A Quintessence “Thumbnail”

As I continue to post my original spreads on various sites, those layouts that include the calculation of a quintessence (aka “quint”) card often receive puzzled questions and comments from tarot neophytes who have never heard of the technique. It’s one I’ve found quite useful for neatly winding up all the threads in a reading and giving a composite “verdict” about the outcome. It also has an historical precedent in the “tirage en croix” spread of French cartomancy. I figured it’s time to come up with a simpler explanation than the one provided in the old post that I usually cite here.

The quint card is calculated from the cards pulled for the reading. You add together the numerical values of all the cards on the table and then reduce that total to a number below 22 (or in certain cases 23) and assign the Major Arcana card of the resulting number as the “quintessence.” I treat this card as a high-level summary or roll-up of the entire narrative, and often use it as a “final outcome” that recaps all of the testimony in the spread. The simple math can be performed in a couple of ways, such as by Theosophical reduction – adding together the digits as many times as necessary to get below the upper limit, or by “casting out nines” – subtracting blocks of nine to the same end.

You can’t get to zero with Theosophical reduction, so some people renumber the Fool as 22 and set the “cutoff” at 23. You can reach zero by casting out nines, so that is the one I prefer since I don’t want to renumber the Fool (even if there is an historical basis for it). Another advantage is that you can stop at the first “station” at or below 22; for example, a raw total of 32 would give you 5 by Theosophical reduction (3+2 = 5, the Hierophant), but “casting out nines” provides the option of stopping at 14 (32-9 = 23; 23-9 = 14, Temperance), offering the opportunity to pick the one that best fits the nature of the question.

Also, many people don’t include the court cards since they’re unnumbered, but I think no card in the spread should be excluded, so I simply treat them as 11 (Page) through 14 (King). A final wrinkle is that, a while back, a woman on the Aeclectic Tarot forum gave me the idea of subtracting the values of any reversed cards, which can get you to zero as well as give you a reversed quint card, which makes sense if you use reversals.

Here is a small example reading that will be interpreted in an upcoming post. There were no reversed cards so it was a matter of straight addition and reduction. The combined value of the four cards was 32 and, as described above, “casting out nines” gave me 14 (Temperance) which was a better fit for the question than the Hireophant (1+4 = 5).

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