It does look a bit like an onion, doesn’t it? But the idea behind the title is that situational well-being in any state of affairs can have both an “inner” and an “outer” dimension, with the reader’s task being to peel back the layers to get at the heart of the matter. Something that seems bright and shiny to outside observers can in fact be “rotten to the core.”
I jumped on a suggestion (thank you, Devin) to create a spread that could be used to come up with a prognosis for the U.S economy. I generalized it so it can fit any situation where there are both internal and external considerations that have a bearing on overall health. Some of those factors are mainly interior to the process (the “1-2-3” triangle), while others are subject to a range of interactive scenarios (the “4-5-6-7” quadrilateral). Situational well-being becomes a function of how much harmony or dissonance exists between the various elements of the reading. The three sub-quintessence cards pull everything together and, when individually paired with the “focus” card, suggest which of the three types of intervention is most appropriate for the occasion: aggressively stimulate improvement (“just a little more magic dust”); prudently remediate any trauma (“stop the hemorrhaging”); or passively “wait-and-see.” The primary color coding is intended to show the essential nature of each developmental path: red = aggressive; blue = deliberate; yellow = incisive. The secondary colors of the quint-card positions (orange, green, purple) echo these qualities in a muted way, stipulating a more suitably restrained and integrated response. The Grand Quintessence provides the “last word” on long-range prospects for well-being; all sub-quint cards should be referred back to the “focus” card to see which is most aligned with the original condition.
Here is a simpler version that makes the interactions between internal and external factors more obvious, as well as clearly setting apart the quintessence cards. In the “Graphics” section of his book A Dictionary of Symbols, J.E. Cirlot described the upright isosceles triangle as being “evolutive” (or striving to evolve) while the square (here we see a slightly “squashed” box – it must have been shipped by UPS) shows material circumstances; putting one inside the other, we have the urge to grow acting upon the physical world, which offers some resistance. The cards in each pattern suggest which has the upper hand, while the quint cards summarize the interplay and give a broader view of the matter. The overall movement of the “core” and “shell” card patterns is upward (Card #1 might even be seen as the “sprout” emerging from the top of the onion bulb), while the downward-pointing “quint” pattern grounds the situation in a larger reality. The Focus and Grand Quint pair reflect the “alpha-and-omega” of the situation.
Here is an example reading I pulled to demonstrate the structure of the layout. I won’t spoil the fun by doing a detailed analysis, but it does say that things don’t bode well for the economy. The Emperor reversed as the Grand Quint looks like it could be showing a case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Also note that the elemental dignities across the spread are not propitious: lots of Air and Earth, which are antagonistic. The theorists and the realists don’t see eye-to-eye. All three “core” cards are reversed, reminding me of the “dying cockroach” with its legs waggling feebly in the air. The conservative Hierophant knows what to do with that Ace of Pentacles, as does the fruitful Empress (patch things up and wait-and-see), but it’s beneath the Emperor to get his hands dirty. (Judgement reversed is just saying “run for the hills!”) Maybe Trump will fire yet another clueless, under-performing Fed Chairman.
A few words about the quintessence calculation:
In case you aren’t aware, the quintessence card is always a trump card obtained by adding together the numerical values of the cards in a spread and then, if necessary, reducing the result by addition of its digits (aka “numerological reduction”) until you arrive at a number below 22. Example: The 10 of Swords, the 7 of Cups and the 9 of Pentacles add to 26; since there is no Trump #26, adding 2 + 6 together produces 8, the number of Strength, which would be the “quintessence” of the three cards. Quints act as a symbolic summary or “roll-up”of the influences of the constituent cards expressed as a single trump.
Because you can never arrive at zero using standard numerological reduction (meaning you can’t get the Fool as quint unless you renumber it as 22), I subtract the value of reversed cards, which can give me both zero as the Fool and negative numbers which I read as reversed quints.
Although some writers exclude the court cards from the calculation because they are unnumbered, I see no reason why any card on the table should be exempt. So I consider the court cards to be numbered 11 (Page); 12 (Knight); 13 (Queen) and 14 (King) and factor them into the sum on that basis.
I often calculate a set of sub-quints for specific purposes as I do here, which I then add together to yield a “grand quintessence” and treat it as top-level commentary on the outcome of the reading, kind of a “last word” on the situation.