[Review] The Marseille Tarot Revealed by Yoav Ben-Dov

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Yoav Ben-Dov was an asset to the tarot community who passed away nearly a year ago, in December 2016, at age 59. He studied physics and the philosophy of science in Tel Aviv, was a student of Chilean-French cartomancer (and film director and polymath) Alejandro Jodorowsky, and held a doctorate in the philosophy of quantum mechanics.

He worked on a restored version of the Marseille based on the deck published by Nicholas Conver in 1760 and titled his restored deck the CBT (Conver/Ben-Doav Tarot) Marseille.

He developed his own method of reading the Marseille, which he called the “Open Reading” and which he detailed in a book of the same name.

In 2017, Llewellyn published his comprehensive book on the Marseille tarot, titled The Marseille Tarot Revealed: A Complete Guide to Symbolism, Meanings & Methods.

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I first ran across this book at my local library this summer and wanted to have a look before I bought it. It had been on my radar since it was published but I hadn’t had a chance (or time) to get my hands on it. It wasn’t long before I had decided I wanted to make this volume a permanent part of my essential tarot library.

Ben-Dov said he had three principle aims in this book: a general introduction to the tarot and the reading process, a guide to his “open reading” method, and a handbook to reading the Marseille specifically.

A few things set this work apart from the many others out there on the market, especially given the resurgence in popularity and “trendiness” in recent years of the Tarot de Marseille and the French school of cartomancy.

The Open Reading Method

First of these is Ben-Dov’s method, which departs from a vast majority of readers (including myself) who insist that the question is of vital importance. (It should be noted that when he refers to a reading, he is working in person and face-to-face with the querent, which gives him a lot more to work with in terms of body language and psychological input than is possible when doing telephone or email readings.)

Regarding questions, he states:

“As I see it, even if the querent comes to the reading with a clear and precise question, we should regard it only as a starting point. People are not always self-aware enough to know what exactly it is that troubles them.”

Open reading relies much on the skill and experience of the reader to help the querent uncover what’s “really” important in terms of the reading session. He says that taking a querent’s question “at face value and giving them a definite answer is usually not productive.”

Right or wrong, an optimistic prediction may lower the motivation of the querent to make an effort, as they may believe that success is guaranteed. A pessimistic one could also lower their motivation, this time because they may think all is lost anyway.

I absolutely agree with Ben-Dov’s observations here and he succinctly states the reason why I also avoid making “predictions” for clients and prefer to view the reading session as a process of coming to clarity and insight for proactive decision making.

Ben-Dov’s way of assigning meaning to the cards in the open reading method is something I found particularly challenging. It caused me to stretch my thinking in terms of card reading. I had already worked on elements that loosely resemble the open reading in my work with Enrique Enriquez, namely the idea that cards have no fixed meaning, nor do their positions. This will challenge many readers who used “cookbook” style texts to learn the cards, especially non-Marseille decks. However, it’s a worthwhile exercise and challenge for any reader who wants to develop a more holistic approach to card reading.

We don’t start by interpreting each card separately; instead, we first try to see the whole picture that the cards form together.

Everything Is a Sign

Ben-Dov relies on another concept that may not appeal to all readers, but which plays an important role in his way of reading: “everything is a sign.”

Generally speaking I tend to agree with him on this (ex: cards jumping the deck during shuffling, spontaneous mental images or phrases I may receive prior to shuffling or during a reading session), but personally he goes a little too far for my own taste, truly including everything as a potential sign, down to the querent’s choice of clothing, accessories, and hand movements while shuffling.

I don’t disagree with him that everything can be read as a sign. However, I think each reader has to draw in for him or herself how much he or she wants to accept to read as a sign. I would be overwhelmed if I felt I had to systematically consider absolutely everything down to the last detail in the reading session and surrounding environment as a sign. But the principle here—that meaning can come from any stimulus that arises during the reading session—is absolutely valid and worthwhile.

