1: The Sentinel.

The Sentinel’s Spread Index.

For this spread I recommend the use of a personal significator, which is called the Sentinel.

I like to use significators when I read with the Tarot. In general, when I say ‘significator’, I am not necessarily referring to a card with which to signify myself, but am rather using it as an umbrella term applied to the court cards as they are interpreted to represent any actual people. In the context of the Sentinel spread, actual people can prove to be key components, and to this end the court cards tend to make useful significators for various people in the querent’s life. By extension, of course, the querent him or herself can be associated with one or more court cards, and I think that a general awareness of which cards these can be is useful to anyone who uses a Tarot deck, regardless of whether or not a particular spread requires one.

The Sentinel spread does make use of a personal significator (what good is a watchtower, after all, if there’s nobody posted on watch duty?), but if the querent does not wish to select from the court cards, there are other methods of choosing the Sentinel. The position of a personal significator in a spread is really no different than any other position in a spread with a designated meaning; the purpose of this “first position” is simply to describe the querent in some fashion related to the present. So the simplest manner of choosing the Sentinel is for the querent to randomly select one as he or she would for any other position in the spread. This card, whatever it turns up to be, court card or not, represents the Sentinel for the remainder of the reading.

I have never done that. With some rare exceptions, I only use this spread for personal readings, and I always like to consciously select my Sentinel beforehand, because it gives me a final sense of control before I move on to the body of the reading, which will be drawn completely at random. It’s a preliminary ritual that allows me to get into a proper mindset for my reading, to form a very basic point of reference for further interpretation of the cards, that is the result of my own choosing.

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TdM, CHT

Of course, every reading is different from the next, and I do not always approach my watchtower with the same perspectives as before. I therefore do not have only one personal significator, but rather I keep a cast of several to choose from at any given time, depending on which aspect of my life I am asking the cards about. I’ve learned that this is a good way to identify with the cards on a personal level, and a platform from which to build relationships with the Tarot. I usually have at least one court card from each suit in mind for myself. My go-to court card significator is the Knight (or Prince) of Cups. I use this card for generic readings because it is the card that best describes my general temperament, and in many decks, I just like the look of him (aesthetics are important to me).

When using the Sentinel spread, though, more often than not I select the significator from the suit of Pentacles, because I originally designed the spread with magic study in mind. Because the Pentacles symbolize the element Earth, the element with which I most strongly identify, they are the emblem of my magic in the Tarot. As the Sentinel on the Council, my significator is the King of Pentacles.

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The Council – RWS

Despite the title on this site, however, I will not be using the King of Pentacles as the Sentinel today. Unless I am specifically performing a reading of or for the Council, I don’t usually use the King. Instead, I use the less formal Knight of Pentacles. The Knight represents me as an independent agent, a wandering wizard – the sentinel, as opposed to the Sentinel On The Council. A different hat for a different occasion.

I do sometimes select the Sentinel from among the Major Arcana, although not as often as the court cards. I feel compelled to do this if I am in an especially mystical mindset, but sometimes the mood just suits me. If this is the case, probably nine times out of ten I will use either the Hermit or the Magician as the Sentinel, because these two cards are my Tarot patrons.* The possibilities are endless, though, and I encourage anyone who uses this spread to keep an open mind and experiment with the selection of his or her Sentinel.

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The Sentinel – TdM

For this example, the Knight of Pentacles (from a Marseille Tarot deck, which I’ve decided to use because I think it allows for the most freedom of interpretation) will remain as my choice for the Sentinel. He is to be removed from the pack and set to the side for the time being. We will see where he fits into the spread in the next post.

Before I bring this post to a close, I would like to make a final remark about significators as they may appear elsewhere in the spread. As I’ve said, court cards can represent actual people, and when one turns up in the spread, special attention should be paid to it. It should be considered whether the card in question is actually supposed to be another person, or if it is perhaps a different aspect of the querent him or herself. This is certainly a possibility when dealing with court cards in this spread, and while it may add a layer of confusion, it can also illuminate certain things about the querent.

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*The subject of Tarot Patrons is one I will be writing on in more detail, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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The Sentinel’s Spread, Revised.

I use the Tarot in a myriad of ways. It has proven to be a very versatile tool for the development of my metaphysical awareness. Of course, one of the most popular ways to use the cards is to lay them out in a spread for reading, and indeed this is something I do more or less regularly myself.

I’ve experimented with many spreads since I began using the cards. I even keep a notebook reserved just for copying spreads which I find in books and online for my own personal use. It serves as a handy index for me to leaf through when I’m considering how to interact with the cards on any given day.

Several months ago, however, I felt compelled to design my own Tarot spread. And so, taking my position as the Sentinel as inspiration, I began to experiment. Eventually, I came up with a rough version of the Sentinel’s Spread. You can read about my original design here, but I must admit that I have since gone back and re-read that post, and am not completely satisfied with it. In any case, the spread has evolved since then, and I’m here today to break it down for anyone who may wish to try it for themselves. The more I use it, the more I like it, so much so that it has become my default method for personal reading, and I would like to share.

