Care and Feeding.

Welp. It’s officially Spring. Not that the weather ’round these parts got the memo, seeing as over the Equinox we got the biggest snowstorm yet this year. Cripes, I’m tired of this shit.*

Speaking of the Equinox, I’m supposed to post an entry on the corresponding cards from the Wildwood Tarot, but I’m not going to. Sorry. I managed to keep my commitment to the Wheel of the Year series longer this year than I did last, but my life’s getting in the way, and I can’t promise any more. I didn’t do even the slightest research about the cards for this festival, and rather than bullshit anyone reading this, I figured I’d just let it go. I may or may not return to this series as future festivals roll around. Given enough time, I eventually hope to write about all of them. But enough for now.

I’m not complaining when I say my life’s getting in the way. In fact, this is a very good thing for me, I think, but it unfortunately means that I don’t have the time to dedicate to my blog that I’ve had in the past. I’m not saying I’m about to let this blog die. I intend to keep it going for years if I can, or at least until I’ve covered all the topics on my To Do list (there are more than a few, I assure you). But I may be posting less frequently than usual.

Then again, longtime followers of this site will know that I am wont to go into writer’s hibernation from time to time, so hopefully my sporadic posting habits won’t come as too much of a surprise. Still, I thought this post was warranted (mostly because it’s taking the place of that scheduled post about the Wildwood – might as well put out something of a stop gag if I’m not going to put out anything of substance, right?).

~~~

With all that being said, I hate to post things that don’t really have anything to do with the Tarot, so I’m going to ramble for a bit about some of the stuff that’s been rattling around my skull lately.

Let’s see, what’s new here….

Several weeks ago, I performed a spread for myself to help me make a decision about whether or not to go somewhere. I’m not going to get into the dirty details of my personal life, but suffice it to say that this reading not only prefaced a night which served as a catalyst for some significant developments in my life, (much of which is the reason why I haven’t been writing) but it was uncannily accurate about certain details to which I was totally oblivious at the time (this is why we keep journals of our readings, kids. You can’t know how accurate a reading truly is until you look at it again with the benefit of hindsight).

The question of divination looms over this blog. Does it really work? If so, how and why? I have a draft in the works – that has been over a year in the making now – which is supposed to answer these questions, at least in terms of my perspectives (I don’t think such questions can be answered definitively by anyone this side of the grave). It’s meant to be a follow-up to this post, but I continually run into a wall when I try to put words to the very subtle nuances of my beliefs about divination, and so it remains languishing in drafts folder limbo.

Occurrences like that which was mentioned above reinforce my beliefs about divination, and it validated to me all the time I’ve put into learning about these cards. Divination is not the only thing I get out of the Tarot, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a major aspect of my practice. The Tarot is my personal oracle, and it is a very spiritual thing. I think it’s worth mentioning that I do have anecdotal evidence of it’s efficacy in my own life, even if I’m not quite willing to share those anecdotes on my blog.

Of course, I still have questions, and I still have doubts, and I still have many things to ponder when it comes to divination, but that’s a subject for another day.

In other news, I’ve started being more open with people around me about my interest in the Tarot, which is not the way I’ve been previously. I don’t go around advertising it, but I don’t actively hide it anymore, either. As a consequence, I’ve done more readings for people I know less about, and have come to some interesting conclusions about the nature of divination for oneself versus for others. I suspect seasoned readers will already know what I’m coming to learn, but I may share it on here at some point, anyway.

Other than that, not too terribly much is new in the Sentinel’s world of Tarot reading. I think about the cards all the time, of course. The way they’ve permeated my consciousness over the course of the last couple years is remarkable. But to be honest, if I had something really significant to say about the Tarot, I’d just write a post about it, instead of using it as filler for this one.

Anyways. That’s all for now. See ya next time, whenever that might be.

~~~

*It’s actually been a very mild winter overall, but winter is winter, and even if it’s not as freezing as it should be, it’s still colder than I care for, and it’s dark. It depresses the hell out of me every year, and when March finally succeeds dismal February, I find my desperate hopes for the promise of spring dashed against its temperamental winds. I always say February is my least favorite month, but if I’m being honest, March is when I feel the deepest despair. The night is darkest before the dawn, as they say (I may have had a bit too much fun with the alliteration in this footnote, but such are the games I like to play on my blog).

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Cartomancy, Continued.

I do not know traditional methods of cartomancy with regular playing cards. What I do know is cartomancy with Tarot cards. This post is essentially an exercise in translation; I’m here today to explain how I read playing cards using my knowledge of the Tarot.

