Chapter 9


In the previous section I talked about individual cards; what each means in terms of words and symbols. I discussed ways in which you can find out what these cards mean to you personally, and I set out some of my personal feelings (students of psychoanalysis are asked to refrain from sending me the results of any insight into my character they have obtained from reading that part). Now I am going to talk about the way in which the individual words are put together to form a sentence. These sentences are called spreads.

Perhaps a more accurate analogy would be to call the spreads the grammar of the Tarot. By grammar I mean the formal way in which words are combined to form sentences. Every language has a grammar of one sort or another. Even when we are very small, we are told that 'the cat sits on the mat* is grammatically correct, while 'cat on the mat is sitting' is not. The word order matters; I chose those particular examples because in other languages the second one would be more correct than the first.

Grammar involves word order, and the tense of the verb, whether it is past, present or future. It involves deciding on the number of people involved, their sex, whether someone is doing something or whether it is being done to them. The actual words involved can change, but their order remains the same. We can say:

'the cat sat on the mat'

'the cat stood on the mat'

'the cat stood on the table'

'the vase stood on the table'

- notice how we have changed all the words in the sentence without changing the form. Well, that 'form' is really what a spread is about, an arrangement which allows for individual cards to fit into a pre-arranged pattern.

There are many different patterns, just as there are many different ways of arranging a sentence. A little further on I shall talk about each individual spread, but first I'll talk about spreads in general.

Spreads can vary from three cards to the whole 78-card pack. Every book on the subject (and this book is no exception) shows a number of spreads. Usually, the beginner is urged to start with a simple spread and work his or her way to the more complicated. Rather as we start with simple 'the cat sat on the mat' sentences and work gradually to the very complicated, involuted sentences beloved by civil servants and insurance companies.

Straightaway the astute reader will object that the writings of the civil servants and the insurance companies are carefully written so as to cause the maximum amount of confusion together with the minimum amount of information. So it is with spreads. Generally speaking, the fewer cards there are in a spread, the more definite the information - but the more likely that the Reader will get it wrong.

Imagine for a moment that the Querent asks whether there will be good fortune coming his way. You might decide to choose only one card, and say 'Yes' if the card is an even number, and 'No' if uneven. There is no evasiveness or subtlety, but your chances of being right are only 50% - you might as well have tossed a coin.

If you used twenty cards (or words) then you could talk about good luck coming only under certain conditions of the Querent's behaviour, or after other events had passed. There would be less certainty and definition.

It is certainly possible to use complicated and involuted sentences in order to express one's feelings as accurately as possible, but remember for every Henry James there are ten thousand civil servants waffling away.

If you want to express yourself as clearly and yet as interestingly as possible, then until you develop a style of your own, it is best to use reasonably short sentences, with a clear structure. Similarly, when you start using your cards in a spread, pick patterns which are of a reasonable complexity. Reserve the very simple spreads for moments of mystical intuition, and the very complicated spreads for the time when you can make full use of them. Using complicated spreads merely because they are a challenge is rather like making complicated sentences when trying to create a good impression.

Many years ago I replied to an advertisement asking for someone to give English lessons to a Pakistani gentleman who knew some English but who felt he needed to know more in order to master it. It quickly developed that back in Pakistan, where he had learned English in the local secondary school, he was rewarded for learning how to spell and define long complicated English words. There were fewer marks for short English words. Hence he knew words like 'abrogated', although he couldn't use the word in normal conversation. The same applied to his sentence structure, which was complicated, and studded with 'whereas' and 'notwithstanding'; as a result his use of English was difficult to understand at times. I put him on a course of an hour each day watching television or listening to the radio, and then writing short sentences of noun, verb and predicate only. No conditional or other subordinate clauses; I also ruthlessly struck out long and complicated words and asked him to find shorter, more generally used ones.

Right, having talked about the relation between language and the Tarot, I will now talk only about spreads, and stop using analogies. So, you are by now burning to know, how do we arrange a spread?

A number of cards are chosen (how they are chosen is discussed later on in the book) and put down in a pattern. Examples of these patterns follow, but right now we are looking at the idea of pattern. Each position in the pattern is given a heading, such as Hopes and Fears or Nearest and Dearest or the Past. Then we can talk about the past, or the hopes and fears of the Querent by looking at the position under which such information is to be found, and describing the attributes of the card occupying that position.

Supposing for instance the position of the Past is occupied by the card called the Lovers, then you might decide (using my set of interpretations for convenience) that in the past the Querent has had to choose or make a decision. You don't know what that choice or decision was, but you can tell that it was made at some time in the past.

Other books you will have read on the Tarot (that is, if you are following my ideas in chapter 7) will have set out some interesting spreads. The normal method is to give a diagram showing you the pattern in which they are to be laid out, and then each position is marked with its subject. There will then be a short discussion as to exactly what a phrase like Hopes and Fears means, which will be followed by a pious mention of the fact that adjacent cards will influence the meaning of the given card. The discussion will often, but not always, finish with a fully worked-out example.

Now it is that phrase 'adjacent cards will influence' which really hit me when I first started to study writings on the Tarot. After all, if a book spends three-quarters of its content on describing the meanings of the cards, taken one at a time, and another 24% on showing you the spreads, then it is rather like a dictionary which lists the meanings of all the words in a foreign language, gives you a few typical sentences to show the way of putting these words together, and then casually mentions that the meanings of the words depends on the other words in the sentence! That could cover an awful lot of ground.

