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Jean-Claude Flornoy’s book Seeing the World: Tarot Signposts on the Path to Perception (translated from the French by David Vine), features what Flornoy describes as “the cadillac of readings,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. Flornoy was a French artist and tarotist who died in 2011. He was the foremost recreator of the earliest French tarot decks beginning with the Jean Noblet deck (Paris, 1650). His book features a quirky, individualistic interpretation of Marseille-style decks that is worth reading if you want to shake yourself out of many of the Anglo assumptions about Tarot that most of us labor under. Personally I found the book exciting for this very reason. However, what thrilled me most was Flornoy’s introduction to a spread concept I hadn’t seen before that he learned from Parisian Jean Assens. With David Vine’s permission I’m presenting it here. It is very briefly described in the book, focusing only on the layout procedure, so I’ll include my own developing insights into its use.

The Assens-Flornoy Pyramid Spread

Using only the Major Arcana, ask your question, then shuffle and lay out all 22 cards, face down, in the 21-position pyramid layout (see below) beginning on the bottom left. The positions are the same as the Major Arcana laid out in numerical order, but you’ll be putting face down cards from your shuffled deck into each position, in order from 1 to 21 plus one card that lies outside the pyramid.

21
19..20
………………..16..17..18……….222/0
12..13..14..15
7….8….91011
1….2….3….4….5….6

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Jean Noblet Tarot recreated by Jean-Claude Flornoy

The final, 22nd, card goes on the right; Flornoy called it the “Outside Card.” You start by interpreting this Outside Card in relation to the question. The next card to be turned over should be the card in the pyramid layout that corresponds to the number of the Outside Card. For instance, if you get 9-Hermit as the Outside Card, then the next card you turn face up will be the card in the 9th position. If that card is 6-Lovers, first you interpret it, and then you turn up the card in the 6th position, and so on, interpreting each card as you go. I call this chaining.* Continue until you turn up The Fool. As The Fool has no number, the reading stops here. Flornoy says that if you need more information you can pull supplemental cards from a second deck (but he doesn’t explain what you do with these). You may reveal, in total, as few as two or three cards or almost the entire Major Arcana! Unrevealed cards are either in their own position or form their own group of mutually linked cards. You don’t look at or read the unrevealed cards at all.

I’ve been obsessively using this spread and have developed a few additions of my own.

Rather than pulling supplemental cards for more information, as Flornoy suggests, I prefer taking the archetypal card’s position into consideration. This is similar to reading an astrological planet in its “house” in a chart. To ascribe uniqueness to each item in the pair I think of the preceding card as asking a question of the card that lands in its position. This will become obvious in the example.

Here’s a reading I did, laid out on top of the Noblet Tarot, which is my own addition to this spread technique. (You don’t need to use a second deck beneath.)

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Pam’s Tarot dealt atop the Jean Noblet Tarot

As I was listening to a news program about Donald Trump’s potential legal problems (regarding Manafort and Michael Cohen) I decided to ask what the cards thought of Trump. With 14-Temperance Reversed as the final “Outside Card” I felt Trump was out-of-balance; his temperament or “humors” were askew and that the spread would especially address his temperament problems. Next, I turned over the card in the 14th position and found 15-Devil. I asked the question “What is creating this imbalance?” The Devil seemed to speak of obsession, enslavement, blame and guilt, plus a focus on “upmost materiality” (the latter is the Golden Dawn meaning). Based on my reaction to 15-Devil, I then asked of the next card, “Where does this negativity come from?” and turned up the card in the 15th position, 18-Moon. This card seemed to suggest that Trump is deceiving himself as well as others, arising from deep-seated unconscious instinctual behavior. Turning to the 18th position I asked, “Of what is Trump unconscious?” and got 2-High Priestess Reversed, which said to me that he lacks empathic sensitivity and can’t hear the inner voice of Wisdom (he’s out of touch with what we might call the Feminine).

To reiterate: my addition to this spread technique is to view the preceding card as asking a question of the card that lands in the numerical position (of that preceding card). Think of these two cards as a pair: the earlier card asks a question that the subsequent card responds to. You may want to examine the cards by placing them in pairs. Based on your interpretation of the first card, your intuition suggests a question that it asks of the subsequent card in the chain. For instance:

After considering the meaning of the Outside Card (14-Temperance Reversed), turn one of its meanings into an open-ended question like “What needs to be balanced?” or “Where is there imbalance?” or, in an issue regarding creativity, “What is blocking the creative flow?” The next card in the chain provides a response. Sometimes the second card makes you aware that the question wasn’t phrased quite right. That’s okay, just adjust your question.

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15-Devil now poses a question of the card in the 15th position, 18-Moon:

IMG_4580 2

If you wish you can go through the rest of the cards for yourself. I admit I was at first stumped by 19-Sun in the position of 6-Lovers (the Lovers card was reversed and in the position of 5-Hierophant = one’s morals). Upon considering the question, “How is he deceiving others?” I figured The Sun might point to his relationship with his Base (Lovers) who feel he can do no wrong. However, The Sun, featuring a child with a feather in his hair, brought to mind the image of the “Baby Trump” balloon flown in the air during Trump’s trip to the U.K., and I couldn’t help chuckling.

