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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.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 »

T-L Info CardIn 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 »

What does it say that I’ve lived in five of the top 12 “Best Cities for Singles” (according to Forbes Magazine), and I have visited another five (of the top 11) in the past seven years (all tarot related trips) yet haven’t dated since my divorce?

I was struck by the oddity of this coincidence (since among the other 28 cities I’ve only lived in one and visited three). [I admit D.C. was a bit of a cheat since we lived in Falls Church though we were there because my father worked in D.C.]

I drew three cards (no spread positions) to answer my question and got (in the order I drew them):

The King of Wands, Five of Pentacles and King of Swords.

I suppose the cities could be pure coincidence, but it doesn’t feel like it, and the spread seems very odd—like something I don’t really want to know. Since, there are times when we all need someone else’s opinion I’d like to ask for help in understanding this. Please comment. Feel free to be wild with your thoughts—don’t hold back. I should mention—I lived in three of these cities as an army brat (King of Swords?). I’ve always loved the travel and no hardship was involved, so it’s hard to see the Five of Pentacles as referring to anything external.

I see this as an example of how the silliest of seeming coincidences can be a catalyst that takes us deep into the hidden realms of ourselves if we bother to look. The question at the top was what popped into my head spontaneously as I looked at the list. I decided to take the question seriously and see what came up.

ADDED: The comments have taken me on an incredible journey of insight that has reached so many levels. However, the most immediately significant thing for me is that my father (identified above as possibly the King of Swords) died on Thursday (9/11-Patriot Day) at a military nursing home. He had worn an electronic buzzer (see bell around cripple’s neck) that would go off whenever he tried to get out of his wheel chair. This seems like a foreshadowing similar to that mentioned in my post on Prediction or Insight. After all, my inquiry arose in the first place because I couldn’t understand why that silly list wouldn’t let me go. I phrased the question in the only way that made sense to me at that time. [BTW, I originally posted this on 9/9 (my time zone was incorrect).]

Is prediction what tarot reading is all about? What if it is not to learn that a particular thing is going to happen but, rather, to explore later what those cards can teach us about what does happen? What if the reading is simply to make us spiritually or psychologically aware of what’s really important and significant in life events—to wake us up to how the outer and the inner reflect each other in a meaningful way?

As an example, I’ll describe a very powerful experience a group of us had in one of my classes (permission granted to tell this story). I had proposed an experiment in prediction. Each member of the class was to draw a Major Arcana card to signify the most significant archetype that would be functioning over the following week. They were then to draw two Minor Arcana cards that would describe the situation that archetype would function within—giving us the particular circumstances and literal details. As a group we made predictions that would be evaluated the following week. (Without reading any further you may want to look at the three cards below and think what prediction you would make.)

The cards Heidi drew from the RWS deck were Judgment, Three of Swords, and Knight of Pentacles. Knowing that Heidi’s father had recently died, we predicted that her feelings of grief for her father would be strongly triggered but would result in some kind of awakening or acceptance of her loss. She told us she would be going to his home three hours away to tie up his financial affairs and we warned that going through his papers would probably be very difficult.

When we gathered the following week Heidi told us that the reading had referred to a very specific dangerous and traumatic event. Given that the assignment was prediction, she wondered (as did we all) why no one had been able to warn her so she could have avoided it.

She had gone to the bank to close her father’s accounts when a man with a gun came in to rob the bank. As the robber waved his gun around, Heidi dropped to the floor in fear for her life. The robber even stepped on her shoulder when he took money from that cashier’s window. To add to it all, he had taken a bank deposit box withdrawal slip containing the address of her father’s house.

When a customer stupidly ran after the robber, Heidi had held and comforted his young daughter, assuring her that her father would be all right (although she couldn’t know that) and that the robber wouldn’t return.

She felt that Judgment referred to her fear for her life. Heidi had faced the thought that she might be meeting her maker. The Three of Swords was her terror and anguish, and the Knight of Pentacles was the robber (jumping in a getaway car with the money), as well as herself (traveling to the bank to deal with money issues). He might even have been the “hero” who tried to stop the robber from getting away. And, of course, it was her father leaving her.

The archetypal images in the Judgment card include a guardian angel, a “wake up call,” emergence from some kind of “boxed” thinking, and a child and parents. Something about being a child to a parent appeared to be breaking into consciousness. Having just lost her father, plenty of early childhood issues were being triggered in Heidi. She was able to be both guardian angel to a terrified child and the child herself.

Heidi also noted that, like in the movie Roshamon, everyone’s judgment varied. Each person at the scene described the robber differently (the three swords crossing each other). And, while most people turned in only a few lines of written description to the police, she had written at least a page and a half, even while realizing that her own judgments might be coloring what she said. Judgment would never mean the same thing to her again!

The strangest thing Heidi found was that she was left with a tremendous fear of revolving glass doors leading outside, and she remembers having had this fear when she was younger—although we didn’t have time in class to explore that. The revolving metal holding the glass was like the metal of the three crossed swords. Of course, death itself is a painful doorway—especially to those left behind on the other side. In essence, Heidi had been robbed of her father, but she ended up assuring a little girl (as well as the child within herself) that both her father and she would be all right. Would it have served her as well to have avoided the situation all together?

Everyone in class agreed that they could never have predicted a bank robbery from the cards Heidi had drawn. However, looking back on the incident, we saw how perfectly they describe the robbery. Much more importantly, they indicate how Heidi was affected and point to unconscious complexes that were triggered by the events. An experience she’ll never forget also became a rich vein of personal alchemical gold that Heidi will be able to mine for years, using the cards in the reading as guides to layers of healing.

