A while back I wrote a post about reading in the flow. I wanted to just title it "storyweaving with Tarot", but decided against that because I didn't want to confuse this holistic method of reading tarot with using the cards to assist with novel writing (also a very valid way to use this tool). And so while I think the cards can weave an excellent story, it's not actually a "story" they're showing, per say, but a glimpse into your own mind, environment and life. So I suppose, it's a bit of a non-fiction story then, if we're to use the term.
And if you look at the cards like a story board, sticking with this analogy, then what you begin to see are connections that exist beyond any one singular card and its immediate definition. In a group, each card expands and plays off the others. In this post, I'll be showing you my method for taking a big step back and looking at the landscape of a spread with a birds eye view.
To those new to reading tarot, this may not come intuitively at first. After all, it's a lot of effort to memorize and begin to understand 78 cards, but having to read them in conjunction with the other cards drawn around them can create whole new challenges. But, the good news is, you won't need another book or set of rules to help you with this one - just the ability to look.
So, what am I looking for, specifically, when I take the birds eye view approach? Here is a list of some of the aspects I've trained myself to find:
- Prominence of any suit (or a lack of a suit): Is the spread cup heavy, does it lack swords, is there a fairly even balance of all suits?
- Repeated numbers: Repeated numbers can be symbolic and indicate something else all on their own. Remember, Major Arcana are governed by numbers as well!
- The ratio of Majors to Minors: If the spread is heavy with Majors, I may consider the situation to be related to soul growth and deep development whereas if it is Minor heavy, it may indicate the matter is more to do with the day-to-day.
- Direction and body language of the characters/focal point of the card: Where do your characters or focal points face? Are they looking at other characters or focal points? Do they seemed repelled by other cards in the spread? Are they moving toward or away? Think about it this way - our own body language can say so much, even when we aren't saying anything at all. With the cards, we need to be just as precise at reading between the lines.
- Repeated imagery or colors: Perhaps there is a flower that's showing up in a couple of the cards, or a crown or animal. Maybe the majority of the cards are really dark, but then there is this vibrant yellow one that sticks out like a sore thumb - that would be a really important thing to note!
- What isn't there? If you're doing a reading about love, and you pull a bunch of swords and a few coins but no cups, that would tell me something. With some topics, you almost expect the presence of certain cards or suits and so when they aren't showing up, you gotta wonder why.
So, let's dive in then. I have 3, three-card "readings" that I've shared below. Take a few minutes to examine the 3 cards to put together the story. We'll assume that each reading is a general "tell me anything" and the client details are unknown. There are no positional meanings involved, so just read the three cards in tandem. What is happening in the images? How are the characters engaging (or not) with one another? What imagery repeats itself and what does this say to you? Take as much time as you need and I encourage you also to jot down your impressions. After each one, I'll share what I see in the story board. Keep in mind, my responses aren't "right", they're just what I see! What you see is completely valid and this exercise isn't about guessing how I have read the cards, but to start training your brain to find the connections on your own. Shall we being?
What catches my eye right away? The character in the first card has his back completely turned to the other cards in the spread. Even though this isn't a Past-Present-Future spread, that's how I see this - as an evolution. Look at the yellow boots the character in the first card is wearing. They could be the same yellow boots our character in the 9 of Wands wears. And what is going on with him? He appears to be a bit on guard; on defense, and he's fixated on that 5 of Cups, probably unaware of the joyous celebration to his right. And look at the water in the first two cards. In the 5 of Cups we see the turbulent water clearly, but in the 9 of Wands it's only barely visible, hidden behind the protective wall the querent has built. I would interpret this as being where our querent resides currently; fixated on some past hurt or disappointment. Perhaps they've closed themselves off to the world, choosing to focus on not losing anything else, to the detriment of creating new relationships. There seems to be a degree of distrust in others and perhaps that's why neither of the first two cards can see what's going on with the 3 of Cups. I would intuit that if our querent could let their guard down, maybe even be a bit vulnerable, there will be opportunities on the other side of this hurt to find a tribe and rebuild community in a really healthy way.
How did you fare with the first one? This takes practice so don't be discouraged if you aren't able to find the connections at first! Let's have a go at the second example.
My take? At the heart of this issue lies the Lovers. That's the Major Arcana and so it stands out strongly in the middle of the two 8's, which is another point of consideration. On either side of the Lovers, we have an 8! What are those 8's saying? To me, they look like two very distinct and different options for our querent. Before we get to what those options are, let's examine some connecting or repeated imagery. For starters, both characters in the 8 cards are wearing a red outfit. Maybe they are the same person? There also appears to be puddles or streams of water, broken up by bits of land. In the 8 of Swords, the character stands firm on the land, while in the 8 of Cups, the character seems to be navigating the terrain (even though it looks like it could be a bit rough!) In all three cards we see hills in the background, perhaps representative that no matter which option our querent pursues, there will be highs and lows, ups and downs. On one hand, the querent can stay put and accept the status quo. I would intuit that this individual actually feels rather trapped, but is unsure how to unstick themselves and perhaps they are even fearful of what the repercussions may be. On the other hand, we have our querent choosing to walk that unknown path and leave the situation behind. It's no longer fulfilling them, and while it can't be clear where they're headed, what they do know is where they are isn't working. And finally, 8s could signify effort and cause and effect. The situation requires action on the part of the querent - in essence, what they put into this is what they will get out; no action = no change.
Starting to make a little more sense? You'll get the hang of it. Let's try another!
Looking at these three cards, I'm instantly drawn to the repeated blue and white imagery that weaves through each. In card one, we have our character in a white nightgown with a blue bed sheet. In card 2, the character is wearing an outfit that could be similar to our first character and behind him is a blue cloth covered table (I presume) which holds 9 cups. In the last card, we have yet another character in a long white gown and this time, the blue is evident in the body of water the character dips into. The 9 of Cups reversed could speak to overindulgence, and in the 9 of Swords, we see our character up in the middle of the night, seemingly distressed about some matter. Could it be that they are having a hard time getting a grip on certain aspects of their lives? Are they feeling badly, perhaps unable to control certain urges? With Temperance, we know the matter is related to balance and so perhaps this lack of harmony in the body is translating to disharmony of the mind leading to anxiety, panic and worry. Whatever our querent is engaging in, it is not in their best interest or for the greatest good, and Temperance, with its angelic presence, is trying to hammer this point home. We also have 2 9's in this spread and 9's can indicate abundance, but when abundance turns to overindulgence or greed, problems can occur. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a fine line, so knowing the difference can sometimes be difficult, but this is something our querent must reconcile for themselves.
Hopefully this got you thinking about the symbolic connections in our spreads. There is so much more to this that this post has not explored, but I thought I'd just provide a few examples to get us started. I mentioned at the top that I wrote a post previously about this topic, so you can also check that out if you want more - and P.S. it comes with a downloadable worksheet! P.p.s - the worksheet also has a quick association reference guide for repeated numbers!
You can continue these exercises on your own, drawing 3 (or however many cards) and then noting the connected imagery while drawing conclusions about the overall message. You could even take it a step further by creating fake scenarios and imaginary querents and then try to flex the cards to suit the inquiry! I'll be back with another installment of reading in the flow that examines some of these concepts in more depth but until then, happy reading!