Version 2

This spread was the first time I turned up more than a half dozen or so cards before reaching The Fool, where I stopped. The only card not revealed turned out to be 17-Star, in its own 17th position. Technically these cards are not to be read, but with The Fool in the 9th-Hermit position and 17-Star unrevealed, it seemed to reiterate the lack of personal insight and integrity in Trump’s psyche that had previously been shown.

I want to note that I was very aware of projecting my own feelings onto the cards as I read them, so the above interpretation in no way represents an objective analysis of Trump, but rather my own perception of him. It was startlingly clear to see my opinions take precedence over any other interpretation of the cards. When reading for myself, I find it is an opportunity to become conscious of my own semi- and un-conscious perceptions of a matter. It is through the Tarot that I’ve learned to see through to many of my own biases and assumptions. But, that’s another discussion.

I believe you can also summarize the spread by reading the cards that were revealed in the order they were laid out – that is, positions 1 to 21 sequentially and by rows—especially since some of your spreads will reveal an entire row or two while leaving most of the other cards unrevealed. The centrality of positions 9, 17 and 21 seem to stand out and may be especially significant, perhaps as “Destiny” or “Wisdom” positions?

This is one way to use all those luscious Major Arcana-only decks. Reversals are optional. Let me know what you think of this spread and any insights you have as to how to interpret it.

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*”Chaining” is a technique used with the 36-card Lenormand Grand Tableau. Toward the end of a Grand Tableau reading you can chain or link cards in a similar manner, starting with the querent’s significator. You determine its position number, find the card having that number, then from its position find the next card, and so on, stopping when you circle back to a card you’ve already read. This chain of cards serves as a kind of confirmation or summary of the whole reading. With The Pyramid Spread it is the entire reading.

 

ImageIt’s been a long time since I was really excited and intrigued by a new ‘how-to’ book on reading the Tarot. Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov’s Tarot—The Open Reading is a book I just have to share with you. Ben-Dov describes the Tarot as a work of art, through whose details a full range of human experiences can be revealed. First, the book features the Marseilles Tarot deck—a deck that’s gaining greater interest and appreciation among English-speaking Tarotists. This deck is pre-occultized, as the images are not modified to conform with esoteric systems. While not identical to early 15th century decks, it expresses a folk tradition that dominated for at least three hundred years (out of the nearly 600 year history of Tarot) and is still the major style found in much of Europe. Additionally, Ben-Dov has created what I believe to be the most elegant restoration of the classic Conver Marseille deck available (see below). This process aided him in his close attention to detail in the cards.

What has been notably missing in English Tarot literature are good, non-Waite-based meanings for the four suits. You need look no further. The focus here is on reading the cards through the scenarios one perceives when looking at the images. For the Majors, Ben-Dov says the possibilities are open. Nevertheless, he points out valuable interpretive perspectives derived from symbolic, historical and mythological associations, many of which I found both original and obvious (once-stated)—in other words, extremely helpful as kick-starter phrases for the cards. Through comparison and contrast of visual details he demonstrates how the cards relate to one another. Emphasis is on a therapeutic approach, rather than being predictive or proscriptive. Providing an excellent introduction to practical reading skills, he stresses developing familiarity with psychological practices, for which he specifically recommends Irvin D. Yalom’s outstanding guide to interacting effectively with clients, The Gift of Therapy.

Previous authors stressed one of three approaches to the Minor pip cards: 1) a straightforward transfer of the Waite-Smith Minor Arcana meanings to the Marseille deck, 2) a memorized meanings often derived from Etteilla, or 3) a personal synthesis of number-plus-suit meanings for each card. Ben-Dov bases his Minor Arcana explications on the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, emphasizing visual cues in the cards along with number, which make their arrangements ‘sensible,’ and therefore easy to learn and build on. His descriptions of the thematic progression within the Major and Minor suits provide an immediate handle on each. In keeping with his therapeutic approach, the Court Cards represent attitudes and characteristics of the querent rather than other people, although there’s nothing to stop you from applying them to others. I only wish that Ben-Dov had included sample readings utilizing the Minors like he did for the Majors, as his examples were so insightful.

Spreads are kept simple, with some innovative approaches to working with both Major and Minor suit cards that are well-worth trying out. His instructions for creating your own spreads gives you an infinite palette of deeply meaningful options to choose from.

I have two pet peeves: Ben-Dov completely ignores the first two hundred years of Tarot’s history when he describes the Marseille Tarot as the ‘genuine model’, with the ‘true order’ for the cards, saying it offers, “the most faithful and accurate representation of the ancient Tarot symbols.” The oldest decks (15th century Italian) are quite different in style, and there were several different orders for the cards in its first century. It would be better to describe the Marseille-style decks as the most long-lasting, consistent design (which is not to be scoffed at). My second pet peeve involves misunderstandings of the Golden Dawn system of Tarot reading, resulting in minor errors that are not centrally relevant to this work. Personally, I think he should have left out his few Golden Dawn references or listed the differences in an appendix.

Overall, this book offers fresh, practical instructions for reading the Marseille Tarot that will give you a great appreciation for the details and special characteristics of the deck that first inspired tarot divination. Additionally you will gain lots of valuable insights into the reading process itself.

Works Mentioned:

Tarot—The Open Reading by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

The CBD Tarot de Marseille deck, created by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

The CBD Tarot de Marseille app for Android.

The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.

The Way of Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Note: Yoav Ben-Dov has generously made his deck and basic interpretations freely available for use for non-commercial purposes via the Creative Commons concept – http://www.cbdtarot.com/download/

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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