tarot_scholar: A black mystical-looking sigil on a white background. (Default)
I've complained about the Celtic Cross spread before. And I still hate it! In addition to a "general reading" spread of my own creation (details at the link), I like using the standard astrological houses spread for all-purpose readings, including ones for myself at the solstices and equinoxes. I'm fairly familiar with astrology, and much as I'm not really super into the brand of occultism favored by the Golden Dawn or Crowley et al. (it's a little Christo-pagan for my liking), I recognize that Tarot as the divination tool it is today owes a lot to them, so there are concessions I'm willing to make, and the astrological associations are one of them. I find it to be the best paradigm for the Thoth deck in particular, since it makes no secret of putting the astrology right there in the image for you. Not only that, but astrologically themed readings are by nature complex and systematic, and I can't think of two better words to describe the Thoth deck than "complex" and "systematic."

I should note that within its full context, an astrological spread like this would actually constitute the "third operation," and would only be performed if the first two were successful. But more on that in another post. I have become quite taken with the first two operations myself, but frankly I don't think you need them if you have your own method going, so I'll touch on them later.

Sometimes my understanding of the houses in the context of astrology doesn't always translate to a good intuitive feel for what they would be in a divinatory context, though, so this entry is as much an attempt to share knowledge as it is to nail it down, hah.

Before I dive in, here is some background information on the houses (in the context of natal charts).

Anyway, a finalized version of how I use the houses in a Tarot reading.

The First House

First and foremost, I see this as a summary of the upcoming period in question, or as a significator for the querent (depending on if you're reading about the future or "right now"). If it's a card associated with a particular sign, whether Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, or court card, it sets the the ascendant for the rest of the reading. This is actually really important, because this will determine which cards are well-dignified and which ones are ill-dignified.

For example, let's say that the card that turns up in the first house is The Chariot. This card is associated with Cancer, and thus puts Cancer on the ascendant. The next house will be ruled by Leo, and then Virgo, and so on.

If the card isn't associated with a specific zodiac sign as per the Golden Dawn (so: the Princesses, the Aces, and the elemental/planetary Major Arcana), the natural rulers of the houses are used throughout the spread. In a nutshell, this is how you figure out which cards are reversed (more or less) in the Thoth deck. How I do it, anyway. ;)

It occurs to me after writing all of this up that an alternative method of house distribution in a spread might be continuing until you hit the first zodiacal card in the spread. So if you have The High Priestess, the Ace of Swords, and then the 3 of Wands, you would start with Aries in the third house (3 of Wands being associated with Sun in Aries), which translates to Aquarius in the first house. Or maybe you would check the the angular houses first, than the succeedent, then the cadent. (Angular succeedent cadent whaaat?)

But more on this in another post!

On a less esoteric level, the first house in a Tarot spread represents:

your personality
your approach to the world
the persona you want to project
your body (materially, e.g. injuries or accidents; health overall comes later)

Paul Foster Case's method also includes "[your] own initiative and action" in this category. The natural ruler of the first house is Aries.

The Second House

The second house is about wealth. Specifically: how you earn it. What talents do you have? It's also a house about values: what do you value in yourself? in others?

The natural ruler of the second house is Taurus.

The Third House

The third house is about cognition. It's about knowledge -- the ability to grasp facts, and remember and understand them -- and it's about the world immediately around you. It's about short trips, writing, communication, and siblings. Neighbors also fall into this category, as does basic schooling.

The natural ruler of the third house is Gemini.

The Fourth House

The fourth house is all about family. From siblings in the third house, we're now moving back into ancestors. This is the house that rules the cozy, home-y parent (or the cozy, home-y side of both parents). Traditional gender roles ascribe this to mothers, but it's a new world and gender roles are bullshit. This is the house of the "good cop" in the "good cop/bad cop" parenting dynamic.

Beyond that, it's also the house of real estate, land and property, and everything else about roots.

The natural ruler of the fourth house is Cancer.

The Fifth House

The fifth house is fun. Love affairs, gambling, the arts, children, all that good stuff. This is all about creativity and expressing yourself.

The natural ruler of the fifth house is Leo.

The Sixth House

The sixth house is about work and maintenance and duty. What do you do to keep things going? What does your everyday life look like? This is also the house of health issues (not surprise accidents or injuries, but whatever ongoing problems that you need to take care of).

Case also notes "relations with superior and inferiors."

The natural ruler of the sixth house is Virgo.

