“How Long, How Long”

In 1928, Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell recorded one of the first blues “standards,” How Long Blues, with the lyrics:

“Heard the whistle blowin’, couldn’t see no train
Way down in my heart, I had an achin’ pain
How long, how long, baby how long”

What, you’re asking, does this random piece of music history have to do with divination? Trust me . . .

A frequently asked question on the tarot forums is “How long is a reading ‘good for’ from the day it is performed?” The wisest advice I’ve seen is for the reader to build a target time-frame into the question: “What will happen in my relationship with ‘X’ in the next three months?” Barring that creative bit of foresight, there is a wide range of opinions. Here is mine.

I’ve worked with the Celtic Cross spread for almost 50 years now, and my general approach to the subject of reliable duration is that, if it’s going to happen at all,  the “near future” of the matter should emerge within a few days to a couple of weeks (usually no more than a month, with the “recent past” covering a similar span in the opposite direction). I expect the final outcome (Card # 10) to occur within no more than 3 to 6 months; everything between the  “near” and the “far” is transitional. Call it positioning and development, or “setting the stage for the last act.” I know that some people believe that a tarot prediction can be “good” for a couple of years, but I find that assumption flawed for a very sound reason: none of us lives in a vacuum.

Most of us interact with other people on a daily basis, and I can see no reason, in situations where we have or may develop a shared destiny, why theirs is any less relevant than ours. The cards may say that something will happen to us in the next six months, but another person, who may not have appeared on the scene yet but who has or will have an equally valid stake in the predicted event, could have a delayed reaction of, let’s say, a year. To my knowledge, there is no  agreed-upon way to split the difference when there is one central event and two or more participants other than to go with the longer estimate, just to be safe. Where it’s feasible, we might just read for the “group,” but there may not even be one at the time of the reading. With the fluidity of future circumstances, there are some things we can’t know  and it wouldn’t be prudent to assume.

This rule-of-thumb isn’t limited to the Celtic Cross. After six months, the querent’s external environment, whether or not linked to the priorities and agendas of another individual,  can “go out of focus” to the point that no reading should be trusted without reservation. The Universe moves on and individual paths diverge as well as converge; it may decide that events we are anticipating are no longer part of its master plan; in that case, the advice should be “Don’t hold your breath!” With the exception of the Lenormand Grand Tableau, an extended life-reading layout of 36 cards that is typically  “good” for a period of 6-to-12 months, I prefer not to make predictions in excess of six months. (And no, it’s not because I want to solicit more business). Life can be like a “skein” of yarn: not every strand is going to lead somewhere important (but don’t tell my long-dead grandmother that, she was a knitting wizard); tarot sometimes yanks on a thread that leads to a dead-end, and the more time that passes, the less likely it is to deliver a meaningful experience. Prediction is a dicey business at best, and the more cross-currents that enter the picture, the more cautious we should become. Timing accuracy is often the first casualty of any significant adjustment in scope.

I have little faith in the conventional wisdom regarding the timing aspects of the tarot suits or elements. Wands is undoubtedly the most rapid suit (although some people make a case for Swords) and Pentacles is the least prompt in its action, but I couldn’t tell someone with a straight face that an occurrence tied to the 10 of Pentacles is likely to take ten years to materialize. I have no problem saying “fairly soon” or “not soon, if at all,” but everything between the two extremes is a vast gray area. If asked, I will give my reasoning for a rough estimate based on the cards, but I won’t present it as anything other than an educated guess. Come to think of it, though, every cartomantic forecast is nothing more than informed conjecture. Turning its portent into reality (or, conversely, heading it off before it matures into something nasty) is the querent’s job, and the timetable is theirs. If it’s something they want badly and the cards encourage it, the delivery could be accelerated; if it’s something that causes them mortal fear and the cards show an indefinite delay, they will either come back in six months for another reading or blithely go on their way pretending to be none the wiser.


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