He includes several practical examples with actual spreads in which his interpretation draws on his own intuitions and experiences. He describes how “usually” cards are interpreted as such but in a particular reading he “felt” it meant something different, based on “something in the querent’s presence.” This could be too ambiguous for a beginning reader who’s looking for hard and fast maxims to grab onto.

His method will also present a challenge for readers who insist that a question provides the necessary context for interpretation. When he provides a three-card combination without providing a question and begins offering possible interpretations (“may be” and “could represent”), it could sound to some like random speculation with no anchor point.

What’s refreshing, however, is that this method opens up new possibilities to readers who have self-taught with mass market books.

Reference for Individual Meanings and Divination

The book will prove useful as a reference manual. Each card of the major arcana is delineated with a large photo and several “functions” of the card. This gives structure with enough flexibility to leave room for individual interpretation based on the open method.

Many readers struggle with reading the pips in the Marseille because they have very little symbolic content, and here Ben-Dov has an entire chapter on how to read them, including a quick reference section of brief interpretations for each of the “number cards.” The court cards have their own chapter as well.

This is a thorough manual that does a great job of multitasking. It teaches accurate tarot history, examining the French and English schools past and present; the particulars of the Marseille deck; Ben-Dov’s own reading method; reference information for each card in the deck; as well as symbolic meanings in terms of colors, numbers, figures, and body parts.

In addition, Ben-Dov’s background in Hebrew (he wrote the first tarot book to be published in Hebrew) allows him to comment on Cabbala and possible uses for Hebrew letter correspondences. There’s also a handy reference table.

The book is printed on a lovely stock, in full color on a satisfyingly shiny and heavier-weight white paper than you normally find in paperback books. At $15 for either paperback or Kindle version, the price is also very affordable. I’m a Kindle fan, but I recommend you purchase this volume in paperback because the tactile quality is worth it.

Did you like this post? Read more of Shelley Ruelle’s writing on the tarot here at Maelstrom Tarot or at her tarot blog, Sparrow Tarot.

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Gaining Clarity By Using Multiple Tarot and Oracle Decks

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The Fortuneteller, Mikhail Vrubel

In the past on my own blog I’ve talked about the fundamental differences between tarot cards and oracle decks. I’ve also shared here about how I complement my tarot readings by using other systems of divination such as the I-Ching. Now I’d like to explore how readers use multiple decks of cards in the same reading or in multiple readings on the same issue.

Most of the cartomancers I know own several, if not several dozen, different decks of cards. And most of them, if they aren’t outright card collectors, own different types of decks, not only tarot. Card readers often use various decks to suit their mood, question, or need, such as playing card decks or oracles like the Lenormand or the Vera Sibilla.

Sometimes, a reading will end by presenting additional issues that need further depth to fully clarify. Perhaps the initial question was something that was already generally understood, and the cards nudge the recipient of the reading to push a bit more to get to the real nitty gritty. That happened to me in a reading today, where I was left with an overabundance of swords (!) and not knowing how to proceed or handle that, given that the initial scope of the reading was already complete. You can see this reading at my post What To Ask When You Don’t Know What To Ask.

I’m going to explore this issue further by using a combination of card decks.

First, I want to spend some more time with my newest deck, Rebecca Schoenecker’s Creatures of the Moon oracle.

When you want to gain clarity into a murky issue, it can be helpful to start with a broad question to an oracle to gain a general overview of the scenario and its main theme or themes in your current life path.

Referring back to my previous reading, I ask:

“What are the cards Judgement, 10 of Swords and 8 of Swords trying to tell me about what’s coming into my life now?”

Rebecca’s deck is a unique double-sided one, with a moon side and a creature side. I got it because one of my aims this year is to connect more deeply with the moon cycles and learn about their different energies.

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On the moon side, I got Waning Moon Fourteen. Even though I don’t know much about the moon cycles yet and haven’t used this deck much yet, I can immediately see how the super narrow sliver of a waning moon could easily symbolize the closing of a chapter shown in the 10 of Swords and the step just before the deep transformation and rebirth of Judgement.

