The best tarot card readers do not need a system as precise as the one presented on this site to interpret meanings and tell fortunes. The best readers are the ones already blessed with psychic abilities. They simply use the images of any tarot deck to confirm what their intuition is already suggesting. In fact, a good reader doesnt even need a real tarot deck to tell fortunes, any visually interpretive device designed for randomness will help focus and direct their talent. However by using the precision of our system, I believe that people who dont already possess such ability can begin to develop that talent within them.
I don't know how tarot works, or if it even works at all, as a predictive device. I see a lot of people use tarot as a tool for psychoanalysis and free association. But the number of people capable of actually predicting the future with any degree of precision remains ellusive. Personally, using tarot to predict the future is the least of my interest. My main interest in tarot is in the visual and verbal documentation of existence, and all the philosophical conclusions that can be drawn from such a model. But... because so many use tarot in ways that they THINK involve predicting, I could not help but wonder how it might work. Here is one idea that I have tossed around in the past.
Some Preliminary Divine Mechanics
An entity breaching the continuum is forever dealing with the relationship of chaos and order, as they combine or separate, to define or contain our universe. In the tarot deck, order is found in the numerical organization of the individual cards. While chaos is found in the random act of shuffling the cards to get a reading. In science, chaos and order are partners in a fractile landscape of infinite possibilities. As various and differing systems are driven into chaos they begin to exhibit common characteristics and patterns. These underlying patterns, altho at times still very chaotic in nature, are then seen as elements of a universality of form that ultimately influences our perceptions of ordered systems. In the end chaos science presents us with the somewhat paradoxical condition of predictable and ordered patterns that are generated by chaotic, random events!
I believe that by demonstrating a connection between chaotic, turbulent, random events, and ordered perceptions of reality, the idea of a universe of opposites is reinforced. As it happens, the unique pairing of chaos and order, as connected opposites, can also shed some light on an aspect of tarot not easily explained by less logical methods. In the tarot ‘universe’ being offered on this site, the two worlds created by the law of opposites are the transient body and the eternal spirit; or, the conscious and the unconscious mind; or, the amorphous and the crystalline; or, Yin and Yang. In the divine mechanics of tarot cards, communication from one world to the other is accomplished in an appropriate manner that will be understood by the receiving side. Intrinsically, we can see how a device for accomplishing such delicate communication will need two systems of communication, in order to translate opposing languages.
In the case of tarot cards, the cards themselves represent the tangible, crystalline, ordered language of the body, while the blind randomness of the shuffle becomes the intangible, amorphous, chaotic language of the spirit. By using an ordered system in a random fashion, tarot cards create a link between these opposite worlds. Of course when the other world talks back, it does not use man-made, tongue-to-pallet language, but rather symbolic images of universal form (archetypes), inspired by the cosmology of patterns-in-nature - the patterns being offered elsewere on this site!
At first it may seem ridiculous to think that a random event, such as shuffling, could have such an ordered result, but maybe it does. In fact, in theory, the more random your approach, the more specific the results will be in a reading. Remember these worlds are opposite in nature. In our finite world, our vision is limited both in scope and available content. However in the other world, vision is unlimited. Because these opposites are connected, we can see how it becomes a requirement of us to limit our vision, in order to open the vision of the opposing world. In other words, the other world can only see the tarot cards when you cant. If you are peeking, it will oppose you by not looking and you will get no answers.
The same holds true for how you handle the cards. The more control and influence you maintain upon the cards the less control the other side will exhibit. The result will be a reading with little insight. But if you completely abandon all control and shuffle the cards in as random a fashion as possible the other world will oppose you by putting them in an order that is appropriate to the message passing through. Well... it's an idea anyway. For more on this idea, consult the essay A Binary Buddy, elsewhere on this site.
A Consistent Environment
When the tarot cards are used in a reading, the response of the reading usually belongs to the person who did the shuffling. But, sometimes the reading will go to whomever is the dominant force in the immediate area. This is where all the rules, rituals and religious practices commonly associated with tarot, can actually help in producing a clearer reading.
If you are going to be a tarot card reader, you want to be sure that the readings you get are for the person you are reading for. This of course means that you cannot allow yourself to be the dominant influence in the area during the reading. One way to accomplish this task is by maintaining a consistent environment for readings, into which a foreign element is projected. In this case the quarent, or person asking the questions, is the foreign element. When the quarent enters your consistent environment he creates a disturbance, and automatically becomes the dominant force of the reading, even if he or she is not a very dominant personality.
An example of this phenomenon can be seen in any poker game that accepts a new player. Known as beginners luck, it involves the disturbance of balance and symmetry between players as they compete to control the draw of the deck. This is why the deal always moves around the table, because the luck of the draw will always have a tendency to oblige the one holding the cards, giving them a slight advantage. But as poker games progress, the psychic struggle between the players to dominate the deck develops a consistency and symmetry of its own - like a five-way tug-o-war that isnt moving. A foreign element entering this arena causes a disturbance of that consistency and immediately becomes the dominant force, influencing the draw of the deck, and thus astounding and frustrating the pros.
Unfortunately, establishing a consistent environment can be dangerous. Often times it is the practice of such consistency that leads to excessive rules, rituals. That's the danger. But short of excesses, one can began to understand why such consistency would be desired among those devoted to readings. The need for a consistent environment is why dealing the cards in the same manner each time is important. Its also why using a particular type of tablecloth is important. Its why wrapping and unwrapping the cards the same way each time is important. Its why lighting candles and incense is important too. But in my opinion (and experience), none of these rituals are completely necessary to a successful reading. They maintain their popularity through mystical preoccupation and perceived results. I suggest that you use them as you see fit.
Its important to be comfortable with whatever deck of cards you choose to use, and comfortable with doing readings your way. Rituals and religion can help develop an environment conducive to readings, but should not be taken so seriously as to become superstitions. Personally I feel that with a law of opposites at your disposal, there is no need to perpetuate mystery around divine mechanics. But, if creating an environment of mystery helps you focus you energies, then I say use it. But dont get carried away, or lose sight of the patterns governing the exchange.
Using a Spread
Conforming to the standards of certain tarot card spreads is all part of the consistency issue, and usually becomes a part of tarot rituals. Using tarot spreads created by people years ago can be considered helpful in developing a certain consistency for readings, but should not be considered the only options available. A tarot card spread can take many forms and can be created by anyone. The fact is, that the spread is about as important as the deck itself. It is simply part of the ordered system and can be structured to suit the needs of any reader. However, once a spread is chosen or invented, consistency remains a key factor. You must be comfortable with the spread or spreads you choose to know, and use them religiously (so to speak!).
Usually it is helpful to know which spread you are going to use before you approach a quarent, but not always necessary. Changing your mind will not destroy the reading, but might cause it to be a bit muddled. Some people choose to not decide on a spread, until placing the first card. This approach simply incorporates additional randomness into the structured spread itself. The idea here lies in the belief that there are no mistakes in this or any other world, which means that whatever spread is finally chosen will automatically be the right one. However this approach requires acute psychic sensitivity in order to work well. Which is not to say that those without such sensitivity will make a mistake, it just means that a less precise reading may result.
Using a card in a spread alters its meaning slightly, according to the characteristics of each position it might fall into. In this way the positions of a spread can be compared to the houses of astrology and the way they color the meaning of each planets influence as they pass through.
Because I have such little interest in predicting the future with my tarot decks, I've only invented one spread. It has a form that reflects the structure of the deck itself, and is very similar to the very popular Celtic Cross spread. If you are interested you can read about it here.