In tarot divination, there is a tendency to look at the Major Arcana (aka “trump”) cards that turn up in a reading and say “That’s all well and good as a philosophical abstraction, but what does it really mean for this particular person or situation at this point in time?” Their archetypal aim can be so far removed from the mundane target of explaining “life in the trenches” that it’s often challenging to link the two in any kind of meaningful and constructive way. They can seem like irreconcilable opposites; one is remote and exalted in the extreme while the other can be about as gritty as it gets. It suggests the old back-country colloquialism: “You can’t get there from here.”
We’ve told ourselves all kinds of inspiring things about the trumps in our rush to fit them neatly into our “empowerment” model of the Universe. The Fool doesn’t invariably signify a “dumb move,” it can depict a grand “new beginning;” the Hanged Man doesn’t automatically show a sacrifice, we’re just “waiting things out;” Death isn’t only an inevitable ending, it offers a chance to reinvent ourselves; the Tower doesn’t merely symbolize total devastation, it presents an opportunity to build anew; Judgment isn’t always a non-negotiable “calling to account,” it’s an eye-opening revelation about a promised reboot. What we’re trying to do is take a relative enigma and fashion it into some kind of reassuring certainty. It isn’t always a “sow’s-ear-to-silk-purse” proposition, but the urge to downplay the less appealing aspects of their testimony in favor of a more sanguine outlook is always there.
I’ve made a couple of previous attempts to set the “lay of the land” in archetypal terms when creating tarot spreads. This one is not so much a typical storytelling layout as an approach to unpacking the significance of the trump cards in both practical and ethical terms within the scope of a linear narrative. Each three-card vignette begins with a higher purpose (archetypal trump card), devolves into a hands-on “coming-to-grips” with its inscrutability (pragmatic pip card) and ends with a snapshot profile of the type of “moral character” (personifying court card) best suited to bringing it to fruition. These cards are purposely chosen by the reader to reflect the “best case” scenario for development of the matter at hand, and they serve as a “template” upon which to map the randomly-drawn reading sequence.
Much of this alignment is elemental and astrological in nature rather than functionally qualitative, although I’ve tried my best to make it both. I’m not going to present all possible three-card sets here; like Aleister Crowley, I’ll let the seeker “work out for oneself these correspondences” (which may not necessarily agree with mine). Recognize that these simple series don’t represent the only path from Point A to Point B when attempting to ground the archetypal influences in our private reality, just my own opinion about the most unencumbered and efficient use of the energy. For the purpose of this exercise, I have separated the trumps into three groups: the Fool through the Hermit embody the Will to manifest as an independent individual; the Wheel of Fortune through the Tower show the transformative Way — often fraught with many tests and trials — by which the individual gradually matures from a blind “child of Fate” into a self-aware and ultimately self-governing “citizen of the Cosmos,” and the Star through the World reflect the Wish to finally and irreversibly transcend personal limitations and reach the next level of spiritual attainment.
The lower-numbered trumps (0 through IX), as the “Will cards” of the title, involve inductive reasoning, building up the projection from First Principles, while the higher-numbered trumps (XVII through XXI), the titular “Wish cards,” require a more deductive approach that works backward from the desired outcome to identify the “building-blocks” needed to get there. The first set poses the operational question “What is within my reach right now?” while the second speaks more strategically to “What will further my higher aspirations in the long run?” The middle trump cards (X through XVI) offer a more judicious and nuanced choice as the mediating — or “Way” — card, asking tactically “What should my next step be?” The choice of initial trump card depends on the querent’s present position in the matter and and what they want to know about their future progress. Choose a low-numbered trump when circumstances are still emerging and have not yet settled into a reliable groove, allowing him or her to step in with the “right stuff” at the most opportune moment; select a mid-range trump when the situation has reached a turning point and could go in one of several directions; and focus on a high-numbered trump when the seeker’s affairs have “peaked” and are ripe for a thorough overhaul. The nature of the trump used should bear directly on the context of the question to the extent possible.
