Cartomancy is fundamentally a story-tellers art, in which each card in a spread forms a scene in a narrative that logically advances the story from the preceding card and segues neatly into the next. The true test of the raconteur’s skill occurs when facing what at first appears to be a hopeless jumble of mismatched meanings. There is a powerful urge to simply pull more cards to guide one through this seemingly impenetrable jungle, but it can quickly become a case of far too many “trees” obscuring the “forest.” The situation is made worse, not better.
This happens less frequently to experienced readers, who have developed the knack of figuratively taking two steps back, drawing a deep breath, and thinking a little longer and more deeply about what the cards are trying to tell them. My favorite quote in this regard comes from James Ricklef: “Let it simmer in your consciousness, it will eventually make sense. They always do.” Those raised in a world that prizes instant gratification of any demand can have a hard time mustering the necessary patience and persistence to do this, but it is an absolutely crucial ability to cultivate if one is to avoid frustration.
I have several techniques that have served me well over the years whenever I encounter a murky outlook in the cards. “Intuition” alone isn’t the answer; it’s a fuzzy, overused catch-all term for bridging the gaps in a reading with “shot-in-the-dark” guesswork when greater interpretive precision is needed, not less. I much prefer the other three “I-words” in the story-teller’s toolbox: inspiration, imagination and ingenuity. Bringing those creative insights together with a little deep thought can penetrate the haze with remarkable swiftness and clarity, conferring awareness where at first there was only confusion.
A second useful method is to apply the story-telling “tropes” of metaphor, analogy and allegory. Most people who share common ancestral roots possess a reservoir of social, cultural and/or historical memories and experiences that can be tapped by weaving a few well-chosen associations into the story-line, often of a literary or visual nature. This inventiveness is usually as much fun for the reader as it is for the sitter, although its effectiveness can be diluted by the international reach of on-line reading venues.
A favorite of mine for opening up unexpected vistas in a stalled reading is the use of reversals. Although they aren’t universally embraced by the tarot community, they can provide a unique perspective by subtly altering the angle of entry and mode of delivery for the message, making it either more oblique or more internal. In these cases, exploring ways in which the querent can receive and process the information is more illuminating than predicting its outward expression in his or her life.
This leads to the final frontier: rethinking the entire thrust of the reading. For example, my preferred approach at the start of a session is to pursue the practical rather than psychological aspects of the narrative, since I don’t think tarot is especially useful for revealing what someone is thinking or feeling. (I often say “I read the cards, not minds.”) But there are situations where the querent draws a total blank on every mundane observation I make, failing to see any relevance in the testimony of the cards drawn. I backpedal on the original line of inquiry and probe whether he or she has underlying issues of a mental/emotional nature that are being reflected in the spread. This can produce the “Aha!” look of dawning comprehension that every reader strives to coax from the sitter’s demeanor. It can spell the difference between profound success and outright failure.