The Beautiful Dynamism of the Two-Card Spread

Anyone who travels in the circles of my twitter sphere knows that I’m a fan of the two card spread.  The simplicity of the one-card is almost too simple–done as a daily draw, it tends to reinforce traditional interpretations which, if you’re starting out and still getting the hang of meanings, is great.  If you’ve got that madness on lock, however, the two-card spread can be an accessible (and extremely effective) method of exploring the intuitive aspect of tarot; in other words, it introduces relationships that expand on our understanding of the cards and how spreads function holistically. The best readings I’ve given (or received, for that matter) have paid close attention to the nature of these relationships, creating an arc and a narrative that lays the situation out in a way that makes sense. When we allow the cards to speak to one another, we make room for revelations in ourselves and our querent, allowing for greater clarity and catharsis. This experience, I believe, constitutes the “mystical” aspect of tarot–it’s almost as if we’ve tapped into some greater truth, some pure and holy message that our querent was meant to receive.

Since I post a daily two-card draw to Twitter, I’m limited in my interpretation (140 characters, to be precise).  At first, I viewed this as a potential roadblock to the quality of the readings I would give.  As I went ahead with the project, however, I realized that the text limitation was unexpectedly expansive–if I was going to do this in a way that resonated, I was going to have to dip into my poetic arsenal and address these things macrocosmically. Instead of truncating the standard interpretation of the cards and crushing them together (which you still really don’t have space for), I would have to address how the cards played off of one another and attempt to express that dynamic in a pithy, wide-ranging way.  For example, here are the cards that I pulled for this morning’s spread:

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The Seven of Swords is indicative of theft and deception, whether subjectively or objectively. Temperance speaks to the need to maintain a fluid balance in the various areas of our lives, the need to constantly consider the whole rather than becoming fixated on certain parts. A general reading that only mildly considers the relationship between these cards may go a little something like this: “Beware the stranger who threatens to subvert your achievements. Even if you discover the culprit, exercise restraint in your reaction.” It’s simple, to the point, and it certainly touches on the meanings of both cards. The connection between them, however, seems disjointed: treating the “culprit” justly doesn’t  explore why you’re being deceived in the first place.

Here’s the interpretation that I actually posted: “Never take more than you need. When you make use of something, you deny others the chance to. Make it count.” It doesn’t speak to the meanings of the cards specifically; rather, it answers these questions: what do deception and temperance have in common? How does the notion of temperance relate to acts of deception? Why did the figure in the Seven of Swords leave two swords behind? What does temperance mean when it’s applied macrocosmically; in other words, how does temperance function in the societal and natural world?

When I first saw these cards, I recognized in the imagery that one spoke of balance while the other spoke of imbalance; five swords were taken while two were left behind. This suggested that this pair was at odds, and I’d need to offer a bit of “guidance” to unite them. The theft depicted in the Seven of Swords sparked me to think of resources, and how the figure was almost weighed down by how much he had seized. I looked back at the Temperance card and saw it as depicting the perfect balance of resources. Then I took it to  a macro place and considered the ethical and environmental implications of the unequal distribution of resources and the general cycle of environmental pillaging we seem to be stuck in. I was reminded of the manner in which tribes of indigenous Americans approached the use of buffalo–only taking what they needed and using every single bit so that more would be left over for future hunts and future generations. Thus, my interpretation was born.

This is certainly a lengthy process, and very much a dynamic one. Had I drawn these cards on another day, my interpretation may have been different, but it still would have addressed the interplay between the two. Performing this exercise trains our minds to consider how the archetypes speak to one another, therefore increasing our associations and our ability to “think on our feet” when it comes to interpreting spreads. None of these cards exist in a vacuum; they are presented as a deck precisely because there are unifying elements between each and every one of them. It is our responsibility as tarot practitioners to honor these relationships and incorporate them into our readings so that our querent can understand their obstacles in a holistic way. Decisions don’t exist in vacuums either; we only make empowered ones when we’ve considered the various factors that inform and contribute to them, and the more information we have, the better the chances that we’ll make decisions that truly resonate with what we want and need.

Love and Light,

Jessi

 

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The Court Cards: Exploring Meaning Through Process

Ah, the court cards. Any nascent cardslinger will tell you that these are the ever elusive figures of the tarot, and for good reason. Excluding the knights, these figures are fairly stationary, so it’s challenging to discern how they function in the realm of the tarot.  The view that the pages, knights, queens, and kings represent the wisdom, motivation, and ability that each of us possesses in certain developmental stages of our lives (adolescence, early adulthood, and mature adulthood respectively) is incredibly useful, but I’ve been searching in vain for something a little juicier to sink my teeth into.

