“Adjectivitis” – The Tarot Writer’s (and Reader’s) Albatross

I have to confess that the comma is my enemy, particularly when it is used to link an endless array of modifiers that would be best boiled down into a single compelling noun or trenchant adjective (for that matter, the more sophisticated semi-colon is at most a “friend with benefits” and not a faithful consort when invoked to enumerate related ideas in a single sentence). The impressionistic nature of tarot writing lends itself to an efflorescence of descriptive jargon, not to mention – ahem – “big words.” I’m constantly fighting this battle in my own writing since I love language and have a large vocabulary. I strive to choose “just the right word” to capture my thoughts, and things can quickly become cluttered when that word spawns even more effusive words unless I’m vigilant. Consequently, I’ve set myself the challenge of using only a single adjective or adverb in a clause except in very limited circumstances (or when I simply can’t resist flaunting the perfect phraseology). This also leads to shorter, simpler sentences, typically a good thing.

The “piling-on” of keywords when developing an interpretive lexicon for the tarot cards is an alluring trap and one of the biggest impediments I’ve seen to advancing a sound tarot canon. In my own practice I’ve begun applying the same convention that is native to the Lenormand cards: there need be only one principal or “core” meaning for each card that forms the central theme for how it is read (and a very small number of subsidiary associations that may pertain to the unique context of a specific question). This is largely why Lenormand has such a solid reputation as a down-to-earth method of divination; there is very little room for the sort of open-ended extemporizing that can bedevil the tarot reader who doesn’t keep a tight leash on the imagination. Just because something sounds convincing to the ear or feels good to the emotions doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best representation of the card’s import in the situation, or the most useful insight for the querent. That which charms the reader so completely may fall on deaf ears across the table, even if – or I might say especially if – a more wide-ranging psychological narrative is unfolding that the seeker has begun to invest in; they’re likely to appreciate a clearly-drawn character portrait more than an elaborate Baroque confection. My own professional style is primarily action-and-event-oriented so I tend to avoid becoming too flamboyant in my readings; I save that for my writing.

This is where a thorough grounding in the “textbook” fundamentals of interpretation is so valuable. When on shaky ground, referring to the so-called “knowledge base” can become a lifeline to pull oneself out of the swamp of misapprehension. However, mechanically memorizing strings of related keywords is the wrong way to go about it. I’ve written in the past about finding the “chord” in any card that rings the truest in light of both acquired wisdom and impromptu inspiration and then starting with that premise when the card appears in a spread. But it is better to do that “off-line” than in the middle of a session where it is tantamount to a “fishing expedition” and not the most effective way to build confidence in one’s prowess. “Intuition above all!” is the rallying cry for many modern tarot readers, but I happen to think it can amount to so much subjective navel-gazing that says more about the reader’s own “private Idaho” than it does about the cards on the table or the querent’s life. Learning a little before blithely exposing just how much you don’t know to a savvy client is a smart move. As an aside, I realize that intuitive interpretation is something of a “sacred cow” in tarot circles, but I’ve been at this stuff a very long time (50 years and counting) and have found that unalloyed, free-standing intuition isn’t as reliable as intuitive insight (which I prefer to think of as inspiration, imagination and ingenuity) launched from a solid platform of core knowledge.

That said, I admit that there have been instances when I “just kept talking” in order to jog myself out of a funk of incoherent pondering at a difficult juncture, which can degenerate into the worst kind of “adjectivitis” simply to avoid sitting there gaping vacantly at the client until something jells. It reminds me of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s advice: “Try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else. But above all try something.” At some point, however, the sitter may decide that we are trying too hard and don’t really know what we’re talking about. We need to toss all of the verbose ballast overboard and grant the cards fair winds and full sail; they won’t steer us wrong if we get out of their way. Therefore, my “filler material” usually comes to me in lighthearted storytelling form, where I try to find vivid analogies in culture or history that speak louder than my own faltering vision. At worst this will be entertaining, and at best it can break the impasse quite emphatically since it will stimulate engaging dialogue and we may never notice that there was a slight hitch in the flow of the presentation.

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