Really, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory for the most part. A pack of playing cards is nearly indistinguishable from the Minor Arcana, so in a sense it is just like reading with an abridged Tarot. But there are a couple snags that prevent smooth translation.

First is the suits.

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I match Wands with Diamonds, Cups with Hearts, Swords with Spades, and Coins with Trefoils.

In his book, Paul Huson makes compelling arguments for why this should be the case. It is very common, however, to associate Wands with Trefoils (usually called Clubs in such instances) and Coins with Diamonds. This actually does make sense. Not only do the respective names of these suits seem related, but the colors match up so that the “hard” suit symbols are both black, and the “soft” ones are red. When all is said and done, though, I prefer to use what I believe is the more traditional order.*

What’s important is not which suits you identify with which, but that you keep it straight in your mind when you’re reading.

~~~

The next issue is the court. In Tarot, there are four court cards to each suit: King, Queen, Knight, and Page. With standard playing cards, though, there are only three: King, Queen, and Jack.** This means that, even if we took away the Major Arcana, the decks do not match up. A Tarot stripped of its trumps will still have four more cards than the other pack.

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Who’s who?

To me, this is the most annoying issue when it comes to translating Tarot to regular cards.

The simplest solution is probably to just consider the Jack an amalgamation of the Knight and the Page. This means that, given the context of the spread, a Jack could signify a child or young person of either sex, a new endeavor, message, or the coming or going of a matter, among other possibilities. Not exactly clear-cut, but the court cards were always among the vaguest cards with their myriad connotations, anyway.

If taken to mean people, then Kings are mature men, Queens mature women, and Jacks would be the youths. This is a good rule of thumb for identifying people in a general sense. But if you know your Golden Dawn astrological correspondences, then you can get more specific. Interestingly, even though there are 16 court cards in a Tarot, only 12 of those could be considered significators according to the Golden Dawn. The King, Queen, and Knight of each suit matches up with one of the 12 signs of the zodiac.*** The Page, then, has a different role altogether, although I’ll refrain from getting into that today. The point is, by a happy coincidence, a standard deck of cards has just the right number of court cards for a complete set of zodiacal signifiers. Just substitute the Jack for the Knight, and you’re good to go (of course, if you use this method, you can no longer assume a Queen signifies a woman or a King a man).

~~~

Strictly speaking, the Major Arcana don’t figure into this particular brand of cartomancy. The closest thing is the Joker. The Joker is an interesting character, somewhere between the Fool and the Juggler of the Tarot. For games he usually serves as a wild card.

For cartomancy, I also tend to think of the Joker as a sort of wild card. It doesn’t have a “meaning,” at least not the same way the rest of the cards in the pack do. When the Joker shows up in a reading, I might interpret it a couple different ways. Sometimes I treat him like the Fool, his sly Joker’s smile chiding me for my ignorance. Sometimes I treat him like the Juggler, his dexterous hands signalling to me that there’s trickery afoot. Something can’t be trusted, and it’s beyond the scope of the pips and courts to get that point across.

Perhaps the Joker is there to tell me that my questions simply can’t be answered at the time of the reading. In this sense, he’s almost like the Wyrd of the runes. Blank. Sometimes the oracles cannot – or will not – reveal their secrets to me. Regardless, it’s best to be wary if he turns up. Either something’s not right, or something’s beyond my control or capacity to understand.

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Fool, Trickster, or something better left in the abyss?

Sometimes I interpret him as a suggestion to consult something a little more serious than playing cards. The lack of a Major suit means this sort of cartomancy is best suited for mundane matters, I believe, and the appearance of the Joker could mean that there’s something beyond my worldly concerns which I ought to consider. In this case, I’ll pull out a set of Majors (probably Wirth’s) and explore the matter further.

Another thing I like to do to bring in the Major Arcana (with or without an appearance by the Joker) is calculate the quintessence card. This method is fairly widespread, but I learned about it in a book about Tarot practice. Once the spread is out, you add up the numerical values of all the cards in it. Courts can either be valueless, or they can continue the progression (Jacks are 11, Queens 12, and Kings 13). The Joker is always 0. If the sum surpasses 21, add its constituent digits. The result corresponds to the Major Arcana of the same number, and that card expresses the essence of the spread. I usually use this knowledge to give advice towards approaching whatever situation is spelled out in the layout.

~~~

When reading playing cards, I keep the spreads fairly simple. Normally I’ll only lay down a single line, although sometimes I’ll lay down several rows. I usually like my rows to consist of an odd number of cards. The closest thing resembling a Tarot spread that I’ll use is a Celtic Cross, often omitting the column of four cards to the right of the cross.

So that’s it, I think. Again, this is only my personal method of divining with playing cards, and it might show my ignorance of more traditional methods of cartomancy. It’s certainly not perfect, especially knowing there are ways out there that are designed to use these cards instead of the Tarot. If nothing else, though, it’s helped me get more familiar with interpreting pip cards, which is good exercise. And since Tarot is my preferred form of divination, that’s all that really matters to me.

I do like reading playing cards, though. The Tarot is steeped in mysticism, and everybody knows that. The relative plainness of an innocuous pack of playing cards is a stark contrast to the apparent magic of cartomancy, which in my opinion, makes simultaneously for a more compelling and more accessible show when reading for others who most likely do not share my deep fascination with things esoteric.