The Seventh House

This is about partnerships, unofficial and official (but especially official). It's the house of marriage, contracts, open enemies, negotiations, and court cases.

The natural ruler of the seventh house is Libra.

The Eighth House

One of the two ~scary~ houses in astrology (the other being the twelfth house) because of its historical association with death and matters connected to it (inheritances, spirits, etc.). Good times! The other Big Two in the eighth house (besides death) are taxes and sex. The occult is also part of this house.

In Case's tradition (specifically within his sequence of operations), this house is some bad ju-ju (unless you're inquiring about a spiritual or occult matter). Its reputation is a bit softer today, and we generally refer to it euphemistically as a house of transformations. Its natural ruler is Scorpio.

The Ninth House

The keyword for this house is "broadening horizons." It's related to higher learning (university as opposed to primary school), philosophy, religion, long journeys, and the law. To frame it within the context of the old joke, the third house is about knowing that the tomato is a fruit; the tenth house is about not putting it in fruit salad.

Its natural ruler is Sagittarius.

The Tenth House

This is the house of persona and career. What's your role in society at large? How does the public perceive you? It's also associated with the "bad cop" parent (traditionally the father, but again: gender roles are for chumps) and authority in general: governments, bosses, etc.

Its natural ruler is Capricorn.

The Eleventh House

This is the house of friendship and ideals. Government is the purview of the tenth house; the eleventh is about aspirational political groups. Case also notes "hopes and fears; finances of the employer."

Its natural ruler is Aquarius.

The Twelfth House

The other ~scary~ house of the zodiac, the twelfth house rules the subconscious and the unconscious. It's the house of hidden enemies and blind spots, and it's also the house of anything that takes us out of waking, ordinary life: prisons, hospitals, substance abuse. Case also notes secret societies associated with this house.

Its natural ruler is Pisces.

For example: )

I'll leave out an interpretation there, because this is already getting long for what I wanted. But you can see at least how elemental dignities would provide important context for each card. You can also see why I think a spread like this gives a better snapshot of a person's overall life situation than the standard Celtic Cross.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
People have lots of different opinions on how to best shuffle a Tarot deck, mostly with an eye towards preserving particularly lovely and/or rare decks. Preservation is a concern for me with some decks (I would prefer that my Victorian Romantic keep its gilt edges!), but also of importance to me is the matter of focus. In a typical riffle-in-the-hands-and-bridge shuffle, I tend to get lost in my thoughts; unless I make a point of focusing, my attention is directed away from the matter at hand, mostly because I'm so good at shuffling cards I can do it without thinking. Does that affect readings? Who knows. But I think Tarot at least deserves focus, especially if the matter at hand is important. So I feel better, both about my focus and about preserving my nicer decks, using my Klondike method.

I haven't seen anyone else describe this particular method of shuffling ("shuffling") and perhaps with good reason: it's not truly random—or at least, it's not as close to "truly" random as a riffles shuffle is. (Though, side note: it takes a deck about seven tries with a riffle shuffle to be truly randomized. How many times is your dealer shuffling in between rounds of poker?) My Klondike shuffle method is just a variation on pile shuffling. Pile shuffling is what it sounds like: dealing out cards into a certain number of piles, and then stacking them all together for a "shuffled" deck. While it's probably one of the safest shuffles in terms of preserving cards, it is fairly easy to manipulate. Plus, this is a shuffle that doesn't account for reversed cards. Reversals don't matter much in poker, card tricks, or Magic: The Gathering tournaments, but they can matter a lot in Tarot readings. The randomization (or lack thereof) is a problem I have yet to solve, but reversals is easy enough.

Anyway, enough setup. The Klondike shuffle!

I was a card games and solitaire fiend as a kid. I don't know why. I guess I didn't have a lot of friends? But like everyone, the first version of solitaire I learned was Klondike (thanks, Windows). I found the layout very aesthetically pleasing; honestly my favorite part of the game was dealing out a new hand. So all the Klondike shuffle is, is dealing out a few new games of Klondike, right on top of each other (without turning over any cards). I use 5 piles, or tables, because I have a small space for readings. If I had room to spread out I would probably use 7, like a proper game of Klondike. In other words:

1. Deal out 5 (or however many you like) cards to make 5 (or X) amount of piles.
2. Skipping the first card on the left, deal out 4 (or X - 1) cards in a second row.
3. Move another card to the left and deal out 3 (or X - 2) cards in a third row.

