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I’m a firm believer in learning by doing, and getting to know the components of your deck is no exception. This can also be a great daily spread for anyone.
1. Divide your deck into four stacks:
• The 4 Aces
• The 16 Court Cards
• The 36 Minor Arcana Cards numbered 2-10
• The 22 Major Arcana
2. Shuffle the Aces stack thoroughly while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. if a card is reversed, turn it upright for all steps. The Ace indicates an area of focus, general atmosphere or the overall energy at play. (Note: if your suit characteristics differ from those below, then use whatever works.)
• Wands signifies innovative or intuitive energy. It indicates desires, enthusiasm, activity, initiating projects, enterprise. It can also indicate a rushed, angry or volatile situation.
• Cups signifies emotional energy. It indicates love, relationships, nurturing, imagination and fantasy. It can also point to nostalgia, grief, sadness and lethargy.
• Swords signifies mental energy. It indicates beliefs, choices and decisions, research, planning and intellectual endeavors. It can also be about disputes, struggles, and issues around honesty or dishonesty.
• Pentacles (or Coins) signifies physical, sensate energy. It indicates work, skills, money, body, security, results and the care or valuing of physical resources. It can also indicate being stuck, inflexible, stubborn or stressed and worried.
Try to feel this energy inside and around you. Is it fiery, fluid, airy or earthy? Where and how is this energy manifesting in your life right now? Later you’ll want to consider how the other cards you’ve drawn function in this kind of atmosphere.
3. Shuffle the 16 Court Cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the part of yourself that is most active and of which you need to be most aware. How are you Kingly, Queenly, Knightly or like a Page? It can show your level of knowledge, experience and command (King and Queen) in this area or how open you are to learning (Page) or able to take action (Knight).
Describe this card in as much detail as you can, including the physical image on the card and the characteristics of the figure: its attitude, mood and emotions, and what it wants or needs. How and where are you acting like this figure? Occasionally this card can express someone else in your life. How do you expect them to handle or influence the situation rather than you? Are you giving your own power away and, if so, how can you own it? Or is it as it should be?
4. Shuffle the 36 Minor Arcana number cards (2-10 in each suit) while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the situation that the part of yourself (Court Card above) is concerned with today.
If a scene is depicted on this card, then describe the scene. What situation has similar characteristics? If there are only suit markers on your deck, look up the meaning and consider how it applies.* What does the Court Card figure bring to this situation? What does it tell you about your relationship to these circumstances?
5. Shuffle the 22 Major Arcana cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This shows why you need to be aware.
The Major Arcana card may represent a goal or desired outcome, a lesson to be learned, something to be mastered—how you can ‘triumph’ in the situation—or what is at risk or to be gained.
What is the first thing that strikes you as you look at this card? Describe the picture in as much detail as possible. How does this card ‘trump’ the situation? Look up the standard keywords and meanings in a book. Explore the individual symbols in a symbol dictionary. Try all of the above possibilities until something clicks.
6. Overview and integration: You’ve drawn three cards out of the Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles (or Coins) suits. Which suits did you get? Does one suit dominate? Do the suit energies harmonize or do they seem to conflict? Are the energies more active and impatient (Wands and Swords)? Or, receptive and patient (Cups and Pentacles)? Is just one suit missing? If so, which one? Is that okay, or is something important missing in the situation? (Usually you don’t need to be as aware of a missing suit as much as you need to be aware of the suits that turned up!)
7. As a daily spread: Write down the cards you’ve drawn and your insights. Do this daily for at least two weeks, then look back over your spreads and write down what you’ve learned. Continue if you so desire. Over time, note especially what cards and suits appear most often and which never appear at all. Does a situation continue to develop in subsequent spreads? How? How do you respond to changing circumstances by bringing forth different parts of yourself ?
If you’d like, please give a sample interpretation, in the comments section, of the cards shown above.
*Note: Yes, looking up card meanings is perfectly fine, whether you are a beginner or experienced reader. You are learning to expand your repertoire of meanings. But don’t forget to really look at a card and say what it seems like to you.