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As for the creature side, I got the snake of Courage, and this also comes as no surprise because all those swords look mighty challenging, especially the work that will be required to step out of the psychological limitations I’ve imposed on myself shown in the 8 of Swords. And it goes without saying that answering the clarion call of Judgement requires a huge dose of courage; how else might one have the audacity and strength to rise up from the proverbial dead?

Rebecca’s deck comes with a lush full-color, 296-page LWB (which is neither white nor little). Waning Moon Fourteen is in fact the last waning moon card in the deck. Rebecca says that Waning Moon Fourteen is the skin of Snake. The story of Snake perfectly reflects that of Judgement in my previous reading:

The uncomfortable process of shedding your skin shows that as Snake, you are filled with true grit. You need to trust that change may not be clear, but that the end results clothe a new you.

In fact, the people who rise up from their tombs on the Judgement card are of course unclothed. Rebecca also mentions the symbolism of the ouroboros and the cyclical nature of life and death. Metaphorically speaking, this oracle card reflects Judgement and further indicates a transformative process. She says the message of Snake is to embrace change with courage.

Already now I have more food for thought and reflection. I can move further in this process by bringing in the Lenormand. Even a simple three-card spread can give some information. I learned the following easy spread from Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Learning Lenormand, which I found to be a good beginner book for me.

For this reading, I decide to charge the Lady card to represent me. The process involves taking the card out of the deck and concentrating on it for a moment to “charge” it. Then, shuffling and cutting as normal, after which, you go through the cards face-up until you find the charged card, in this case, the Lady. You then lay the card before it and after it on each side and you have your three-card spread. (You can increase the cards as you wish, for a five, seven, or larger card spread).

I ask the cards:

“In what area of my life is this upcoming transformation going to manifest?”

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Fish + Lady + Garden

The fish represent money, generally speaking, and increased material abundance in terms of projects. The Garden is about being social and expanding networking and opportunities with others. It could be that change is coming in terms of increased money from work through more contacts.

I expanded it out two cards further and got:

Mountain + Fish + Lady + Garden + Tower

Perhaps this money/social transformation is couched within overcoming an obstacle or sticking point and then needing to become more strategic and long-range visionary in overseeing my career, without isolating myself. Tower can also indicate security from risks and thus could be the natural outgrowth of a transformation towards increased material abundance in work and widened social contacts.

All true things. And, all things I’m aware of but don’t feel the ambition or energy to pursue at the moment. (Maybe that’s why Judgement needs to trumpet his horn and get me to rise up from my “dead” position. But I’m tired!)

Further questions can abound, especially regarding how to best approach the transformation and work with it to bring it successfully about.

When you need additional clarity on a reading, don’t be hesitant about bringing out different decks and different oracles. It can be eye-opening to see how the same message and themes are expressed across different vehicles. You’ll also increase your symbolic vocabulary as well as your ability to translate the imagery of the cards into practical, everyday scenarios. Plus, you’ll be practicing through different mediums which increases your overall cartomantic fluency.

Your thoughts?

Do You Have To Believe in Tarot For It To Work?

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I have often heard people tell me, “Oh, but I don’t believe in the tarot.” I’ve heard that almost as much as I’ve had people ask me: “But how does tarot work?”

The idea that one has to believe in the tarot in order for it to work puts it on the same level as either 1) religion or 2) chicanery.

The idea that tarot either does or does not work implies that it sometimes can go right and sometimes can go wrong, much like a car or a computer, running smooth on some days and broken down on others.

In my opinion, there’s nothing inherent in the deck in which to necessarily believe. I think the declaration from people that they “don’t believe” in the cards comes from not understanding what the cards are about and how they can be used, and perhaps fearing them for that same reason. It’s a way to dismiss the cards as insignificant, unimportant, unworthy of faith, silly; and as such, reassuringly impotent, unintimidating, docile, unthreatening. We know that ignorance breeds fear. And doesn’t organized religion often require a firm belief in its tenets so as to keep the faithful in line (controlled, manageable, unempowered)?

