Because tarot-card interpretation is such a fluid form of expression in which we sometimes “throw everything against the wall to see what sticks” (hint: it ain’t that simple, kids), the common advice is to pick one method of working and stay with it through thick-and-thin. The thought is that consistency of approach will keep our feet on the straight-and-narrow and not steer us into chaos. Indiscriminately oscillating between one mode or style of cartomantic inquiry and another can leave us “betwixt and between,”  which is a good way to wind up nowhere at all.

I typically follow this advice until I find a more convincing angle of attack, and then I pursue that either instead of or in addition to the old way. Sitting still for too long is rarely a sound idea, at least in theory (says he who has used the Celtic Cross for the last 45 years). Ralph Waldo Emerson said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and I always have that in the back of my head. Learning the rules so you will know when they can and should be broken is relevant as well. I also like the FDR quote: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

I put anything that intrigues me to the test and toss out whatever doesn’t pass muster. No more deck cleansing for me, as well as no jumpers or clarifiers, little or no use of base or shadow cards, no sleeping with new decks, no treating decks like psychologically fragile drama queens, only sparing use of the “if it feels right it must be true” defense, etc. I still practice some of the time-honored (or, depending on how you see it, time-worn) conventions as part of the performance art of public reading, the “show” we put on for our clients. Reversals still have a place in my toolbox but only in a very particular way (and not with the Tarot de Marseille since its “pip” cards discourage it). My one constant is that I want my clients involved in some manner in the selection of the cards for a reading. I believe in using all of the tools at my disposal when they can add value. But the landscape is always changing as I learn new things and outgrow old ones. I prefer to learn through incremental, hands-on practice and not just by swallowing new ideas whole. (It must be my pragmatic Moon in Capricorn.) I think “becoming an expert” in anything is more about the “becoming” than the accomplishment itself, which should be a moving target as long as we’re still drawing breath. I suppose I’ve never suffered self-styled “gurus” gladly, starting “way back when” with clergymen.

It may seem like a contradiction, but increased sophistication of viewpoint can often yield an improved economy of execution as we cut away the dross of sloppy thinking and careless technique. I’ve certainly found this to be so in my ongoing efforts to reformulate my approach to the TdM pips. I’m reminded of the words that Irving Stone put into the mouth of Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy: “If I want to make a statue of a horse, I just carve away anything that doesn’t look like “horse” (or words to that effect). Mastering the tarot, or even becoming a capable and confident journeyman, really is a life-long pursuit as we continually trim our sails to make headway. But then, in that regard I will once again quote Terry Pratchett: “The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.”

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