This blog examines how context plays a role in tarot reading. In the world of tarot context is needed to anchor a reading and connect the messages that come through in a way that is relevant to mundane reality so they can be understood on a conscious level. As discussed in the last blog the symbolic language of the tarot covers a vast array of meanings, especially if we choose to break out of externally dictated systems that aim to fit tarot into specific worldviews or philosophies. But no matter how we approach meaning in the tarot we need context or the resulting reading will be meaningless at worst or unrelatable at best.
This blog explores the idea that context in a tarot reading can be either imposed by the reader (usually from a system they learned) or from the querent (person receiving the reading) or can arise spontaneously from other external sources before and during the reading. In this blog we will look at all these types of context and how they can enhance or limit the messages from the cards.
I will look at two tarot traditions and their approaches to context in this blog. But first I want to say that although I champion an intuitive or psychic approach in tarot in my Oracular style that doesn’t mean I don’t work with tarot traditions at all. In my style of reading I use techniques and approaches from cartomancy and Marseille traditions. That doesn’t mean that I don’t go rogue sometimes and let the Golden Dawn (GD) approach influence me (a little). I would be lying if I said that I don’t lean into the GD techniques occasionally. My Oracular style is almost like a chaos magick approach to tarot. I take what inspires me from any tradition and work with that. This blog will explain why I favor a certain approach to creating context in a reading.
When in comes to the GD, their techniques for creating context comes from spreads, correspondences, and processes. While the cartomancy approach favors a querent-centered approach by giving prominence to the question as context. The GD system favors a rules-centered approach which derives context from factors controlled by their processes. Cartomancy looks to other external signs and synchronicities to gain context for the reading. For the GD the question is less important. As is anything that happens during the reading because these factors are outside the parameters of the techniques and processes the GD created. Basically, the system holds the power in the reading when we adhere strictly to its techniques. The system creates the context and controls the messages that come through by creating parameters around how they are interpreted by the reader. While the querent and environmental circumstances hold the power and create the context in a cartomancy style reading.
Cartomancy demands a question and focuses carefully on how that question is worded (but doesn’t try to control or create the question). Basically, the question has the power to create context and by extension that gives the power to the querent. What they share and what and how they ask is of utmost importance. This approach allows for just enough of an anchor and promotes intuitive or psychic interpretations. This frees the reader because the context does not come from a system they learned. Things that happen during the reading (starting from the point in time when the querent sets the intention to get a reading) are all considered part of the reading. Essentially, the reading begins as soon as it comes into the mind of the querent. Anything of significance that happens up until the end of the reading in the form of synchronicities, omens, dreams, animal behaviors, etc. are brought into consideration in a reading. Occasionally, the GD embraces external influence on context in the form of “jumper” cards and a few other similar signs, while my oracular style takes this to another level putting way more significance on these things and paying close attention to external signs. Also, for the cartomancy reader how the cards on the table (and off) interact with each other is a critical way that context is created. As opposed to where cards fall in a reader-selected spread position creating context in the system approach.
In the system approach the reader’s prescribed process itself creates the context (or at least a good part of it) and often has the power to trump context that arises from anything outside the system’s approved sources. Unfortunately, this approach also eclipses context that comes from the querent in many cases. Questions can be changed, rejected, or reworded. Basically, set meanings and rules overshadow the question and what the querent says, as well as any signs outside the reading. The process rains supreme. When I read this way, I found myself telling people what they were there for instead of listening to them tell me why they showed up. In retrospect, that was not only condescending but also very controlling. Even though I still gave good readings they often felt like unsolicited advice.
In the system approach there are more parameters around what the cards mean and how to interpret their meanings. Therefore, the power lies in those meanings and the processes that communicate those meanings. With a less restrictive approach or when set meanings hold less power, external context (from outside the system) holds more sway. You need an anchor, or the reading would be pointless and if the reader does less to create context it naturally comes from the querent and the circumstances during the reading. I feel that spreads create a controlled process for reading and can muddy the question especially when using a very general spread or poorly selected one. In system approach general readings are more acceptable especially if there is a technique to deal with them. The GD has an overly complex and controlled reading process called the Opening of the key that, in my opinion, leaves little room from the reader’s intuitive interpretation.
My Oracular style falls decidedly in the camp of cartomancy traditions giving the power of creating context to the querent and to the circumstances surrounding the reading. With a very minimal process this frees the reader to focus on intuitive or psychic insight to derive their interpretation, which is what oracular reading is all about. The GD systems takes that power away from the querent and external circumstances and seemingly giving it to the reader however because they must commit to system with varying levels of strictness their power to tap into their intuitive abilities to interpret the cards is minimized. Leaving them trusting that the system will do the work for them and sometimes even ignoring their instincts in its favor. Oracular tarot is puts the reader’s instincts in the driver’s seat.