~~~

*The color thing actually did bother me for a little while. But then I realized: the hard and soft suits are not the same colors when Wands are Diamonds and Coins are Clubs, but the elemental dignities of the suits match up so that Fire and Water are red, and Air and Earth are black. Fire and Water are the the elements that come together in the Hermit’s lantern as the hexagram. This is a symbol for Life, and it seems fitting to me that these elements should have the hue of blood, that fiery water of vitality that courses through the veins of us all. Conversely, black seems a suitable color for Earth and Air. These two elements strike me as a bit more conservative (though no less necessary for life) than their counterparts, and a more subdued color is therefore apt.

**Different cultures do things differently. The Tarot has an extra card either way, but which card is the extra? In French-suited decks, there is no Knight (the Jack, also sometimes called the Knave, is akin to the Page), but in German-suited decks, there is no Queen. The Ober and Unter (literally, the “over” and “under”) are equivalent to the Knight and Page, respectively. In this post, it’s a given that I am using the French suits, and I didn’t want to muddy things up by bringing the Germans into it. But I thought the point was relevant enough to merit a footnote, at least.

***This is an oversimplification made for the sake of clarity and brevity. It’s really not as simple as just matching the card with the constellation. Each card begins 20 degrees into one sign and ends 20 degrees into the next. So, for example, the Knight of Cups (or Jack of Hearts, as the case may be) is most likely a Libra, but there’s a possibility he might be a Scorpio instead; and someone else has claim to that slice of Libra left behind by the Knight (that’s the Queen of Swords/Spades). While I’m at it, I should point out that the Golden Dawn doesn’t refer to their court cards by the more traditional titles which I use in this post (the Knight of Cups mentioned a moment ago would actually be called the Prince or King of Cups, depending on who you’re talking to). But that’s a very lengthy and confusing digression better covered elsewhere. Just wanted to point it out.

Birthday Reading.

Here’s a little anecdote about synchronicity, if you’re interested.

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Above is a photo of the Sentinel reading I performed on my birthday last week. Notice the Death candle between my rune-bowl and the tree-lantern. I’ve taken to calling it “Candle XIII.”

Candle XIII was a gift from a close friend of mine, received towards the end of the summer. I did not light it; Death is associated with Scorpio, my sign, and I resolved to burn it for the first time on Halloween, my birthday, as I laid down a personal year-end spread. I liked it as a symbol of clearing the old to make way for the new, and as a memento mori on my celebration day – a reminder of the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Not to mention, it has a certain aesthetic as a Halloween decoration.

When the time came, and the sun had set, and I had a proper birthday-buzz going, I prepared my reading table, selected my significator (the Prince of Cups, again based on zodiacal attribution), and shuffled my cards. I lit the tree-lantern,* Candle XIII, and a third stumpy little candle stub, and turned off all other lights, opting to read only by the eerie glow. I counted out twenty cards and set the rest of the pack to the side. I turned over and placed the cards according to the design of the spread, down to the last one, which was to be the conclusion.

As I was about to turn that card, I was seized by an inexplicable hesitation – something told me this card wasn’t right. I gazed into the flame of Candle XIII, scrying for a pointer.

I don’t normally scry, although I have done it a few times before (usually to natural phenomena rather than a crystal ball or something like that). Scrying is a different class of divination than cartomancy or sortilege, and I tend towards the latter. The same instinct that told me not to turn the card led my eyes to the Death candle’s flame, and I couldn’t have planned or explained it. The air was very still in my darkened room, and the flame was tall and motionless. As I watched, the tip of the flame appeared to fork, like a snake’s tongue, without inducing so much as the slightest flutter. In a motion, I cut the deck and removed a new card for my conclusion.

It was card XIII, Death.

