Debugging Your Divination ~ What To Do When Readings Go Wrong

I can make most divination systems work for me. The earliest skill I developed as a witch was tarot reading, and it remains one of my strongest suits. For some reason, that skill set spills over to most other divinatory tools. Pendulums, runes, ogham, oracle cards…I can get good information most of the time from most tools. Which means it’s a bit odd when a divinatory system or tool gives me gibberish, or flat out doesn’t respond (looking at you, amethyst pendulum).

A good friend recently ran into a tarot challenge – a deck they adored the look of, that felt right in their hands, was not responding well. Their readings with that deck were inaccurate, or simply unintelligible. What to do?  When this happens to me, I like to try a few different techniques to debug my divination. The first one is purification.

Divinatory tools pass through many different hands and locations on their way to us. They are subject to the energies of our homes and offices, or wherever we happen to take them to. And, these particular tools are designed to respond to energy – that’s the entire point.  That feeling you get after a day full of hectic interactions?  One of those awful days where everything goes wrong?  Your divinatory tool can feel its own version of that due to exposure to too many people and places that are overstimulating.  Even if you’re only reading for yourself, your divinatory tool can reach max density on your own changing energy patterns. And, the same way you might need a hot bath and a glass of wine after a long day, your divinatory tool could use some support as well.

Even after you’ve had a deck for a while, it can still happen. The deck I do the vast majority of my readings with (a Legacy of the Divine by Ciro Marchetti – I’ve been using it since 2009) still requires purification at times. I’ll get a mental flash of the setup I use to purify my deck, or simply notice that my readings seem just a touch off, and know that it’s time to break out the incense.


With a new deck, this is always my step one regardless. And, if it’s been a while since you’ve purified your divinatory tools, they’re probably due. Remember – spiritual hygiene applies to both you and anything you interact with regularly as part of your practice.

You have some choices when it comes to which purification techniques work best for your situation.  My first go-to is incense. It’s important that whatever you are using to purify your tool touches the vast majority of that tool. In the case of a tarot deck, I use a somewhat ridiculous but very effective setup. Do you have a vegetable steamer basket?

I’m serious.

I elevate an open steamer basket and spread my cards out, face down, in the steamer bowl. Then, I place a purifying incense (I like strong, earthy scents for this – rosemary, juniper, fir, etc) beneath the bowl.  I observe how the air is moving in the room and adjust the position of the incense so that it filters up to touch the cards. This frequently involves more than one stick of incense in order to ensure good coverage. Then, I walk away and leave my deck to its relaxing ‘bath.’

Look silly? Yes. Also, it works.

If you don’t have a large steamer or strainer basket handy, you can always lay the cards out on a flat surface and waft incense over them with a fan or feather. Make sure to spend plenty of time doing so – remember, we’re offering the equivalent of a long bath here. Letting your divinatory tool rest and recharge for a fair span of time is what makes this approach to purification so effective.

If you are sensitive to scent, smoke, or both, you have another amazing ally when it comes to purification.  I’ll give you a hint – it rises in the morning and sets at night.

This was too ridiculous not to post

The sun. That big ball of nuclear fission in the sky does incredible things for this planet. Along with supporting life, the sun has purifying qualities. This is part of why so many of us feel great after spending time outside. Even if we’re fatigued, it’s the good kind of tired. We eat with more appetite, sleep more deeply, and experience more grounded, relaxed thought patterns.

To use sunlight for purification, simply spread your tarot deck out on a sunny windowsill and allow it to soak up some rays. If you can crack that window and allow a little fresh air to circulate, even better. A variation on the steamer basket trick that uses fresh air and sunlight is to spread out your cards in the bottom of a large baking dish, face up. Then, put a cooling rack on top of the baking dish. You can place this entire setup outside. If it’s a little breezy and you’re worried, simply weigh down the cooling rack with a few rocks or other small, heavy objects.

