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What is a clarifier card, and how do you use one in a tarot reading? (You may have also heard it referred to as a “clarifying card.” Same thing.)
In this post, I’ll tell you
- what clarifier cards are,
- when drawing a clarifier card may or may not be helpful in a tarot reading, and
- what you can do instead of drawing clarifier cards.
Want to watch instead of read? Here’s a video. Or, keep reading below!
What is a clarifier card in tarot?
In a tarot reading, a clarifier card is an extra, additional card that is drawn to help further explain – or clarify – the meaning of a card you’ve already drawn. So if you want to go into more detail or get some clarification on a card in your tarot spread that doesn’t quite make sense to you or is leaving you unsatisfied, one option many tarot readers use is to draw another card to help clarify that card’s meaning.
Why clarifier cards usually aren’t necessary
As a rule, I say no to clarifier cards. Although there are always exceptions, which I get to further down in this post, let me give you the reasons why clarifier cards in tarot aren’t always as helpful as you may think.
Tarot is always going to be a little vague.
Tarot is used for diving underneath the surface, catching a glimpse of what’s perhaps not so easily visible. That means it will probably be a little vague, no matter how good a tarot reader you are. This is doubly true when you’re consulting the tarot about things that might happen in the future or what likely outcomes are on the horizon based on your current energy.
There’s just no way to get super specific and guaranteed answers on those things. And people who constantly draw clarifier cards are often uncomfortable with that fact. They want to keep drilling down until they get an unequivocal answer, like solving a math equation. And, for better or worse, that’s just not how tarot works.
Tarot is about trusting your intuition, which isn’t black and white.
Tarot is a tool or vehicle by which we access our intuition. And intuitive knowing is not black and white.
If you let your ego take over your work with tarot cards, you are prone to go down the following rabbit holes:
- “Omg, but what if this…”
- “Actually, what if it means…”
- “But wait, couldn’t it also mean…”
Stop! Doubting and obsessing and second-guessing your initial reaction and gut responses to cards is not what tarot is about. Tarot reading is not the LSAT. There is no one right answer, even if you draw a million clarifier cards.
Do you need clarification, or do you want a do-over?
Sometimes we pull a card that we simply don’t like. It’s not what we wanted to hear. It’s not the outcome we were hoping for. We just don’t like it! And when this happens, some of us are tempted to pull a clarifier card, and another, and another, and another until we get a “good” card. One we like or says what we were hoping to hear.
At that point, we need to admit that it’s not clarification we seek, but rather a do-over. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s a very honest or helpful way to work with tarot cards.
Are you really after clarity, or just the opposite?
This reason not to pull a clarifier card in a tarot reading is similar to the previous reason. Like the previous scenario, you aren’t really misunderstanding the tarot card you’ve already drawn – you just don’t like what it has to say. But you aren’t necessarily looking for a do-over, but just anything to soften the blow, or add uncertainty and even hope into a situation.
So in this scenario, the answer is actually pretty clear! But you’re just not ready to receive the message, so you want the opposite of the clarification you just got. You want to draw more cards to add more moving parts and muddy up the meaning of the card so you can, for whatever reason ( we have all done it!) continue to kid yourself or live in denial about something you aren’t ready to face.
This is a tough situation to be in – I get it. Nevertheless, using clarifier cards to enable denial and delusion is not a very authentic, productive, or healthy way to use tarot cards.
(Related: Tough Decision? How to Do a Tarot Reading for Yourself)
Do you need a clarifier card, or just more time and study?
Beginner tarot readers often think they need clarifier cards when in actuality they – quite understandably since they are beginners – just don’t know the tarot card meanings that well yet! So if you are just starting out, don’t bother with clarifier cards. You need to study traditional tarot meanings and practice reading the cards – really reading the imagery and feeling out a meaning on your own – before pulling more and more cards and complicating your reading.
This is especially common for our personal “trouble” cards. Everyone has a card or two (or three or four) that they just don’t get. The most common ones I hear about are the Hierophant and the Moon. For me, it was the High Priestess and the Wheel of Fortune. Certain cards befuddle us and drive us to draw clarifier cards almost instantly.
But we need to slow down and give the first card a college try before simply drawing another one we hope is an “easier” card to read.
Some cards after which I will often pull a clarifier card
As is the case for any rule or way of doing things, whether in tarot or in life, there are always exceptions. Below are my exceptions to my rule against reading clarifier cards if I can help it. Whenever the following cards show up in a tarot reading, I may go ahead and pull a clarifier card.
The first tarot card for which I usually draw a clarifier card is any ace. Aces indicate a new opportunity or beginning of some sort on the horizon but are by definition pretty vague. They don’t say what kind of opportunity or how we can stay open to it or what to do when it comes. So I often draw a clarifier to give me more info around that.