So, is tarot best at prediction (since it is too often a hit-or-miss proposition), or is it more ideal for reliably exploring the deeper significance of whatever does happen?

Here’s another forgotten tarot classic.

This “Yes-No Oracle” is by Irys Vorel in an article entitled “How the Gypsies Use the Tarot” from the February 1955 issue of Fate Magazine.

A version of this spread, expanded greatly by me, is now available at the commercial site Check it out.

1. Write your problem or question on a piece of paper in such a fashion that “yes” or “no” could be the answer. Don’t ask ambiguous questions like “Should I marry Rick or Jason?” Situations such as this should be split into two questions.

2. Remove the Wheel of Fortune from the 78 card deck and place it before you face up.

3. Shuffle the rest of the deck, with your mind on the problem. Spread the cards in a fan, face down. With your left hand, draw seven cards at random. Put them face down on top of the Wheel. Set the remaining deck aside.

4. Turn the Wheel of Fortune face down like the other seven cards. Shuffle these eight cards until you no longer know where the Wheel is.

5. Deal the eight cards in a square consisting of four positions (see next), so that there are two cards in each position:

• Top Left: The 1st position (cards 1 & 5) signifies – YES.
• Top Right: The 2nd position (cards 2 & 6) signifies – SOON.
• Bottom Left: The 3rd position (cards 3 & 7) signifies – DELAY.
• Bottom Right: The 4th position (cards 4 & 8 ) signifies – NO.

6. Turn the cards over looking for the Wheel of Fortune. Its position gives you the answer.

• If the Wheel card has fallen in the first position, it indicates “Yes,” and the speedy and favorable solution of one’s problem.
• If in the second, “Soon,” position, it means: “You should not unduly press your interests.”
• If it lies in the “Delay” position, the indications are that some obstacles will have to be overcome.
• If it lies in the “No” position, it indicates adjustments have to be made and circumstances at the moment block the harmonious solution of the problem. Therefore, the wish cannot be fulfilled immediately. After changes have occurred this same wish could be answered in the affirmative.

7. If your answer is either “Delay” or “No,” then look at all the cards in the layout (the reversal of a card has no significance):

• Many Pentacles indicate a financial hitch.
• Swords show opposition.
• Wands suggest journeys and changes.
• Many Cups indicate fortunate circumstances and ultimately a happy ending, especially if the Grail [Ace of Cups] is among them.
• Many Major Arcana indicate that the situation is out of your hands: destiny is at work.
• Many Court Cards indicate that the wishes of other people determine the outcome.

This is not my favorite kind of spread as it seems too deterministic, but it’s worth checking out to see if it works for you. Let me know what you think.

Sample reading: Should I post this spread on my blog?

We can see that the answer is “No” (the Wheel of Fortune is in the bottom-right pair), but I decided to post it anyway. How else can we determine if the advice is good or not? There are three Major Arcana (in addition to the Wheel) indicating that the situation is in the hands of destiny, and two Cups cards, which slightly leans toward a favorable outcome over the long run. I’ll let you know if anything untoward occurs. The deck used is Le Grand Tarot Universel by Bruno de Nys.

Is there any “true” way to lay the cards? Probably not. But here is the first tarot spread to appear in print. It is in an article by le Comte de M*** (Mellet) in Court de Gébelin’s Le Monde Primitif (1781). The spread instructions were followed by a sample interpretation—the dream of Joseph in the Bible. I decided that such a simple but powerful layout deserves to be brought back “into play.” Try it out for yourself.

The layout is best accomplished by two people working together, who have divided the deck into two stacks so that each has one of them:

Person 1 — the 56 Minor Arcana
Person 2 — the 22 Trumps (Major Arcana).

Each person takes their stack, shuffles it, and then simultaneously goes through the stacks card-by-card as follows:

Person 1: Turns the cards of the Minor Arcana over one-by-one while counting Ace, 2, 3, 4, … Page, Knight, Queen, King (use the court card names from your own deck), and continue counting with the Ace. Any card which has the same number or rank as that named is to be set aside. That is, if when counting 5, you turn over a 5 of any suit, that card is selected and put to the side.

Person 2: Goes through the Trumps at the same time, putting down a card each time Person 1 does so, but without turning it over. When Person 1 puts a card aside (because the number and the card matched), Person 2 takes the card he/she put down at the same time and turns it face up next to Person 1’s card to form a pair. When Person 2 has gone through all the Trumps, he/she picks up the reject stack and continues to put them down in the now-reversed order.

The process ends when Person 1 runs out of Minor Arcana cards.

Interpret the resulting cards as pairs.

oldestspread025.jpgFor example, in the first reading I did with this spread, the result of the count was:

Ace of Pentacles — Lovers
Ace of Cups — Sun
Three of Cups — Death
Knight of Wands — Star

These cards had an incredible feeling of power about them. My partner in the reading immediately said, “It’s all about the deaths!” and I realized he was right. We had just found out about the deaths of three people we knew (Three of Cups plus Death). Three incredible people—each making the transition (Knight of Wands) to another world in their own way. They were being shown to us as Beings of Light (the Sun) starting a new phase of existence (the two Aces). I was awed by the beauty of their souls that radiated out from these cards as if reborn in the spirit (the Sun). It was good to feel that they were with loved ones (Three of Cups and Lovers), and it seemed to me that they were riding (Knight of Wands) towards their highest destiny (Star). I took it as a message to us from the other side, saying that they were all right and just where they should be. (Deck: The Albano-Waite Miniature Tarot Cards.)


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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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