Have you ever noticed that after seeing some films you are snappish or silent, yearning or ponderous, giggly or jumpy, and that the affects can last for minutes, hours or even days, abducting us from our normal means of perception?
I was reading one of my all-time favorite books Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram and came to the part where he describes his own growing awareness that certain movies and books would “surreptitiously enter into my bloodstream, like a contagion . . . a curious spell that my organism was under.” He further characterizes these effects as a “capacity for being drawn, physiologically, into the terrain of certain stories—abducted into another landscape that would only belatedly release me back into the palpable present.” His description is reminiscent of being stolen away into the land of fairy.
I recently experienced such a state after going to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild”: my friends noticed that I couldn’t speak after the movie and that I refused their ride so I could walk home alone. I realized that Abram’s insights provided a second part to my established practice of active reading and movie-viewing, in which I draw cards before partaking of the work so as to sharpen my perception and enrich my understanding and appreciation of the work. Based on Abram’s commentary I’ve designed a spread that assists us in seeing how a work ensorcells us, temporarily coloring our perceptions and feelings and even influencing our actions.
Place the first six cards in a clockwise circle, beginning at the top, with the seventh card in the center.
1. What feeling tone colors my general outlook after seeing the film (or reading the book)?
2. How does this influence my immediate approach or response to things?
3. What fears does it stir?
4. What longings awaken?
5. What shifts do I perceive in my immediate surroundings? How do I see things differently?
6. What do I need from those around me? And, once I’ve answered that: How can I give this to myself?
7. What is the major lesson that this work offers me?
I went to see this movie because some friends had invited me, based on the recommendation of another friend. Before going I knew nothing about it and couldn’t even remember the title. So, I thought I’d try out the Petit Lenormand cards as a prediction of plot. I got Lilies-Clouds-Snake-Scythe-Whip, all of them Court Cards. Turns out it was pretty darn accurate for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” It’s a coming-of-age mythic fable about a little girl, Hushpuppy, and her father who live on a fragile island, the Bathtub, south of the Louisiana dikes in the Gulf. It also features other people who exist in these unbelievably harsh conditions (all the Court Cards). There’s the dying father, a huge storm, a wise female teacher (as well as a dream-like encounter with a mother-figure), the poisoning of the creatures on the island, breaking through the dike, lots of arguments, and the inhabitants battle with the authorities. It’s an emotionally wrenching film with incredible acting – especially by the young girl and her father.
I drew five cards:
- Lilies -Family (also innocence and Father)
- Clouds – the Storm
- Snake – Poison/Wise Woman (at the center)
- Scythe – Decision to stay on the island; Death and Destruction
- Whip – Arguments, violent activity
An even better way to read Lenormand is in pairs:
- Lilies+Clouds – disfunctional family or problems with the father.
- Clouds+Snake – bad mojo, lack of clarity regarding a woman.
- Snake+Scythe – cut off from a woman; a treacherous decision; a poisonous death.
- Scythe+Whip – violent cutting, a decisive battle.
I was prepared for what could be a very dark, tragic film. It almost was, but something else broke through. My strongest thought during the intermission (they have to change the reels at our local art theatre) was, I couldn’t live like that! Several people left.
I later did a reading with the Mary-El Tarot to help me explore my conscious and unconscious reactions, responding directly to her images. I’ll only mention a few brief highlights of what I saw.
1. What colors my general outlook? 5 of Wands. First thought on looking at the growling red lion: “red-in-tooth-and-claw”. I had a very visceral reaction that touched on my most primitive fight-flight-freeze physiology.
2. How does this influence my immediate approach or response to things? 10 of Wands. This shows a warrior with bow and arrows on a horse. Flight. But I also wanted to be a defender of the movie to those who were repelled by it.
3. What fears does it stir? Page of Disks. This image of a sleeping baby with marks like nails surrounding it arouses my protectiveness. I fear that something primally innocent – the exquisite nature of the sentiment in the film – might be harmed. I also fear that I might slumber when I should awaken.
4. What longings awaken? Knight of Disks. The next stage of maturity: Knight as protector of the Page/Baby of Disks. This immediately reminded me of the scene shown in the lead photo above. I long to stand up for and to what might otherwise overwhelm us.