And so on. I like to continue until I've dealt out the whole deck, so once I reach the last pile, I just start another "game" right on top of the first one. But maybe you'd prefer collecting each "game" into a stack to keep things from getting messy.

I find that counting out the cards I'm dealing in each row helps me focus. Counting is weird like that, isn't it? Almost hypnotic. "1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 1 , 2, 3, 4. 1, 2, 3. 1, 2. 1." And repeat.

When the whole deck has been dealt out, I stack the piles together (sometimes starting with the "5" pile and putting the others on top, other times putting them under) and then cut once. I turn one half the deck like I would if I were going to riffle shuffle (to ensure that more or less the same amount of cards end up getting reversed or unreversed; it strikes me that you could also reverse the card you'd turn face-up in a proper Klondike game to add another layer of random) and then start dealing out another set of Klondike games. Once I've done this three times, I consider the deck shuffled enough to read. I cut it twice, then stack, then cut once again, and I read.

Do you have a favorite or unique way of shuffling your cards—Tarot, oracle, or otherwise?
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
It depends on the deck and how the artist intended it to be read. I never use reversals with the Thoth deck, for example; instead I use elemental dignity to determine which cards are well- or ill-dignified. Waite, on the other hand, gives reversed meanings in his Pictorial Guide to the Tarot and so I read that deck with reversals. The LWB that accompanies the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg gives reversed meanings but Robin Wood admits that she does not use reversals, so I use reversals with the Russian Tarot but not the Robin Wood (though sometimes I feel lazy and don't read reversals with the Russian, either!). The companion book to the Victorian Romantic deck gives suggestions for reversals, from what I understand (I can't find a copy of the book alone, only "kits," and much as I love the deck I don't need it twice), though I'm not sure if the artists give any thoughts or philosophies on reading reversals.

I like consistency, and that includes consistency between how the artist would read their deck and how I read it. The deck was designed with a particular reading style in mind, even unconsciously, and I like to maintain that consistency. Generally I find that I do not miss a whole lot by not using reversals 100% of the time, so this philosophy works for me.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)

For the writing project that I mentioned in my last post, I decided a good jumping-off point would be to have a section related to every Tarot card. Since the project is inherently open-ended, setting a limit would be one way of deciding when the story was "over" (or, just as likely, setting a minimum would be a good way generating enough material to work out something like a story arc). I went back through what I had written and decided one particular letter would be a good match for the Knight of Cups.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Knight of Cups in my St. Petersburg deck was missing. (And, also, the Ace of Coins.)

I've been a bad Tarot reader and couldn't recall if those cards had been missing forever or if it had been lost in one of the many international moves it's seen; I couldn't even recall what they looked like. This deck has also seen some abuse, otherwise. A few cards had met with a watery fate and while I had been able to dry the bulk of the wet cards to satisfaction, three or four hadn't fared so well.

What is a Tarot reader to do when some cards aren't doing so well, or are missing altogether?

Waite does not touch on such a minor tragedy in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, nor does a solution manifest itself in the The Tarot of the Bohemians, by Gérard "Papus" Encausse or in Crowley's Book of Thoth. Unfortunately, I don't have access to their older, Francophone sources to see if this was simply overlooked or if the literature really is that quiet on the problem. If I am allowed a moment of speculation: these turn-of-the-century works are so focused on constructing perfect systems and representations, and on the universality of the Tarot, that for them a deck without all its cards would be a machine without a cog. It would work well enough, particularly in the hands of a skilled practitioner, but it seems they would recommend finding a replacement toute suite. Not necessarily the identical card, but at least a stand-in; a good reader will still be able to call up the mental image of the card as well as its associated meanings.

As for contemporary Tarot practitioners, there are lots of Internet anecdotes about people reading with less-than-full decks and the message still getting across, even if the card missing would be central to any readings given. This seems to be the overwhelming majority, though opposition exists. There is also the "Everything is Divine Providence" school of thought, who suggest that the missing cards are missing to tell you a message, whether it's to focus on that particular aspect of your life or to say, "Work with another deck!" Since I don't approach the Tarot religiously or spiritually, I have a tough time reconciling myself to that particular belief. I will meditate on the Ace of Coins and the Knight of Cups later tonight to see if they have any application to me currently, nonetheless.

