Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

The Power of Context in Tarot

in Tarot

(Joanna’s note: I’m very pleased to offer this guest post by my friend and tarot colleague James Wells.)

James WellsGuest post by James Wells

Whether we engage with the tarot for personal enrichment, offer its sagacity to friends and family, or bring it into a professional tarot counselling or reading practice, there’s an important component of using this tool that we all need to remember: context.  The tarot isn’t employed in a vacuum, but rather in partnership with a clear intention or topic, our reason for taking the cards out of their box or bag.  Within this intention are a series of sub-intentions often worded as questions.  These questions are usually arranged in a pattern or layout that provides us with a map of the tarot session.  All of this gives us a context through which to view each card we pull.

Without context, our tarot sessions can turn into vague ramblings.  No clear focus in our inquiries leads to no clear focus from the tarot.  Our imagination, creativity, and intuition all say, “What the heck is this?” and we leave the consultation more confused than before.  When people in my classes and workshops get stuck on what a card might mean, it’s usually because they’ve forgotten to bring the concepts they’re talking about back to the question or intention.  If I ask a reader, “What’s the best thing I can do for my business this week?” and s/he pulls the Emperor and tells me, “You’ve got daddy issues”, I’m neither impressed nor helped.  If, however, s/he says, “Align yourself with a person who carries a lot of clout in your profession”, I stand up and take notice.  The tarot practitioner has paid attention to what we agreed would be our topic of exploration.

This skill of using the tarot contextually can easily be learned.  Here is a series of activities that will help you do so.  They’re simple, but don’t skip any steps.  Each stage of the process will sharpen your capacity to make your tarot sessions more relevant and meaningful.

1.  Choose a card from your tarot deck.  You can do this at random or you can find a card that you’d consciously like to explore.  Write down its name.

2.  Write down one word or one phrase that comes to you as you look at your card.

3.  Write down three positively-worded synonyms for your original word or phrase.

4.  Write down three negatively-worded synonymns for your original word or phrase.

5.  Come up with a topic or intention that you’d like to explore.  Write it down.

6.  Generate and write down three or more open-ended questions (beginning with “how” or “what”) about your topic.  Put them in an order that makes sense and number them.

7.  Draw a diagram using rectangles or circles (depending on the shape of your deck) to represent where cards will be laid out.  Number them according to the numbers you gave your questions.  This is your spread or layout.

8.  Place your chosen card on the first layout position.  Recall what this position is about.  Recall the core word or phrase you assigned to the card.  Find other ways to say the core word or phrase that have to do with the question in this position.  Write down any that really answer the question.

9.  Repeat what you did in # 8 for every layout position in your diagram, using ONLY your ONE chosen card for each position. In other words, your one chosen card is going to journey through the entire spread.  It’s the only card that will answer every question you’ve asked.  Let its core concept speak to each question.  Write down all of your relevant responses.

10.  Summarise by responding to, in writing, these four questions:

a)  By doing this activity, what have I learned about my topic, issue, or intention?

b)  By doing this activity, what have I learned about using the tarot in general?

c)  By doing this activity, what have I learned about this card in particular?

d)  By doing this activity, what have I learned about myself?

Here’s an example reading:

Gaian Tarot Nine of Fire1.  I’ve chosen the 9 of Fire from the Gaian Tarot.

2.  One word or one phrase that comes to me as I look at the 9 of Fire is centredness.

3.  Three positively-worded synonyms for centredness might be: alignment, spiritual connection, at peace.

4.  Three negatively-worded synonymns for centredness might be: selfishness, coldness, aloof.

5.  My topic/intention: Writing my next tarot book.

6.  The questions I’ve generated about writing my next tarot book are:

  • What is the principle message I want to convey to others in this book?
  • What is the worst way for me to present this message?
  • What is the most helpful and inviting way for me to present this messsage?

7.  My diagram:

3 Card Spread

8.  When I place the 9 of Fire on the first position — the principle message I want to convery in my book — it suggests tapping into your creative centre with the cards, using the tarot align with your true Centre/Self, and tarot as a tool for personal peace.

9.  Placing the 9 of Fire on the other two positions, I come up with these responses.  The worst ways to present this message are with cold, aloof language and with concepts that sound self-centred and clued out about real life.  Helpful, inviting ways to present the book’s message include speaking from a place of spiritual alignment within myself, using language that is calmly alive and bringing in concepts that invite the reader into hir own ways of connecting with divine wisdom.

10.  Summarise by responding to, in writing, these four questions:

a)  By doing this activity, I’ve learned that this is more than a book project.  It’s more about really aligning any aspect of what I offer the world with my authentic self and spirit.

b)  By doing this activity, I’ve learned that the tarot is flexible and adaptable, useful on a practical level *and* able to invite me to notice a larger story at work beneath my initial inquiry.

c)  By doing this activity, I’ve learned that the Gaian Tarot’s 9 of Fire depicts the human body and the earth as wonderful meeting grounds of spirit and solidity.  It now reminds me of the sacredness of matter.  It tells me that inner peace is possible anywhere, if I simply slow down.

d)  By doing this activity, I’ve learned that I have many tools to connect with my own centre and with the Great Centre and it would be helpful to do a particular easy meditation practice more often.

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Paris Mon - Aug 22nd 2011 3:47 am

    Thank you, James. A fine piece of thinking, well-explained and exemplified. By setting the extremes of “worst” and “best,” you lay out the scope of the querent’s options what’s possible. Putting limits on things is comforting to us. It keeps us from endless imaginings of all sorts of outcomes that really are not within the realm of what is likely. By delineating the scope, we can look more closely at the options within that scope. Our sense of control goes up, our sense of anxiety goes down.

    Your “tarot counselling” is coalescing into what could be a most significant contribution to the profession. Even more, though, is your continued modeling of the cycle of reflective practice (self-criticism, self-examination, redirection) that is the earmark of the true professional

  • James Wells Mon - Aug 22nd 2011 7:38 am

    I’m honoured by your comments, Paris. For me, the intention — topic, question, layout position — is a sacred container. Into this container steps a card and its concepts. All of the card’s possibilities get sugared down to something relevant because it showed up in a particular place. I want to refine this work and get the ripples going. Thank you for being part of the refining and rippling process!

  • Megan Potter Fri - Sep 09th 2011 4:37 pm

    Love, Love, Love… And SO grateful you did an example as I was starting to hope you’d have one while I was reading the steps! Printing this out for later as we speak (type).

    Megan