5. What shifts do I perceive in my immediate surroundings? How do I see things differently? 7 of Disks. I see a split, like two separate meteors. I am aware of the lack of words when I feel drawn out of myself.
6. What do I need from those around me? How can I give this to myself? The Tower. Strong words and opinions. Instead, both I and my friends retreated into silence. I can give myself the words, the surpressed fury, the burning to act on this film in some way.
7. What is the major lesson that this work offers me? Ace of Wands. That some creative spark can be birthed out of this fiery angelic torment. The reading is all Fire and Earth.
Words still fail me. Please let me know what you thought of the film and/or your experience in reading cards for enhancing your experience of films and books.
James Redfield’s book The Celestine Prophecy recently came up in a discussion.
I read the book when Redfield first self-published it (he couldn’t find a publisher at the time), as he had given a copy to my brother-in-law. I saw it as a parable consisting of “new age” lessons made palatable through its story form. None of the ideas were new to me and the story was nothing more than a teaching device, but I enjoyed being reminded of things that I had experienced myself when “in the flow.” Reading it reminded me of how it is possible to live in that kind of “reality” (at least for short periods) and what magic can arise from it.
Flying home from a trip to visit my then-husband’s parents, as I read the book on the plane, I was especially intrigued by one section. Having just seen his parents, I asked my husband the same series of questions that the protagonist had been asked about his parents. As a result, Ed and I had one of the most deeply meaningful discussions ever about his life purpose or quest (as revealed through his beliefs about his parents).
When I got home I turned the process into a tarot spread that I’ve since used in many tarot workshops and occasional private consultations (always giving credit). I found it far more powerful to do with Tarot, since the cards suggest what may be, at first, a confusing possibility that, once comprehended, can contain a major breakthrough. This spread/process has resulted in significant insights for people. And, for siblings, and those who never knew one or both parents, it has fostered some remarkable healings.
For each question draw two cards—placing them in two parallel columns: one for your father and one for your mother (keep face down). Turn over and read the cards for one parent first and only after that for the other parent.
The key is to realize that this is not about your actual parents but about your perception of them. The interpretative process should be more about brainstorming possibilities than about applying set meanings. What memories or associations do the cards trigger?
Cards 1 & 2: What did your father(1) / mother(2) stand for and believe in?
Cards 3 & 4: In what way(s) did your father(3) / mother(4) achieve this?
Cards 5 & 6: What kept your father(5) / mother(6) from doing it perfectly?
Cards 7 & 8: What meaning or truth did YOU learn from the above experiences of your father(7) / mother(8)?
Cards 9 & 10: What would you have changed about your father(9) / mother(10) that would have enabled him or her to have a better life?
Use the same cards received above (moving them to their own area of the table) and apply the same conclusions you’ve already drawn (although feel free to add new ones). You’ll be looking at these cards from a different perspective.
Cards 7 & 8 (from Part One): What is the Higher Synthesis or Truth for YOU based on what you learned from your parents? You derive this by blending Cards 7 & 8 along with the insights you had about them.
For instance, a summary of your earlier insights might be: My Higher Synthesis or Truth is that I believe in 7:”standing up for” 8:”the beauty of life.”
Cards 9 & 10 (from Part One): What do you want to find out how to do? This is based on your being able to integrate and do what you believe your father and mother SHOULD have done to live a better life.
Summarize this as:
My Life Quest is to find out how to ________. Combine 9 & 10 into a statement reflecting what you think they each should have done.
For instance, My Life Quest is to find out how to 9:”live my own truth” while 10:”caring deeply for others.” This might also be stated as, “. . . know the truth in myself about caring for and being sensitive to others.”
From this perspective, your Life Quest is to fulfill what you perceive as lacking in your parent’s lives—what you see as their unfulfilled potential or destiny. You combine these perceptions, deriving from the combination something that is unique to you. Thus, it is a kind of spiritual DNA.