Tarot doesn’t ask anyone to believe anything. It simply exists and is available as a tool, as a mirror, to those who wish to consult it.

There’s no need to associate belief with tarot. There’s nothing to believe in.

As far as how it “works,” that’s another story. When I asked that very question to my tarot teacher Enrique Enriquez, his immediate response was: “Who said it works?”

This one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, because obviously those of us who have a tarot practice wouldn’t spend time with the cards like we do if we weren’t getting some benefit. So I’m not dismissing the cards here as saying they have no use or no purpose. But the idea of them either “working” or not working is a loaded question.

I appealed to some of my friends and colleagues for an answer; if you haven’t read “Five Tarot Experts Explain How Tarot Works,” I encourage you to have a look.

It’s important to take the multiple layers of mysterious, imposed potency off of the cards. It’s important for readers to stop insisting that other people agree with them that the cards are useful, special, magical. Tarot is not a religion, it’s a practice. Tarot cards are not imbued with super powers. They don’t either work or not work.

What makes them so special, then? Why are people afraid of them? Why do people sometimes dismiss them, fear them, belittle them, or impose otherworldly powers upon them? Why do those of us who use them keep coming back to them, despite all the misunderstanding?

Well, let’s ask the cards themselves.

  1. What’s the most misunderstood aspect of tarot?
  2. What’s at the core of a tarot reading?
  3. What’s the best way to sum up the cards?

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In the 8 of Cups we see someone actively walking away from a set-up that seemed nearly perfect, but something was missing. No matter how hard this person tried to make things work, to fit the square peg into the round hole, it simply wasn’t going to ever be the way the seeker, the person walking away in the image, wanted it or needed it to be. As such, he or she is walking away from something that he or she invested heart and soul in, but is now letting go of. This person understands, even if it’s hard to acknowledge, that it makes no sense to keep devoting energy, time, heart, and soul to something that is clearly never going to change.

In my interpretation the most misunderstood aspect of tarot, then, according to this card, is that it isn’t about having all the answers tied up with a pretty bow and presented to you in a perfect gift box. It’s about seeking the answers and being honest about what you receive, and knowing when to take action, even if it hurts to do so, because it furthers your personal growth. It’s about knowing when to walk away, knowing when to give up, knowing when to let go. (In fact, I’d say this flies right in the face of the pop-culture notion of tarot as providing neat and accurate “hits” or predictions that give querents the answers and outcomes they desire, or, on the other extreme, cards that foretell of terrifying and unavoidable doom. Both of these concepts remove agency from the seeker. Tarot doesn’t show you what you want, it shows you what you need.)

At the core of a tarot reading is speed, and news. The 8 of Wands is about getting a message fast, about events moving at lightning speed, and about not having enough time to fully digest and comprehend everything that’s swirling around you. At its core, tarot goes straight to the heart of the matter before you even realize what’s happening. You either learn how to dance with this, or you resist it, or you try to rationalize your way out of it, or you try to control it. But at its core, it’s like a speeding bullet. You either consciously ride the fast current of the river, or you get swept up in it and carried away.

The best way to sum up the cards is the 4 of Swords – total silence and stillness. I’ve often had people tell me, after their first-ever reading, that they think “everyone” should have a reading, because it “puts you in touch with your inner self.” Let’s get quiet, and still, and listen, and stop. That’s what the cards can do for us. They can give us respite, a place to be silent and reflect, a place to recuperate and to regenerate, a place to completely stop and focus.

Your thoughts?

How To Use Tarot To Interpret Dreams

How To Use TarotTo Interpret Dreams

Tarot cards are an excellent tool for helping you find meaning and understanding in your dreams. Using the cards is more personalized than using a generic dream interpretation book, which knows nothing about your personal history or unconscious impulses. With the cards, you can take the information you receive and incorporate it with your own information to form a complete picture.

