The Pragmatic Reading

I like to say that I “just read the cards,” I don’t try to discover or guess in advance what the sitter’s motives, objectives or ambitions are because I really don’t need to know. My practice of not wanting to hear the specific question at the start of a reading serves this approach quite well because the cards are free to “speak their piece” without my conscious or subconscious steering, and the sitter’s privacy is thereby assured. I will then adapt my initial perspective to what I absorb during the ensuing dialogue. However, I wanted to take some time to examine exactly what “just reading the cards” entails.

At the highest level, the individual meaning of each card as I first learned and then experienced and internalized it through years of practice is where I start, followed by a synthesis of those meanings in combination. But I like to take a “gestalt view” of the whole spread before getting into the card-by-card analysis as a way to orient myself to the narrative. This gives me a general outline of the story and lets me see where the main focus and any potential “crises” or “turning points” lie in the situation. My observations will then revolve around this dominant feature, which is often more to-the-point than the “outcome” or end-of-the-matter card. I usually revisit this preliminary overview in a broad way during the summary wrap-up of the reading.

A subsidiary technique is to let my imagination run with the visual suggestions presented by the images (also known as “free-association”) to see if any instructive metaphors or analogies come to mind. This is especially useful when cards of a more abstract nature appear because it allows querents to link them directly to their experience of the world in terms of well-established paradigms, often cultural, social, literary or historical. However, it is  almost always secondary to the foundation of traditional lore on which I base my commentary, unless the sitter is having trouble relating to that viewpoint. My goal is to always make sure that I “connect the dots” in a meaningful way, and I will use any tool in my interpretive toolbox to make that happen.

What I don’t do is “trust my intuition” to the exclusion of the more formal knowledge base that I’ve acquired over the last four-plus decades. I will rely on inspiration, imagination and ingenuity in the same way any competent storyteller does. I also don’t defer to “guides” or any other reputedly superior spiritual entities, while still assuming that wisdom is channeled through the subconscious from a more exalted source. This is a purely impersonal occurrence (think of it as “catching a wave”) that we can initiate by adopting the “right” attitude of  cautious openness toward it (cautious because we may be treading in the Lower Astral here). I just don’t feel the need to put a human or angelic face on it.

I will typically step the sitter through the sequence, ideally blending the positional meanings into a seamless whole by the end of the reading to create a compelling descriptive “word painting.” Judicious as well as creative use of language and vocabulary is vital in getting this across as persuasively and efficiently as possible. Although it isn’t my preferred method, any “hitches” in the flow (where I might otherwise gape open-mouthed into the void) can be redeemed by simply talking through the blockage, thinking out loud with the sitter’s help. My face-to-face readings are never a one-way conversation because I want sitters to validate what they’re hearing as we go along. The more effective I am at getting them to take ownership of the reading and chime in with their own insights, the happier I am. It’s the best way to achieve useful results.

The accusation of “cold reading” (i.e. drawing hints from the sitter’s appearance, mannerisms and statements rather than solely from the cards), is a popular ploy of debunkers but, to be honest, I scarcely look at the querent before we begin, and almost never when in the middle of the reading, during which I’m focused exclusively on the spread. If I pick up anything subliminally it is entirely by accident, and I always treat any such vague impressions as unfounded unless mirrored in the cards. If we can’t extract all of the information we need directly from them, we shouldn’t be presenting ourselves to the public as cartomancers.

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