In my practice, as in I think most of my colleagues’s practices as well, the two main issues brought to the cards are work and love. Most querents have some variation of a question on one or both of these themes.
In terms of the questions about love, one of the situations I see quite often regards wanting to know the feelings of a partner who isn’t actively communicating or expressing their feelings outright. Now, we could say to the querent, “Well, why don’t you just ask them?” but let’s not be glib: sometimes that’s not possible, feasible, or desirable, for whatever reason. I make an effort to emphasize that a querent’s reading is most impactful when it focuses on them and what steps they can take in a situation to come to the results that they want. However, I also take into account that sometimes it can be very helpful to the querent’s overall progress and situation to take into consideration the thoughts, feelings, motivations, etc., of the “other.”
Some readers say that it’s unethical to read for third parties, and I do agree with that, to a certain extent. Rather than making a blanket statement, however, and recognizing that each reading is its own individual process and narrative, I tend to base my ethical judgement calls more on the intention of the reading. Is the reading directed towards bringing insight to the querent that can help him or her find clarity and constructive choice? If so, I do feel that it can be appropriate and useful to bring in other parties involved in the situation, and pull cards to help elucidate their motivations or thoughts regarding the situation. While personally asking the others involved is certainly the most straightforward and direct way of getting answers, we can use the cards to give us an alternative suggestion and ideas that might complement direct asking or help the querent to navigate a situation during a time when direct contact is not advisable or possible.
Here, then, is an example of how this process can be employed in an actual reading. The querent has recently been involved in a situation of dating someone who seemed interested and then began pulling away, claiming disinterest, and sending mixed signals. Attempts to clarify the situation were met with more vague responses and unclear statements, so the querent decided to ask the cards how to best approach the situation and this person. A spread with customized positional meanings was used for this situation:
Card 1: What is my role in this partnership?
Card 2: What is the other’s role in this partnership?
Card 3: What is in the best interest of both parties?
Card 4: What should I do now? (advice/guidance about how to approach the “other” and the partnership now)
Card 5: Most likely near-future outcome for this partnership
The cards came up as follows: (please note that I’m not reading reversals at the current time)
Card 1: The Emperor
Card 2: 5 of Swords
Card 3: 7 of Wands
Card 4: 8 of Wands
Card 5: 4 of Wands
What I notice first about this spread is the 3/5 proportion of wands. There’s a lot of fire and creative spark in this partnership, there’s a flame there that isn’t dead. When we look at the first two cards, however, we can see that this is a power struggle, with issues of control, possibly even manipulation, and a win/lose mentality.
In fact in this spread it became apparent to me to look at Card 1 and 2 as a pair, because The Emperor is sitting straight, stable, and tall, looking forward with a calm presence and a sense of wise knowing. Meanwhile we have the 5 of Swords with a situation of smug victory vs. defeat in battle, and the humiliation involved in a power play that turned out well for one, and not so well for others.
We then see in Cards 3, 4, and 5 how the wands energy can come in and enliven this partnership as well as move it forward. There is definitely a sense of forward movement in this spread, and from the looks of it, the partnership is far from over, although it does appear that some conflict and battling might still be necessary in order to clarify shared feelings, thoughts, objectives, and desires in terms of defining the “being together” part of the partnership itself.
In this spread, I asked the querent how issues of power and control as well as combat, smug or ruthless victory, and defeat have played roles up to now. She told me that while she feels emotionally stable for the most part and feels that she knows what she wants and what she is looking for, her partner isn’t sure, and she feels like she’s been betrayed or used, or led on, because of the intensity of feelings in the beginning that then abruptly turned around and became almost signs of disinterest in a romantic partnership. There was a lot of confusion there and a loss of trust.
The querent’s role does reflect the emotional stability and grounding that she talks about. The “about face” of her partner is shown by the man on the 5 of Swords looking towards The Emperor in smug victory. However it is also possible that all of the three characters in the 5 of Swords are one and the same. Perhaps what first seemed like a “coup” for the partner in getting what he wanted, turned into a change of heart, and then a bitter defeat in the end. His role in the partnership would seem to be one of winning by any means necessary, getting what he wants without concern for the means of doing so or the feelings of those he might need to defeat in order to get his desires met. This is a concerning card for the role of a partner in a relationship. I mention to the querent that a 5 of Swords role in a partnership could be one in which the partner takes advantage, without giving back in equal measure.
In any case, with the 7 of Wands we see that “fighting to stay on top” is in the best interest of both parties. The 7 of Wands is also a combative card, but I’ve always seen it as a sort of “positive combat” as in healthy competition, and bringing out all of your unique resources and talents to beat out the others. It is in the best interest of both of these partners to fight for what they really want, and quite possibly it’s in their best interest right now to fight their battles alone. If they both really want each other, then they are both advised to fight for that. As things currently stand, neither are making a direct effort due to communication conflicts.
In the 8 of Wands we see quick action and a message coming through. I often see this as a card of picking up the phone and calling, or getting in touch, or of the other party unexpectedly getting in touch. In any case, things happen fast, just like the wands flying through the air. There’s no time to stop and analyze. In response to “what should I do now?” this card advises the querent to get in touch, to make her thoughts and feelings known, to send a message.
The near-future outcome is a very positive, celebratory card. In fact we see a couple raising bouquets in a victorious salute, after having passed by the almost “finish line” appearance of the four wands that are holding up a celebratory garland. The initial conflict and hurdles have been overcome in this card, and the partnership is at a place where both are on equal footing and joyful about the progress that they’ve made together.
The querent here wasn’t sure about the advice of getting in touch, fearing more conflict or miscommunication, so one more card was pulled from the top of the deck, to clarify the advice card, and it was the Knight of Swords.
The Knight of Swords definitely reinforces this message of “getting in touch” as the swords are the suit of communication, and the Knight of Swords is racing swiftly into battle to deliver his truth. Again it would seem that fast action is called for, and the Knight here is facing the spread, galloping towards that victory shown in the 4 of Wands.
This spread illustrates the narrative capacity of the tarot to generate ideas and possible solutions. While no one ever has to blindly follow the suggestions brought forth by the images in the cards, what the narrative does is encourage the querent to explore the possibilities presented by the images and explore choices that might have seemed unthinkable or unworkable. In addition, the cards highlight potential red flags, such as imbalances, that can help a person to re-evaluate more objectively words vs. actions in a partnership or relationship, whether it’s business, or personal.