Using the Tarot to Ask Better Questions
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The Socratic Method
Plato recorded that Socrates, the early Greek philosopher and teacher, believed that disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables us to examine ideas logically and to determine the validity of our ideas.
Socratic inquiry isn’t “teaching” in the conventional sense of the word. The Socratic teacher is not the purveyor of knowledge, filling the empty minds of largely passive students with facts and truths acquired through years of study.
The goal is shared dialogue in which both are responsible for pushing the dialogue forward through questioning, producing a “productive discomfort.” The teacher asks probing questions in an effort to expose the values and beliefs which frame and support the thoughts and statements of the participants in the inquiry. The students ask questions as well, both of the teacher and each other. The inquiry is open-ended.
The goal is to identify and then defend one’s moral intuitions about the world which undergird our ways of life, accounting for ourselves as well as our thoughts, actions, and beliefs, thus revealing the motivations and assumptions upon which we lead our lives.
**The focus is on using questions to discover how one ought to live.**
Socrates is famous for saying “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Equally true, though less appreciated, is the fact that the unlived life is not worth examining.
**Socratic questioning is at the heart of critical thinking and crafting a life worth living.**
The Six Types of Socratic Questions:
Clarifying questions are simple questions of fact. They clarify the dilemma and provide the nuts and bolts of what, exactly, is being asked and what answer is sought so it may be stated more clearly and specifically.
Example clarifying questions:
- Why do you say that?
- How is this relevant?
- What do you already know?
- What is the main issue?
- How does ______ relate to ______?
- What is the basic point?
- How would you define ______?
Every question is based upon assumptions, things that are accepted as true or certain to happen without requiring additional proof. These types of questions ask us to look closely at what we have accepted about the nature of reality that forms the foundation of asking the question.
Example questions to consider one’s assumptions:
- What could we assume instead?
- How can you verify or disprove that assumption?
- What would happen if ______ ?
- What assumptions do you have that contradict these assumptions?
- Why would someone make this assumption?
- How would you justify taking this for granted?
- Why would someone refuse to make this assumption?
Probing rationale, reasons, and evidence
These questions consider whether or not the question and its answer are substantive—what facts, analysis, and reasoning is the question based upon, and does this rationale support a logical question worthy of answering?
Example questions to think about one’s rationale, reasons, and evidence:
- What evidence exists to support this idea?
- How is this over-simplifying a complex issue?
- Why do you think that?
- Have you always felt this way? Why or why not?
- Has your opinion been influenced by something or someone?
- Where does this idea originate?
- Is this logical? Why or why not?
Questioning viewpoints and perspectives
It’s critical to question our own viewpoint as we ask a question as well as consider other perspectives that differ from or even oppose our own. These questions guide us to refocus via alternative lenses.
Example questions to reflect upon one’s own viewpoints and other perspectives:
- What led you to this belief?
- What would you say to someone who believes differently?
- What would be an alternative?
- What is another way to look at it?
- How would other groups of people respond?
- How is ______ different than opposing view?
- What other perspectives can you imagine?
Probing implications and consequences
Future results and potential after-effects of asking and answering this question are addressed by this line of inquiry.
Example questions to imagine possible implications and consequences:
- What are the consequences of this?
- If this happened, what else might happen as a result?
- Would this be best for any or many or few?
- If this happened, what other consequences would follow? Why?
- Would that necessarily happen or only probably happen?
- If there is disagreement, what consequences could result?
- Would any implication or result cause you to think differently?
Questioning the question
Sometimes the question itself contains a flaw or weakness that produces a poor solution or direction. These types of questions reveal these limitations so that it might yield better answers.
Ways to question the question:
- What was the point of this question?
- Is this question a valid one to ask?
- What does this question mean?
- Why is this question important?
- How does this question apply to everyday life?
- How is this question relevant?
- What problem does asking this question attempt to solve?
Tarot: Your Pocket Philosopher
Rather than approaching tarot as a supplicant looking for answers, consider creating a dialogue with tarot based upon asking better questions with the goal of clearly articulating the values that guide your life. The only thing to fear in this process is that our values and beliefs might not withstand the closer scrutiny of deeper questions.
Within the tarot exists an endless reservoir to question the things we are told, to expose contradictions, and look beyond the obvious answers.
Two Ways to Have a Philosophical Dialogue with Tarot:
- Formulate your question as clearly as you can and write it down, so you know exactly what you’ve asked.
- Either do a tarot reading using your preferred method or else draw one tarot card to answer the question. Feel free to use guidebooks and/or your own intuition. Once you have interpreted the reading (or card), write down what you believe the answer to be (to the best of your ability).