I guess that’s just the Universe’s way of saying,
“Happy Halloween.”

~~~

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These were some Quintessence cards for the reading, calculated from the total numerical value of various sections of the spread. The first 8 cards (the watchtower) added up to the Hierophant; the next 12 (the horizons) to the Hermit; and the Quintessence of the final card was, of course, Death (which does reduce further to the Emperor). The entire spread subsequently reduces to the Hermit. Cards from the CHT.

~~~

*The tree-lantern is my usual card-reading lamp, which I always burn during my ritual weekly readings to help set the mood. I consider it a symbol of my patron, the Hermit, and the tree represents the World Tree at the heart of the cosmos.

 

The Sentinel’s Spread, Revisited.

A little while ago, I shared my revised version of the Sentinel’s Spread. What I’d wanted to do with that post was to begin a series, in which I’d examine the constituent parts of the spread through a sample reading. I ran out of steam after a few installments, for a couple reasons. For one, life simply got in the way, and for a time I just didn’t write very often, and so I lost the drive to finish what I’d started.

I realized that my purely hypothetical sample had no relevance, and the further I progressed with it, the farther I had to stretch to reach any sort of meaning or coherence, and I gave up on it, feeling as though I was only succeeding in beating a horse that was already dead.

But when I lay down the Sentinel’s Spread, I always walk away with such profound insights from the cards; and even if I can’t adequately express these sorts of things with sample readings, I don’t want to leave an incomplete, forced and lifeless example as the last word on my blog.

~~~

I think the Sentinel’s Spread works because of its combination of shapes, allowing for multiple significant patterns to emerge from the reading.

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This is a photo of my most recent Sentinel reading, performed with the pocket Thoth. This setup is pretty typical of my readings lately, except for the Death Candle, which is not normally there.

While the final layout is meant to be read as a unit, there are five distinct components, each of which is made of a significant number and shape itself. If the process of laying the cards is reduced to an equation, it would be this:

1+3+4+12+1=21

with 21 being the total number of cards in the layout. In terms of shapes, it begins with a single point, followed by the line, then the cross or square, then the circle or dodecagon, and brought to completion with a return to the point. The five parts are summarized as follows:

1. The Sentinel (significator): The first card is selected to represent the reader at the time of the reading (or querent, if reading for someone else). I normally select the sentinel and set it aside prior to shuffling and laying out the rest of the cards.

2. The Watchtower (cards 2 – 4): The next three cards are positioned from bottom to top to create a vertical line, meant to evoke a tower. I think of them as three parts of a watchtower: the foundation, in which everything else is grounded; the body of the tower, built upon the foundation and which comprises most of the tower’s actual height; and the top, upon which the Sentinel is posted, which provides the point of perspective. These are metaphors for various inward aspects of the reader at the time of the reading (think body, mind, spirit or subconscious, conscious, super-conscious). The significator is then placed on top, putting the reader in the frame of mind to continue.

3. The Cardinal Directions (cards 5 – 8): These four cards are placed around the watchtower after the pattern of the compass, beginning with the East and the rising sun and concluding with the North. They are also associated with the four elements and the suits of the Tarot: East is Fire and Wands (passion or drive); South is Air and Swords (intellect); West is Water and Cups (emotion); and North is Earth and Coins (the material realm).  The elements are arranged so that Air is opposite Earth, and Fire is opposite Water, and they descend from energy (Fire) into solid matter (Earth) when read clockwise. I view these cards as immediately relevant to the reader, connecting the inward-being of the watchtower with the external world of the following cards. For this reason, I often consider these cards to be akin to walls or gates of a fortification built around the watchtower, or roads leading out from the center.

4. The Horizons (cards 9- 20): The twelve cards of the horizons encircle the eight cards already laid down, equaling the watchtower (3 cards) multiplied by the compass points (4 cards). Once placed, they can be read in any number of ways. This is the point when I start to really see patterns, both among the horizon cards themselves, or in relation to any of the cards already out. The significator represents the center, the point of origin or perspective – the “You Are Here” on the map, and the rest of the reading is the map, if you will, sprawling outward from the center, with the horizon cards showing the farthest reaches visible from the watchtower.

There is no singular way to read all of these cards, and I often find multiple layers of meaning as I approach the spread from different angles. Usually, though, I do like to look at each horizon card in relation to the cards on either side of it. The 12 cards divide nicely into four groups of three cards each, with each of the four cards from the previous section allotted a group. I look at each trio as a beginning-middle-end or past-present-future (or any other of the numerous three-card patterns out there) related to its respective element card, and this helps me process the cards in digestible segments while I wait for any larger patterns to coalesce in my mind.

