Projection, Energy, and “Manhood”
Mars is the god of war. Unsurprisingly, the planet Mars is Ruler of Aries (which is the Greek name for the same entity), and is very similar to the Sun Sign. Mars is the male counterpart to the feminine Venus, and represents male sexuality and the “ideal” of manhood, whatever it may be (as with womanhood, there are many different kinds). Traditionally, Mars has been associated with Western perceptions of the ideal man, particularly as the warrior.
Mars is then associated with the warrior, but not necessarily the warlike or conflicting aspects of the warrior; certainly, an excess of Mars’ energy can lead to this, but the principles most associated with Mars are the activity and projection of the warrior. By “projection,” I mean the ability of someone to assert himself, get his point across, get things done, and generally influence other people. Unlike the passive Yin/Femininity/Passivity of Venus, Mars is a Yang planet, associated with masculinity and activity. In the same vein of projection, Mars is associated with male sexuality – the desire to spread and “project” one’s seed outside oneself, into Venus, who can then nurture it and give it life.
Mars and Venus are intertwined, and both are needed in equal amounts for balance. Too much Mars leads to war and violence, and too much Venus leads to too little getting done and a lack of progress. Mars has a great deal of energy – certainly much more forceful than that of Venus – and restraining that energy and directing it towards a purpose is a skill that comes in handy, and one that Venus excels at.
Attraction, Beauty, and “Womanhood”
Venus is sometimes called the goddess of love, but is really more accurately termed the goddess of sex, and especially female sexuality. Venus is often seen in mythologies (as Venus, Aphrodite, Ishtar, and other equivalents) as a dangerous figure, which tells us how the male-dominated culture feared the sexual power they believed women to have. Venus is one of the feminine planets, and represents female vitality and passion, in opposition to her counterpart Mars. She also represents beauty and grace, as well as attraction.
In the astrological tradition, she loses much of her fearsome sexual appetite and has come to represent the forces of attraction that allow us to find and keep the people and things that have meaning to us. She does also represent the vital feminine, and she is the spirit of female energy, who can create and maintain life. She is associated, then, with creation, and especially beautiful creation, for Venus is associated with beauty. Those who express themselves through graceful and pleasing to experience works of creativity owe Venus their thanks. In this way, she represents also an aspect of the Sun Sign Leo.
However, she is not the Ruler of Leo; the Sun is. She is the Ruler of Taurus and of Libra. The first association is clearer than the latter; Taurus is a feminine Sun Sign associated with fertility and the earth, and is greatly helped by Venus’ ability to find those things needed to make oneself happy. Venus is also associated with Libra, as Libra is the Sun Sign of diplomacy and balance between forces and individuals; Venus is the attraction that can provide that balance. Venus is also associated with the ideal woman, and represents the pinnacle of “womanhood,” whatever that may be (for this definition can vary wildly, and depends upon one’s own beliefs, culture, and opinions). In traditional readings, she is often associated with the idealized Western woman.
Intelligence, Communication, and Learning
Mercury is the Messenger of the gods, and in many esoteric traditions is one of the most important mythical figures, as he brings wisdom as messages as well (Thoth and Hermes share the same associations). Mercury is also a clever figure, and so is the god of cunning and thought. His planet, therefore, is the same, and is also the Ruler of the Sun Signs of Gemini and Virgo. Mercury is the planetary manifestation of our ability to think on a higher plane, and therefore our ability to use logic and to speak with others.
Mercury is also associated with the intellect and communication, combining Gemini and Virgo. Mercury is associated with writing and teaching as well, and the imparting of knowledge between generations. It is generally a very Airy planet, though it’s Airy aspects are often applied to Earthly uses (such as to deceive and use cunning), making Mercury similar to the Prince of Disks or the Princess of Swords in the Tarot. In its association with intellect, logic, and reason, Mercury also represents learning and our ability to do so.