No incense and hate the sun? No problem (although you should probably do something about that vampirism situation). Grab a singing bowl. Sound is an incredibly powerful force for shifting the energy in an object or space. By generating stable, harmonious sound waves, a singing bowl washes any discordant or unhelpful lingering energy off your divinatory tools. If you’ve ever gone to a sound bath, you’ll understand how potent sound can be for resetting energy. As with smoke and the sun, allow your divinatory tool to absorb the song of the singing bowl for a fair span of time.


After a long bath, the next step toward recovery for me is a good night’s sleep.  While it sounds fun to tuck our divinatory tools into a cute little bed, there are some other options that might prove more fruitful.

Moon bathing is for more than just witches and lovers. If you have a windowsill or other surface in a spot where moonlight shines, it’s the perfect place for giving your tools a moon bath. The moon remains the most influential celestial body in witchcraft, associated with magick, dreams, the subconscious, psychic ability, and more. Spread your cards out and let them soak up all that lunar goodness.

For the deck equivalent of a strong morning coffee or early spin class, do a mad shuffle. Spread out a blanket on the floor and sit in the middle of it. Completely spread out your deck, then begin to swirl and mix the cards. Just play – spread them out as far as they’ll go, push them back together, scatter them in groups, smooth the groups into each other…get lost in the process. Eventually return the deck to one stack, even up the cards, and knock on the deck three times.

Another option that’s accessible for most witches is to raise energy and then channel it into the deck. There are many approaches to raising energy; anything that builds vitality within your body – a feeling of brightness and fullness – will work.  You can chant, sing, dance, do breathing exercises (breath of fire is good for this), draw in and concentrate naturally occurring energy, or grab your partner and…you know…*wink*. Once you’ve built up a healthy quantity of energy, channel it into your deck using your hands or your breath. I prefer blowing energy into objects, personally.

Test Drive

Your deck has had its lovely long bath (purification) and a good night’s sleep (reenergizing).  Now it’s time to take it for a spin.

Before you lay out the cards, take a moment to connect with them.  Express gratitude for their work, and for their presence in your life. Feel the psychic bond you share with your deck. This connection – practitioner to tool – is where the real magick happens.

Start with an easy reading about something you already know. “How did I respond to X situation?” “How do I feel about X person/place/experience?”  Notice how the deck responds, and how accurate the answers are. Pay attention to nuance. I find when my deck is at her best, she gives me more granular information along with the larger themes present.

If your deck is new to you, or you’re a fairly new reader, you could also do one of the many New Tarot Deck Interview spreads available online. I like this one from Little Red Tarot.

For the majority of divinatory tool issues, a good cleanse and reset will handle the problem.  However, sometimes, it’s not enough. In those cases, there are further steps to take. I’ll give you my least-favorite one first:

  • Evaluate if this tool is for you (see? I told you it’s not my favorite).  Sometimes a particular tool is just not meant for us. We don’t always know why – it may be that the artist that created the tool carried a bias that does not play well with your own energy. It may not be the right time for you and this tool to work together. It may be that this particular divination form is not the most suited to you.  Sometimes a tool just doesn’t work for us. And that’s okay – not all of us like wearing polka dots, or enjoy cilantro, or are skilled at logic problems. There’s a bevy of divinatory tools on the market for a reason.  It’s okay to let a tool go to a new owner if it’s not the right fit for you.
  • Request help from the Powers That Be. For those of us with active journeywork practices, our Guides can be incredibly helpful here. Check in with your Guides to see if there’s anything that can be done within their sphere of influence. There are also entire areas of the Akashic realm that are the domain of particular divination systems. One of my teachers refers to these as “neighborhoods.”  During a journey, you can visit the realm of Tarot, Runes, Oracle cards, Ogham and more. Some well-established systems have their own neighborhoods within their larger divinatory realm.
  • See a professional. Every now and then, a divinatory tool will bump up against one of our own energetic issues. If it’s been a while since your last healing session or energy balancing, it might be time to do a little self care. Good spirit workers can track down specific blockages and untangle them. If you’ve noticed that none of your divinatory tools are working for you, the problem doesn’t lie with the cards.


So, what’s your favorite technique for debugging a divination system? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your ideas are exactly what another person needs to read.








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