As Carl Jung noted: “What usually has the strongest psychic effect on the child is the life which the parents . . . have not lived.” (The Red Book)
I’ll always be grateful to James Redfield and The Celestine Prophecy for this process.
Here’s a classic “reclaimed spread” in the form of a five-card-cross that is most often found in French and continental Tarot books. The version I offer here is from Oswald Wirth’s Tarot of the Magicians, with an introduction by me (originally published as Le Tarot, des imagiers du moyen-age, 1926). Wirth claims to have learned it from his teachers, Stanislas de Guaita and Joséphin Péladan (famous 19th century French occultists). It uses only the Major Arcana. Note that the card layout itself will probably be familiar as it has been adapted to many different kinds of readings, some of them focusing on the four elements or directions with the fifth-essence/situation/resolution in the center. The original spread is quite different. Note: This new edition of the book includes a reproduction of Wirth’s original 1889 Major Arcana!
What’s great about the Oswald Wirth version is that it’s based on the premise that your case is being considered in a court of law with the result being advice or direction for achieving success. The Major Arcana cards that turn up are characters in the resulting courtroom drama and should be seen as acting in a manner aligned with the card and presenting its unique attitudes and perspectives. Ham it up; imagine a scene from your favorite legal-eagle TV show.
Ask a specific question, and using only the Major Arcana, shuffle and cut. Then, taking cards from the top of the deck (*see alternate technique below), place them in the positions indicated.
The first two cards are the lawyers and the evidence presented by the two sides.
THE CARD ON THE LEFT is affirmative, showing what is in favor of (“for”) the situation. It points to what it is wise to do and those people or qualities on which one can depend.
THE CARD ON THE RIGHT is negative (the opposing counsel) and represents what is “against” it. It points to hostilities that should be avoided or feared: the fault, enemy, danger or the “pernicious temptation.”
THE CARD ABOVE is the judge who discusses the evidence, weighs the pros and cons, and may arbitrate between the for and against. The judge helps clarify the decision to be made and gives advice as to what’s required.
IN THE CARD BELOW the “sentence,” result or solution is pronounced. Taking into account the synthesis of the fifth card, this “voice” of the oracle offers a look into what comes from the decision. It may contain a “teaching” about what style, attitude or demeanor is ultimately to be aimed for.
THE CENTER CARD is determined by adding the numbers of the first four cards and reducing to 22 or less.** It is a synthesis of what has gone before, and points out what is of prime importance on which everything else depends. Although placed last, Wirth reads it first, since the situation or topic depends on it.
The Fool is considered 0 when adding or 22 when it is the result of the addition. The fifth/center card may be the same as one of the other four.
* Wirth suggests a special way of selecting the first four cards that you can use if you like. Shuffle the Major Arcana and then ask the querent for the first number between 1 and 22 that comes into her head. Count down that many cards and place the final card of the count in position one. Shuffle again and repeat for each of the next three positions.
** A much superior way of obtaining a reduced synthesis, numerologically speaking, is to add all the cards and then subtract 22 from any sum over that. This is the only way to get a true range of card possibilities as your synthesis. (Thanks to Steve Mangan, aka Kwaw, who did the math!)
In a sample interpretation Wirth asks “How should one advise a would-be diviner?” (That is, What advice should be given to a person who wants to become the best tarot reader possible?)
The cards received give an answer that you might find surprising. Please tell us your interpretation in the comments section, but here’s some direction from Wirth. He begins with the center card, stating that it shows what the divination depends on. He then contrasts the “for” (on the left) with the “against” (on the right): “the Emperor puts himself at the service of Strength to whom the Moon is detrimental, being against.” That is, the Emperor opposes (or reigns in) the Moon. Cards in positions three and four offer instruction. The Judge (above) shows what we must do and the Solution (below) shows what will come from doing that. What do you make of these cards?
This is the Radical Wirth Tarot painted by Carol Herzer, a beautiful, 22-card deck currently available in a limited edition, although perhaps not for much longer.
Most of you have seen or used a spread with four positions based on the four suits of the Minor Arcana. Usually it describes what is going on at four levels: body, mind, emotions and spirit, or some similar quaternity. I sometimes lay out four aces from one deck as position holders and then lay cards from a second shuffled deck on top of each ace. Sometimes a fifth card/position integrates the whole or offers advice.