The heart of Jungian psychoanalysis lies in analyzing the messages your unconscious delivers to you via your dreams. The idea is that your dream material is what’s ready to emerge from the lower iceberg of your unconscious, so that you can now work with this material, integrate it and move forward in a more complete way. You can use your cards to perform this function on your own. Although it isn’t psychoanalysis, it is a valid instrument to gauge what’s going on underneath the surface and help you work with your hidden “stuff” that’s ready to be examined.

Today I’ll use myself as an example so you can see how this process works.

I follow my dreams and often remember them. I’d suggest that you don’t “force” remembering your dreams but rather allow the ones that stick with you to emerge. Work with the material that seems to call for your attention.

Over the past few years I’ve had a recurring dream from time to time that varies in setting and some particulars, but never wavers from its basic theme: my first serious boyfriend (who I broke up with at 20 after nearly two years, for no other reason than I was young and wanted to experience the world, not be tied down) returns to me in my dream and I desperately want to reunite with him. He, however, is unavailable and although he comes close in the dream and at times even indicates he wants to be with me too, he always leaves or is always somehow prevented from being with me (usually it’s because he has another girlfriend).

The most recent iteration of this dream was the most dramatic; I stood before him and looked right into his eyes and said in all sincerity: “Leaving you was the biggest mistake of my life.”

Here is a three-card spread I devised that you can also use for any dream image or message that you’d like more insight about and are ready to really delve into and work with consciously:

  1. What message is this dream showing me?
  2. How can I work with and integrate this message?
  3. What’s the next step?

For my example, I used the Thoth Tarot. While I generally rely on the RWS for most of my readings, I opted for the Thoth as it appeals to me in terms of dream work. The images on the deck are much more nuanced and have a dreamlike quality about them. Since I feel I haven’t fully penetrated this deck’s depth (and perhaps never will, because it really has that bottomless-well quality to it), it seemed the perfect match for working with dream imagery.

Here are the cards I received for my mysterious, recurring ex-boyfriend dream:

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With the Thoth, I first like to allow the images to soak in and I take my initial impressions without any additional input. The immediate message to me of the 7 of Cups here is that we have something that has “gone bad.” It made me think of spoiled fruit, something that’s past its expiration date. It’s no longer fresh. Hence, we can garner an immediate interpretation that the dream is trying to show me that my ideas about “going back” to this ex or still desiring him, or imagining that “he was the one that got away” all those years ago, are mistaken. This is a “relationship” that exists only in the realm of things that are spoiled and overgrown, rotten and unsuitable to eat.

Secondly I noticed the opposing symmetry between the 7 of Cups and the 7 of Swords. Such a profound difference. It’s as if all the muck we see in the initial card is purified and clarified and made razor sharp in the third card, in the “next step” after we pass through the integration phase in the second card. Clearly the cards are showing a way forward. Further, if you look closely at the 7 of Swords, there’s a planetary symbol hanging off the point of each sword, with the moon being indicated in the central position. For me this points to being called on to trust my inner knowing and intuition, my emotions and heart impulses, mystery rather than logic, when it comes to taking the next step in terms of relationships.

The middle card for me is such a departure from the two “bookend” cards here, that it seems to be the major message and lesson. In fact, I often see the Knight of Pentacles in my RWS readings when I ask the cards about my love life and future. They continually, continually insist that I must focus on and “go for” the stable man, the one who doesn’t move, the one who’s real, concrete, loyal, faithful, grounded, etc. Here then, we see an example of how the cards repeat their messages across decks and across time.

You can also turn to references for additional information. I absolutely adore the book by Lon Milo Duquette, Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot.

