Pattern Recognition

Last night, while reading John Michael Greer’s The Art and Practice of Geomancy, I came across a passage that has relevance for most forms of divination: “sensing the patterns in the spiritus mundi, after all, is what divination does best.” Greer described the  spiritus mundi as the “life force of the world,” which – along with the anima mundi (the “consciousness of the world”) and the corpus mundi (the “physical world”) – formed the three-fold model of the Universe posited by Renaissance philosophers. Ancient forms of divination were closer to natural auguries as the expression of this idea, such as the numerous forms of zoomancy ( interpreting the appearance and behavior of animals, e.g. the flight of a flock of birds). Scatomancy, anyone?

As a tarot reader I often feel like a puzzle-master trying to assemble the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The difference is that there is no pre-determined arrangement of the pieces by which to build the “image” of a reading. Contemplating the idea of an “Akashic record,” I sometimes feel like Graham Chapman’s Shakespearean actor describing his mastery of the bard’s plays in the Monty Python sketch: “All of the words are there already, you just have to get them in the right order.” But divination only provides the language, we still have to craft  our own sentences using the vocabulary and grammar.

By opening the subconscious to suggestion from higher sources of inspiration (whatever we choose to call them), we receive an intimation or “rough sketch” of meaning that can be fleshed out and refined into a compelling narrative through the storyteller’s art. The pictures on the cards can be a springboard for this imaginative extrapolation from the “received wisdom” (free association is the term for it), but they don’t have to be. Some decks have scenic minor cards, which can be both a blessing and a curse; on one hand, the “canned vignettes” shown in the scenes may be directly pertinent to the querent’s situation and can really drive the reading forward, but on the other they can be a misleading “red herring” that can hijack the reading and take it in a direction that has nothing to do with the querent’s reality, from which the reader must then recover. Decks with so-called “pip” cards that have little anecdotal content are free from this conundrum, but the downside is that it is much harder to glean a “story” from their sparse imagery. The geometric  patterns they present are much more enigmatic and don’t favor the run-and-gun approach of free association.

The important thing is to view the spread first as a “gestalt” array in which each card rises or falls in significance according to its contribution to the whole. Nothing is read in a vacuum; all are relative to the “big picture.” This is even true of “positional” spreads like the Celtic Cross, where the series should be read as a flowing continuum, not as a group of individual “snapshots” that must be stitched together. This obviously requires that all cards be face-up when the interpretation begins, which voids the practice of revealing the cards one-at-a-time as many readers like to do. It creates a working environment in which the spread is read inductively, working backward from the larger pattern to highlight the details that deliver the most telling testimony to the overall vision. Deductive reading is more like building a “Lego castle,” in which the blocks of meaning are stacked up to produce an outcome. Both ways will work, but induction “cuts to the chase” with greater confidence that we aren’t pursuing phantom leads that go nowhere in the final analysis simply by the way in which we put the reading together. In the past, when working deductively, I used to circle back at the end of a reading and revisit anything that seemingly came to a dead end in the early going, but now I integrate everything on-the-fly. The pattern speaks volumes, and the total winds up being greater than the sum of its parts.

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