But, there’s a much more interesting way of using the four aces that also offers far more information.
Four Aces Spread Instructions
• Determine the Spread Intent before you begin (see chart below).
• Shuffle your deck thoroughly, cut, restack and then turn cards over one at a time.
• When you get to the first ace, take the ace and the three cards that follow and place them on the table in a row (left to right). Continue turning over cards until you get to the next ace and the three cards following it. Place them on the table below the first set. Continue with the next two aces until you have four rows of cards on the table.
Exception: if one ace follows another without three cards in between, then the first ace will have less than three cards in its row. The meaning of the short row will depend on what you intuit it to mean in the circumstances. Sometimes it strengthens the card(s) that did turn up. If there are no cards it could indicate that area is not involved in the situation being discussed (consider whether it should be).
Spread Intent: The overall meaning of each row is determined by the ace that leads it. Decide on one of the following sets of meanings (or your own) before you begin:
The Order: The order in which each ace turns up is very important:
- 1st Ace: The Main Character. The primary focus of your attention and energies right now.
- 2nd Ace: The Complication. An area you have not been paying as much attention to but can interfere with what’s going on in the first row.
- 3rd Ace: The Sidekick/Guide. A secondary focus or emphasis. It may help you resolve tensions between 1 and 2, or suggest helpful actions.
- 4th Ace: The Upstart. Something new or “renewed” that will be assuming more importance, possibly as a result of your interactions in the other three areas.
Begin by considering just the four aces in terms of their order in the spread. For instance,
How are Love/Relationships the primary focus of your energies? How are issues around Money and Security interfering? How might focusing on Work and Creativity help? Will you soon need to think about Problem-solving to overcome a difficulty?
Then, read each row of three cards as a unit that describes what’s going on in that position. Ignore the Ace except as it sets that row’s meaning.
Special Cards: The Fool appearing in any row indicates that things are not like they seem; a trickster element is present. The highest Major Arcana in the spread trumps all. You can triumph best by paying special attention to the qualities and lessons of this card and its position.
The sample reading I did was quite extraordinary. My intent was a “Life Sphere” reading. The deck is Kat Black’s gorgeous Touchstone Tarot (catch Kat Black’s interview about this deck on Tarot Connection). Notice that an angel designates each ace.
The Aces were, in order: Wands, Coins, Swords, Cups. The order tells me: Work & Creativity is the primary focus. I’m not paying attention to money (darn it!). I have some Problem-solving to do. Love & Relationships are upcoming—maybe (see comments below). Here’s the spread with a very brief commentary:
Row 1: I am feeling challenged and hemmed in (9 of Wands) by decisions I need to make (Queen of Swords) about the work I love (Knight of Cups).
Row 2: No cards! (The Ace of Swords followed immediately after the Ace of Coins.)
Row 3: I can successfully triumph (World) over the most extreme difficulties (10 of Swords) by calmly applying my wisdom and experience (Hermit) and by letting go of something that is not going anywhere (10 of Swords again).
Row 4: No cards! (The Ace of Cups was the last card in the deck.)
Summary: My overall feeling is that, in order to focus on the work that is most fulfilling to me I need to defend my choices of creative work (despite their not bringing in money) and weed out whatever I can from my list of obligations. If it’s a problem that can’t be solved then I shouldn’t continue trying to do so. While relationships are not at the forefront right now, they will eventually become important again. With the Queen of Swords as my standard Significator and the Hermit as my Soul Card, I’ve got two indications that this is more important than it may seem and the whole issue rests on my own decisions and clarity of purpose. The World as the highest Major Arcana suggests that I can triumph by eliminating what is not part of my Hermit path. Now’s not the time to worry about money or love—although I should be aware that what I’m doing is not helping either.
