Relating to the Tarot: Patrons.

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I didn’t come up with the idea of Tarot patrons. It’s an idea that is significantly less widespread than significators (at least, as far as I can tell), although I think they go hand-in-hand when it comes to identifying on a more personal level with your cards. The first place I came across it was a on fellow Tarot blog. Since reading about it there, though, the patron has become an essential component of how I understand the cards and my relation to them, which is why I recommended my friends select their own patrons as a follow-up to the selection of their significators.

While the significator was an exercise aimed specifically at getting familiar with the court cards, the patron is all about the Major Arcana.* In many respects, the patron and the significator are very similar. If nothing else, you should identify with them both. But there is a difference. The difference between a significator and a patron is essentially that of the Courts versus the Majors: the former represents actual people, while the latter represents something altogether higher.

I like to think of it like this:

The Tarot, as I have stressed before, is akin to a book. More particularly, a book containing myths, such as Hesiod’s Theogony or Snorri’s Edda. If the Tarot is the story, the significator is the hero archetype, or the protagonist. His or her divine beneficiary would then be the Tarot patron. Thus we have gods and heroes, the characters of our very own personal myths and legends.

For example, during the seige of Troy, Menelaus at one point challenged Paris to a duel. Paris engaged and was ultimately bested. At the last moment, however, Paris was saved when he was shrouded in mist and teleported to safety by Aphrodite. If Paris chose for his significator the Page of Cups, Aphrodite would be his patron (or matron, as the case may be), and she’d probably be the Empress.**

You don’t have to believe in any god to participate in the patron exercise. In this case, consider “god” a metaphor to represent whatever it is you consider an ideal. The patron is a guiding voice, something you strive to emulate. In particular, the patron should express your relationship with the Tarot, although it certainly does not have to be limited to that.

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So, how should you go about selecting the patron? If you know anything about the cards and their meanings, then you should be able to select the card or cards which best illustrate your worldview with little difficulty (or, perhaps, a lot of difficulty, depending on how sure of yourself you are). But these posts are aimed at the beginner, so I’ll suggest this approach: which one do you like the best? Which picture strikes you? Everyone has a favorite, and in my experience, a person’s favorite Major and their “patron” often turn out to be one and the same.

For example, my patron is the Hermit, which should come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog. Not only did the Hermit introduce me to the Tarot, but he represents my approach to the cards, and indeed, much of my spiritual philosophy.

You should pick one card for your patron. Having made that decision, though, I think there is nothing wrong with going back and selecting others as you see fit. The Hermit is my patron, and would be my only patron if I were to select only one. But a more complete understanding of my relationship with the cards requires at least one more: the Magician. I can continue with more, but at the end of the day, it is these two figures that I think best defines my relationship with the Tarot.

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Now, there is something to be said about the Major Arcana as a sequence. Regardless of which card is your patron, it is imperative to incorporate them all into your worldview. The patron serves only to introduce us to the pantheon. He or she may look upon us in favor, and so we would naturally be inclined towards that figure. But they are all an aspect of a greater whole, and that includes your patron as much as it does your least favorite card. In fact, your least favorite card can suggest as much about you as does your favorite, but that’s a subject for another time.

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Perhaps the idea of the patron is not as well-known as the significator because the concept it represents is a bit more abstract. I hope I did a satisfactory job of explaining what a patron card should represent. Once you’ve selected both your significators and your patrons, you should begin to have a handle on how you personally connect with your cards. As I said in the previous post, these exercises are not meant for getting better at using the cards. In fact, while the significator can be used in divination, the patron has almost nothing to do with the actual practice. It’s an idea, something to hold in the back of your mind while you are divining. As Jack of Wands asks in his blog post I linked above: “Under whose auspices do you read Tarot?” It is a question worth asking of anyone who uses the cards, I think, and it is in that spirit that I pose this exercise.

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My Patrons and my Significators.

 

*Technically, you could use a Major Arcana as your significator. I’ve done it before. But just for fun, let’s try and stay within the parameters I’ve set for these exercises, at least for now.

**Paul Huson’s DFW Tarot assigns famous names from antiquity to the court cards based on popular renaissance attributions. The Page of Cups is Paris, according to his sources, hence my assumption that he might select this card has his significator. The Empress-Aphrodite correlation needs no further explanation, I hope.

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Relating to the Tarot: Significators.

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This post is, in a sense, a continuation of the series of posts for the Tarot beginner I’ve called the “Basics“, the most recent of which deals with getting started using the cards (it’s really just a dip of the toes in the shallow end, but you gotta start somewhere, and there’s only so much objective advice I can give; click here to read it).

Learning all 78 cards of the Tarot when you are a complete novice can seem a daunting task, and I believe that finding ways to personally relate with your cards will, if not alleviate the challenge, at least make it more immediately interesting.

