For a long time now I’ve considered the number Five in the numerical sequence to be a figurative can-opener or nutcracker that releases the stale atmosphere of the Four, the idea being that it represents reactionary change in response to a stalled state of affairs. But today I was thinking that this “can-opener” function is exactly what a tarot reading does when it “cracks the code” that lets a sitter’s latent self-knowledge communicate with Universal Consciousness (by whatever name we choose to call it) via the link established through the reader’s “inner comprehension.” That’s just a fancy way of saying “when they shuffle the deck, things happen.” The reader is mainly a conduit and translator for the flow of information that a tarot spread conveys at the sitter’s behest.
There are numerous explanations for “how tarot works,” but I’ve always subscribed to the “subconscious induction” theory (my term for it) that assumes an active role for the querent in arranging the cards “just so.” But that only sets things in motion; instantly relevant meaning doesn’t automatically result from this focused engagement. The message in the cards is often ambiguous at first, and may in fact not be speaking directly to the topic that was at the front of the shuffler’s conscious mind. This is a subject of endless inquiry on the tarot forums and pages: “What do you do when the cards seem to be answering a different question?”
My approach is to place some of the responsibility on my clients by asking them to judge what the import might be of any cards that don’t seem to be germane to their expressed interests. Since I don’t usually know the specific question in advance (it’s just my preferred way of working that I picked up from Eden Gray long ago), I don’t have an opinion on this conundrum until I receive some kind of “nudge” from the sitter’s reaction. Once the window is opened on other possibilities, I can chime in with alternative insights. It’s fascinating how often this pushes the entire reading in an unexpected direction that is even more valuable for the querent than the assumed objective we started with.
This requires a degree of flexibility on the reader’s part, an ability to “change horses” when necessary to stay astride the evolving narrative. A talent for nimble free-association from the images coupled with a strong command of storytelling “tropes” (literary or rhetorical devices such as metaphor, analogy and allegory that consist in the use of words in other than their literal sense) usually serve the reader better than a reliance on dredging up more formal meanings from the “memory banks.” This can lend an immediacy and freshness to the reading that might otherwise be hard to come by.