Where There’s Smoke . . .

One objection that some tarot readers have to so-called “positional” spreads – those that typically bear a fixed positive or negative meaning for each card position in the layout – is that they can create  an uncomfortable setting where a nominally good” card must be interpreted in a “bad” way according to its position and vice versa. The Celtic Cross is a perfect example of this. Many people struggle mightily with a scenario such as the Tower or the 10 of Swords in the “best possible outcome” or “advice” position. It just feels contrived – even wrong – and can sour the whole reading. This is primarily a beginner’s malaise, since experienced readers have made their peace with it over time, usually by taking the broad philosophical view.

The formulation of the question is arguably the most important factor in dealing with these instances. If the best result for the querent would be for a difficult situation to come to an end, perhaps as shown by the Tower or the 10 of Swords, a card in the “outcome” position showing that things will stay as they are would be an unfortunate conclusion even if the card is overtly positive or neutral in nature. Rather than asking “Will I get out of this mess?” it might be more useful to ask “How can I overcome my problems?” It reminds me of the old joke where you bait someone with “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” No matter whether the answer is “yes” or “no,” there is still guilt implied in the question since even a “yes” is an admission of prior wrong-doing. It’s the classic “no-win situation.”  Simple “yes-or-no” questions are exceptionally vulnerable to this dilemma, and should ideally be reworked into a less literal form before a reading is attempted.

In my own experience, the more cards that are included in a spread, the more valuable position meanings become because they supply an interpretive  framework for coping with information overload and reconciling contradictory inputs. The alternative to positional spreads – the “no-position” layout – mimics throwing a handful of rocks into a metal bucket and shaking it: you essentially wind up with noise. My guess is that even those who swear by it follow some unwritten conventions for sequencing. I manage the “good card/bad position” mismatch and its flip-side by considering them either “mitigators” – taking the edge off of harsh circumstances – or “aggravators” – making even an encouraging outlook more challenging. The advantage of this approach is that it stimulates the imagination when confronted with the need to examine the “dark side” of some of the more traditionally positive cards in the deck (like the Sun), or trying to find extenuating benefit in the most negative ones (like the Devil). As mentioned above, the context of the question figures heavily in which one should receive the most emphasis.

3 thoughts on “Where There’s Smoke . . .

  1. I don’t believe any card is fully “good” or “bad” anyway – like life, Tarot consists of many shades. Even the brightest, sunniest day can leave you with a sunburn, and the coldest, darkest night can bring a warm bed and sweet dreams. Tarot Reading is a constant balancing act. Pre-determined card positions stop you from “cheating” yourself – even subconsciously – by quickly swapping one cardposition for another because it LOOKS like the better outcome.

    Liked by 1 person

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