5. “Sound the Alarm!” (conclusion): One final card is pulled to tie the entire reading together. I usually spend a few minutes with the spread before I pull this card, allowing for a dramatic moment of complete surprise at the end as a counterpoint to the moment of complete control that comes with the conscious selection of the sentinel at the start; but I always pull it before I put the cards away and extinguish any “reading time” candles. I call it the bell or horn or alarm, there for the sentinel to sound if anything urgent is revealed during his watch. It serves as a sort of fail-safe, a general conclusion, or something to ponder, an important detail not to be overlooked, or a final piece of closing advice.

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~~~

So that’s it. I think I did a pretty good job of summing up the essence of the spread this time, and I’ll probably leave it alone now, except for the occasional possible reading or anecdote in the future. I welcome the questions or input of anyone who decides to give it a try.

3: The Cardinal Directions.

Sentinel’s Spread Index.

The watchtower has been built, and the sentinel has ascended to his (or her) post at the summit. It is now time to get your bearings.

The title of this portion of the spread should make it pretty obvious what the next four cards represent. More than just the cardinal directions, though, these cards are supposed to be resources (in a metaphorical sense) that you have at your disposal. Because of this combination of meanings, I generally tend to think of these cards in terms of walls: there is one facing each direction, and they serve to “defend” the tower in the center from potential dangers on the horizons. Right now, all you will see is what you have to use. It won’t become clear how you might use them until later on.

The walls are the intermediary cards between those of introspection we drew in the previous post and those of external influences we’ll draw in the following one. They stand in the middle, delineating the inside from the out. They are yours to use, but they are not you in the sense that the tower is, nor are they fully separate from you in the sense that the cards in the next post will be.

Each direction is associated with an element and its corresponding Tarot suit. Everybody has his or her own way of matching directions and elements and suits, so by all means, if you have a favorite method, use it. For me, I tend to associate East with Air and Swords, South with Fire and Wands, West with Water and Cups, and North with Earth and Coins.* I always begin laying cards with the East because that is the direction of the sunrise.

For the current exercise, I drew the following cards as the walls for my sentinel outpost:

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Counterclockwise from bottom right: East, South, West, and North, with the watchtower occupying the center.

East / Air – My Eastern wall is constructed of Four Swords. Air is the element of the mind, and swords in this quadrant are generally (but not necessarily) a good sign, because it is their natural habitat. Numbering four, these swords are balanced and stable, too, so all in all, I think we can conclude that, at least for the issue at hand,** I’m possessed of a strong mental capacity that doesn’t unnecessarily overexert itself. I should be adequately equipped do deal with any intellectual obstacles ahead.

Basically, I know what I’m talking about here, and while putting words to the cards isn’t always easy, particularly when trying to explain a reading such as this one (by which I mean it’s a sample reading that seems to have turned out with some degree of self-awareness), I ought to be more than capable of getting my point across. I want to make sure that I don’t try too hard, though. I do have a tendency to ramble.

 South / Fire – The South is the realm of passions, spirit, creativity, or whatever you wish to call the driving force in your life.  The southern wall is the Six of Coins. The coins are the suit of tangible things, and this card in particular is sometimes associated with giving and receiving. Six is another balanced number, but one with a bit more abundance than the four.

What’s driving me at this moment is a desire to make the abstract in my head a little more concrete, and what better way to do that than write it out and share it with others?

West / Water – To the West lies the realm of emotions, and facing this direction is the Three of Coins. This is usually considered a card of work, particularly the beginning stages of an endeavor. It is a number of initial results, the first time in the numerical sequence that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This card poses a slight difficulty, because the subject of this reading is one that is more or less devoid of emotional attachment. Perhaps this is why we see the cold solid coins, rather than the cups that would be typically associated with this quadrant. Perhaps it’s referring to the simple emotion of contentment that comes with working on something that I’ve created. This spread isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something I’ve orchestrated all the same, and I enjoy working with it.

North / Earth – Earth is the element associated with the physical realm, and so the Northern wall tends to represent the closest thing to an actual “material” resource. Here we have the Two of Wands, however, and wands are arguably the least material of the suits.

The Two of Wands usually evokes potential in my mind, perhaps representing a spectrum of possibilities that would have stemmed from an initial idea (the Ace). In the quadrant of earth, this suggests to me an ability to bring these ideas into reality. Notice that the northern and southern walls relay similar messages about making the abstract concrete, but while the south shows a drive to do so, the north shows a capacity to make productive use of that drive.

~~~

I’d like to take a moment now to make a point about this reading: as I’ve mentioned, the issue in question is the spread itself. It’s an instructional reading, broken down to explain how the spread works, but it is a real reading. I’ve drawn all of these cards at random (except the sentinel, of course), and done my best to make sense of them. I did not, however, dream up a hypothetical scenario upon which to base my interpretations, and as a result, the cards reflect only what I brought to the table – that is, an intent to explain the structure of the spread.