As I was reading “Messages From the Archetypes” last night, it dawned on me that each of the court cards represents a developmental process, and that we cannot attain the mindful vehicle of the king until we’ve fully explored the terrain and internalized the wisdom that the page, knight, and queen have to teach us.  Much like a scaffold, one must construct the base (page) in order to construct the first level (knight), and that one must complete the first level to construct the second level (queen), and so on.

Let’s take the suit of swords as an example (in the pursuit of clarity and simplicity, I will be referring to each figure in relation to his/her depicted gender, but I want to stress that the process I attribute to each is not gender specific).

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The Page of Swords is an adolescent coming into his power.  He is beginning to step beyond the moral, ethical, and ideological boundaries impressed upon him by his parents so that he may discover an intellectual worldview that resonates with his bourgeoning sense of self.  As he interacts with and observes new behaviors and ideas, he becomes enchanted by them, and begins to experiment (think of the teenager who explores other faiths, scrawls the anarchy symbol on his notebook, and becomes disenchanted with the education system).  The realization that he is free to construct his own worldview is incredibly liberating, and he openly expresses his views with his peers, and often with a strong sense of conviction.  Even though his thoughts and opinions change from one day to the next, he feels that each is absolutely true as he adopts it.  This process of ideological shapeshifting allows him to take a myriad of cultures, beliefs, and behaviors for a spin, allowing him to internalize what resonates, and discard what does not, allowing him to assemble a unique and functional worldview.

In a broader sense, the page of swords represents an ideological shift.  He demonstrates the conviction of a new ethical or intellectual element, and he is ready to communicate his views to those around him. Through communication and the exchange of ideas, he is able to solidify his view, and is thus ready to transition to the “knight” stage.

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The Knight of Swords represents the “independent” years, the time where one withdraws from the familial nest and sets out to establish a life that is grounded in his individual pursuits.  Equipped with a functional worldview, he “rides off” to put what he’s learned into action.  Perhaps he writes ethical treatises that he strives to live by (guilty as charged), perhaps he begins to stand up for himself and others according to his beliefs, or perhaps he sets out to obtain employment and construct a living situation that meets his ideological needs (i.e. he rejects the social structure of “success” and seeks employment that allows him the freedom and flexibility he so craves).  He does not tackle this process lightly–he is often consumed by his need to live as he pleases, and may jeopardize or destroy a host of relationships in the process.  His thoughts and ideas proliferate everything he does, be they academic, anarchic, productive or destructive.

Generally, the Knight of Swords is a ideological crusader.  Due to the knowledge he gained from his adolescent experimentation, he is confident that his views are rooted in some semblance of intellectual truth, and this allows his integrity to strengthen.  On the other hand, he is so bull-headed and convinced that his truth is the objective Truth, he may become confused or irate when contradicted.  As each interaction he experiences reveals differences between his truth and other truths, he is introduced to the idea that dialogue is an interplay of different perspectives, ethical codes, and moral values, and he transitions to the process of the Queen.

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The Queen of Swords represents the transition from independent ideology to integrative ideology.  She represents a stage when the dauntless pursuit of radical autonomy subsides, making room for the thoughts, opinions, and ideas of others. She may be entering into a committed, long term partnership or starting a family.  She may find herself becoming an part of a broader community and attending more to the needs of others.  Rather than trying to prove that her truth is the only Truth, she begins to understand the diversity of truths that exist in the world, and the validity and rationality of others’ opinions even if she doesn’t share them.  As she invites open dialogue with others, she realizes the value of compromise, and how honoring the perspectives of her loved ones creates a harmonious and balanced environment.  By actively listening to others, she begins to guide and advise rather than to instruct and dictate.

The Queen of Swords depicts the receptive, feminine energy of the intellect–that which receives as much as it gives, and that which grows in depth and complexity as it does so. As the Queen perfects her process of tolerance and communication, she transitions to the process of the King.

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The King of Swords integrates the strength and mastery of the Queen’s receptivity in order to achieve a moral, considerate productivity.  Now an integral part of a family or community, he offers his wisdom and advice to ensure its health, balance, and growth.  He is a mediator, a counselor, and a sage.  He is particularly skillful at resolving disputes–he is able to understand both sides of an argument, and to help others understand both sides as well.  He does not regard knowledge as absolute; rather, the attainment of knowledge exists on a continuum, and different ideas perspectives must be applied to different situations.

The King of Swords is a master of rational thought and communication.  He is open, just, flexible, and knowledgeable.  His services are highly valued in the community, and his opinion often improves any scenario to which it is applied.

When viewed as the stages of a process, the court cards begin to exhibit the evolution of understanding and proficiency in regards to the elements of the four suits.  In theory, if an individual is able to successfully engage in each of the elemental processes, he/she may reach the much prized state of self-actualization.