Emotions, Receptivity, and Mystery
The Moon is the opposite of the sun, its counterpoint and consort. The moon reflects the light of the Sun, and is the Yin to the Sun’s Yang. It’s calmness and receptivity allow the Sun’s energy and vitality to fully come into itself, for it cannot be called active without the Moon’s passivity to compare it to. While the Sun manages our identities and purpose, the Moon is in control of our emotional world, and to an extent the routine tasks we are comfortable doing. The Moon is the archetypal feminine planet, just as the Sun is the archetypal male planet.
In this association with the feminine, the Moon is associated with fertility, nurturing, and caring, aspects reinforced by the fact that it is the Ruler of Cancer. The Moon represents the female in its mother phase (as opposed to the maiden or the crone), and so is associated with all things motherly. The moon is also, as mentioned above, the ultimate feminine; in occultist and esoteric traditions, the feminine is associated with Yin and passivity. The Moon’s receptivity and reactivity allow for the Sun to come into its full glory.
The feminine is also associated with Water, which is appropriate for the Moon, as it is the Moon that controls the tides. Water is associated with one’s emotions and feelings, and the Moon rules these realms. Like Water, the Moon is flexible and adaptable, its intuition allowing it to do well in almost any situation. The Moon also represents one’s unconscious purpose, in contrast to the Sun’s conscious purpose, and the thoughts and feelings we have beneath the surface. The Moon is shrouded in mystery, and represents the hidden parts of ourselves we cannot always reach, as well as those parts of us we cannot control – our emotions.
Identity, Purpose, Will
The Sun is the most influential and powerful of the astrological planets, and also by far the brightest. When one says that someone “is” a Libra, a Capricorn, a Virgo, a Leo, an Aries, or any of the other Zodiac symbols, what they are saying is that their Sun Sign is that particular symbol. What determines someone’s Sun Sign? What zodiacal constellation the Sun was in on the day of their birth. One’s Sun Sign is merely derived from a natal chart, where the Sun is treated just like any other planet – but its meaning given more weight, and is the primary (but by no means the only) determinant in understanding an astrological chart.
The Sun represents our center, and what makes us… well, us. It is a planet of identity, and in many ways (unsurprisingly) is very much like the Tarot card of the Sun. It is the most influential factor in determining where we stand and who we are, and its position is extremely important. It is, in many ways, our “identity” planet, and represents who we are as an individual, as well as our drives, consciousness, and purpose.
The Sun also has its own sets of associations. The energy of the Sun is clear and has a definite purpose. The Sun is creative and confident, though can sometimes be dominating and selfish – the sun is the brightest and the center of the solar system, is it not? The Sun is strongly associated with and is the Ruler of Leo; the Sun shares many themes with this Sun Sign, and the two strengthen each other. The Sun is the giver of life, and it is from the Sun that we all originate. We are all stardust, primarily that coming from the sun. This is reflected in the Sun’s role; we are all dependent on energy coming from the Sun, and if we cannot use that energy well, we often have low self-esteem and a weak sense of self – and on the other end of the spectrum, if we overdo the Sin in our lives, we become arrogant and self-absorbed.
The Sun is also sort of on fire. In reality, it is not fire that fuels the sun, but it still has the spiritual energy of fire. It is also, then, associated with the element of fire that Leo is also associated with: creativity, origins, willpower, and identity.
I have already discussed the process behind throwing the spread, and now it is time to discuss another important aspect of reading the tarot – perhaps the most important aspect, in fact: interpreting the cards themselves.
Assuming that you have already laid out the cards, having gone through the process of formulating your topic, asking a question, choosing your spread and deck, invoking your guide, and then finally placing the cards down,it is time to start interpreting them.
The most important thing to keep in mind when reading the cards is the question that you asked. Your inner guide, your subconscious mind, is trying to help you answer your question through the medium of the cards. You need to interpret the cards with the intention of answering the question you spent so much time formulating. For example, if you asked “What factors should I consider when trying to understand and handle Larry’s frequent thefts?” (sound familiar?) it wouldn’t do you any good to interpret the spread as advising you to invest in fish. Certainly, you can find a way to interpret the spread as almost anything you want. That is the beauty of the tarot: it is vague, simple, and meaningful enough that each card be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, leading to countless avenues of mental exploration. However, the cards will only help you if you interpret them in a fashion that directly answers your question.