This is therefore an intellectual exercise more than anything else, and that’s clearly expressed by these walls I’ve placed around the sentinel.*** The eastern wall is the one with the card that makes the most sense – the suit of the mind in the quadrant of the mind, and a particularly stable and balanced card at that. After that is the southern wall. This card isn’t as straightforward as the eastern one, but it still makes plenty of sense to me.

On the other side of the coin we have the western and northern walls, which I’ve had a little more difficulty deciphering. This is because this hypothetical reading does not center around an emotional issue, nor is it grounded in any physical matter. I can still make sense of these cards, but it’s apparent to me that they do not have much to contribute to the overall point of the reading, at least so far.

The reason I approached this spread sans-question is because it is specifically designed to give an overview of your life, taking into account many levels, regardless of which of those levels have directly to do with what’s on your mind. I rarely use this spread with a particular question in mind, and when the entire spectrum of my life is taken into account, all four quadrants will normally have a message for me. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that, while this reading is intended as an instructive sample, it is by no means representative of the depth that this spread can sometimes reveal. It’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to express through a generic example, and yet a generic example is the best way I know to really explain how all the parts work together.

~~~

Now we have a watchtower and a perimeter; the outpost is complete. At this stage, I like to arrange the cards to align with the actual points of a compass, like so:

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The numbers three and four are integral to the structure of this spread. Considering the sentinel as separate, the outpost so far is constructed of three (the tower) plus four (the walls) cards, totaling seven. In numerology, three is sometimes considered the number of spirit, and four the number of earth (precisely because it’s the number of classical elements and cardinal directions). Seven is traditionally considered a holy number because it combines the spiritual and the mundane, simultaneously grounding the lofty spirit and raising up the lowly material. Even though the individual cards of the tower generally represent body, mind, and spirit, they can be taken as a whole to represent your non-corporeal self, which in turn is brought down to earth with the addition of these four walls, which represent how you connect with the world around you. Thus the seven cards of the outpost combined represent your entire self at the time of the reading.****

Three and four multiplied equals twelve, which just so happens to be the number of cards required for the next part of this spread.

~~~

*This is how I usually lay out the spread, but sometimes I wonder if the South shouldn’t be Air, and East Fire, so that the elemental opposites (that is, Earth and Air, Fire and Water) actually sit opposite each other on the compass. It ultimately doesn’t matter, though, so long as I’m clear with myself about what’s what before I actually start laying down any cards.

**I did not approach this exercise with a specific question in mind, which means I’m leaving it up to the cards to illustrate the main issue of their own accord. If you will recall, I interpreted the three cards in the previous post (linked above) as representing my purpose here, namely to share my spread and my methods of reading with it. Having established that as the subject of this reading, I will continue to interpret the cards in this vein unless something comes up that makes me seriously reconsider it.

***Or rather, it’s been pretty clearly expressed to me. Whether or not I’m expressing it clearly in my turn is up for debate.

****Alternatively, you could consider each of the walls to be one of the classical elements, with the central cards collectively representing Aether or Quintessence. This means that there are five “points” here, analogous to the five points of the pentagram. As I briefly mentioned in another post, the pentagram is a symbol of the microcosm, and the six-pointed star is correspondingly a symbol of the macrocosm. Therefore, the cards that make up the outpost reflect the querent; the next twelve cards (keeping in mind that twelve reduces to six) reflect the querent’s world.

2: The Watchtower.

The Sentinel’s Spread Index.

Now that the Sentinel has been selected, it is time to begin the spread proper. I like to call this portion of the spread the Watchtower. In addition to the Sentinel, which signifies the querent him or herself, the Watchtower describes the present perspective and mindset of the querent.

This part of the spread is about the self, and will require looking inward to fully understand. There will come a point in the divination where we’ll turn up cards that should describe the world around us, external circumstances and how we react to them, but for now we are focusing only on the first-person.

Having consciously selected the Knight of Coins as my sentinel, I will now draw the remainder of the spread at random, as if I were performing an actual reading for someone.

