Hand Jive*

(*For those unfamiliar with it, the hand jive was a dance from the 1950s involving “a complicated pattern of hand moves.”  It brings to mind some of the elaborate manual maneuvers we make in preparing a tarot deck for a reading.)

Last night I was reading Paul Huson’s Mystical Origins of the Tarot and reached the section on divining with the cards. In it Huson does a credible job of explaining the more traditional steps by which cartomancers ready their decks for divination. He covers randomizing, shuffling, cutting and drawing the cards according to the “old ways” that I’m very familiar with. However, when he came to pulling the cards for the reading, he put his finger on a problem that I’ve had with one more modern practice that I never could articulate to my own satisfaction beyond thinking of it as “artificial.”

He mentions that he diverges from the usual practice of drawing the cards from the top of the deck, and instead holds them out in a fan for the sitter to randomly pull cards for the spread from different locations across the array. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable if your goal is to thoroughly randomize the picking of specific cards for the reading. But it comes after the sitter – while concentrating intently on the question – shuffles the deck to the point that he or she is satisfied that it has been put in the correct order to tell the story. As I’ve always understood it, the purpose of the shuffle-and-cut is to bring the necessary cards to the top of the pack such that they can populate the positions of the layout in ways that create a coherent and meaningful narrative. After going to all this trouble, it seems kind of counter intuitive to then disregard the whole operation and select the cards completely at random from the whole deck.

Perhaps, if I take a couple of steps back and squint my eyes at the apparent anomaly, I can come to the conclusion that the Universe will still deliver useful results no matter how we contrive to choose the cards. (This is the same logic I used to justify the electronic Random Number Generators that drive card selection using tarot apps.) But it does beg the question “If we are going to ignore all of our preparations after making such meticulous efforts to do them, why bother with them at all?” As long as we pull them singly and not in clumps, taking the cards from several random locations across a 78-card span held out in front of us should accomplish the same thing as painstakingly randomizing, shuffling and cutting  the deck (as well as taking a lot less time in set-up). This would certainly cut right to the chase, but we would forfeit much of the residual or “soft” benefit of having our sitters become engaged in the process, and considerably devalue the mystique surrounding the art of reading by making it almost entirely impersonal and mechanical. This should even work with new, unshuffled decks right out of the box (which are notoriously prone to clumping of adjacent cards even after a typical shuffle) as long as the full range of cards is covered in the draw, although I’m just saying that for completeness since I don’t know anyone who would go that far. But we certainly could.

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