What To Ask When You Don’t Know What To Ask

Glasses and Clear Vision of Mountains

Even for those of us who read cards for insight and guidance into our life situations and choices, there are times when things get pretty foggy.

Seven days ago, I returned to Rome after a two-month summer sojourn in the Pacific Northwest, among family, in the tranquil countryside. Although I worked remotely throughout the time I was there, it was slow-paced and rural, full of clean air and friendly people. The shock of being back has been brutal – nothing gradual about it. I was immediately forced to suit up in my invisible “city armor” to fight battles that I hadn’t had to deal with out in the country. While I’m not complaining, my system is.

I began having symptoms of depression and anxiety that came not from my conscious mind, but from within. I always find it interesting when people talk about “controlling emotions” or tell people who experience anxiety attacks or depressive symptoms to just relax or cheer up. For those of us who experience the world in extra-perceptive ways that sometimes overwhelm the senses, it’s not about willpower overcoming emotion. In fact the entire notion that I might, with sheer force of will and rationality, wrangle my emotions into docile submission is laughable (I’ve tried – it nearly landed me in a psychiatric hospital after battling with severe postpartum depression and no treatment in sight for six weeks straight). I deeply understand the phrase “That which you try to control will ultimately end up controlling you.”

Although I have great support networks of friends and family and coping strategies I’ve learned over the decades, still: sitting in the thick of what I can only call general malaise? It sucks.

When you feel “ick” but can’t really put your finger on why, how, or what to do about it, how can looking at cards help?

As I’ve said time and time again, the imagery of the tarot can help us work with our inner psyche and unconscious processes to put them in front of us in full color and let them bubble up gently to the conscious surface. This is useful because we can’t deal with what we can’t see or recognize. In a way, the cards can act like the fog “low beam” lights of a car.

Did you know that cars have low beams? I vaguely knew about fog beam lights but I can’t recall if I’ve ever used them before. Everyone knows about high beams. You blast that powerful flood of light in the middle of a pitch black road, and try your best to turn them off if you see an approaching car. But low beams? What?

In a way, though, cards can act like these tricky fog dissipators. They focus on what’s underneath rather than shining a huge, blinding light on the entire overwhelming scene.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an excerpt from an article explaining which types of headlights to use:

If you were to use your high beams in thick fog, for example, the light would get reflected back to you. Low beams light up the road at short ranges, and you’ll mostly use them in the city.

Sometimes we don’t need to have everything thrown back in our face, because it decreases our visibility. Sometimes we simply need the short-range picture. And the fact that “you’ll mostly use them in the city” — on a metaphorical level I couldn’t agree further.

And so, when you don’t know what to ask but you need some short-range fog clearing, I suggest going back to basics. Don’t bother necessarily with coming up with any custom spreads or complicated questions. What about the old-fashioned, tried-and-true Celtic Cross, adapted without using the staff on the right side, and just focusing on the six cards of the main cross portion?

In that formation, we have the heart of the matter, what’s either blocking it or reinforcing it, issues moving out and coming in, as well as underlying root situations we need to become aware of, and our conscious awareness or view of the situation. In terms of short-range, this is plenty.

I’ll even let you spy on mine. Perhaps you’ll have some insights I didn’t have.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Celtic Cross tarot spread and its positional meanings, have a look at Joan Bunning’s lesson here. It’s how I learned this spread nearly 20 years ago, and I still find it one of the best out there.

2017-09-16 15.23.26

In Bunning’s method, we can make comparisons between pairs of cards that logically go together, thus:

1, 2: Justice/The Chariot

With 1 and 2, we see Justice crossed by The Chariot. Clearly the issue at hand here is that I’m seeking equilibrium when I’m being forced to charge forward quickly. It’s a jolt and a contrast. In fact, the switch from a quiet, rural setting to the chaos and aggression of Rome has been like night and day, not to mention losing nine hours and literally switching up night and day also on a physiological level.

3, 5: The Magician/Seven of Swords

In cards 3 and 5, we see what’s underlying all of this, which we could equate with the unconscious factors in the situation, as well as what’s above it and conscious. The Magician hints at a need for expressing my full potential and bolstering my self-confidence without doubting myself or feeling overwhelmed by circumstances. Unconciously there’s a need to match up my own assessment of myself and my abilities with my conscious assessment, which is shown by the Seven of Swords. First of all, I’m looking back, which shows how I haven’t fully come to terms with being back in my current reality. More interesting, though, is the overall “shady” aspect of this card. There’s usually a sense of trying to get away with something you don’t want anyone else to know about when this card comes up; often some sort of cheating or secrecy is involved. Consciously, how might I be experiencing or embodying this concept? Perhaps through denial or not being honest with myself about what’s what. Something that Bunning mentions in her descriptors of this card is “running away” — shirking responsibility or turning away from duties. Well, I definitely feel that here. Although I’m not ignoring the absolutely mandatory responsibilities required of me, I am definitely trying to avoid anything extra. I simply don’t want to get back into the everyday reality of responsibility that’s required of me here. There’s resistance. Ultimately that needs to be let go of, because those five swords in bare hands are eventually bound to cut. You can’t tip-toe away from life and expect it not to catch up with you.

4, 6: Six of Cups/Judgement

In cards 4 and 6, we see with the Six of Cups that the warm, comforting feelings of childhood security and nostalgia of the past are moving out (clearly, as I left my extended family behind, with whom I’m very close and have decades of loving memories) and that Judgement is literally trumpeting in a new phase, one of intense awakening and transformation.

When I want more information about a particular card, usually the last one in a spread, I’ll pull another card immediately from the top of the deck. In this case, I drew two, because the first clarity card raised more questions for me than it answered. I wanted more clarity about whatever this upcoming awakening might consist of, and I received the 10 of Swords. Argh. I need to finally face up to something that’s ending in my life that I’ve been tenaciously holding onto without realizing that it’s no longer productive for me. (I feel fairly certain I know what this refers to because I’ve seen this card several times in the past few months.) So I drew another card, because, yuck. And I got the Eight of Swords. Double yuck. Apparently not only do I need to let this thing go, but I still find myself in a sort of self-imposed trap in which I can’t see the forest for the trees and if I would only take off my blinders, I could step forward.

Well, as it sometimes happens, we can get both clarity and confirmation as well as a new can of worms from a reading. I definitely will need to explore these abundant swords issues in a further reading. But this one at least gives you a good idea of how cards can help you begin to sort things, to give you a jumping-off point. Sometimes just seeing your current situation reflected back in sharp color can help confirm that you’re on the right track.

It’s like the proverbial kitchen junk drawer. It always seems way too overwhelming to organize. Where to begin? Well, you start where you’re at. Dump the pile out and start sorting, one card at a time.

Your thoughts?

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One comment

  1. […] Sometimes, a reading will end by presenting additional issues that need further depth to fully clarify. Perhaps the initial question was something that was already generally understood, and the cards nudge the recipient of the reading to push a bit more to get to the real nitty gritty. That happened to me in a reading today, where I was left with an overabundance of swords (!) and not knowing how to proceed or handle that, given that the initial scope of the reading was already complete. You can see this reading at my post What To Ask When You Don’t Know What To Ask. […]

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