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The Sentinel’s Spread with two Significators* – WWT

As the name suggests, this spread is designed around the metaphor of a sentinel atop a watchtower. It is a fairly complex spread, requiring a minimum of 21 cards, and the entire process of laying it out can be broken down into five parts:

  1. The Sentinel. (Significator)
  2. The Watchtower. (Cards 2-4)
  3. The Cardinal Directions. (Cards 5-8)
  4. The Horizons. (Cards 9-20)
  5. “Sound the Alarm!” (Conclusion)

A summary of these parts can be found here; I’d originally intended to link each part above to its own post, and I started that project fairly strong, but quickly sputtered out, as you can see by the lack of links from parts 4 and 5.

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The querent may bring specific questions to the spread – in fact, they are encouraged to do so – but the spread itself is not intended to give only one specific answer. It is rather more of a general stock-taking type of thing, to be applied to many aspects of one’s life. To use the aforementioned metaphor, you may ask the sentinel to pay special attention to the north-west, because that is where the advancing enemy is rumored to be camped. However, the sentinel would be remiss in his duties if he did not also look to the other directions and report what he sees, whether to the north-west or to the south-east or anywhere else. In this way, the Sentinel’s Spread is a comprehensive look at the querent’s current state of being, and can offer suggestions on how to best proceed in whatever the matter is in question, but may also bring hitherto unknown circumstances to light. It can sometimes surprise with what it shows.

My own experience playing with this spread leads me to recommend setting aside a bit of time to fully interpret it, and also to record the reading in a journal or notebook so it can be revisited in the future. I’ve often found the experience of re-reading this spread with the benefit of hindsight to be enlightening. I also generally don’t lay down this spread for myself more often than once a month.

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*One of these represented me, and the other represented the friend with whom I was reading at the time.

The Juggler.

I recently wrote quite a bit on the Hermit, which is one of my favorite cards in the Tarot. There are of course many cards that also hold my fancy, but in fact only one other card rivals the Hermit as my true favorite. Overall, however, this card is conspicuously absent from my writing, especially in comparison to the amount of attention I tend to pay his elderly compatriot. Beginning with this post, I hope to rectify this glaring omission.

I almost always refer to the first numbered card of the Major Arcana as the “Magician” without so much as a second thought. I suspect most Tarot-ers whose study or practice is rooted in the RWS do the same. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but before I begin to delve into studying this card in any depth, I want to address the fact that the esteemed Magician is not his original title at all; he was formerly a lowly street performer, most often called simply the “Juggler”.

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The Juggler – TdM

Why a street juggler would hold the first spot in the incredible sequence of the Major Arcana is a conundrum faced by many Tarot masters, including Oswald Wirth and the anonymous composer of the spiritual Meditations on the Tarot. Personally, I believe that the Tarot begins as it does because the first card happens to be akin to the thesis of an essay – it should concisely present the purpose of the subsequent body of work. Based on the nature of the Tarot, the Juggler is ideal for this position for two reasons. First, because the Tarot is ultimately a pack of cards intended for gaming, and more specifically, gambling. No matter what these cards eventually evolved to represent, there is little doubt that, during the time the Magician was only a Juggler, they were simple playing cards. And so it is fitting that a street performer, a mere entertainer who is not above stealing from you while your attention is diverted, would preface the pack.

The second reason is in the details of the card: on the Juggler’s table are laid out various items that are in fact the symbols of the suits of the Minor Arcana. In other words, the Juggler symbolically represents the entire Tarot on a single card.

In contrast to the Hermit, who has managed to remain more or less consistent over the years, the Juggler changed quite significantly when he was initiated into the occult sciences and dubbed the Magician. This transition is analogous to the change of the Tarot from a game to a conduit for esoteric knowledge, and it is therefore fitting that the first card should also change.

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The Magician – RWS

Now, instead of a dubious street juggler, we see (at least in the RWS) a man garbed in ceremonial magician’s robes. He retains the four suit symbols on a table, but now, rather than play sleight of hand tricks with them, he uses them as implements of serious elemental magic.

The change from Juggler to Magician does make sense considering the evolution of the Tarot’s uses. But was it really necessary? Are the Juggler and the Magician mutually exclusive? I think not; they remain the same fellow, just in different dress for different occasion.

I happen to like the Juggler and all that he implies. He is the Trickster archetype of myth, and he is humble compared to the Magician, which I like. He may operate in the gray areas of morality, but who’s to say the Magician doesn’t, as well? At least the Juggler doesn’t make pretenses about his ambiguous ethics. He’s almost honest in his dishonesty.

But that’s not to say I dislike the Magician; in fact, the contrary is true. He is not a con artist, but a man with genuine power. There’s a supernatural quality to him – he is a wizard, simply put, and he demands respect in a way a juggler never can.

I like to imagine that the Juggler is just how the Magician looks to those who think magic and such things are not real. Perhaps it is how the Magician publicly presents himself. How better to subtly exercise magic in broad daylight for a profit than to perform on the streets? Who would ever suspect him of being an adept initiated into the secrets of the elements? Yes, I believe that the Juggler was the Magician all along, and it just took us mere mortals a few centuries to pick up on it and adjust our cards accordingly.

Well done, Trickster, well done.

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The Juggler, Part II.