Symbolism—does it matter in a tarot reading? Does it always matter, and to every reader? My answer to the first question is yes. Symbolism does matter when doing a tarot reading. However, my answer to the second question is a firm no. Not every tarot reader will be concerned about symbolism. Many readers will study each card, meticulously analyzing every little detail. This can be a very important part of the reading. We have books available that offer symbolic meanings, and there are our very own associations with certain symbols. Every method of interpreting the cards is important.
We have choices of beautiful, artistic decks with so much detail and symbolism that it may be difficult to focus on that aspect. Other decks have virtually little or no symbolism and might be more likely to depend on standard learned meanings and/or intuition. Decks are so very different–detailed or cluttered artwork, unusual subjects, and non-conforming images. Some decks only have pictures for the Major Arcana, with only the number of swords, wands, cups, and pentacles on the minor cards. Because all cards are so diverse, the need for intuitive reading cries out from them.
I, for one, seldom take all the symbolism into consideration. I tend to feel the message of the cards through intuition. Surrounding cards are an important part of my reading, and if it may be only a one card reading, a clarifying card might be necessary. On occasion, a symbol or detail might jump out at me, giving further meaning to the card. Some read simply by color, some by elemental dignities, some by numerology, and some by the action in the picture itself. All of these methods are legitimate. There is no right or wrong in tarot. Tarot readers are as diverse as the world itself.
Remember this when participating in an exercise where several readers are asked to give their opinion of the same spread. Give your opinion, but do not criticize another. There is a huge difference between disagreement and hurtful criticism. Choose your comments carefully. We should all respect our differences. Who knows, one of these “odd” interpretations just might show you a side that was overlooked, just as your interpretation may show them another view. We all learn from each other, and the more open we are to learning, the better we can serve others.