In terms of the first card, “what message is this dream showing me?”, Duquette says the original title of the 7 of Cups is “Lord of Illusionary Success” (which immediately makes me think about the castles in the sky in the RWS 7 of Cups and how what we think is real or available or possible isn’t always the case). I immediately realize my ideas and longing for this past relationship and my romanticizing of it belong to a world of illusions. In fact, in the card itself, you can see how the lotus plants are covering each cup, much like an umbrella, and as Duquette points out, “all the cups are empty.” We’re reminded there’s no love here, there’s no substance here, there’s nothing here to nurture or grow. Duquette says:

This is much-too-much of what was once a good thing and, this low on the tree and this far off balance, there isn’t a single influencing factor left to remind her the party’s over.

At this point I feel I understand the message that’s trying to break through: what you think is this perfect past relationship really isn’t how you imagine it at all. It’s not real, and it’s not available to be revived.

Granted, this was always obvious to me on a semi-conscious level, but a part of me continued to want to cling to the idea or fantasy. This is where the cards help hammer home the message of the dream.

Moving to the final card, despite the keyword “futility” (I often ignore the Thoth keywords, because they distract me and I don’t get into the Kabbalah aspects of the cards), Duquette mentions Crowley said this card is “like a rheumatic boxer trying to ‘come back’ after being out of the ring for years.”

As it regards my love life, I’ve been “out of the ring” so to speak for about six years as I’ve been floundering around in the dating world since my divorce, coming up not with any healthy fish but rather seaweed and tin cans. In his divinatory meanings, Duquette mentions: “Yielding when victory is within grasp, as if the last reserves of strength were used up. Inclination to lose when on the point of gaining, through not continuing the effort.” This makes sense to me in terms of my love life. I often go for the unavailable or inherently impossible, and then give up when it inevitably doesn’t yield results, which takes us back to the central card, the Prince of Disks.

Everything about Disks suggests stability to me. Duquette suggests Crowley’s prince represents “the ultimate handyman.” Crowley’s take: “He is competent, ingenious, thoughtful, cautious, trustworthy, imperturbable; he constantly seeks new uses for common things.”

Once again I feel I’m being shown the direction for the “right” man in my life – if only I can accept and integrate the messages of letting go of expired illusions and take the next step of understanding how I might get “just this close” and then somehow abandon ship.

Using the tarot to work with dreams is a very organic process. By that, I mean you need to really allow yourself to be fluid and accept what comes through as resonating with you, rather than sticking to super strict rules or interpretations. Dreams offer the messages we’re ready to receive, much as the cards do.

How To Use TarotTo Interpret Dreams

How Tarot and I-Ching Work Together

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If you use tarot for divination, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t explore other systems of divination as well.

Although runic divination is on my bucket list (and if it’s on yours as well, enjoy this gorgeous post from Camelia’s archives, Renewed (M)antics), the complementary system I use most often with tarot is that of the I-Ching, or the Book of Changes.

Because my tarot practice is largely based on the principles of humanistic psychology, empowered decision-making and self-determination, it was only natural that I would discover the I-Ching in the course of my reading and research over the years. I came to this system of divination by way of the work of Carl Jung, who was working with the oracle some 30 years prior to meeting sinologist Richard Wilhelm. Wilhelm’s translation of the I-Ching remains one of the most well known.

For those of you who know not a thing about the I-Ching, let’s back up for a moment.

What is the I-Ching?

The I-Ching is a book that, according to my favorite I-Ching translator, the Taoist Master Alfred Huang, existed more than two thousand years before Confucius (ca. 551-479 B.C.). Just think about that for a moment. Ancient doesn’t even begin to describe this work.

Huang says the I-Ching was originally a handbook for divination, and only later, once Confucius wrote his commentaries, did it become a book of ancient wisdom. He goes on to say:

It is a book that not only tells one who consults it about the present situation and future potential but also gives instruction about what to do and what not to do to obtain good fortune and avoid misfortune. But one still retains free choice.

Hence it becomes clear that this system could complement a tarot reading quite well.

How does the I-Ching work?

The Book of Changes is divided into what we might refer to as chapters, each of which is called a hexagram (in Chinese called a gua), which is a symbol that is arrived at after a systemized ritual that provides six lines. I often think of each hexagram in much the same way as a tarot card, or perhaps even an entire tarot reading in and of itself, and the ritual, such as a coin toss, as the shuffle.