When I succeeded in introducing my friends and fellow Council members to the Tarot, I devised two (not remotely original) exercises to help them identify personally with their cards (and to help me know who I’m looking at when they turn up in my own readings). These exercises are not necessarily designed to help anyone learn divinatory meanings or anything like that. They are designed rather to connect the reader with his or her cards while simultaneously allowing for the opportunity to see how that person views him or herself. I like to think of it as giving the deck an opportunity to “learn” about who you are while you learn about it. The first of these exercises is to select your significators.

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Now, I’ve already written at least two posts that center around the idea of significators, so I don’t think I really need to go too in-depth here with explanations about what a significator is or how it might be used in a reading. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a significator, click here for an introduction, and here for a little context on how I like to use them for divining.

This exercise deals only with Court cards, so separate these from your deck before continuing. Because the Court is often the most difficult part of the Tarot to understand, I think doing this exercise first out of the two has the added benefit of getting familiar with them early on.

The essence of the exercise is simple enough to explain: select any and all of the court cards that you feel you identify with.

It is, of course, a little more complex than that in practice, because there are many ways of choosing which cards you identify with. The simplest and most straightforward of these is simple intuition and aesthetics. What cards just strike you? Which ones look most appealing to you? You can pick significators in this fashion with absolutely zero other knowledge of the cards.

Another very popular method is selecting your significator based on its zodiacal attributions, and while I think this method is perfectly valid (and indeed, is how I came to choose the Knight of Cups as one of my own), it requires a bit of knowledge or study on the part of the chooser. There are also divergent ways of assigning astrological correspondences with the Tarot, which adds another layer of confusion to the mix. The methods of the Golden Dawn are probably the most prevalent, and they are the ones that I use.

Aside from astrology and aesthetics, there are many other ways to choose. I highly recommend Understanding the Tarot Court by Mary Greer and Tom Little as a starting point. Among other things, this book elaborates on MBTI personalities associated with each card, career types, elemental dignities, and the admittedly outdated physical characteristics traditionally attributed to them. The possibilities are virtually endless, and they’re all valid. Whatever makes most sense to you is what I’d recommend you go with.

However you feel compelled to continue, choose at least one card to represent yourself. I suggest considering what sorts of issues you can imagine approaching the Tarot with, and come up with a separate significator for each of them (work, relationships, spirituality, etc.).

Once you’ve selected as many significators as you feel is apt, take some time to consider why you picked these cards, what roles they fulfill, and how they might relate to each other; consider the ways in which you are these characters.

For example, when I choose a significator, I almost always choose a knight for rank and either pentacles or cups for suit.* Occasionally, I’ll choose wands or a page or king; it is very rare that I choose a queen, and rarer still that I choose from among the suit of swords. There are many conclusions that can be drawn about my character and my perceptions about both myself and the world around me based only on this information.

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If you follow any Tarot forums or other Tarot blogs, there is a very good chance you’ve not heard many positive opinions on the significator. This drives me up a wall, because I consciously try not to totally trash ideas that I don’t agree with when it comes to the Tarot, and it bothers me (though it doesn’t surprise me) that so many people do not do the same. Tarot is an incredibly open-ended method of fortune-telling (or whatever else you might do with it), and no two people approach it in the same way – there is no wrong way. There are, however, a lot of people lurking out there in cyberspace who would like you to think they know everything there is to know, and that there is a wrong way – namely, any way that doesn’t match theirs. Don’t fall for it. Do it your own way, and the first suggestion I have for you in that vein is to try any suggestion you are offered while you are still learning what works for you.

It is true that the significator is not an essential component of divination – the success or failure of the spread should not depend on whether or not you’ve specified to the cards ahead of time which one of them represents you.** With that being said, though, many spreads exist that require or at least suggest the use of a significator, and I see no reason not to comply in those instances. What harm is there in that? (there are arguments that there are problems with it, but I’ve found these problems to be of negligible consequence to the validity of a reading)

But all this back and forth among the online Tarot community about the use of the significator in divination is missing the point, I think. If you don’t think it’s necessary to use a significator while reading a spread, by all means, don’t use one. But, if you are reading this post, and you are a complete Tarot newbie, I urge you to at least try this exercise. It is a very useful way to begin building a more personal relationship with your cards. Even if you’re not new to the Tarot, it’s a good way to get to know the court cards in a new deck, or even an old one if the courts give you trouble. This post is not necessarily an exercise to determine how you will read from now on; it’s rather an exercise in the theory of significators and how they might apply to your readings. Whether or not you continue to use them after choosing them is entirely up to you.

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Yes, I know these cards are not the same thing. I use them both.

Given what I’ve written about the subject of significators in the past (linked above), this post might be a little redundant in places. However, I think the next post about Tarot familiarization exercises (the Tarot Patron) will make a bit more sense with this one to build on.

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*I should say “at the time of this writing,” because my suit and rank affiliations are liable to change, as are anyone else’s. As a pentacles sort of man, though, I think it’s safe to say that any changes in this area are going to be a very long time in coming. The point of this footnote, though, is that you should not feel constrained to whatever significators you choose. Nothing is permanent, least of all in the fluid world of Tarot-reading.

