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Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Saturday 12 July 2014

THE CARTOMANTIC MINDSET 3: What Actually Happens When We Read Tarot?

          Of course, there are as many ways of reading oracle and divination cards as skinning a cat. Every new deck published brings its own methods and spreads but most cards are being read today from the perspective of modern tarot reading methods and not from the older, traditional cartomantic practice. In my study of the cartomantic mindset required to read Lenormand, I’m going to look at how we read tarot first, even though I know you know how to do this, because I want to show how we read Lenormand differently, so please humour me!

Reading from the Images   These three card cards are from Steampunk Tarot: Gods of the Machine  and I am purposely using this deck because you probably won’t know it so well,  it creates an even playing field for you to understand what I am getting at here.
          I am going to tell you nothing more about these cards other than that they are drawn for this question, ‘What does the new job entail?’ Yes, you can probably guess some equivalents with a standard tarot, but I am also not giving these cards any positions, so what is left to you?  Have a go at answering the question from looking only at the images, covering the paragraph below.

The Steampunk Tarot:Gods of the Machine by Caitlín & John Matthews, art Wil Kinghan.

How did you do? You might have come up with something like, ‘this new job is finely-honed machine into which you have to fit and be well-turned out.’  What you’ve been forced to do here is relate the images of the cards one to another, which is pretty much how an oracle with no fixed meanings has to be read.  Because I gave you no positions, you had to read the cards like a storyboard, which is how filmmakers plot out their shots in any scene, by making a cartoon strip of images.  You had to use the visual clues from each card to create metaphors. Above, I just looked at the Cosmic Blueprint card and saw ‘finely-honed machine,’ 9 Leviathans looked like ‘a tight fit.’ While Lady of Airships looked ‘well turned out.’  Anyone with no knowledge of tarot or divining could have done this. From a steampunk perspective, my answer could well be: get your main frame organized so that your can enjoy lazy days aboard your own dirigible.’ This is just reading from the images and in a steampunk context, ofcourse!

Reading from Knowledge of the Cards: However, most people know or have some idea of which what meanings these tarot cards represent. I can now reveal their equivalents, for which I give a couple of standard keywords from the Rider Waite Smith end of the tarot spectrum:

XXI World: Completion, perfection.
9 Coins: Accomplishment, self-assurance.
Queen Swords: a woman who is intelligent and decisive.

Modern readers also like to know what positions these cards are placed upon, so that they know how to apply these meanings.  For example, if I ask about my new job, I could designate the positions like this:

1. What does the job offer?
2. What do I gain from the job?
3. How do I need to change my working style?

Covering the paragraph below and using your own knowledge of these three cards, read them in accordance with the three positional questions and frame an answer.
          You might come up with something like, ‘the job offers a fully-rounded and fulfilling role. You gain self-assurance and independence. You need to sharpen up your skills and be pretty savvy.’  Using your knowledge of the card’s meanings, you’ve been able to state the main meaning and apply it to each of the positional questions.  Your knowledge of each card’s meaning was essential, wasn’t it? Without it, when you were forced to use the visual clues, you were just improvising.

Reading Even More Into the Cards

          Let’s just look at the equivalent RWS cards: how differently can we answer these questions? ‘The job offers you the world at your feet. You will gain lots of spare time. You need to become commanding and authoritative.’  Here I have read from the images again with a nod at the meanings: we hear more of this kind of reading today than the old cartomantic style.  It is a bit vague, isn’t it? So I might follow up by talking to the client about her mode of dress, based on the images here, or have an intuitive sense of her being alone a lot, since each of these figures is alone.. I can also note that the cards have three women in them, and that they become increasingly sedate in the sequence. I could also look at the directionalilty of the images and say that it’s no use looking back and now is the time to look forward. I could go on….. and on…..
           Some other tarot readers might also have waded in here, not just armed by knowledge of the card’s meanings, but by a whole slew of other knowledge that is supplemental rather than essential: for example that the World represents Saturn, and that, according to different systems, 9 Coins and Queen Swords are both cards of Virgo.  They might also point up the presence of the Four Holy Creatures  as my ‘guardian angels’ or note that the woman is carrying a hawk which connects with the butterfly on the Queen’s throne, both airborne creatures    Would this extend or aid our interpretation here? I think not. My question is about the new job, not about what the stars are doing. As a client, I don’t really care: I just want pragmatic advice and some sense of what the job will bring. I don’t want to know my past incarnations, I don’t need therapy, I just want clarity, and that is what cartomancy can give us.
          Don’t mistake me here: I love tarot, but I tend to read it in more cartomantic than modern tarot style ways these days, as well as using more traditional and historical Tarot decks.  Learning how we distinguish between what we are doing in Tarot and what we do when we pick up Lenormand is essential if you are not to create headaches for yourself later.
          Cartomantic reading style is very literal and pragmatic. There are no ‘Mercury is retrograde, so your communications with your lover will be bad,’ or ‘emotionally, you are psychologically feeling your way.’  It tells clients what they want to know.

In the next blog we’ll  see how the cartomantic mindset helps us read the Lenormand cards in primary pairing and juxtaposition.


  1. Very cleverly illustrated. Thank you.

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