The “Three-Part Cacophony” Reading Method: One Part Melody, Two Parts Counterpoint

Here’s one from “way out in left field;” I chose “Cacophony” because “harmony” is never a foregone conclusion in a tarot reading. This layout has some similarities to the Celtic Cross (CC) in the way it is read, but the structure differs, the number of “developmental” cards is flexible and there are fewer fixed position meanings. It employs a three-zone approach: Personal (populated with the minor cards); Interpersonal (containing a single court card) and Transpersonal (holding a single major or trump card). The Personal Zone resembles the “cross” section of the CC in purpose but has only two mandatory positions: the “environment of the question/current situation” card akin to the CC “covering” card (first minor card), and the “short-term outcome”card mimicking the CC “near future” card (last minor card); the number of “developmental” cards between these two is elastic and up to the reader in satisfying the scope of the evolving narrative. The Interpersonal Zone is similar to the 8th position of the CC (“influence of other people”), while the Transpersonal Zone has the same purpose as the CC “final outcome” card, which shows the long-term implications of the provisional answer. Reversals may be used with this method and interpreted in your usual way.

I often struggle to squeeze the profound, complex testimony of a Major Arcanum (or “trump”) card into the narrow confines of a purely mundane, “garden-variety” question for which I’m not seeking a “highbrow” answer; in a reading, the gulf between their abstract significance and the routine import of the minor cards can seem unbridgeable, creating much floundering for meaning in order to bring the two together. (I often liken it to “swatting a gnat with a sledgehammer.”) The querent could legitimately call me out on why the Devil will butt his ugly head into the story when all that was asked is whether the beans are going to sprout. To deal with this difficulty, many diviners (me included) sometime strip the trump cards from the deck and just work with the rest of the pack. However, I’ve been thinking that the broader, more philosophical insights the trumps can provide shouldn’t be sacrificed in prosaic situations when it is conceivable that a more convoluted predictive landscape could emerge in the matter over time (maybe that Devil will bring a killing frost in August . . . ).

A slightly different conundrum occurs with the court cards, which also may not be immediately germane to the querent’s circumstances. I will frequently pull a youthful, predictably callow, card like the Thoth Princess/RWS Page or even the Thoth Prince/RWS Knight when the querent’s concerns in fact indicate the`potential involvement of the more mature and ideally wiser individual shown by a Thoth Knight/RWS King or Queen. I decided that I would find a way to make both of these eventualities less random, if not fully eradicate their respective weaknesses, by applying some CC-derived position meanings. (Note that I used the Thoth deck to create the “model” layout, so all future court-card references will be in Thoth terms.)

My first step was to separate the deck into three sub-sets: 40 numbered minor cards, 16 court cards and 22 trump cards, each to be further subdivided by the ongoing process of selection. The chosen card(s) in each sub-set will reveal a different aspect of the reading, contributing either harmony or counterpoint to the overall composition.

I tapped the esoteric number theory of the Qabalistic Tree of Life as my operating premise for the minor cards. On the Tree, the lower-numbered cards One through Three appear high on the structure and thus closer to the limitless font of spiritual energy; their purity assures that the elemental force represented in the like-numbered cards will achieve its full potency and momentum, “for good or ill according to their nature,” unencumbered by any circumstantial “drag” that might otherwise attend the situation (for example, in real-world terms this handicap could mean someone is “foot-dragging”); think “active yeast” or a freshly-opened bottle of champagne. The next series, Four through Six, occupies the upper-middle region of the Tree; their energy has only just begun to flag, so their potency is likely to be “moderate” as some inertia starts to creep in (I liken them to a “poured beer” that has been sitting out and is skirting the edge of “going stale”). The sequence Seven through Nine sits in the lower-middle region of the Tree; the energy has lost considerable “mojo” due to being mired in mundane constraints (envision a stagnant, algae-covered pond; there is still life present but it is sluggish). The Ten stands alone at the end of the series and is exhausted of its elemental force, having become fully materialized in its expression (here we have “flat” soda, with nary a “bubble” to be seen). In the “model” layout these four sub-packs of minor cards are presented left-to-right for the purpose of displaying the initial “field” for the Personal Zone, but you won’t do this in practice, instead selecting only one card from the combined group of 40 to initiate the zone, then more later to finish populating it.