Alejandro Jodorowsky presents a variation on the Three Card Spread that I’ve found very powerful. I call it “Jodorowsky’s Three Card Theosophic Sum Spread” because you begin with three cards that expand into seven (Major Arcana only). Jodorowky calls it, “Reading three cards according to their number value.” A “theosophic sum” results from adding a set of numbers and then reducing them, usually to a single digit or “root” number but, in the case of tarot, to a number that is 22 or below. By adding all the variations of the numbers in the three card spread you end up with four additional cards (see instructions below).
Jodorowsky was the writer/director of the late ’60s controversial cult films, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, re-released in 2007. The Holy Mountain contains Tarot content, a bit of which can be seen in this video tarot lecture by him (with English subtitles). I encourage you to look at his The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards (co-written with Marianne Costa and formerly available only in French and Spanish). It will be available in English this December—get your pre-order in now. I highly recommend this book (which I’ve been slowly making my way through in Spanish) as an excellent way of understanding Marseille-style decks and especially for in-depth methods of reading the Major Arcana (he also discusses the Minors). Read the rest of this entry »
Charles San introduced the 1973 Causeway Books edition of Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot with an essay, “How to Read the Cards,” in which he recommended this Major Arcana-only spread. It features an interesting way of selecting the cards and, when I first tried it, the cards themselves suggested a way to give the reading additional definition and depth. Here is the spread with my own modifications. (San did not state where to place each card except that they circle around the Significator.)
- Shuffle the Major Arcana and deal out six cards face down on top of each other. Turn the seventh card face up and place it in the middle of the reading area. This is the Significator and represents a starting point for the reading. Return the other six to the bottom of the deck.
- Deal two cards face down and turn one card up, placing this third card at the 10 o’clock position (relative to the Significator). Do this seven times placing every third card in a counterclockwise circle around the Significator [this order is added by me as a result of the example spread that follows]. You will end up with seven cards circling the card drawn in step 1.
- Optional: if unsatisfied that these cards suffice, deal three more cards from the remaining thirteen, taking the third, tenth and thirteen cards, and place them above the circle.
San says you are to build a vision of the “present place in the ebb and flow of one’s life,” as “the individual cards and the combining of them provides one with the reading.” You can read this spread for yourself or one friend, but if three people are present then “the reading that results concerns all three as part of the society in which they live and work.”
Here is my spread using the Golden Dawn / Whare Ra Majors: Read the rest of this entry »
In 1935 the British magazine and book publisher Tomson-Leng produced a set of “Tarot Fortune Cards” that were given away to the readers of “My Weekly”—a women’s magazine. This unusual set of 79 cards (including this verse) is partly based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck but with some significant differences, especially in the suit of Rods [Wands], which owe some of their symbolism to designs published by Eudes Picard in Manuel Synthétique & Pratique du Tarot (1909). The suits are Rods, Cups, Swords and Pence, which, according to Picard, correspond to Fire, Air, Water and Earth‚ respectively, which is why so many Swords cards have water and Cups cards have a butterfly as an air symbol. The Fool is numbered 21 and comes before The World.
This deck is also notable for being chaste and family-friendly with no nudity. The The LWB [little white booklet] is one of the most interesting and original works from this period, having spreads that I’ve never seen elsewhere. None of the spreads list individual position meanings. There are card interpretations for both upright and reversed orientations and often special meanings when the card appears near one or two other cards.
Here is a “reclaimed spread” from the 1935 booklet: Read the rest of this entry »
Do you want a quick ‘yes, no, or maybe’ answer to your advice questions? I’m very excited that Tarot.com is featuring the classic Yes/No Advice Oracle in a much beefed-up version created by me. You will find it featured here for Valentine’s Day. It now has commentaries based on the number of cards you receive in several groupings plus for each Ace and the Major Arcana. It’s designed to provide succinct and to the point advice and direction. Be aware this is a commercial site.
If you try it, let me know what you think, including editorial comments. Some of my text has been changed (understandably to fit their clientele), so I’d like to know what works and what doesn’t work for you.
UPDATE 5/23/2011: There is now a Yes/No Tarot app for the iPad. Unfortunately, they eliminated most of the interpretation data and simplified it down to practically nothing. Still, the opening art sequence is one of the best I’ve seen.