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The Hierophant, the Emperor, and Strength – TdM
  1. Foundation. The first card is analogous to the foundations of a tower. It is firmly planted in the earth, and should provide stable ground for the bulk of the tower. It generally represents the querent’s body or material existence. For this exercise, I drew the Hierophant for the foundation. This card in the position of my physical situation reflects my purpose here, which is to instruct or educate. The attendant acolytes might even be an audience – is anyone out there reading this?
  2. Tower. The second card builds upon the first and is the main body of the watchtower. It provides the height necessary for a clear view of the horizons. It can be interpreted as the querent’s mind or abstract awareness. And what am I teaching? I’m trying to break down my spread into its constituent parts so others can try it, and the Emperor here stands for rules or guidelines to be followed.
  3. Crenelations.  The third card crowns the watchtower and is the actual viewing platform for the sentinel (I chose the word crenelations for this position because it evokes medieval stone fortifications in my mind, which is how I personally like to envision my sentinel’s keep). Continuing the pattern of the first two cards, this one represents the querent’s spirit or ability to transcend worldly concerns.* I’ve completed my watchtower with Strength. I suppose the act of explaining my process is a good way of strengthening my own understanding of it, and that’s what I’m really doing here. The Hierophant should benefit from his teachings as much as the acolytes.

If there is a preponderance of a particular suit or number at this point, that can be an indication of the nature of the issue at hand. A watchtower constructed from Cups, for example, would suggest that the querent is feeling very emotional; multiple sixes might suggest balance, etc. In this part of the spread, it is much more likely for court cards to represent an aspect of the querent, rather than someone else.

It is interesting to note that my watchtower is constructed entirely from the Major Arcana (and this actually happens for me more often than you might think). To me, this seems to underscore that this particular reading is, well, meta. I mean, the issue for this spread is the spread itself; I’m doing a reading with the Sentinel Spread about doing readings with the Sentinel Spread. What other suit but the Major Arcana could relay that? In general, though, I usually take something like this to mean spiritual matters, or matters for which I must tap into the collective unconscious to really grasp, or something which is altogether above my daily, worldly existence. The specifics are always colored by the particular cards which show up, of course – I remember one time for my tower I pulled the Seer (High Priestess), the Mirror (Hanged Man), and the Wheel (Wheel of Fortune) from the Wildwood Tarot, all of which are heavily associated with inward reflection. I would not have interpreted, say, the Archer (Chariot), the Wanderer (Fool), and the Sun of Life (Sun) in the same way, despite also being of the Major Arcana.

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Before I continue with the next part of the spread, I like to spend some time and reflect on what the Watchtower is telling me about my current perspectives. I don’t get too hung up if it doesn’t immediately make sense, though, and oftentimes I find that things start really coming together once the rest of the cards are drawn. But I like to at least take a moment to think anyway, because these cards are meant to check myself before I ascend the tower, so to speak, and gaze out at the world that surrounds me.

This is the time to take the significator and place it on top of the watchtower. Once up there, the sentinel must take stock of the immediate environment, to make sure the perimeter of his outpost is secure. This step will be the subject of the next post.

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*In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom Rachel Pollack uses the terms subconscious, conscious, and super-conscious to refer to the three respective septenaries of the Major Arcana. I think these words can also describe the first three positions of this spread, as an alternative to the body, mind, and spirit interpretation presented above.

Three Methods.

I think the possibilities for different methods of interpreting Tarot readings are virtually endless; as I contemplate the decks in my collection, I sometimes consider the method the creator of each would have had in mind for using his or her deck, or the method that elicits the best results from each.

While I marvel at all of the potential, I’ve given it some thought and I believe I’ve managed to narrow down the vast amount of possible methods to three distinct categories of interpretation.

Cartomancy. This is the most traditional way to read the Tarot, or indeed, any pack of playing cards. I am not particularly well-versed in these methods (yet), but my understanding is that cartomancy involves attaching a number of keywords to the upright and reversed positions of each card, and then laying the cards out to be read as if it were a sentence written on a page. This method of reading requires great skill to master, because the reader must be able to draw from an extensive store of keywords and string together a coherent sentence from those most appropriate to the situation on a moment’s notice. This seems to me to be the method most often associated with actual “fortune-telling”.

Because this method relies largely on rote memorization, it is most suitable for Tarots with unillustrated pip cards. These sorts of decks include Marseille packs especially, but also Etteilla decks and various historic decks, as well as normal packs of 52 or 32 playing cards. Etteilla in particular is responsible for the basic standardization of cartomantic definitions for the Tarot cards, and in fact his system is so well-ingrained that many other, non-cartomantic decks still draw from his meanings for inspiration for their own.

Etteilla’s isn’t the only version of this method, just probably the most prevalent in Tarot divination. Other methods may incorporate numerology or elemental dignities, but if they rely too heavily on these sorts of things, they begin to slide into the territory of the next method.