There are 64 hexagrams in all, and each is formed of two trigrams, of which there are eight in all. Each trigram is named such because it is composed of three lines. The readings go into numerous possible permutations because each of the lines can also be determined through the casting process to be “changing” and this adds more depth to the overall reading and also can comment on possible future outcomes.

How can I-Ching complement a tarot reading?

Rather than this being a tutorial on the I-Ching, which is far beyond the scope of this post, I’d like to share with you how I use the I-Ching as part of my overall practice.

I find that the tarot and I-Ching provide complementary messages that overlap only in how they are able to pinpoint and highlight different aspects of the same question.

The tricky part is when the client hedges in identifying the meaning or wants to avoid the message.

I was looking for a question and at the moment I was writing this post I got a text message on my desktop and started chatting with an acquaintance. I asked if he had any pressing questions, and he agreed to be a willing participant in my experiment, but didn’t give any details about his situation or context.

His question for the cards was simply:

“Which is stronger: my desire to change or my fear of leaving?”

I don’t know much about this person at all; he’s an acquaintance, but someone I recently met and who isn’t very forthcoming about his personal life, so there’s really no way for me to hypothesize much about the meanings of these cards as they apply directly to him. He didn’t offer up much by way of what resonated, either, so we’ll just have to go on theory and practice.

In any case, I decided to go for an old-fashioned A or B for this one. When you have two options, it’s a nice way to put it out on the table and get a baseline idea. A (left) being “desire to change” and B (right) being “fear of leaving.”

Here’s what came up:

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I tell him: look, your desire to change is stronger. And I go on a little bit about the element and characteristics of the Knight of Wands, which I won’t go into here. That’s just a whole lot of fire, so, that desire for change is literally burning strong.

But you want to know what really intrigues me about these two cards? The story. Right? Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I go: “Here’s the thing. Who’s the woman? Because she’s tied to your fear of leaving.”

Now, generally speaking I don’t always assume court cards are real people, but when you’ve got two court cards of the same suit and close in age (woman slightly older or more mature here), you’d have to be blind not to make the connection, amirite?

We were chatting online as I read the cards. I asked no less than four times who the woman was or if there was a woman in the middle of whatever this question was about, and it got DODGED and DODGED and DODGED like a mean game of dodge ball and let me tell you I could not get a hit on this guy to save my life. So I let it go. As an out, I suggested it could be “interior conflict” rather than a real person, and he latched onto that. But you see, we already know there’s inner conflict: it’s at the heart of the question itself. I just provided it as a comfortable place to rest. It’s not important for me to force a client to see what I see. I make suggestions, and like spaghetti on a wall, I let what sticks, stick. It’s their reading, not mine, and the bottom line is that clients will see what they’re ready and willing to see.

I say: “Look, your desire to change is so strong that you’re actually riding away already. And you’re not looking at this woman, and she’s not looking at you. You’re looking in opposite directions. But you’re actively moving away while she’s just sitting there, more stable, more calm, more mature in her inner fire.” (A note on the Knight of Wands, FYI, at least according to my experience with the RWS deck: if you ever get a question about love, this is your quintessential player. The Knight of Wands in a love context often really just wants to play the field and does not want to settle down to save his life. He needs freedom, and even if that’s a psychological hang-up a lot of times, it comes out in a perpetual string of affairs because there’s a restlessness and a need for adventure.)

I say: “Ok, let’s do an I-Ching reading. How about ‘What’s the best thing for me to do now?'”

In my practice, I write the hexagrams I cast on pieces of paper as I’m doing them. Here’s what came up:

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Without going into the specifics of method (I actually just used three US quarters I found lying on my desk), here are the themes that emerged:

What’s the best thing for me to do now?
This gua expands on the truth of avoiding contention. It talks about how conflict and contention is a part of life, but it must be resolved in order to move forward. Huang: “Generally, dispute arises from one’s mean intention and overly self-willed conduct” (italics mine: Knight of Wands, anyone?) “lacking flexibility in considering other people’s situations.”

