Every now and then I get questions about what I think of individual Tarot cards. I always deliver the same answer, namely, that it is never a good idea to think of the individual cards as having inherent meaning in themselves. They only mean something in context, and as relating to the other cards. Suppose you got the Hanged Man. Depending on what else you’ve got on the table, the hanging in The Hanged Man can go from being a very good thing, a wise thing, waiting for things to come to you rather than you pursuing them, to being a sign of involuntary renunciation, or forced immobility. At the level of (non)action, hanging can propose some of the following enunciations: ‘whatever’, ‘go fuck yourself’, or ‘detachment is the way’, as in waiting to exhale.

‘Are the Fool and The Hanged man connected in any way?’ someone who is learning Tarot has asked me recently, and to this I have to say that if we see the cards in conjunction, as I always do, then we would have to look at what is happening. If the Fool is running into The Hanged Man, then we might see this as a sign of the Fool heading for a state when he is likely to experience some physical and psychical fatigue. He will definitely experience a halt. Whether this will be welcomed by the Fool or not will depend on a third card next to the Hanged Man. Should this card be the Hierophant, we could say that the Fool will be up for a spiritual elevation, which, however, still comes the non-dogmatic way.

Taken individually, both the Fool and the Hanged Man have, after all, a reputation for doing things according to a logic that’s all their own. In this they are connected, as neither of them thinks anything. The Fool by his nature and the Hanged Man by voluntary renunciation to the act of figuring it out. Together they invite us to ponder how we might relate to knowledge. They invite us to resist it, as they do, and perhaps think of it as something which IS, not as something we arrive at through our own efforts. They even make us remember that it has always been rather idiotic to try to map absolute freedom, or the need for detachment, unto things we can count on our fingers and toes as grand achievements.

The Fool and The Hanged Man remind us of alternative ways, and better at that, of valuing all that which is boundless in us, and which needs no regimenting towards countable states. They invite us to resist trying to map our deepest desires, some unconscious, unto that which we can think of as countables. How can we measure desire? It would be pointless to say, ‘my desire is exactly as big as three houses’. Or, ‘my pain is as vast as three diplomas’. Or, ‘I feel for my children as much as 6 schools’. Some sad existences are those who count only what’s countable.

When we activate our expanded consciousness by tending towards boundlessness, the concretization of things takes on another dimension. If you are with someone, it is because you see them for what they are, not because they fit your bill, fulfilling a function for you.

If we look at another configuration, say, The Fool running into the 10 of coins, the situation changes. In this scenario, if the Fool will get tired, he will get tired of sitting too comfortably. He will get lost in all the mirroring and neat symmetries in the card. He will feel the urge to step into the widening white space between the glistening coins and make a mess. He will hear the coins rattle, announcing his departure. The Fool in the 10 of coins tends to get emotional. He will be eager for more natural paths, paved with gravel along a river. He will want to leave the man-made pavements behind. He will soon want to see some water streaming between his possessions. Better yet, he will want no possessions. ‘The city of the Ace of Cups,’ the unstable and thirsty Fool will cry, ‘here I come. Replenish my wit.’

When you don’t work with spreads, but rather with sequences of 3 cards, there’s more dynamics in the reading, as various patterns can emerge all on their own. Also, working with number cards that have no pictures on them, but geometry instead, affords you a wider range of interpretation, which can be very precise. The Marseille deck is magical for this. If need be for a rephrasing of the initial question, then you can just draw another row of 3 cards.

In terms of seeing the cards symbolically, the best is to try not to. I prefer to look at how a synthetic message emerges from the cards based on the visual elements in the cards. In conjunction with the numbers I can say something about the intensity of the experience. We understand and create symbols via our sensate experiences of what surrounds us. There’s some great work done on similar approaches by Enrique Enriquez  and another veteran in the field, who was my second Marseille master, Colette Silvestre. The first is a old professor who prefers to remain anonymous. What is common to these readers is their dedication to keeping it simple, precise, and poetic.

Following such reading methods emphasizes a different way of looking at the cards. For instance, you can look at how the 10 coins are arranged on the card. You can pay attention to your sense of symmetry and ask yourself questions pertaining to the other senses. Can you smell the money expanding in round shapes and which makes your facial muscles relax? ‘Oh, to have or not to have, that is the question,’ you want to say, and then you quickly want to conclude, perhaps while remembering an author you like, such as Gertrude Stein, whose words you will repeat: “I’ve been poor, I’ve been rich. It’s better to be rich.”

So, here’s my advice for reading with a historical deck: get your whole body into the reading, and you’ll be amazed how much you can come up with. It’s useless to think of cards in terms of how others have seen them. You have your own eyes and ears. You have your own experiences. Trust your memory. You will have seen it all before. At the end of the day, you will be pleased to see your many alter-egos running across the cards. You will be able to run after them, with them, and then laugh at it all. Let the sun shine on all your aspects. Greet yourself with these words: ‘I am here now.’


Note on the deck: Jean Noblet’s Tarot de Marseille, 1650, as restored by Jean-Claude Flornoy


For more of this stuff, check out my Marseille Tarot book.


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