A Step Beyond

In the last few months I’ve read three tarot books that have caused me to move beyond my aversion to drawing additional “clarifier” cards during my readings, although in  a very specific and limited way. This situation arises due to the facing (also known as “gaze,” “regard,” “gesture” or “posture”) of the figures on the cards in any of their formulations – primarily in the court cards but also in the trumps and the scenic pips if human (or humanoid) figures are present. Paul Huson, in his Mystical Origins of the Tarot, came up with what for me was the clinching argument: we don’t want to leave any loose ends in our narratives.

In a line of cards, if the figure on either end is gazing away from the rest in apparent disaffection, we can assume that there is more to the story than meets the eye. We want to know what that person is looking at, whether it’s something from the past (typically to the left) that is still weighing heavily on the individual, or something glimpsed in the future (or to the right) that discourages full engagement with the present.  In either case the focus seems to be off-stage, where something unseen is “pulling the strings.” When the owner of the gaze lies within the confines of the series and there is a card on both sides, it is a self-contained phenomenon that can be read in a straightforward manner, needing no augmentation. But when the figure is staring into a void, we feel compelled to seek more information, and the only way to obtain it without resorting to purely intuitive guesswork is to add a card at the “open” end (or ends) of the layout.

There is another instance where I’ve found the addition of a card or two to be valuable: when the outcome card in a spread is particularly inconclusive. I recently did a reading for a woman who was agonizing over whether to retreat from unrelenting (and demeaning) domestic strife and isolate herself within her own private sanctuary  whenever things become unbearable for her. The situation was one in which she was being intentionally “marginalized” by the adult children of her live-in boyfriend, who resented her presence in their father’s life and made no bones about showing it during visits, although in a maddening, passive-aggressive way (they refused to talk directly to her in her own home, acting like she wasn’t there).

We were using the Celtic Cross spread with the Thoth deck and its non-scenic pip cards. The near-future card was Lust, showing clearly that she needed to do something decisive – and soon – to regain control of her life. But the outcome card was the 7 of Disks reversed, with its title of “Failure” and its dank atmosphere of sheer misery (Crowley called it “Blight”). The reversal seemed to add insult to injury by placing immediate resolution out of reach. The implication was that the situation wouldn’t change on its own, so she would have to adjust her approach to it, but the card offered no hints about how to do that other than by trying harder to ignore it.

I had little encouragement to give her so I decided to pull two more cards to show the “rest of the story.” This produced the Queen of Disks and the Hermit, both upright. The first thing she said was “It looks like I should go into my office and close the door when they come to visit,” which is exactly what she had proposed at the beginning of the reading when the High Priestess showed up. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and had nothing to add to her observation. I showed her the RWS Strength card, which is followed directly by the Hermit, suggesting that she had found her answer and should follow through. It wasn’t an especially empowering one since it involved maneuvering around the dilemma rather than confronting it, but sometimes “discretion is the better part of valor.”

I should add that I have occasionally appended a card to other positions in a Celtic Cross when the testimony is particularly vague, but it’s an uncommon move that I generally try to avoid.  It still feels too much like “cheating” to me.

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