Before beginning the next step, separate the court cards into Knight, Queen, Prince and Princess sub-packs and place them in a line, left-to-right in that order, to create the initial “field” for the Interpersonal Zone. (This is the order in which they appear coming down the Tree of Life; note that I’m not observing the Hebrew right-to-left convention in any of these arrangements.) Then separate the trump cards into four sub-packs as follows to populate the initial “field” for the Transpersonal Zone. The “Emperor” set includes the predominantly “male” cards Emperor, Hierophant, Chariot, Hermit, Fool and Magician (the order doesn’t matter since they will be shuffled); place this stack above the “Knights” pile. The “Empress” set contains the mainly “female” cards Empress, Adjustment, Lust, Art, World and Priestess; place this stack above the “Queens” pile. (Together the Emperor and Empress sub-packs show the “human element” at work in the matter) The “Sun” pack holds what I call impersonal “process” cards – Sun, Lovers, Wheel of Fortune, Star, Aeon; place this stack above the “Princes” pile. The “Devil” set includes the “challenge” cards Devil, Death, Hanged Man, Tower and Moon; place this stack above the “Princesses” pile.

Here is a picture of what the “model” layout looks like before the cards for the reading are drawn. I will provide an example reading containing from five to seven cards in a future post.

The second operation is to shuffle the 40 minor cards and draw one card (the “pointer” card) randomly from the stack, setting the deck aside without disturbing the order of the rest of the cards. If it is numbered 1-to-3, place it below the Knights pile; if 4-to-6, below the Queens pile; if 7-to-9, below the Princes pile; and if a 10, below the Princesses pile. This card represents the “environment” of the question, showing where the situation stands at the beginning of the reading, and it also sets in motion the interpersonal (or social) and transpersonal (“big picture”) aspects of the situation symbolized by the court and trump cards, respectively.

For the third operation, select the court-card pile that sits above the “pointer” card and shuffle it, then randomly select one card and set it face-up atop the pile to describe the “influence of other people in the matter.” This shows another individual who may have a stake in the querent’s concerns, and who can be expected to either aid or obstruct the querent depending on the card’s elemental sympathy or antipathy to the “pointer” card and its subsequent companions in the full draw (see the last step below). As mentioned above, Knights and Queens can be expected to deliver deliberate, well-seasoned assistance or opposition, while the Princes and Princess are prone to “go off half-cocked” (for example, a Knight or Queen could represent a concerned family “elder,” while the younger members of the court could personify a recalcitrant teenage son or daughter intent on causing trouble).

The fourth operation involves taking the stack of trump cards that sits above the “pointer” card and the associated court card, shuffling it, then randomly selecting one card and placing it face-up on top of the pile to show the impact of significant external factors that shape the broader dimensions and long-range consequences of the “short-term outcome” card. This card shows far-reaching implications – once again, “for good or ill” – that may arise from the querent’s initial handling of the situation, although it may not have a direct bearing on the immediate outcome. Think of it as “lying in wait down the road,” a signpost that should not be allowed to fade in the querent’s awareness (especially if it conveys a warning). The timing of its “triggering” depends upon the elemental nature of the cards: traditionally, Fire cards like the Emperor and Tower should manifest fairly soon; Air cards like the Magus and the Star will be slightly more delayed; Water cards like the Hanged Man and the Moon will be slower still; and Earth cards like the Empress and the World will be most tardy of all, taking their “sweet old time.” The key point to impress upon the querent is that these energies are not likely to go away, although their significance could be transformed or eroded over time if the situation is effectively “put to bed” the first time through.

To complete the reading, take the remainder of the minor cards without reshuffling them and draw a number of additional cards to flesh out the initial testimony of the “pointer” card; for example, two more cards will give you a typical three-card line, while four more will produce a five-card line. Pull as many cards as you think necessary to tell the rest of the story; the last card pulled will reveal the “short-term outcome.” Read the resulting layout and tag on any relevant observations regarding other parties who might be involved, either to the querent’s benefit or detriment (the court card), and any broader, longer-range implications of the outcome (the trump card). On that last point, it could be instructive to compare the “short-term outcome” card to the identified trump card to see if there is any symbolic convergence between them that could sharpen, clarify and possibly redirect the eventual ramifications of the “big picture” well in advance. But in truth, the transpersonal purview of the trump cards is characteristically indifferent to the personal and interpersonal agenda of the lower-ranking cards, so I might advise the querent “Don’t hold your breath.”

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