According to author Richard Cavendish, the Roman philosopher Cicero considered the virtue of prudence to be comprised of three characteristics: memory, intelligence and foresight. When applied to the art of divination, these qualities refer to 1) fastidious contemplation of the past, 2) avid engagement with the present and 3) canny speculation about the future, all for the purpose of regulating one’s affairs with discernment and wisdom. This reasoning offers an excellent opportunity for recasting the standard three-card past/present/future “line” spread into more sophisticated terms. Memory allows us to respond more effectively and efficiently to present challenges based on the often-unpleasant recollection of past experiences, especially when trying to avoid repeating previous errors of judgment; intelligence encompasses the “real-time” savvy needed to chart one’s day-to-day course in the world; and foresight is crucial to anticipating the impact of one’s current attitudes and behaviors on the foreseeable range of future possibilities. Without these navigational precepts to guide us, we tend to drift through life like George Santayana’s inattentive student: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As a group they seem to boil down to exercising sound judgment in all things, and illuminating that cross-cutting purpose should be the goal of this type of reading.
The starting position (typically to the far left) should describe more than just what may have occurred in the past; ideally, it will briefly summarize the state of one’s physical, psychological and spiritual development as a consequence of having interacted with those events, leaving an indelible mark on the personality. It reminds me of the philosophical burden of Coleridge’s “wedding guest” in The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner: “A sadder and a wiser man he rose the morrow morn.” In short, it should convey not only “what happened” but also “what has been learned as a result.”
The middle position is where I believe the “rubber meets the road.” We can either over-react to current stimuli, succumbing to the urge for rash action, or under-react, suffering the inhibitions of excessive caution; the “intelligence of prudence” advises us to do neither. The technique of Elemental Dignity can be used to determine whether the actions we are taking or planning to take are strengthened or weakened in their resolve by either alignment or misalignment with past considerations and future assumptions. A mutually “friendly” series of cards says “go for it,” while an “unfriendly” or “neutral” one cautions “stop and think for a moment before acting, there may be a better way.”
The final position, traditionally seen as “what may come to pass,” is better viewed as suggesting what we can do to either promote or prevent the particular outcome shown in the card. The idea that “nothing is carved in stone” has its day in this scenario. We can either act decisively to ensure a positive result or thwart a negative one, or choose to abstain from acting altogether and just take whatever comes. The necessity of assuming personal responsibility for one’s own future compels me to tell my clients “It’s your reading, I’m just the facilitator. What you choose to make of it is up to you”