Intuition, tarot and the Big Picture.

People spend a lot of time focussing on the isolated cards in a tarot spread and the relationship between their individual and positional meanings and this of course is a very useful way of reading. In essence then, breaking it down into a series of one card readings that all link up, forming a whole. Coming at it this way, one might focus on a card's individual meaning in relationship to the question, the position, taking into account whether it is a reversed card or elementally afflicted (if you read using elemental dignities) etc. And in this way you build up your interpretation bit by bit. Simple and powerful.

There is another layer worth considering however, and that is looking at the raw quality of spread as a whole. This is like zooming out and getting the big picture, taking an arial perspective rather than looking close up at the details. It's a difficult technique to put into words, but if one had to define it I would say that you are looking at the basic energetic current flowing throughout the layout on the table. You are looking at stuff such as: is the spread encouraging or discouraging as a whole? Is the overarching theme leaning in a certain direction? What is that and is it supported by the outcome, or other key positional cards? Sometimes you can see two overarching themes but they seems at odds, what does this mean? What is the Big Picture saying about the story you have built up using individual card meanings and does it reinforce or weaken certain key cards?

These insights are subtle and often easily missed. As such they offer potent and valuable additional interpretative opportunities that can powerfully open up a reading, wether you are reading for yourself or for a client. What's more is that because what I am describing here is somewhat intangible and slippery, this is really where your own spiritual gifts, intuition and spirits have a doorway to enter into the reading and contribute in an invaluable way.

It must be said: I detest the notion of 'intuitive' readings. Not because I don't value intuition but because often I have seen would-be readers who describe themselves as 'intuitive' readers use this as an excuse to make up any associative nonsense when looking at the cards (although not all intuitive readers are guilty of this). In my opinion this is not a true tarot reading. The tarot is a structured system of divination, with a tradition and certain formal skills that make it a worthy discipline. Sure you can make up whatever pops into your head looking at the cards and this may or may not be helpful, depending one who does it . But then you may as well use postcards, or any other deck of cards with pictures on it to read (and people do). No, tarot like astrology, has a tradition and a coherent internal structure - accessing that structure, at the very least, is based on a knowledge of the traditional meanings of the cards. Sure, you can expand this based on your own research, theology and experience - but you cannot and should not make up anything that pops into your head when you look at that card, sorry.

I mention this because I wanted to distinguish this subtle skill of reading a spread globally by looking at the currents, themes of the Big Picture from the dubious business that is, normally, described as 'intuitive' reading. It's unfortunate that the word "intuitive" had to be brought into disrepute because of it. However, there is a place for the intuitive reading and that is when it is blended with discipline and tradition of the tarot. In my opinion this gift comes into play, very importantly, when looking at a spread at this macro level.


  1. In Crowley's Book of Thoth, he gives a method of doing a reading that includes all the cards, and as they are laid out, they tell a complete story that explains the beginning, middle, and end of the reading. It's a comprehensive technique that takes a long time to do, but provides a wide range of interpretations. It combines the three layers of reading you discuss in this blog post. Pretty cool.

  2. Oh yeah, The Book of Thoth and Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot are still two of the best works on the subject. I should add to that Paul Huson's Mystical Origins of the Tarot , which is *fantastic*. I have always had a soft spot for the GD Opening the Key Spread.