A second critically important aspect of reading the cards is to interpret the card and its position, or else the spread itself is meaningless (more on this later).
Like with laying out the spread, there is no single way to do interpret the cards, and every reader will give you a different answer if you ask them about it. So, instead of laying out meaningless “rules,” I will merely give my own take on the process.
I tend to interpret the cards individually first, and then use these interpretations to color wider relationships and patterns between and among the cards. It is perfectly valid, however to do the opposite, and use broader patterns in the spread to inform your interpretation of individual cards. I have been known to do both. Generally, it is easier to focus on interpreting individual cards, and when just starting out, often it helps to just focus on this and ignore larger patterns at first.
The first thing I do, after laying out all the cards and carefully placing the remainder of the deck to the side, out of the way, is methodically go through each card in each position and meditate on its meanings. When I say “meditate,” here, I mean think very hard about it, while simultaneously attempting to shut out all distractions. This can be very difficult to do, as the world has a great many distractions. If you can, you should perform a reading when you will not be disturbed by those not involved, and with no easy access to the internet (unless you are still learning a deck, when having websites open might aid you). If you are reading for someone else, in person, this might be harder, but it is still important to concentrate greatly on each card.
For each spread, I go through the cards in the same order; ritual, I find, helps focus the mind and make the cards easier to interpret. For example, in the Celtic Cross spread, I always start with the central factor, then supporting factor, then influence of the past, then the future, then the unconscious influences, then the conscious ones, and then I work my way up the staff from bottom to top.
For each card, I go through the following steps:
1). Remind myself of the meaning of the card’s position. (It’s later). It is easy to sometimes get so wrapped up in interpreting the meaning of a particular card as it applies to your question that you forget to also take into account the meaning of the card’s position. Each position in a spread has its own meaning, like that of the card, and functions like astrological houses. The question serves to focus your thoughts (and serve a function similar to the date and time in astrology), the cards give you language to speak in (like Sun Signs, Planets, Asteroids, and Nodes in astrology), and the positions in the spread show you where the actions represented by the cards take place (like Houses in astrology, and in Geomancy, for that matter).
By reminding myself of what the card’s position means first, I ensure that I am thinking about that when thinking about the card. For example, when reading the first position of the Celtic Cross, I will remind myself that this is the central factor that will help me answer my question, or when reading the ninth card will remind myself that this card is what will offer me advice or illuminate my hopes and/or fears (it’s always interesting when a single card can do both of these). I will then apply the card’s position to my interpretation of the card itself.
2. Interpret the Image on the Card. This step is relatively simple; answer the question “What do I see on the card, and how does this apply to my question when relating it back to its position?” This often does not take all too much time, as eventually the picture’s image will help define what it means to you. If you are using this deck for the first time, spend a long time noticing every aspect of the image, and how it reinforces its meaning. If you have used it before, it is often helpful to spend a long time looking at it, but not always necessary. Instead, look at the image for any parts of it that might directly apply to or shed insights on the question.
3. Interpret the Card’s Meaning as Seen by You. This is closely related to the previous step, but slightly different. Each card, over time, will come to have a specific meaning for you, and you will develop different relationships with the cards. For example, the Devil and I have a very special relationship, and I can generally almost instantly divine an interpretation for it (even though one might be able to do this, however, it is always good to not rely on an instant reaction, and think instead about that reaction for a while before moving on to the next card). This meaning is not the meaning espoused by others; always at first interpret the card on your own, using your own understanding of it. This makes your reading unique, helps develop your mind, helps you learn the cards, and is a more direct conduit to your inner mind. Let the card speak to you before you turn to others’ thoughts. This is most easily done by looking at the image on the card, as explained above.
4. Interpret the Card’s Universal Meaning. This step is not as important as the previous two, but helps provide some cohesion and legitimacy to the cards. For example, it is generally not considered appropriate to interpret Death (XIII) as meaning that your life will remain the same forever (though if the card is reversed, some might argue it can be interpreted that way). There are certain “universal” interpretations and meanings associated with cards, which come from generations of scholarship and personal interpretations; in the end, the universal meaning of a card is merely the result of countless generations of personal interpretations. For most decks, the universal meaning of a card is the result of occult and esoteric theories, particularly those from Qabalah and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Many of the cards also have equivalent symbols in other esoteric arts, such as Geomancy, Astrology, and Alchemy.