Occult. This relies on the correlation of Tarot cards with various occult theories and doctrines, most notably Astrology, Kabbalah, and Alchemy. Whereas cartomancy is essentially a self-contained system, occult methods require knowledge of esoteric subjects outside of the Tarot, and therefore usually can only be used with success after much study. Some degree of memorization is still necessary, although rather than keywords, readers must remember the significance of occult symbolism as it appears on the cards.

With the occult, as with cartomancy, there are several variable methods. Occult Tarots include any decks steeped in Astrology or Kabbalah or any number of other esoteric systems. Particularly relevant are packs such as the Thoth or any Golden Dawn-based decks. Oswald Wirth also created a pack of Major Arcana chock full of occultism, but neglected to provide the Minor Arcana. All the same, his influence is still widely felt in many subsequent occult decks, and he offers an alternative to the very popular and heavily influential methods of the Golden Dawn.

The small cards in occult decks are often reminiscent of regular pips, but will typically include occult symbols and glyphs, as well as intentionally symbolic color and geometric schemes. Illustrated small cards are not out of the question, though.

Intuitive. The widest range of possible reading methods falls within the intuitive category. All that is required for intuitive readings is that the reader trusts the images on the cards to stir the subconscious in order to relay the divinatory message. An understanding of the occult is unnecessary, as is a list of cartomantic definitions, although both can be incorporated into this sort of reading. Other ideas outside of the Tarot can have an influence, too, such as psychology or mythology (my personal favorite). Intuitive readings can be as self-contained within the cards or as all-inclusive of other ideas as the reader likes. The only requirement is that it is all inspired in the moment of reading by the images on the cards, and is not confined to a previously ordained system of correspondences. Really, this method is not a method in the same sense as cartomancy or the occult; rather, it’s almost like a lack of a method.

What does this picture remind you of? How do you react to seeing this one? Etc.

It is very difficult not to oversimplify this one (well, I’ve run that risk with all three of these methods, but I think it’s the worst here). There is an entire spectrum of possibilities, ranging from total formlessness (this is the type of reader who may be struck one day by the importance a certain flower or leaf, for example, and totally ignore it the next day – there is no consistency), to an almost cartomantic approach, by which I mean that a reader probably has a good idea formed in his or her mind ahead of time of the general meaning of each card, but will ultimately decide in the moment of the reading which aspect is important. The difference between this and cartomancy is that the meaning in this case is based on personal ideas and experience rather than an established tradition. Of course, more often than not, personal interpretations are at least partially influenced by cartomantic, or sometimes even occult, traditions.

Because of the role intuition plays in this method of reading, decks with illustrated small cards are the most effective, although it is not unheard of to use decks with Marseille pips or occult symbolism intuitively. The majority of these illustrated decks are based on the Rider-Waite Tarot.

The Rider Tarot itself, in my mind, works best as an intuitive deck, although I seriously doubt it was created for that purpose (was intuitive reading even a thing back then?), and the argument for its uses as an occult deck (because of veiled references to the teachings of the Golden Dawn in the Major Arcana) or a cartomantic deck (because of the inherent influence of Etteilla’s definitions in the design of the Minor Arcana illustrations) are strong. The pictures on the cards are vague enough on these points, however, and are evocative enough in general to be very conducive to intuitive readings.

Unlike cartomantic or occult methods of reading, no prior knowledge is needed to read intuitively, and a complete novice can read by this method with as much success as a seasoned Tarot veteran. With that being said, however, the constant addition of new knowledge that comes with time and use makes intuitive reading unique to each person who does it, and can become incredibly complex and insightful in ways that more traditional methods seem unlikely to achieve. On the flip side, though, intuitive readings are far more subjective than other methods, and they are easily prone to the projection of the reader’s biases.

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As you can probably see, it is the style of the Minor Arcana of a Tarot that tends to define the method best suited for use, at least as I’ve presented them. I think that is interesting in itself, because we so often find ourselves focusing on the Major Arcana. In most Tarots, though, the Major Arcana is only subtly different from one to the next, while the style of the Minors can change quite drastically. And no matter how much stock we put into the Majors, I think it is the Minors that really add nuance to a reading.

I should probably say for the sake of completeness that I would add a fourth category called “uncategorizable,” which, obviously enough, doesn’t fit into any of the above. The first example that comes to my mind would be a pack like the Wildwood, which has an intended method of use that is fairly unique to it (not that you couldn’t read it intuitively or otherwise).

These are some broad generalizations that I’ve made in this post, and there is certainly plenty of overlap (I think the Medieval Scapini Tarot, for example, is a perfect example of a deck that can easily be used with any of these three methods). It’s just something I’ve been pondering, though, so I thought I’d share.

What methods do you use? Is there anything I’ve left out? Feel free to comment.