Tarot de Marseilles

Typically, a Tarot card reader will ascribe specific meanings to each card, and give fixed meanings to each position in any given spread, then read the cards as if they were a parrot or a robot.

Originally, the Tarot was a game, le jeu de Tarot. It was a game of free association, improvised meanings, lots of puns. In parts of Europe where the old ways persist, or among a few of us who learned and hold to those ways, the cards are used like words in a sentence. The cards are placed one at a time on the table and the reading continues for as long as the cards are put down – un tirage en ligne.

I’ve heard that some of the old Romany readers will sometimes use all 78 cards in the deck, and weave an entire story, though I’ve found that five or six cards can be enough for a useful reading.

It begins with a question from the client, the more specific the better. Then the cards are put down, and the interpretation is given, often as a single sentence. The meaning of the cards is derived from where they land in the sequence, how they relate to each other, the semiotics of medieval symbolism, the patterns they form together, the transitions that occur (three cups turn into four swords, the Hapsburg bird on the Empress’s shield flies into the tree under a star-filled sky), and also with any associations that pop into mind – first thought best thought.

I have been using the Tarot as a form of constellation for many years. After laying down the cards in response to a client’s question, I will speak my sentence, explain a little at how I arrived at it. I explain that the reading describes the situation as it is. Then I ask the client to rearrange the cards as they would like them, describing to them the new implications of this new ordering of the cards. Then, as with a constellation, I will return the cards to their original order and ask the client if there is one card they would like to move, or remove, from the spread – thus they make their first step towards the resolution or transformation of the system that the reading has shown to them.

My teacher asked me to lay down some cards with the question: What am I good at?

Five Tarot Cards


My response:  XX – the call (Miles Davis often comes to mind here), XII – biding my time, XIII – then getting moving, getting through this stuff, 0 – gathering momentum, XVIII – (re)emerging

My line: I’m good at reinventing myself.

My teacher’s response:  For your trip down the Ancient Highway, the Journey starts with the call (and Miles called from a different galaxy that most), continues with meditation, past lives in other bodies now dead, tomfoolery with the Familiar, and ends under the Moonlight where there is no human voice to be heard. A perfect place to reinvent a self, if you still need one.