Isn’t it amazing how much body language and facial expressions play a part in numerous aspects of our daily lives? I thought about that at the mall the other day, while I was walking around just watching people and meandering in and out of various stores. At one point I realized this is also true of people that appear in the Tarot. It made immediate sense to me, given that the cards reflect all the aspects of our lives.
In this article I’ll demonstrate how body language and facial expressions of the people in the cards expose nuances and subtleties that can add an extra layer of meaning to your readings.
Exposing your true self
Body language can say a lot about your true state of being at any given moment. Although you may think you’re portraying yourself in a positive (or, perhaps, even neutral) manner, your body might be indicating otherwise. Have you ever been in a situation where say something to someone or some group of people, they take what you say at face value, and then begin doubting what you’ve said soon after for some unknown reason? It could most likely be your body language.
For example, suppose you’re about to have a meeting with a few people regarding a mutual project. You’re somewhat apprehensive of the meeting because there are issues you believe to be high-priority at this point, and you’re not particularly inclined to change your mind just now. You get to the meeting, exchange the usual pleasantries, and then get down to business. Sure enough, they want to discuss reducing the priorities of some of your issues. Hoping to give yourself time to think of how you’re going to defend your position, you tell them that you’d be interested in listening to their perspectives and be open to the possibility of making some changes.
You sit and listen to them for a few minutes, and then you lean back in your chair in an apparent attempt to be in a more relaxing position. You extend your legs, cross one foot over the other, and nonchalantly cross your arms over your chest. It’s about at that point when they can tell that you really have no interest in what they’re saying and it’s probably unlikely that you’ll reprioritize any of your issues. How did they come to this realization? Your body language. You’ve just assumed a very defensive physical position, indicated by your crossed arms and legs. (From an energetic standpoint, you’ve essentially created a barrier; you are not allowing any of your energy to flow outwards, and you’re keeping yourself from receiving any energy, bad or good.) The meeting is likely to come to an abrupt halt, now that they’ve discovered your true intentions.
The face is interesting because it can reflect your thoughts and emotions. It’s most fascinating in that it can show the thoughts and emotions you want it to express, or it can show your true thoughts and emotions in unguarded moments, such as when you think no one is paying attention to you.
Let’s use another meeting as an example. Suppose that you’re meeting some friends at a coffee shop. You have a situation at home that is distressing you emotionally just now, but you want people to think everything is all right. You grab a table with your friends, exchange opening pleasantries, place your orders with the waiter, and get down to having your chat. One of your friends asks you how things are going and you smile broadly and say that things are going smoothly and that your current project at work is getting interesting. After you provide a few more details, someone else picks up the conversation. Unbeknownst to you, one of your friends is beginning to doubt what you said about things going smoothly – she thinks you’re worried about something. Once you were no longer the focus of attention, she noticed your smile faded into a far-away, blank look, seeming to indicate that your mind was elsewhere. Now she thinks that a private chat with you later in the evening might be helpful.
Did you note the subtly of the underlying messages conveyed by the body language and facial expressions in the examples above? It is those subtleties that can also appear in certain cards during a reading.
Is there more to the message than meets the eye?
There are quite a few cards where body language and facial expressions can come into play during a reading. I believe that there are four basic ways in which you’ll see this:
1. Confidence and Determination
4. Focus and Distraction
Confidence and Determination
As strong stance – whether sitting or standing – can convey a sense of confidence, determination, will power, and determination. In the four cards above, notice how each figure is sitting squarely and facing front. There’s a sense of confidence and authority, and a seeming determination to stand firm on whatever situation is before them. Now note how each face is staring straight at you, eyes fixed, with no apparent emotion; none of them will tell you any of their secrets and will not divulge any more information than what they think you need to know.
Now think of how this may influence a reading. How does the High Priestess’ seemingly blank stare play into the message you’re seeing? Is she lost in thought? Is she in a quasi-meditative state? Is she attempting to look into your soul? How does her posture play into this? She’s sitting in a relaxed state, despite the look on her face. Might that mean that you need to relax more in order to tap into your intuition effectively?
What might the strong stance of the rider in The Chariot card imply? He seems quite confident, despite the fact that he knows that the road ahead might be difficult. He’s determined to drive through the path ahead of him successfully, regardless of the risks. What do you see in his facial expression that might convey how he feels or what he’s thinking? How does that affect the message you might get from this card?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, crossing your arms and legs can be a subtle sign of defensiveness, regardless of what you’re trying to convey via your facial expressions. I don’t believe defensiveness is inherently a bad thing, especially given that you can assume a defensive posture even when you’re quite happy and content. The three cards above demonstrate this quite clearly; note how each person has his arms crossed.