So, when we look at spreads, we must describe the pattern, the positions in that pattern and what they are describing, which cards influence which others, what the spread is used for, what effects you can create using it, and finally, which cards you should use in it.

I think the idea of arranging cards in a pattern, and assigning each position a heading is fairly simple. But the idea of cards influencing each other is more complicated. Let's go into some detail, and see how this works in practice.

Suppose I wish to describe a friend of mine. I can begin by saying he is an emotional man, i.e. someone with strong emotions. I use only the one adjective 'emotional' to describe him. This will give you some idea of what the man is like, but not much.

Now if I add a second adjective 'sensitive' to make the phrase 'a sensitive, emotional man' you might get the picture of a person who is easily aware of other people's feelings, and is not afraid to express his own. But suppose that instead of the word 'sensitive' I had used the word 'angry' to obtain the phrase 'an angry, emotional man'. We get a totally different picture; we see a man who is easily angered, or perhaps even is angry all the time, and who has furious rows with other people. You see how the single adjective 'emotional' is changed by the adjective next to it.

Similarly, if in a spread about a person, I saw the Lovers under the heading the Past, all I would know is that there had been a decision or choice made in the past. But if the card next to it were the six of Swords, which usually is taken to mean a journey across the water, then we would know the decision or choice had to be about whether to make such a journey, or perhaps where to go. If, on the other hand, the card next to it were to be Death then the choice or decision had to do with making a drastic change.

Any two adjectives taken together produce a subtle, third meaning which is different if either one of the adjectives is combined with yet another adjective. If you use three adjectives, like Time Magazine, to describe someone, it becomes either very subtle, or more usually, meaningless. So in the early stages, read combinations of cards in the spreads two at a time. Later, when you feel more comfortable, use three at a time.

'The problem now arising on platform 3' is how to decide which is the 'adjacent' card. Here I suggest we look at something which is rarely perceived, namely the pattern of the spread itself. It is in fact a puzzle as to why the cards have to be arranged in patterns which make pretty geometric patterns, but seem to have no other function.

Laying the cards in a row, and designating headings by saying the first one is about your character, the second about your nearest and dearest, and so on to the end of the row, seems to be an exception. Most spreads use complicated patterns like the cross, a circle, a horse-shoe, the tree of life, and the like. Why? If we look at a painting of any time between the Renaissance and the Impressionists, we will notice the attention that is paid to the positioning of the objects or people in the picture. Very often the artist takes the trouble to arrange objects in such a way that the eye is led to a particular object or person which forms the subject of the painting. There are certain tricks or rules which can be used to achieve this, and part of an artist's training is to learn how to make use of these.

Similarly, the pattern in a spread is designed to lead the mind from certain positions to certain others. This rarely follows the order in which the cards are laid, but seems to follow rules which are based on the way the human brain coupled to the human eye perceive movements and relationships that are significant. Some of these rules of perception form the basis of the study of the psychology of perception; it is only recently that scientists began to set out formal rules and discover relationships which have formed the basis of human activities and until now were formulated on a purely intuitive basis. A concrete example will be shown in chapter 11- the Celtic Cross,

For the present, it is enough to realize that each time we use a spread, we must try to discover which cards are adjacent. I have set out some of these patterns of adjacency in detail in the chapters on individual spreads, but it must be observed that adjacency, generally speaking, is through association of ideas and subject, rather than the fact that cards lie near each other. Deciding which cards are 'adjacent' is part of the reading; there are rules you can use that will give you relationships which apply to most readings, but just as the great artist learns to ignore or break the rules, so must you learn to break the standard patterns. If you learn the rules first, then later, with experience, you will learn how and when to break them.

At this stage, before you settle down to read about the individual spreads, you may be wondering about the need for all these different patterns. As already explained, this is partly due to the need for greater or lesser detail, subtlety and accuracy. The other reason is that we need different spreads to answer the many different questions that arise.

The Querent may ask you to give the answer, yes or no, to a specific problem; he doesn't want to know when or why, just yes or no. Another Querent isn't quite sure what the problem is, and asks for clarification, whilst a third is debating a choice, and would like guidance. Each needs a different spread, the spread being designed to throw light on the problem rather than just tell us something which we might not feel the need to know. Someone with a broken arm doesn't need a general health check-up, he needs a splint. Only after the broken arm is set can the doctor start asking about the general health of the patient.

The final point to bear in mind when choosing a spread is the choice of cards. By this I mean that it is not always necessary to use the full pack of 78 cards, nor even always desirable.

The pack is sold as a set of 78 cards, but in fact, even the beginner will realize that it can be readily divided into a Major and a Minor Arcana. Furthermore, the Minor can be divided into four suits. It is perfectly possible to use only selected parts of the pack for specific purposes.

For instance, as I have shown, the Major Arcana is a much 'deeper' psychologically or mystically oriented series, whereas the Minor Arcana is more about the everyday events that occur. In everyday practice, this means that when you want to simply tell fortunes, it is useful to use only the Minor; when someone needs to make an important decision about what for want of a better phrase I will call 'life style*, or is in deep trouble, then we use only the Major. If someone needs a specific answer to a money or job problem, use only the suit of Pentacles; if they need to know about their loved ones and friends, use the suit of Cups.

I think that about covers the use of spreads in general, and the time has come to start looking at individual spreads. It would be useful to read all the spreads right through, so that you can pick up some of the ideas, and then try a simple spread and get used to it.
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