The Hazards of “Clumping”

I’ve written previously on the subject of shuffling tarot decks, both the purpose and the practice. But the topic still comes up regularly on the tarot pages and feeds, which has caused me to once again sharpen my perspective. The “how” doesn’t concern me as much as the “why.” The commonly-held belief that we shuffle the cards to “randomize” them is a misconception and a misnomer. My job as a reader is to present my clients with a “blank slate” – a deck that I have already randomized to the point that no card or group of cards stands out above any other (an ideal never quite achieved, but with millions of possible permutations of a 78-card series that’s not unexpected). The querent’s task is to properly arrange the cards – through the “subconscious induction” afforded by their hands-on manipulation – so the “right” cards to tell them what they need to know will migrate to the top of the deck upon the shuffle-and-cut. When this is done with purpose and proficiency, the cards will pick up on the querent’s unspoken intent and produce an answer that makes perfect sense within the context of the question. (Excuse the whiff of “arcane physics” here, but I’ve always pursued a semi-rational justification for “how tarot works.’)

The “clumping” of the title refers to the dangers inherent in handing the sitter a deck that is either: 1) newly opened and not adequately randomized to disperse its “out-of-the-box” regimentation; or 2) still holding the “imprint” of the order imposed by the previous querent that might not be sufficiently overwritten by the next one in line, who may not shuffle long enough or diligently enough to purge it. In the first case, the series of cards will be “on rails” and will most likely be irrelevant to the subject of the reading, and in the second scenario the pull could very well be a reprise of the previous one and have little or no meaning for the present querent. As a reader I don’t like rehashing old news for a new set of ears; if that is destined to happen, it will just as readily occur with a different deck that hasn’t been “pre-conditioned.” In my own practice I’ve found that there are few surprises of the totally nonsensical kind as long as we approach the reading with sincerity.

When I do public sessions where sitters are sometimes lined up waiting, I don’t have the luxury of using a single deck and randomizing it between readings (even though this takes only a couple of minutes with a deck that has been rigorously “scrambled” in the past). Instead, I will bring several randomized decks and use them until I’m forced to pause and “re-randomize” a spent one. With half-a-dozen decks on hand, there is usually a small break where I can refresh a couple without causing a noticeable delay. I randomize for both distribution and orientation; if a reversed card comes up in the draw, it is because the situation demands that the sitter receive a more subtle or nuanced message. In that sense, it doesn’t bother me that the initial randomizing for reversal came at my hands and not theirs as long as it was done conscientiously. Besides, most of my clients don’t have a clue about how they should shuffle to introduce an intermittent “upside-down” orientation so I don’t try to put the burden on them.

Just a couple of side notes on other methods. There are those who, in the interest of preserving absolute randomization in their pulls, will “fan” the cards after the shuffle and have the seeker draw from it fortuitously (little chance for “clumping” there). This sounds workable in principle as long as the querent does the pulling since the subconscious is still guiding the hand. It would seem to function in much the same way as the random number generator of an electronic tarot app, in which an impartial Universe takes over the responsibility for deciphering the “button-push” or “mouse-click” and the intent behind it when choosing the cards for the reading. (Talk about arcane physics; anyone for “cyber-psychism?”) But that hands-off execution is a little too impersonal for me. I’ve also tried the fan, but it doesn’t quite take me there either since I’m a devout believer in tarot as an interactive art and want to see my clients as immersed as possible in the experience. Then there are those who only read the cards that fall out of the deck – some call them “jumpers” – during the (arguably incompetent) shuffle. Huh? Where the “personal touch” in that, unless sloppiness is a virtue? (Not to mention that, if one expects the cards to drop individually, it could take some time to arrive at a full spread). A while back I half-mockingly created a “spread” where I throw the deck up in the air and read the resulting “clumps” of cards as a narrative. I’ll be damned if it didn’t work! It seems there are many strange and wonderful things going on in the world of modern divination, but some of them might well be nudged to the margins as a little too “out there” for the thoughtful practitioner.

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