- Now, leaving what you’ve dealt on the table, shuffle the remaining cards and draw six additional cards (one for each of Socrates’ questions) to begin a dialogue with tarot about your answer. After interpreting each card, re-write your answer to include the new insights gleaned from each card.
**Note: Feel free to adjust or restate the example question to as needed to fit your answer.**
- Choose one example question to ask the first card to clarify the answer.
- Pick an assumptions question to ask the second card and find out what ideas or beliefs underlie the answer.
- Select a rationale, reasons, and evidence question to probe the answer’s rationality with the third card.
- Consider your own or opposing viewpoints and perspectives to the answer by picking an example question to ask the fourth card.
- Find out possible implications and consequences of this answer as you choose an example question for the fifth card.
- As you select an example question about the question itself, let the sixth card further examine your inquiry.
Finally, rewrite your improved answer utilizing these deeper insights.
This process of questioning our answer forces us to dive beneath the superficial answer grasped too quickly, the over-simplistic or too-easy answer, the vague and generic answer, as well as the obvious or predictable answer to formulate a unique and open-ended path of opportunity instead of a predictable and predetermined conclusion.
- Shuffle your entire deck and draw one tarot card.
- This time, rather than looking for the card to answer a preexisting question, let the card you’ve pulled stimulate new questions for you to ask. Write down a list of the best questions inspired by the card. Feel free to use guidebooks and/or your own intuition. Choose one question from this list of questions that you’d like to explore more and write down the best version of this question you can articulate.
- Next, draw a second card to challenge/hone/deepen this new question, and rewrite the question taking into account these further insights.
- Leaving those two cards on the table, shuffle the rest of the deck and draw six cards (one for each of Socrates’ questions) to begin a dialogue with tarot about your question. After interpreting each card, re-write your question to include the new insights gleaned from each card.
**Note: Feel free to adjust or restate the example question to as needed to fit your question.**
- Choose one example question to ask the first card to clarify this question.
- Pick an assumptions question to ask the second card and find out what ideas or beliefs underlie the question.
- Select a rationale, reasons, and evidence example to probe your question’s logic with the third card.
- Consider your own or opposing viewpoints and perspectives to the question by picking an example to ask the fourth card.
- Find out possible implications and consequences of this question as you choose an example to ask the fifth card.
- As you select an example question about the question itself, let the sixth card further examine your inquiry.
Finally, rewrite your improved question utilizing these deeper insights.
In the process of questioning our question, we uncover the true challenges we’re facing and generate better solutions to solve our problems. Initial questions are rarely the best questions. Spending time and energy solving the first iteration of a challenge with the first idea we have is both limiting and counterproductive. By asking better questions, we increase the capacity and potential to create an “aha” moment, which can then lead to innovation and growth. Better questions keep us in learning mode rather than judgment mode. If we’re asking a question, we’re not rushing to the answer, giving a premature solution, or acting prior to understanding. Refining our questions attunes our usually narrow focus to the bigger picture, where the goal is not an easy answer but the trajectory of a life worth living.
Example Reading: Question Your Question
Initial Question Card: The Wheel of Fortune
- Jupiter: Abundance—expansion, good fortune, luck, prosperity, winning, progression
- Blessings, spirituality, your destiny as opposed to your future
- Just judgment, ups and downs of life, new phase of growth
- Pride, preoccupation with material possessions and grandeur
- The winner in any matter, opportunities
- Returns us to our divine source, our destiny, to truth
- Problems resulting from painful consequences of excess
Question: What will bring greater abundance to my life?
Card to Challenge, hone, or deepen the question: Ace of Wands
- Power of Spirit (fire), beginning of cycle/ success in areas of desire, passion, creativity, will, initiative and spirituality
- Expression of fiery traits—dynamism, enthusiasm, fearlessness, initiative
- Achievement of goals and creative endeavors
- Now is the time for potent forceful action to grasp what you want
- Social projects aimed to promote one’s own goals, elevating social status and adaptation
Restated Question: What spiritual action will bring greater abundance to my life?
Clarifying Concepts: Queen of Cups
What is the main issue? The Queen of Cups suggests the main issue is that my emotional susceptibility to meet the wants/needs/desires of those around me before focusing on my own spiritual path is preventing my willingness to act for myself.
Restated Question: What spiritual action do I need to take right now to bring greater abundance to my life despite what those around me want?
Probing Assumptions: The Star
What assumptions do you have that contradict these assumptions? The Star suggests that my assumption that those around me know what is best for them and the world might be in error. It reminds me that seeking greater abundance in my own life might not be at odds with what is best for everyone else.
Restated Question: What spiritual action do I need to take right now to bring greater abundance to my life so that I might in turn help those around me discover their own abundance?
