The perceived need to assure a random distribution when pulling the cards for a reading often comes up in forum discussions. It’s seen by some as the sine qua non for success in producing a meaningful result. When you think about it, though, it’s not the mismatched assortment of cards drawn by pure chance that makes a difference in the narrative, but the subconscious selection of a particular group of cards from the total population to the exclusion of all others. The shuffle and cut are the determinants of this concatenation of “just the right cards” to answer the question. In short, the initial distribution of the population of 78 cards should be sufficiently random to prevent an expected conclusion, but the mechanics of the draw will then impose a specific filter on the selection that speaks directly to the querent’s circumstances. This refutation of randomness in the outcome is the reason I don’t pull cards from a “fan” except in single-card readings, and also why I require my sitters to shuffle the cards themselves.
Every once in a while, setting metaphysics aside, I sharpen my pointed little head and try to figure out the math behind the variety of ways a set number of cards can appear in a reading when chosen randomly from the total population. Since I despair of ever thoroughly understanding the logic behind permutations and combinations (I’m an artist, not a mathematician), I turn to one of the on-line calculators to give me the answer. In my most recent attempt, I chose two scenarios to run through the calculation: a three-card pull typical of many daily reading situations, and a 10-card Celtic Cross. I decided that the order of the cards in each sub-set isn’t important (remember, this is pure math, not story-telling) and the entire population of 78 cards is available for each draw. I’m still not entirely sure on the subject of repeat cards, though; it’s reasonable to assume that the same card may show up in more than one sub-set if all of the cards are available for each draw, but the repetition of identical groups of cards in any order should not be permitted. The calculator doesn’t address this distinction so I chose to make repeats available, assuming there will be no inappropriate “double-dipping” given the stated purpose of the calculation. I really need a mentor to help me sort this out.
The possible number of three-card combinations derived from a population of 78 cards using these rules is 82,160; assuming no exact repeats, it would take more than 225 years of daily draws (82,160/365) to see every possible combination. That’s a lot of readings! The Celtic Cross takes this even farther beyond the realm of reason. With ten cards pulled randomly from a 78-card deck each time, the number of possible combinations comes in at 4.0007510452e+12, or just over 67 million unique iterations. Do you have 184,309 years to spare? Suffice it to say, the subconscious selection process has a lot of real estate to work with in any particular instance. It’s no wonder new readers feel overwhelmed by the number of possible interpretations when trying to make sense of a series of cards in combination. More subconscious “heavy lifting” – along with large doses of discrimination and intuition – is required to single out the pertinent details from the “background noise.” This daunting complexity makes it abundantly clear why what I call the “Lego-block” approach to creating a reading by stacking up keywords is so futile at more advanced levels of interpretation. The traditional knowledge must be thoroughly internalized and integrated with the intuitive faculties to have a hope of getting one’s head around all of the ramifications inherent in a seemingly transparent array of ten cards. For the experienced reader, this constitutes both the challenge and the fun in working with the tarot.