The idea here is to find common ground, to try to see eye to eye, and there’s a special focus on trying to clear some sort of blocked truth.

I go back to this not seeing eye to eye, as we saw in the tarot cards, not seeing each other, not looking at each other. “Who’s the woman?”

(I imagine the conflict is with this woman.)

I say: “Didn’t you have a girlfriend? Do you still have a girlfriend?”

He says: “Yes, but we hardly ever see each other.”

I about die. I go “AH. Right.”

I mean, people, really?

When I point out that this is what the cards have been trying to show him, he says, “That’s too simple.”

[My greatest tarot teacher ever, Enrique Enriquez, taught me many things, but one of the recurrent themes of my work with him was this: “Shelley, you need to be dumb to read the cards.” Every time I’d complicate things, he’d remind me BE DUMB. Meaning: read what you see. Don’t embellish, don’t overthink, don’t complicate. Just read.]

Anyways, you get the point. It was like a dog chasing its tail.

If I had to craft a story based on these narratives, I’d say there’s some sort of decision going on deep in this man’s psyche and on the surface of his mind that he’s wrestling with, and this woman is part of the fear that’s attached to whatever it is he means by “fear of leaving.” It doesn’t much matter, though, this stated fear, because he’s already mostly out the door anyways. She seems pretty cool with it, after all, she seems to accept his restless, playboy nature. Perhaps she has her eye on someone else. (I should have and could have tried Isabel’s sight card trick here. Damn!)

At the heart of this, and where the I-Ching comes in with specifics, is in pinpointing this need to find common ground, resolve disputes, and “unblock” truth before moving on. It’s almost as if it’s a shame, as if these two people are two pieces of a puzzle that would have otherwise fit together, if he weren’t so intent on running away. In fact the man himself made an interesting unsolicited comment at one point: “But if the woman had come up first, they would have been looking at each other.”

Indeed. And there wouldn’t be any question then, would there?

Hilary Barrett calls hexagram 6 “Arguing” and states “You’re in dispute with how it is.” (Italics hers.) The two moving lines five and six show that this is coming to a head anyways (he’s already riding away): “you have truths to seek and aspirations to follow, so make yourself heard” (Barrett, line 5); and yet, line 6: “there is no such thing as a final victory.” I take this to mean that running away isn’t going to necessarily help you find what you’re searching for, but, as Barrett says (line 6): “This is not the way to leave Arguing behind; it’s the way to trap yourself in a struggle for scraps, constantly hampered by the fear of loss.”

There’s much to unpack here. If you can debrief with clients to get their honest and unguarded feedback, lots of stuff can come out into the open. If, however, your client isn’t willing to open up, this can be a run around. You may find, however, that the client despite their best efforts to the contrary does somehow inadvertently slip once in a while into dropping a tidbit or two almost against their own will. This one, as we were chatting, kept denying there was a woman, and then his autocorrect inserted a woman’s name where he meant to say something about how he’s “too demanding with the world”—where the female name popped in before “the world,” inadvertently changing his intended statement to read “I’m too demanding with [woman] world.” The name wasn’t his girlfriend’s though, as far as I know. :-p

However, he insisted the question “wasn’t about love” and I told him I wasn’t insisting the message was about love, either. Here’s something most tarot readers will identify with: the cards respond to the question asked. The querent knows what’s behind that, but, confused and/or vague questions can generate confused and/or vague responses. However, in this case I think it was the cards showing a message that needed to get out, intentions behind questions be damned. It happens.

I dunno, folks. This is our service. We offer it up, we tell people what we see. But we absolutely cannot be attached to what they see. Tell it like it is. Say what you see. But let your sitters do the heavy lifting of applying the message to their lives and finding meaning in it—or not.

Thoughts?