When it comes to damaged cards, Biddy Tarot (as authoritative a source as any in contemporary Tarot, I suppose) suggests that a little wear and tear is nothing to worry about, unless you personally find it distracting. I am rather fond of that view, even if it is a little bit woo. It is nice to hold a card and be able to say, "Ah, this is from when this thing happened, I remember." The problem is that water damage can make the paper react in funny ways that are as irritating as they are charming, and even interfere with a truly random shuffle and cutting of the deck. That is the one thing I hold sacrosanct above everything else with the Tarot: true randomness.

Unless you personally find it distracting. That, I think, is the crux of this issue. I can't say when the cards in my deck disappeared; I certainly didn't notice anything peculiar about my readings with this deck at all. Since I didn't know then, I couldn't find it distracting. But now that I know, it'll bother me; all the more because of my current writing project. My Thoth deck has all of its cards, but it is simply Not the Right Deck for YNF.

So what am I going to do about my less-than-full deck? I decided to cash in an old Amazon gift certificate and buy another deck to add in the missing cards (and the damaged ones, while I'm at it), and keep it on hand in case of further disappearances/problems. The original deck is one I bought on a very special trip back in the day, so I'd like to keep it close to me as a memento.

tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
I don't read for others very often. Performance anxiety is crippling, to say the least. But on occasion, I do readings—for other ATers, for friends, for others elsewhere in exchange for other goods and/or services on other websites, or I'll just witness them in Tarot forums and journals. Over the years, I've come to realize that some questions get on my nerves more than others. They can be broken down into these categories:

1. "What will be the winning lotto numbers?" (Smartass questions)

'nuff said.

2. "Will I ever be truly happy again?" (Predestination questions)

I actually got this question from a friend about this time last year. Aside from the melodramatic language involved, the amount of passivity in the question is enough to make me spit.

Funny that someone as fatalistic as me would get spitting mad about someone else's passivity. Isn't that what fatalism is all about? If I may wax scholarly for a moment, there's a line from Book III of Milton's Paradise Lost, where God says that his foreknowledge of the Fall had no causal relationship to its happening. If I know you're going to be shot in a hold-up in three weeks' time, that doesn't mean I'm the one pointing the gun at your head.

On the flip side of the coin, allow me to present a selection on quantum physics from The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil:

As a photon wends its way through an arrangement of glass panes and mirrors, its path remains ambiguous. It essentially takes every possible path to it (apparently these photons have not read Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken"). This ambiguity remains until observation by a conscious observer forces the particle to decide which path it had taken. Then the uncertainty is resolved—retroactive—and it is as if the selected path had been taken all along.

And finally, my own little image that I came up with back in high school. I still think it works, personally, but of course I am biased.

Everything is a paramecium, with each individual being one of the little cilia around the outside, propelling the paramecium through the water. The individual motion of each cilium is radically free (relatively), and it all adds up to a motion that propels the paramecium. But the motion of the other cilia also propel the paramecium. Where the paramecium goes is really the biggest influence on where you end up in life, whether you're Hitler or Mohatma Ghandi, and over that you have very little control. Some...but not much.

These are the best examples I can come up with illustrate my philosophy on the matter. We have choices in matters, but the end of the matter is inevitable. But just because it's inevitable, we shouldn't throw away the power of our own will. Every Tarot reader always says, "But the future's not carved in stone." And that is precisely it. After the fact, the future will be seen as inevitable, and from a deity-like perspective it always will be inevitable. But we don't exist in that deity-realm, we exist as the photons hitting the glass right now. At every moment, we make choices. To resign yourself to a certain future, or to think you have no say in the matter, sucks all of the joy out of life. No Tarot reading should dictate your every move, no matter what it says.

3. "What was I like in a past life?" (Begging the question)

Any question like this which assumes, as part of its question, something you can't already verify, makes me icky. If you pose a question like this to a Tarot reader, it's pretty difficult to come up with a reading that says, "Actually...you don't have any past lives." These kinds of questions almost always tend to be reincarnation related ones, but I imagine you can extend them to other topics, where you inquire about the nature of X without first verifying that X actually exists. Tarot provides great and in-depth insight regarding a variety of issues; any random selection of cards can be interrelated in a variety of ways. To give an in-depth reading on something that doesn't exist in any sense of the word (physically, metaphysically, conceptually) is, simply put, a bit silly, and probably one of the reasons so many skeptics poo-poo Tarot (and any kind of divinatory practice).

One can argue with this one if that one is SURE of X through other means, then inquiring about X via the Tarot is entirely kosher. And I'll go ahead and say sure, your UPG is perfectly legit, and if you're consulting the Tarot to expand on it, go for it, that's awesome. But without that UPG, I really can't see that kind of question as anything other than, well, fluffy.

