In 1928, Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell recorded one of the first blues “standards,” How Long Blues, with the lyrics:
“Heard the whistle blowin’, couldn’t see no train
Way down in my heart, I had an achin’ pain
How long, how long, baby how long”
What, you’re asking, does this random piece of music history have to do with divination? Trust me . . .
A frequently asked question on the tarot forums is “How long is a reading ‘good for’ from the day it is performed?” The wisest advice I’ve seen is for the reader to build a target time-frame into the question: “What will happen in my relationship with ‘X’ in the next three months?” Barring that creative bit of foresight, there is a wide range of opinions. Here is mine.
I’ve worked with the Celtic Cross spread for almost 50 years now, and my general approach to the subject of reliable duration is that, if it’s going to happen at all, the “near future” of the matter should emerge within a few days to a couple of weeks (usually no more than a month, with the “recent past” covering a similar span in the opposite direction). I expect the final outcome (Card # 10) to occur within no more than 3 to 6 months; everything between the “near” and the “far” is transitional. Call it positioning and development, or “setting the stage for the last act.” I know that some people believe that a tarot prediction can be “good” for a couple of years, but I find that assumption flawed for a very sound reason: none of us lives in a vacuum.
Most of us interact with other people on a daily basis, and I can see no reason, in situations where we have or may develop a shared destiny, why theirs is any less relevant than ours. The cards may say that something will happen to us in the next six months, but another person, who may not have appeared on the scene yet but who has or will have an equally valid stake in the predicted event, could have a delayed reaction of, let’s say, a year. To my knowledge, there is no agreed-upon way to split the difference when there is one central event and two or more participants other than to go with the longer estimate, just to be safe. Where it’s feasible, we might just read for the “group,” but there may not even be one at the time of the reading. With the fluidity of future circumstances, there are some things we can’t know and it wouldn’t be prudent to assume.
This rule-of-thumb isn’t limited to the Celtic Cross. After six months, the querent’s external environment, whether or not linked to the priorities and agendas of another individual, can “go out of focus” to the point that no reading should be trusted without reservation. The Universe moves on and individual paths diverge as well as converge; it may decide that events we are anticipating are no longer part of its master plan; in that case, the advice should be “Don’t hold your breath!” With the exception of the Lenormand Grand Tableau, an extended life-reading layout of 36 cards that is typically “good” for a period of 6-to-12 months, I prefer not to make predictions in excess of six months. (And no, it’s not because I want to solicit more business). Life can be like a “skein” of yarn: not every strand is going to lead somewhere important (but don’t tell my long-dead grandmother that, she was a knitting wizard); tarot sometimes yanks on a thread that leads to a dead-end, and the more time that passes, the less likely it is to deliver a meaningful experience. Prediction is a dicey business at best, and the more cross-currents that enter the picture, the more cautious we should become. Timing accuracy is often the first casualty of any significant adjustment in scope.
I have little faith in the conventional wisdom regarding the timing aspects of the tarot suits or elements. Wands is undoubtedly the most rapid suit (although some people make a case for Swords) and Pentacles is the least prompt in its action, but I couldn’t tell someone with a straight face that an occurrence tied to the 10 of Pentacles is likely to take ten years to materialize. I have no problem saying “fairly soon” or “not soon, if at all,” but everything between the two extremes is a vast gray area. If asked, I will give my reasoning for a rough estimate based on the cards, but I won’t present it as anything other than an educated guess. Come to think of it, though, every cartomantic forecast is nothing more than informed conjecture. Turning its portent into reality (or, conversely, heading it off before it matures into something nasty) is the querent’s job, and the timetable is theirs. If it’s something they want badly and the cards encourage it, the delivery could be accelerated; if it’s something that causes them mortal fear and the cards show an indefinite delay, they will either come back in six months for another reading or blithely go on their way pretending to be none the wiser.
The subject of how long a tarot prediction can be considered reliable is a fascinating one. This becomes especially interesting when an attempt is made to forecast circumstances and events an entire year into the future. In general I will use the Lenormand Grand Tableau for this purpose because its numerous “departments of life” can be analyzed both independently and in combination where they overlap. With tarot there is seldom a sufficient amount of depth in the narrative to cover all of the possibilities, mainly because a reading is the signature of a particular moment in time, and the farther away we get from that moment the less dependable the augury becomes as different opportunities and challenges present themselves. This arises most conspicuously when more than one “life-line” or personal destiny is involved in the projection, since it seems to me that people stay “on the same page” for shorter periods of time than was once the norm.
“Chaos theory” is instructive in contemplating this phenomenon: the concept that all things become more disorganized and less predictable over time. In this instance I might describe it as an expression of “metaphysical entropy.” I deal with this by treating a year-long tarot outlook as a broad overview and then performing smaller update readings at the beginning of each month to adjust and refresh the details. However, one of the more precise spreads I’ve come across for long-range divination is the “Wheel of the Year” with its twelve monthly “data points.” This has worked most effectively for me in depicting monthly weather patterns over an extended time-frame.
I know there are people who claim that their prognoses have “come true” more than a year after the date of a reading, by which they conclude that the “window of validity” is entirely elastic with no arbitrary limit on its duration. That said, I believe it is advisable in professional reading scenarios to adopt certain rules of thumb, since nobody wants to be told “Your situation could change next week, next month or a year from now.” (A cynic might say that if we don’t do this we might never get repeat business from our paying clients, but that’s another subject.) As mentioned above, I will usually describe a ten-card Celtic Cross reading as being “good” for a period of three-to-six months; while I seldom do them for other people, three-card and five-card spreads are likely to be potent for a shorter span, perhaps on the order of a couple of weeks to a month. A compelling case can be made for the “lunar month look-ahead” reading as a practical approach to near-term prognostication because it is regulated by the phases of the “lunation cycle.” Astrologically, the Moon is a fleeting influence that changes its “face” approximately every 3.5 days, creating a fast-paced developmental track that doesn’t cut very deep, perfect for a more routine forecast since entropy can’t gain much of a foothold in that galvanic environment.