“Situational Wallpaper” — The Quintessence, Sub-quintessence and Grand Quintessence

Modes of Numerological Reduction:

9+16 = 25; 2+5 = 7, the Chariot (“theosophical reduction”)
9+16 = 25; 25-9 = 16, the Tower; 16-9 = 7, the Chariot (“casting out nines”)
9+16 = 25; 25-22 = 3, the Empress (“block reduction”)

The idea of summing and then numerologically reducing the values of the cards in a tarot spread to arrive at a single Major Arcanum card as a high-level summary of the individual details serves as a kind of “capstone” to the narrative. This practice seems to have entered the modern tarot world via the books of German tarot writer Hajo Banzhaf, but I recently learned that it has an historical antecedent in French cartomancy via the technique known as tirage en croix. The customary way to do this is via “theosophical reduction” or adding together of digits as shown in the first example above, although it has certain limitations; other more inclusive methods involve “casting out nines” (subtracting increments of “9” from the sum total as many times as necessary) and “block reduction” (my term), which removes sets of 22 from the aggregate.

I have elaborated on the original concept by proposing the use of sub-quintessence cards that examine sub-sets of the overall layout, and a “Grand Quintessence” that integrates the values of the sub-quints with that of the normal run of cards. I’ve also adopted the practice of including the court cards in the calculation, something that both Banzhaf and Alejandro Jodorowsky advised against, since I believe all the cards on the table deserve to be included in any interpretive roll-up. The rationale for not doing so is that the court cards have no numbers on their faces, but they all have intrinsic values via their place in the series. Another alternative technique I’ve experimented with is subtracting the values of reversed cards in a spread, thus enabling reduction of the total to zero or below (something that “theosophical reduction” can’t produce, although “casting out nines” and “block reduction” can), allowing the Fool to remain as “0” and introducing the idea of a reversed quintessence card. Here is a detailed explanation.

The Summary Card or “Quintessence”

The practice of drawing a “clarifying” card (or cards) as an enlightening postscript to an inconclusive or puzzling outcome is useful as far as it goes. But the advice thus obtained is merely tacked on to the reading, it isn’t an integral expression of the totality of the spread. A better way would be to use numerological summing and reduction to arrive at a distillation of meaning from the cards already on the table — known as the “quintessence” or “quint” card. In this approach, each card in the spread is given an individual numerical value as follows:

The Major Arcana (the 22 “Trump” cards) are assigned the values shown by the numbers or numerals on their faces.

The Minor Arcana (the 40 “small” cards) are given the numbers associated with their places in the suit sequence, from one to ten, again as shown on their faces in most tarot decks.

The unnumbered Court Cards (the 16 “royal” cards) are allotted numbers from 11 to 14 (Page/Knave/Princess = 11; Knight/Prince = 12, Queen = 13, King = 14) or, more esoterically, numbers related to their positions on the Qabalistic Tree of Life (traditionally, they become 2 [King = Father], 3 [Queen = Mother], 6 [Knight = Son] and 10 [Page/Knave/Princess =
Daughter]). Either of these methods will work as long as consistency is maintained from one reading to the next. (Note that not all readers include court cards in the calculation.)

The numerical values of all the cards in a completed spread are summed and then reduced in accordance with standard numerological principles, resulting in a total between 1 (the Magician) and 22 (an archaic numeration for the Fool). The Major Arcanum corresponding to that number is then chosen to represent the “quintessence” and is read to reveal seminal aspects of the matter that were left untold (or poorly told) by the original outcome card. Reversed cards in the spread can also be handled as negative numbers that are subtracted rather than added during the calculation, allowing an otherwise unattainable reduction to zero (position of the modern Fool). If the result of the numerical reduction is a negative number, the quintessence card is considered to be reversed. Quintessence cards that also appear in the body of the spread would be of special importance to the reading since their emphasis is magnified and brought forward. This eventuality requires the “quint” card to be introduced from a second deck if it is to be placed in the layout.

There are other ways to arrive at the same destination; the possibilities are limited only by the ingenuity of the reader. One is to derive interim summary cards (or “sub-quintessences”) that can be read as narrative vignettes supplementing the main story-line. An instructive example is a routine 9-card “3x3” spread, in which 3-card sequences are often read as mini-tableaux. Each of the three-card columns, rows, diagonals, and any other possible three-card combination can be numerically summed and reduced to produce a summary card for each sub-set. The assembled “sub-quints” are then read as their own sub-plot to the overall tale, or their separate values can in turn be summed, reduced and added to the cumulative value for the 9-card sequence to arrive at a “grand quintessence.” Applying this transitional method to other types of spreads that don’t exhibit a natural ternary structure (like the Celtic Cross) would require an adaptation of the technique described here.

Since this chain of supplemental cards will always be trumps, it may be best to treat them as showing the broader “lay of the land” for the testimony given in the spread proper. Think of them as “situational wallpaper:” rather than foretelling inevitable events of a life-altering nature, they often serve as profound “background themes” or big-picture “stage-setters” for the seeker’s personal drama, much like a theater backdrop. They invoke a climate that is ripe for certain occurrences, but the querent must still command the forces present in the original layout (“strike while the iron is hot”) or miss the best chance for decisive action.

Here are brief definitions for each trump card reflecting possible incentives or disincentives of a particular type that can be applied at any level of the quintessence operation. Note that these aphorisms reflect my own esoteric take on the Major Arcana; you may have other preferences.

Fool: An adventurous spirit enters the matter; it’s no time to hang back, but be careful
Magician: Pay meticulous attention to detail; remain nimble, adroit and resourceful
High Priestess: A time for silence; keep your opinions and intentions to yourself
Empress: Harmony prevails, relax and enjoy it while it lasts
Emperor: A time to get your affairs in order, stand firm in your ways and “hold the line”
Hierophant: Cultivate conservatism and caution; seek sage advice and keep the faith
Lovers: A crossroads looms ahead, offering a high road and a low road; choose wisely
Chariot: Victory in all practical matters is indicated; capitalize on the opportunity
Strength: Self-control is vital at this time; “play to your strengths” and don’t over-reach
Hermit: Incites prudence and detachment; keep your own counsel and look out for #1
Wheel of Fortune: A mixed omen; Dame Fortune smiles, that is unless she decides to frown
Justice: “Just desserts” are on the menu; try to be worthy and not wanting in virtue
Hanged Man: A time for patience and introspection; bide your time and “hang in there”
Death: A necessary disengagement portends a new direction; “go with the flow”
Temperance: A time to adapt and adjust, exercising discretion and finesse
Devil: Deception and manipulation threaten now; don’t be naive at this time
Tower: A stormy, unstable period is at hand that may yet bring opportunity, although with the risk of misfortune
Star: The stars align, be ready to “catch the wave”
Moon: A clouded interval of moody uncertainty lingers
Sun: Bright prospects abound for calm waters and smooth sailing
Judgement: A “wake-up call” of some kind grows likely
World: The end is near, fortunate or otherwise

Using numerology in this fashion, a more informed, integrated rendering of the subtle or concealed aspects of a spread can be obtained using cards already laid without resorting to a “cold” draw from the balance of the deck as is done with “clarifiers.” I have also posted a visual run-through of all the possible options for calculating the quintessence:

Originally published at http://parsifalswheeldivination.com on August 1, 2017.

I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at www.parsifalswheeldivination.com.

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