Two of Swords
The Two of Swords is another card that often leads me to draw a clarifier card. Why? Because the Two of Swords shows some kind of impasse or indecision. So I often like to pick a clarifier card to give me some more insight into what is at stake in the decision, or perhaps something within me that will help me make an aligned choice so I can move on with my life.
The Hanged Man
The reason the Hanged Man warrants a clarifier card for me is that there are two quite different pieces of advice that usually come with this card. First, the Hanged Man could tell you to stay put and just hang out for awhile. You might need to wait for something to pass, fall into place, or resolve itself. On the other hand, the Hanged Man could be telling you to shift your perspective and look at something from a totally new vantage point. Those are quite differing pieces of advice.
And while sometimes your intuition, context of the question, and/or the surrounding cards will make the message clear, other times we need some extra help. That’s when I might pick a clarifier card and ask, “Which of those two definitions of the Hanged Man is my intuition leaning toward?” If I draw something like the 4 of Swords or the Empress, for example, both of which seem to echo the message of tuning in and being in flow, I’ll interpret the Hanged Man in that way. If, on the other hand, I draw the 8 of Swords, which falls in the same family of the Hanged Man’s second definition – failing to see something in a certain light – or even a Page, which is also about looking at something with new eyes and a beginner’s curiosity, I’ll go with that definition.
Death is another card for me that often leaves me at a bit of a cliffhanger and leads me to drawing a clarifier card. Death is an ending that ushers in a new beginning. A transformation, traveling through a portal of sorts. So I often draw a clarifier to give me further insight on what may be on the other side of this transition.
(Related: How to Use a Significator Card in Tarot Readings)
My reason for pulling a clarifier card after the Tower is similar to my reasoning for doing so for the Death card. The Tower also often signifies an ending of sorts – a crumbling of a foundation, a catastrophe, destruction. I find it comforting and more helpful to pick a clarifier card after a potentially worrisome or triggering (or exciting depending on the context!) card like this. Why? Because a clarifier card for the Tower can tell us why this momentous event needs to happen, how we can move through it, and perhaps what wonderful new experience it’s making room for in our lives.
Things to try before resorting to clarifier cards
Here is a sequence of actions I try when I am tempted to pull a clarifier card. Only when all of these things fail to help (which may happen although probably not often), I will go ahead and pick a clarifier card.
1. Meditate on the card.
Allow yourself to sit with the card and meditate on the imagery before jumping to the conclusion that you just don’t get it and it doesn’t make sense.
If you’re a verbal person like me, ask yourself, “If the figure in this card could speak, what would they say to me? What does this figure want me to know right now?”
Another option is one I got from Biddy Tarot, which was my favorite tarot resource when I was first learning. In her guided tarot meditations, she suggests we spend several moments looking at the card, trying to take in all of the figures, details, imagery, symbols, and shapes both in the foreground and in the background. Next, close your eyes and imagine the card in your mind’s eye, recreating every detail you can from memory. Then, picture yourself stepping into the card and walking around the scenery. Explore the world of the card. What happens while you’re there? Whom and what do you encounter?
2. Journal it out.
As a writer and English professor, I can attest to the fact that the act of journaling isn’t just helpful for recording thoughts. Writing – especially by hand – actually helps unlock thoughts and insights we can’t access otherwise. Isn’t that so magical?
So next time you are at a loss for interpreting a card, start journaling about it. You may start out by describing what you see in the card. Then, just let stream of consciousness and whatever natural word and memory association happens happen. Soon, you’ll have an “A-ha! Maybe it’s telling me that…” moment and it all comes pouring out.
3. Look up the meaning of the card in a trusted source.
This is probably a good time to remind you that these suggestions are in order. If you’ve been reading my blog or watching my videos for awhile now, or if you’ve taken my Read Tarot Today online course, then you know by now how much I discourage looking up the meaning of tarot cards right away, before you’ve given yourself a chance to take a stab at it.
In other words, looking up tarot card meanings should not be your first resort. It makes for unconfident and passive tarot reading in my opinion.
But if you’ve sat with the card, journaled out your thoughts, and still need some guidance on the card, then by all means look it up in a trusted tarot source! That’s exactly what they are there for! This could be a book of tarot meanings that you find particularly helpful, like Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom. Or you could look up the card on a website like Biddy Tarot.
There may be an angle to the card that you didn’t consider. Or significant symbolism that didn’t catch your eye. We are always learning! And reading about tarot never gets old.
4. Draw a clarifier card.
And finally, if you’re still genuinely stumped after trying all my tips, fine! Go for that clarifier card. You have my blessing.
How often do you pull clarifiers and how do you decide if you need one? Also, let me know if you’re like me and have certain tarot cards that almost always drive you to pulling a clarifier.
Thank you Annie. I’ve been reading Tarot for years but still learning from you..and from “Tarot” too.
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