In this post, I will talk about what is a point of reference, how does it work, and how to find a point of reference. While it is not necessary, it is better for you to already have a basic understanding of each tarot card so engage in this exercise. It’s not like it can’t be done, but it will predictably be a very taxing and grueling process as you scramble to look up the definitions of each card, and on top of that trying to remember everything as you attempt to extrapolate meaning. Things will be easier if you’re cool with the seventy eight cards of tarot, or the majority of it. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basic definitions of each card, you can better contextualize the issues and questions at hand.
Let me give you a quick example of interpreting a card without a point of reference. Four of Swords is about resting, contemplating, aligning your centres (mind/body/heart) and regaining balance. If your question is, “What is the best thing to do right now about my conflict with my best friend?” and then you pull the Four of Swords, the result of your reading is likely to be:
This is a time to pull myself together. It’s time to put our arguments to rest, to allow each other to cool off, to reflect upon the problems at hand, explore the various causes of our conflict, rethink my relationship with my best friend, and try to consider the alternative perspective. We probably need some space and quiet time right now. It’s not a good time to be emotional.
Which is sound and good advice in and of itself. However, when you establish a point of reference, you can go beyond the “2D” meanings of each card and you enrich the possible spectrum of meanings that you are able to get out of each card.
What is a point of reference and how does it work?
A point of reference is something you focus on to contextualize and frame the rest of your interpretation. It gives you access to emphasis, and most importantly, perspective. It gives your reading more depth and insight.
Here are a few indicators:
- It is usually the first thing you see on the picture when you pull out the card.
- Often, it is something (an image, an object, a colour, a particular motion that the character is doing on the card) that you find yourself gravitating towards
For example, if you ask the same question, “What is the best thing to do right now about my conflict with my best friend?” and again, you pull the Four of Swords–you find your eyes resting on the stone bed that the person is lying on.
From afar, the stone bed gives off a clean, stoic feel. When you zoom in your focus, you imagine yourself lying on a stone bed. Your back is plastered against the stone surface. Intuitively, you know you are feeling uncomfortable on that stone bed because it is hard and does not conform to the arch of your back. If you are the person lying on the stone bed, you look like you’ve been asleep for a long time. You may feel like you’re trapped. It’s like one of those dreams in which you are aware that you are dreaming but you can’t seem to wake up. You are agitated, you are uneasy, and you want to break free from this moment of stillness because you are no longer serene and contemplative.
The result of your reading may sound like this:
We’ve been on a cold war for the longest time now. We haven’t talked to each other for months. I tried really hard to reflect on our situation and to give my friend space but nothing seems to be dissolving this tension inside of me (represented by the stone bed). This is driving me nuts, but maybe Four of Swords is telling me that there are things that I haven’t considered. Maybe I thought I was being reflective and giving my friend space but I actually wasn’t. I was just impatiently waiting. Maybe I need to really look at myself. Maybe I haven’t given MYSELF the right environment to chill and reflect. Maybe what I need to do right now is to dissolve the tension first, so I can think clearly.
How do you find a point of reference?
One of the things you can do to find a point of reference is to close your eyes and open them again, and then note down the first thing that you see on the card. When you close your eyes, clear your mind. Sit still for a couple of seconds and allow your thoughts to settle. And then, you open your eyes and follow your gaze.
If your tarot reading process involves energy work and communicating with a guide or your Higher Self, you can try to form a question or a particular “chant” that you’ve developed for yourself to help yourself “get into the zone.” In short, establish a mini ritual to help you achieve the point of focus. For example, you can close your eyes and say this in your mind: “What is this card trying to tell me? Where should I look?” You can then open your eyes and note down the first thing you see, or turn towards the image that you keep coming back to. You can also move the card around in circles in front of you until you “lock in” on one of the image or objects on the card.
There really is no set way of doing this. Like every intuitive process, every tarot reader will probably have a different approach towards different subjects. Experiment and find out what works for you. 🙂
What happens when you can’t find a point of reference?
When you can’t seem to locate the point of reference, it’s okay–because sometimes you may not need to for the inherent message of the tarot card to be delivered. Listen to your intuition–if you have this nagging feeling that you need something to focus on, or the card is trying to tell you something but you can’t seem to pinpoint the “source”–then you might be subconsciously searching for a point of reference. Again, this does not have to happen every time, nor is it mandatory in the readings you do. Go with whatever works and whatever feels right. Everybody’s reading process is different, so don’t feel pressured when you can’t seem to find a focus point. 🙂
(I really suck at writing conclusions, because I don’t like summarizing. I’ve had enough pain doing that when I was an English major….this is why I never write a standardized blog post, but here it is.)
The point of reference is something I discovered when I was doing readings for others and myself. It’s been very effective in extrapolating meaning and creating a more detailed, in-depth and contextualized reading. It gives you the opportunity to explore a particular card and its themes, as well as to discover and rediscover the many messages it holds.
Tarot never gets old, as I like to say. 😉
If you are interested in reading more about viewing tarot cards through the lens of storytelling as well as cultivating an intuitive tarot practice, check out my e-book: Tarot Beginnings: An Introduction to the Story and Study of Tarot.