they are asking and whether they all really pertain to one overall situation. If the questions really address a single situation, you may be able to generalize their question in such a way that it covers their issues – for example, “How can Jane solve her problems at work and create a more productive environment for getting things done?” or “How can John turn his life around in a more positive direction?”. Don’t worry too much about the exact wording of the question. The important thing is to keep in mind everything the client has told you or asked about the situation, and form a kind of mental image or picture of the situation – then ask the tarot what this person needs to do in this situation. Don’t worry that it is too complex, remember that the more information you have about their situation, the more specific and helpful your reading can be.
- Eliminate contingent aspects of the question. Sometimes a client will ask a question, and add on a follow-up question that is dependent on the first question coming out a certain way. For example, “will I be fired from my job, and if so, will I be happy in the next job I find?” or “will John ask me to marry him and how many kids would we have?”. The second half of these questions are contingent on the first half coming true, and in this case, you can simply explain to the client that to answer the second half isn’t possible until you know what will happen with the first half. Go ahead and do a reading on the first part and see how it comes up. Then if there is time and it seems appropriate, you can follow up with another reading. Usually the second half is so far in the future that it may be inappropriate for a reading, at least until the first part is settled. Let them know that they have some control over their future, and they may be able to affect the outcome of the first part. Once that is determined, it would be appropriate to seek a reading on the second part.
- Ask the client to tell you what is most important. If the questions are truly unrelated to one another, and you can’t generalize them into an overall situation, explain to the client that the reading needs to focus on one main question, and ask them to choose which one is most important to them right now. If possible (for example, if it is an e-mail reading), give them resources for how to get the rest of their questions answered, such as the urls of other free reading sites on the web. This way they will not feel as if they have no way to get their other questions answered.
- Ask the tarot to tell you what is most important. If it is not convenient to consult with the client, or if they are not sure what to answer, then let them know that you will first ask the tarot what is the most important thing they need to know about, and then conduct the reading as usual. Choose one extra card at the beginning, and treat it just like the “question” card described above, except that you will limit your choices to the various questions they have asked about. Whichever question that card seems most to relate to, is the one that is the tarot or the universe feels is most important for them to have an answer to at this time. I have often found that this approach works well, that clients seem satisfied that a higher power has chosen which question should be answered.
- Define your layout using their questions. Another approach is to define the positions of your layout using their questions – if they ask three very specific questions and you have three cards to work with, you can use one of the cards to answer each question. This only works if the number of questions is small enough to accommodate in the time you have available. There is nothing wrong with doing a spread this way, it is just like doing three mini-readings instead of one larger reading. The trade-off is they will get a more limited answer to each question, rather than a detailed answer to one question. This approach works best if the questions are all related in some way, for example if they all have to do with the client’s marriage, or work environment, or family. This helps because then sometimes the cards do build on each other and you can start to see an overall pattern to the situation.
Exercise #3. You are assigned a reading by a free reading site on the web. The question reads as follows: “I would like to know whether I will get the job I applied for Tuesday. Also if I will meet someone nice soon and what they will be like. And whether my sister and I will be able to agree on whether to sell some family property.” They were only supposed to ask one question and you only have one card to work with. Choose an extra question card to help you decide which of their questions is most important to answer right now and explain how the extra card helped you decide. Then do the one-card reading.
Exercise #4. Now imagine you received the same reading request, but you have 3 cards to work with. Try conducting this reading using one card for each question. Do you think this worked out well or not? Would you use this approach again in the future?