Rationale, Reasons & Evidence: Four of Pentacles
How is this over-simplifying a complex issue? The Four of Pentacles suggests my current question oversimplifies the complex issue of what constitutes “abundance” for an individual. One person’s prosperity is another person’s lack; what one person experiences as a gift, another might consider a nuisance. The change I want might be perceived as traumatic by another. It is very difficult to act in such a way that everyone around me will experience an increase in abundance, and there are many actions I might take for myself that would make some around me feel as though they are losing something as a result. “Need” is a problematic word to define or differentiate from desire.
Restated Question: What spiritual passion will bring greater abundance to my life so that I might in turn help some to discover their own abundance?
Viewpoints & Perspectives: Eight of Swords
What led you to this belief? I live in a society in which abundance is believed to be the proof of a successful and happy life, especially of the material or emotional variety. The Eight of Swords warns me that this belief focuses on appearance and image over substance and truth. Seeking abundance is a limited worldview and keeps me trapped on the ups and downs of the Wheel of Fortune (my initial card in the reading). The aim of abundance is shortsighted and comes from feelings of lack rather than a trajectory of positive change.
Restated Question: What spiritual passion can free me from the current habitual cycles that are limiting my experience of life’s abundance so that I am free to be honestly and fully present for those around me?
Implications & Consequences: The Hanged Man
If this happened, what else might happen as a result? The Hanged Man hints that if this change stated in the question happens in my life, it will broaden my ability to perceive outside and beyond my current expectations and preconceptions. Rather than creating division between myself and those around me as I fear, this change will actually create for imagination and vision. It also warns that I might be lied to or duped by those who are devious and live for their own profit.
Restated Question: What spiritual passion can free me from the current habitual cycles and preconceptions that are limiting my experience of life’s abundance so that I am free to be honestly and fully present for those who are honestly and fully present with me?
Questioning the Question: The Moon
Why is this question important? I find it interesting that the last card was the Hanged Man, astrologically Neptune which rules Pisces, associated with The Moon card. Thus, these two final cards are closely linked. Between the 8 of Swords, The Hanged Man, and The Moon in this reading together—there’s something vital that I won’t see without answering this question for myself. The Moon tells me that this question is important because if I do not answer this question, I will continue in my current state of missing the essential to be lulled by the trivial and fooled by the devious. Also, fear of facing unknown change is no way to live one’s life.
Is this question important?—ABSOLUTELY!
FINAL Restated Question: What spiritual passion can free me from my fear that’s feeding my current habitual cycles and preconceptions that are limiting my experience of life’s abundance so that I am free to be honestly and fully present for those who are honestly and fully present with me as well as prepared to deal with those who are false?
- Try using reversals in a unique way:
- Upright cards indicate questions about the external world.
- Reversed cards indicate questions about your internal world.
- Use a different tarot deck for each card drawn.
- Instead of drawing randomly, deliberately choose the card you wish to use, and then use this same card from different tarot decks to answer the six follow-up Socratic questions, exploring the subtle differences between each deck’s interpretation for deeper insights.
- Add oracle cards to deepen your questions further.
- Start a journal to record your questions and the dialogues you have about them with tarot.
Be a life-long questioner.
Personal Questions to Get Started:
- What is happiness/ thriving/ flourishing for me?
- What is the most important thing in life?
- How can I achieve the most important thing in my life?
- What are my core values?
- At the end of my life, what will I hope to have experienced?
- What is most difficult for me to accept about myself?
- What do I judge in others that I, too, embody sometimes?
- What matters most to me?
- What is my relationship with myself?
- What thoughts, beliefs, or stories am I holding onto that no longer serve me?
- Who am I beyond the words I’ve used to define myself?
- What limiting belief do I need to let go of?
- Why am I here?
Now, move on to the BIG Questions:
- Why is there something rather than nothing? Does divinity exist? What does this mean for me if god/dess does or does not exist? What practical effect does divinity have on my life? Are we alone in the universe? Is the world a safe place?
- How can we know anything? How do we know if something is real? How do we know what is true? Can we trust our own knowing?
- What is valuable? What should we value or what is worthy of valuing? What would a perfect world look like and is this even something we should seek?
- What is a life worth living? What makes life worth living? Am I supposed to be happy? How do I become satisfied? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is expected of me?
- What is identity? Who am “I”? Am I a group (cells/society/systems) or an individual? Where is the line between group and individual? Is there one truth or many, and if many then are all truths equal? Where is the line between subjective and objective? Do we have free will?
- Why is there suffering and what should we do about it? How can I minimize my own suffering and the suffering of the people I care about? Why do bad things happen to good people and why do good things happen to bad people? Why is there good and evil? What is good and what is evil? Who is for me and who is against me?
- Is there life after death? Are the people we’ve lost still with us?
- Who are my people? When am I grown up? What is a hero and what does this mean for me? How is a life best lived? How then shall we live?