There are others, I'm sure, but I think they all fall into one of those categories. I'm very careful to judge my own questions against these criteria and to make sure I'm not falling into the traps of 2 or 3. And I find that the stronger the question, the better and more comprehensible the answer.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
Umbrae's month of May rant on AT included two very interesting questions, ones he said anyone interested in reading Tarot professionally should consider:

Why do I want to read (for others)?

Why do people come to us?

I think these are important questions to consider no matter what you do with the Tarot.

Why do I want to read (for others)? )

Why do people come to us? )
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)


My biggest struggle is reconciling the mystic with the scientific. A good cold reading can be extremely impressive and, at first glance, look and feel extremely "real"; not all cold readers are as clumsy as John Edward. The myriad of ways we communicate without even knowing about it, the sheer volume of information we radiate when we talk (and often when we don't), is really an exciting and mind-blowing concept. Things like our dress and posture convey so much, and our body language even more. Check Amazon for books on topics like "body language" or "non-verbal communication" and you'll find plenty of sources.

The fact that a skilled interpretation of these cues, in addition to standard "cold reading" methodology, can sound very much like a "good" Tarot reading, is a bit troubling (at least for me). How can you know you're reading Tarot cards instead of a person? Is that all there is to it?

The line is blurry for me, especially since cold reading and Tarot reading have one big thing in common: interact with the querent.

A cold reader will toss out a bunch of general statements and then periodically ask for confirmation from the querent. In addition to a simple yes or no, the querent often volunteers additional information: for example, the cold reader says that something traumatic has happened recently in the querent's life. He stops and asks for confirmation, and the woman says that her father died of cancer last year. The cold reader than picks up that specific fact and runs with it some more. Repeat that for a few more general statements.

This sounds a little too familiar, doesn't it? The 3 of Swords shows up in a querent's reading, and we say that there's some kind of heartache going on. The end of a friendship or relationship, death, what have you. We ask for the querent's input and they say yes, they had to leave a job they really liked. We then take that fact and incorporate that into the rest of the reading.

What's the difference between the two?

After all, any and all good Tarot readings could be cold readings in disguise; people who think they are psychic just have a natural "knack" for cold readings. There are a fair amount of "psychics" who have admitted as such.

True, the Tarot reading has at least some restrictions built in by virtue of having visual cues to go by. Instead of just starting with random generalizations that apply to anybody, there are now specific (though still general, in a way) situations outlined by the cards. If you have, say, The Wheel of Fortune rx, The Tower, and Death in a simple three-card spread, you're not going to start with sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. The combination of those cards is pretty clear, and pretty clearly not fun. The cold reader has no such "requirement" to limit (or guide) him.

Even without this information fishing, people are designed to make sense out of chaos. Give a general enough outline of a problem or situation, and people will do most of the interpretation themselves to apply it to their own lives. That, and people are often unsure of themselves; if an "expert" tells them that they are this or that way, they will be inclined to agree just to make sense of themselves. Consider the Forer/Barnum effect:

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

How many of these statements would you say were true about yourself? How accurate would you say this description of you is? Consistently, people have given this "result" of a personality test very high ratings, anywhere from 4 to 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. Never mind that it's just a bunch of randomly chosen but very general statements.

Likewise, there are certain situations that people are more likely to see a Tarot reader about: career, love, health. Often times when I am faced with a relationship question, for example, the advice I'd give without reading the cards is the same as I would without: back off, cool your heels, this person isn't a good idea. Maybe this means I need to work on reading what the cards actually say instead of fitting them to my own preconceived answer, but nonetheless the commonality of human experience is not easily ignored.

So I find myself in a predicament where, while I know all of this, I can't help but believe, somehow. I have gotten plenty of readings that seemed little more than cold readings—here I'm thinking of a five dollar palm reading I got for shits and giggles at a music festival from a heavyset Latina woman who told me to go into real estate—but other ones I've gotten seem so much more than that. Ones over the internet where there is no interaction or questioning, but where very specific situations have been picked out with a minimum of generalities, and no methods of "hot reading" (illicitly searching for information on the querent, like going through wallets and coat pockets, etc) were available to them.

So then, to the original question: What is the difference between a good cold reading and good Tarot reading? I don't have the answer, and I don't think I ever will. But I will keep plugging away.
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