As far as tapping into these insights in a reading, I would use a second deck and lay the three pre-selected “best-case” cards in a row or column as an optimal foundation or “road-map” for the rest of the cards drawn, and then compare the draw to the ideal scenario to see how likely the situation is to work out according to its recipe for success. The approach doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to three cards showing the extension of a single archetype, but I would keep it to a single trump at one end and a single court card at the other, and expand the middle with additional minor cards to reflect a developmental progression and not just a single-pointed means of coping. This would enable using the concept as the basis for larger spreads: the trump card would sit beneath the “current situation” or “heart of the matter” card and the court card would underlie the “final outcome” card to show the most credible “mode of becoming” for the querent; everything between the opening and closing cards would describe the “process.” A five-card layout seems perfect for this technique.
The deck I’m using to illustrate this concept is the Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus by M.M. Meleen.
I decided to test my 5-card approach to this method by asking the same question I’ve been chasing for the last few years: “As a professional diviner, how can I become more publicly successful and sought-after?” I chose for my inspiration the time-honored assumption that a skilled cartomancer is both sensitive and intuitive (Queen of Cups), but I focused first on the loftier form of inquiry shown by my preferred trump, the Star as “wish card,” and the mental acuity of the 6 of Swords, “Science,” that is crucial to turning its abstract vision into explicit insights. From there I pass the refined and attenuated knowledge through the “empathy check” of the Ace of Cups to yield a highly evocative “stew” of thoughtful discernment and intuitive wisdom in the 9 of Cups, “Happiness,” the well from which the Queen of Cups draws her well-tempered observations. Consider that last part the “Hallmark” view of modern divination, something I’ve always been ambivalent about. It may have its mystical charms but it isn’t really for me since I consider myself 60% analytical and 40% intuitive in my approach to reading, a style I’ve been pursuing in private practice for more than four decades.
Not entirely to my surprise, I received a very different message from the cards I drew as an overlay for the “foundation” series. It’s telling me to “get on the stick” (8 of Wands) and leave my “comfort zone” (8 of Disks) behind, moving on in practical ways (Prince of Disks) by “sticking my neck out and throwing caution to the winds” (Fool), and advancing with confidence toward my goal (Knight of Wands). That final bit of advice poses no hardship for me since a professed “friend” once told me I “reek of self-confidence.” (I just read an Oscar Wilde quote stating that “A true friend will stab you in the front, not the back.”) It’s channeling the Fool that gives me pause.The cards in the “reading” row are suggesting that I’m going to have to be more nimble and businesslike, and must take a few lumps rather than aspiring to the Orphic “high road” shown by the upper sequence, but the Fool doesn’t look like he wants any part of sensible pragmatism. He wants to fly unfettered, not just crawl, and the Knight of Wands is right there with him; together they describe more the impulsive “dumb move” than the inspired initiative. It’s got me thinking “crash-and-burn” like Phaeton trying to drive the solar chariot of his father, Helios. The cautious 8 of Disks at the very beginning is saying “Don’t invest any money in this!”
I guess I need to recognize that I come from a strong background of carefully-honed skills that I just need to offer more convincingly and effectively to the world; soft-peddling them won’t be productive so some risk-taking is in order. (The elementally friendly Ace of Cups and Prince of Disks at the center of the layout hold promise in that regard.) Recently things have been moving (albeit slowly) in the right direction since I found a way I’m comfortable with to do on-line readings. But what I’m really after is a face-to-face venue that doesn’t involve throwing my home open to total strangers or traveling hours and miles to reach.
The bottom line, though, is that while I’d like to consider this test a failure and try again, I’m afraid it’s all-too-accurate. There isn’t much agreement, either elementally or by fundamental nature, between these cards. The Star and the 8 of Disks are unfriendly by element and at odds in their approach: one is a “master theoretician” and the other is a “bean-counter.” The Queen of Cups and the Knight of Wands are polar opposites in their mood and mode of expression. Only the “nuts-and-bolts” cards in the middle are at all cooperative, for the most part willing to work together but reaching a philosophical parting of the ways with the Fool and the 9 of Cups. Maybe I should just become an engineer, astrologer or tarot teacher . . . oh wait, I’ve already done those.