**Or the querent, if you’re reading for someone else. Having the querent select a significator, even if he or she has no knowledge of Tarot, can be handy because it gives you a bit of insight into them before the reading has even really started.

 

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.

How I Use Significators

I like significators. Not everyone does, but I think they are useful when working with the Tarot. Some spreads require significators, and some do not, but regardless, I like to know which cards represent me in the deck I’m using before I lay out a spread.

First of all, for those of you who may not know, a significator is a card that represents a specific person. This person can be you, but anyone you may know can also have a significator. Usually, significators are chosen from among the 16 court cards, but this does not absolutely have to be the case. The court cards are most appropriate for significators for a reason, though, so most people who use them will use a court card. The court cards, while also possibly representing actions or abstractions, are normally taken to represent people of various ranks, genders, skills, temperaments, occupations, or sometimes, in older systems, physical characteristics. Because they represent people, the court cards are better suited for significators than small cards or Major Arcana cards, which refer generally to situations and concepts.

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General personality – TdM, CHT

I use a few different court cards for significators, with at least one from each suit. These all represent specific areas of my life: work, music, magic, and one card that represents my general personality. I chose the latter significator based on a popular method: its zodiacal attribution. I admit, I tend to the side of skepticism when it comes to accuracy in astrology, but the personality traits described for my card in every book I’ve read on it are remarkably similar to mine. Coincidence? Maybe. I also like the way this card looks in most decks.

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Work – RWS, TdM

For my other significators, I used other methods. My work significator just made sense based on the nature of my employment and my “rank” within. For music, I laid out a spread using the same number of cards as there are members in the group, in the positions we occupy on stage, and with only court cards. In this way, I discovered which significator applied not only to myself, but to each member of the ensemble (or at least as they relate to me, that is, as a musician).

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Music – RWS, CHT

For magic, I based my significators on my element: Earth. Therefore, the suit of my magic significators is Coins (which is surely surprising for some, as most people seem to think Coins is a significator for work, because of its associations with money and materialism. I don’t say that’s wrong, but my situation calls for different associations). As an individual, practicing wizard, I use the Knight of Coins (or Pentacles, usually, because I generally use the RWS when dealing with these significators). As a member of the Council, I use the King of Pentacles.

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The Sentinel on the Council – RWS

The Council is a small group of like-minded wizards who discuss magical theory and practice. My fellow Council members each identify with one of the other four elements, and are represented in the Tarot by the respective King of their suit (or a Knight, if they show up in a spread that is oriented around magic but not around the Council).

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Meet the Council – RWS
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Some additional Earth Wizard significators – RWS, CHT

Depending on which of these significators in a given deck appeals most to my aesthetic sensibilities can help me decide which deck I use for a specific situation. I always know what my significators are, so even if the spread I’m using* doesn’t call for a significator, I pay special attention to one if it pops up. Of course, what one of these cards really means when not previously set aside as my significator depends on many factors, and it doesn’t necessarily have to represent me (the same can be said of any court card; there are significantly more than 16 people on this planet, so it should be understood that, as with anything else, context is key).

Sometimes, I do use the Major Arcana for significators, most especially the Hermit, the Magician, or the Fool. I reserve these for very special situations; more often, these cards represent some aspect of how I approach the Tarot, magic, or life in general (the Hermit especially, as should be obvious to anyone who notices how often he shows up throughout this blog, but as far as I’m concerned, the Magician is really just another side of the same figure and is therefore equally important to me). So I do identify very strongly with the Hermit and the Magician (and yes, the Fool, although I think that’s a card for everyone, no matter what other significators you use), but more often they represent an ideal for me to strive to achieve, whereas the court cards actually represent me as a regular human, with all the fallibility that comes with the condition of my frail mortal frame. Of course, it should go without saying that when a Major Arcana card shows up in a spread, I do not assume it’s the significator for anyone unless there are clear signs that indicate I should do so.

When it comes to significators, it really boils down to personal preference. I’ve noticed that many people don’t like them, don’t understand them, or just don’t see any practical reason to use them. If for no other reason, though, I do like them because they allow me to connect with my deck on a deeper level. It’s as if, with cards that can signify myself in them, I become as much a part of my decks’ lives as they are of mine. I feel like the Tarot is something with which you build a relationship, and it makes sense that it should get to know me in its own terms, just as I get to know it on mine.

 

*I read almost exclusively for myself. This is why I have no offers on this blog for readings like I see on many other Tarot blogs. It is also probably why I can afford to be so free and easy with my methods of interpretation. I only use this space as a place to exercise my writing chops and explore the Tarot and the messages it has for me. I’m eager to share, of course, and I hope that anyone who reads is positively affected by these thoughts, but even if no one does read, I still benefit from the mental activity.