High Resolution Tarot, part 1: Filtering Out The Noise

My main problem with getting what I like to call 'high resolution' readings is 'tarot noise'. What is tarot noise? Well, my definition of noise would be cards that make no sense, obscure or otherwise distort a reading. Now sometimes those cards coming out left field are valuable because they make you think outside the box, yet when striving for this personal ideal of crisp, accurate, no-nosense readings I want to keep noise down to minimum. This means that the cards that come up should relate to a question or an aspect of the question in a relevant, direct and accurate way.

We approach the tarot with the useful assumption that all the cards that come up are relevant to the question and that what a spread is trying to say is valid no matter which cards it includes. The reader's job is to decode it and good reader is better at decoding the spread than an average person. This is a helpful mindset which I think is vital to reading. Yet, what if the tarot isn't always that clear or sensical? What if its a kind of bizarre occult message machine; part magick, part pattern, part nonsense spinning on an axle of synchronicity? Maybe its possible that we are using it as kind of translation tool for the mind of God and, sometimes, something can get lost in translation. Sometimes there is interference; those muddy readings that leave you or your querent puzzled and possibly even more confused than before. Not good.

Interference manifests as what I think of as this kind of tarot noise. You know, flipping the cards and having half of them come up as court cards. Court cards are useful but when half the spread is made up out of them, I begin to think that there is noise there - the nonsense component of the machine is out of calibration. Similarly, when I ask a question about money and most of the cards that come up are cups you could resort to lyrical explanations about the universe wanting you to look more closely at emotional issues at the heart of your money problem; or, you could try and eek financial advice out of cup cards using some 'intuitive' interpretation linking the water element with money (and this is a valid approach). But hell, if I ask a question about money I want an answer about money I don't want to know about relationships, feelings etc.

I want a filter for such noise. Because whilst I am sure the universe means well when telling us about our love life in the middle of money reading, I still want accurate relevant information about money, especially when doing magic relating to that specific area for a client.

Pondering this I recalled something relevant; I was talked into I reading at a psychic fair. I hate psychic fairs - its a circus and demeaning to our art. Nonetheless, I was chatting to the reader in the booth next to me discussing an unpleasant exchange with a punter who had been dissatisfied when her sample reading of three cards (5 of Swords, 3 of Swords and 5 of cups) which not only did NOT predict wealth, fame and fortune but delivered some bad news. I dont like to sugar coat but I did my best to a positive spin on the reading. Still she was displeased and jumped up and stormed out.

The reader next door informed me that when she reads at fairs she removes all the unhappy cards; devil, death, 10 of swords etc. Heresy! I was horrified. What a dishonest and morally bankrupt thing to do! People come for accurate readings after all. No, she said - they come for good news and encouragement. I didn't buy it and remained disdainful of the practice and looked at it as evidence of how profit makes charlatans.

However, when I began to rethink my tarot noise theory I recalled this discussion and something struck me. If people were coming for good news readings and the deck was altered in some way to omit 'bad' cards it does not necessarily mean that the readings they were getting were wrong. Maybe, the readings were just being filtered. Sure, next month a new love interest would arrive and he would have lots of money; a rigged deck just would not mention that he was a dangerous psychopath, or that he will get arrested for fraud after robbing you blind. For better or worse you got what you asked for; good news and nothing else.

Now I am not defending deck fixing, I still think its bad practice; but the reader in the booth next door had a point. If that is what people wanted and she gives them that, she felt that no harm was being done. The problem is that some people want all the news and doing readings with a fixed deck without their knowledge is dishonest. However, it demonstrates an interesting and possibly useful mechanism.

Maybe I can filter my readings by 'fixing' my deck in a structured way relevant to my question? And in this way just get the information I want or need and less noise. It would seem to me the deck is already structured in such a way that it lends itself to this quite nicely. The french for instance are known to read solely with the major arcana; in other words fixing the deck so that they only deal with the 22 major ideas of the tarot. What if I take this approach select parts of the deck relevant to my question or spread and then only read with those parts, so doing filtering out irrelevant responses to my area of inquiry?

The elemental division of the tarot lends itself to this approach. For instance - if the question relates to love why not only read using the cups and majors? Or, perhaps one could structure the deck based on the elemental make up of the question. Your husband is cheating on you and you fear he is wasting your savings on his mistress (Cups and Pentacles). Your business partner is plotting to oust you from the company (Swords and Pentacles). You want to get married but you are not sure he is financially stable (Cups and pentacles).

The deck would then be broken into its component parts; majors, cups, wands, swords, pentacles and court cards . These components then are only brought into the reading when they are implicated by the question - or even the positional meaning of the spread. In essence one could say that the tarot contains six decks within its structure and to my thinking one could skillfully choose which deck you want 'voiced' in a reading or spread position, tightening up responses.


  1. Hi Balthazar.

    I'm writing you here, but only because I have no other way to get a hold of you. This post isnt so much a comment as much as it is a question concerning the blog: would tweaking the deck out of its traditional number of 78 cards render the whole deck ineffective? Ive thought about this same solution to "filtering out" tricky cards, but having been told that my gut-instinct/intuition is to be relied on when faced with a complex, occult question such as this, MY intuition was always that there are 78 cards in the deck for a reason, and being a reflection of the universe's function, I'd ought not cause an imbalance even just by removing one card.. "the deck only works if 78 cards are present REGARDLESS of the question... not 77 cards, nor 79, but 78.. point blank." Of course, I could be wrong... and im obviously open to learning new things here. Please get back to me whenever convenient, as this has been a thorn in the flesh sort of question for the longest time. look forward to hearing from you =)

  2. Hi Chris, well you should work with what feels most comfortable for you, but the tarot has historically been used in this way before. The french for instance (who have long tradition of cartomancy) are known to quite often only read with the major arcana. Paul Huson in his fantastic Mythic Origins of the Tarot also advocates breaking the deck up into relevant part to a question. He says you should never read with the majors unless the issues is very serious, for instance.

    There are also a few historical spreads that do this kind of thing. So I would not say there is a hard and fast rule with tarot because of all the variation in the tradition and also it's relative newness as divination tool. Before tarot became the rage in Europe, Geomancy and Horary were the most well known which is why they have such highly developed systems.

    Try it and see how it feels for you - you might find there are certain questions that deck structuring is great for but others that it is not so good for at all. I am all for creativity when it comes to tarot work. This is one of the tarot's strengths in my opinion.

    BTW you can reach me by clicking my profile link, I have an e-mail address listed there.