At its heart, the act of reading the tarot cards (especially for others) is a psychic one, even though we insist that we “just read the cards, not minds.” The reader’s goal is to solve Winston Churchill’s “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” that obscures the querent’s future, the key to which is already known to the seeker at some murky level of awareness. The subconscious mind doesn’t speak plainly to our consciousness, instead communicating through the cards in symbolic hints of meaning that must be interpreted in a largely non-literal way. The same can be said of any type of divination that isn’t purely mental and involves the use of “props” of some kind. A case can be made that these abstract fragments of hidden wisdom don’t originate in our personal subconscious at all and are actually channeled through it into the arrangement of the cards from a deeper well of universal knowledge residing in the Collective Unconscious (or any other oracular repository of your choosing). Linking these subtle impressions in a convincing way to concrete events and circumstances in the “real world” requires, if not an actual “leap of faith,” at least a judicious “suspension of disbelief.” It has been called “trusting your intuition,” but I think of it more as an openness to guidance from the Cosmos if only we have the “eyes and ears” to tune into it.
The “scenic” images of the standard Waite-Smith (aka “RWS”) deck have long been used to aid in decoding the subliminal messages received, often through the practice of visual free-association that ideally sparks the intuition in “connecting the dots.” My suspicion, though, is that the “canned narrative vignettes” displayed in the pictures can become a crutch that steers the reading away from its true purpose. At the other end of the spectrum, the non-scenic “pip” cards of decks like the Tarot de Marseille are almost entirely cryptic in their symbolism and must be deciphered in more flexible and creative ways. My own preference is to rely on metaphors and analogies culled from shared cultural experience as a way to illuminate and reinforce the often faint glimmering of comprehension that the usual meanings excite in the querent’s imagination.
The form of intuitive insight that assists in “blindly” segregating a small set of significant cards from a randomly-distributed population of 78 is non-rational and non-linear, especially when pulling the cards one-by-one from different sections of a “fan” array. In the common method of dealing each card in series from the top of a shuffled deck, a more recondite realignment of the cards “just so” for the purpose of the reading emerges from handling and manipulating the deck. The psychic import derives from the fortuitous choices the querent makes in either zeroing in on certain face-down cards in the fan or stopping the shuffle when it “just feels right.” It all comes down to intent, which is why pulling cards using a “push-button” tarot app, with its “random number generator” method of selection, or simply picking a set of non-repeating numbers between 1 and 78 and forwarding them to the reader, will both yield useful results when a physical deck isn’t available to the querent. It’s all part of what I consider to be the as-yet-unexplained “science of how tarot works.”