A card jumped out while I shuffled, what do?

Tarot sized cards are big and awkward, so it’s easy to drop a few cards while shuffling. Sometimes people (often beginners, but not always) get into a panic about the cards they drop. What do they mean? Do they mean anything? Why did they fall? Is it fate? How do you interpret them? Should they be left out of the reading?

Oh, so you think you’re funny do you? ‘Leap into the unknown,’ my foot.

It’s very tempting for me to say, “dropped cards are meaningless. Just pick them up and go back to shuffling,” and leave it at that.

Problem is, that’s not quite the whole story, and it’s not helpful to be so dismissive.

Most people who play dominoes or poker probably don’t know anything about the divinatory meanings of the tiles and cards they play with. To them, these items have no significance beyond the game. If they drop a few cards or tiles, it’s annoying, and it might even cost them a game, but the clumsy players aren’t really tempted to go searching for the wayward piece’s hidden secrets.

Tarot on the other hand,  has a reputation. We know these cards are supposed to be able to tell us everything about everything, if we can unlock their secrets. Because of this, we’re tempted to start seeing meaning in everything the cards do. If the window is open and the wind blows your cards across the room, it might be a secret message from beyond. A dropped card might be a dire warning. A lost card could be a grievous wound. A card that refuses to come out of the box might represent a blocked aspect of your life.

It doesn’t matter if none of these things are true – if we let our minds grab those ideas and run, we can cause ourselves a great deal of unnecessary stress trying to work out how to interpret all these strange little signs, and fixating on the weird, confusing messages they leave us with.

I saw you fall, you sneaky sod. Can’t escape that easily.

To put it another way: If you really do just slip by accident, with no intervention from spirits or fate, and you dropped the three of swords by pure, random chance, then what is the sense in worrying yourself sick about getting sick? At that point, you’re just hurting yourself.

Perhaps you drop something like the Moon, which can indicate the presence of secret enemies. Now you’re stuck wondering who this secret enemy is, becoming paranoid about who is hiding in the shadows… when there’s no one there.

Tarot is a tool for divination, and like most such tools, it only works because we have decided to give it meaning. If you decide the cards you drop have meaning, then any time you drop cards, your subconscious mind will feel compelled to try to work it out. If you decide that the cards only have meaning when you intentionally draw them from the deck, then you save yourself all the worry that comes along with treating every single little card related event as though it might be an omen that foretells your doom.

Cultivating this kind of discipline keeps your tarot practice safely in the realm of helpful spiritual or mindfulness practice, and out of the realm of harmful superstition.

You don’t need to worry that you will be missing out on important messages by choosing to give dropped cards no value – if the universe knows you will not receive messages sent through randomly dropped cards, it won’t send you messages that way. Plus, any time you feel like you need to do a reading, you can do a proper reading. You have that power.

If you have a feeling that you do need to do a reading and are having trouble working out what to ask, a good question is: “What message do I need to hear right now?”

Edit 27/11/17: Or you can try this spread!


May the cards fall in your favour,


Ps. Decks featured here are the Lo Scarabeo ‘Ancient Tarot of Bologna’ and the regular boring old US Games ‘Rider-Waite’

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