Think Once, Then Stop Thinking

There seems to be endless online debate over the proper methodology for laying out the cards. It ranges from “Just do it!” with no planned sequence to carefully orchestrating the pull for maximum coherence. To those who profess to using no prescribed technique, I would ask “Not even self-prescribed?” I would argue that “no method” is a method in its own right, else interpreting the result becomes like trying to read the “stream-of-consciousness” ramblings of William Burroughs or James Joyce: you don’t know where the punctuation is supposed to go (at least e e cummings was constrained by the limited scope of his poems).

I see establishing a personal routine as the antithesis of the carpenter’s creed (“Measure twice, cut once”); it becomes “Think once, then stop thinking.” We first need to satisfy ourselves that whatever approach we use gives us confidence in the validity of the draw for the intended purpose of the reading; upon reaching that watershed, we can stop pondering forevermore. We could, of course, do it differently every time as the spirit moves us, but I don’t know anyone who is that dedicated to avoiding structure. About as far as I will go in the direction of studied disorder is spread-specific procedures that may prepare and dispense the deck in alternate ways from my customary regimen. But mostly I’m a creature of habit who maintains consistency even if there is no compelling reason to do so.

Case in point: many people learned from the old books that advise shuffling, cutting and reassembling the deck, then pulling the cards in order from the top to populate the spread (or series if no formal spread is used). It’s how I learned, and I seldom deviate even today. However, there are some modern practices that I will sometimes incorporate into my spread designs, such as the “base” or “shadow” card or group of cards that I will pull from the bottom of the deck. But in all cases these intentional deviations must serve the purpose of the reading first; there is nothing unpremeditated about any array I come up with. Building them into a spread is the ultimate way to apply the aphorism in the title of this post. It’s all part of the “mad scientist” side of my persona (in more dignified terms, consider it “thinking man’s tarot”). The “mystic” can then pick up from there and intuitively blur the boundaries when such fluidity is inspired by the contingencies of the narrative.

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