For example, the figure in the 4 our Pentacles is not only crossing his arms, but he’s also holding something that he considers quite valuable. In this case, without saying a word, he shows you what he considers most valuable, that he’s prepared to keep it secure, and that he has no interest in sharing what he has. (Pop quiz: How does his facial expression support this notion?) How might this all figure into a reading? Should you be holding on to what you hold dear? Are you stretching your resources more than necessary or reasonable?
On the opposite side (in a manner of speaking) is the figure in the 10 of Cups. He’s obviously a happy person and very content with his life and relationships, but his arms are crossed, too. He’s sitting squarely in front of his cups, has his arms across his chest, and a smile on his face. The subtle message here seems to be that he’s completely happy with where he is and has no interest in discussing the possibility of going outside of his comfort zone. The smile on his face seems twofold; it expresses his happiness but also belies the stubborn determination he has to stand his ground. Additionally, he’s possibly sending subtle mixed messages by having his legs spread apart and his arms crossed. How would this play into a reading? Could this possibly mean that you’ve perhaps gotten a bit self-absorbed in your own happiness? (Extra bonus points: Is the figure in the card sitting toward the edge of the bench? That could imply something…)
Sometimes it’s hard to determine what a person’s body language is saying – certain postures can be a bit ambiguous. This seems to be especially true when there is no direct interaction between you and the individual in the ambiguous posture. The three cards above seem to demonstrate this quite well.
I’ve always thought the 9 of Swords as a great example of this. In my view, the woman is covering her face for one of two reasons: she’s in complete despair over the stressful issues the swords represent or she’s at the end of her rope and is praying for comfort and guidance on what to do next. The cards surrounding this card will help you determine what she’s actually doing.
The 5 of Cups is another good example. The man in the card is looking down at the fallen cups in front of him. These cups (to me) seem to represent emotional ties or relationships that have ended. His stance shows that he’s obviously sorry that this is the case, but what are his true feelings here? Does he have regrets or is he relieved? Again, the cards surrounding this card will help you determine what feelings he might be hiding inside.
Sometimes life is ambiguous during difficult times and we can’t tell what we need to do or if we need to do anything at all. How might the ambiguity you see in these cards weave into your reading? Does it mean that you must take a more active role in a given situation, despite the fact that there is no clear path or resolution?
Focus and Distraction
A lot of people think it’s harder to stay focused and much easier to get distracted in our day and age. I think it might actually be that we have more to distract us than in the past. Focus and distraction, however, have been with us for ages and are a constant source of frustration. As with other facets of life, the Tarot is good about showing this part of our lives. The four cards above are good examples of this.
The Queen of Pentacles and the Queen of Cups are both very focused women, and their body language and facial expressions show this. Both are squarely seated in their thrones and are firmly holding the object of their attention, and their facial expressions show their deep concentration. You can almost tell that they would rather not be disturbed unless it is a matter of great importance.
The Queen of Wands and the Queen of Swords, on the other hand, seem to be distracted by things or people outside of our view. They both sit squarely I their thrones, but facial expressions and gestures belie their inattentiveness to you. Although the Queen of Wands was in the process of speaking to you (as evidenced by the cat that is looking straight at you), she seems to be distracted by something going on off to her left-hand side. Though you might have had the ear of the Queen of Swords for a moment, it seems that she’s now motioning for someone to come forward. (So much for trying to grab 10 minutes of her time!)
How do you think this perception of focus and distraction might affect your reading? Could the appearance of the Queen of Pentacles or the Queen of Cups imply that you need to be more focused on the issue at hand or on what either queen represents at that moment? Might you infer that you should not allow yourself to be easily distracted? Could the appearance of the Queen of Wands or the Queen of Swords mean that you need to pay attention to other things and people around you? Is it time to move away from being single-minded about the issue at hand?
It’s interesting how body language and facial expressions can add subtleties to a reading. It’s certainly added certain nuances to my readings that have turned out to be quite beneficial for my clients. I don’t necessarily look at body language during each reading, but it’s amazing what I see when my intuition says I should pay attention to it.
I’ve really just scratched the surface of this topic, and you can probably tell by now that we could easily spend a lot of time reviewing other cards and digging deeper into these techniques. For those of you who may have noticed, I did indeed avoid discussing some of the cards in my examples. I wanted to give you a chance to try these techniques on your own after you read the entire article. Go back and review them now and see what subtle information they reveal to you.
Good luck and enjoy!
All card images in this article are from the Radiant-Waite Tarot deck, Copyright © U.S. Games Systems.