However, one should always interpret a card on their own and understand it on a personal level before ever consulting an outside source on the card’s meaning. The instant one does that, they will never interpret the card the same way they would otherwise. It is best, I have found, to first learn the card’s meaning according to your own system, and then research it and take in what parts of it you agree with, and leave out others. Sometimes you might reject everything the universal meaning says (which is perfectly fine!), and sometimes you might reject everything you thought about it (also perfectly fine!). The outside research won’t change because of you, but you will change because of the outside research. Remember that.
So, once you have interpreted the card’s meaning according to image, personal interpretation, and universal meaning, I would recommend next looking at the card’s suit.
5. Interpret the Card’s Suit. This becomes more important when looking for wider patterns, but even when looking at it initially, interpreting the suit can be helpful. In this step, simply look at the card’s suit and apply that meaning to its position. Wands/Fire are associated with the willpower and activity, Cups/Water are associated with emotions and passivity, Swords/Air are associated with logic and the abstract, Disks/Earth are associated with the material and practicality, and the Major Arcana are associated with the spirit and life’s journey.
6. Interpret the Card’s Number. This is often more helpful when reading an individual card than interpreting the suit is. After determining the effect of the suit on the reading, I look at the card’s number (or, in the case of court cards, its rank). Each number generally has a specific meaning across the suits, though this meaning varies from deck to deck. Most commonly, the numbers represent the different Sefirot of the Tree of Life. This is where the interpretation of the suit can become useful, as it is the card’s number and its suit that determine its universal, original meaning. Aces, for example, represent the beginning of the suit and stand for everything it represents, completely purely. Tens represent the logical conclusion of the suit, with it being applied to earthly, material life. One should adopt a system of interpreting the number and stick to it. Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth is helpful in this regard if you wish to examine Qabalistic interpretations. Numbered cards (1-10 in the four suits) generally represent aspects of the energies of a particular suit as they apply to events relating to the question.
In the cases of the Court Cards, instead of looking at the numbers, look at the position. The names of these positions vary wildly, from King, Queen, Knight, and Page to Knight, Queen, Prince, and Princess, to King, Queek, Knight, and Knave. No two decks have exactly the same court card setup, and Court Cards are often the hardest cards to master. Court cards generally represent strong personalities in the situation you are examining in your reading, and might represent actual people or forces of nature and society.
Major Arcana cards do have numbers, but not in the same way as the numbered cards do. The numbers of the Major Arcana reflect the card’s position on the journey of life, and Major Arcana cards appearing in the spread represent powerful forces in a reading. They generally are given more weight when interpreted, and represent aspects of life’s journey as manifested in a particular situation.
7. Is the Card Reversed? Reversed cards are a matter of much debate in the tarot world, and nobody interprets them the same way. When a card appears upside down, some people choose to interpret it differently. Some people don’t at all, and just flip the card over. Whatever you wish to do about reversed cards is perfectly fine.
Many people interpret a reversed card as meaning the opposite of its normal meaning; for example, Death (XIII) reversed would be that one’s life will lack any major changes, and that no major forces would interfere with his life. This interpretation works fine, but I find it personally lacking.
Personally, I interpret reversed cards as meaning that the energy of that card is still present, but blocked by something. Going through the rest of the spread, or if that fails, drawing a clarifying card, can help you figure out what exactly is blocking the energy. When the energy is blocked, the card’s effects can be reduced, hidden, or expressed in an unusual way.
But, the meaning (and existence) or reversed cards is up to you. If you are just starting, it might be best not to interpret reversed cards differently at first.
8. Relate the Meaning of the Card Back to Its Position. Remember how I said to keep the card’s position in mind? Did you, when reading all of the above? Chances are, you didn’t. I didn’t. It can be hard, like I said. So, after interpreting all of the above aspects of the card, before you move on to the next one, take a minute or two to remind yourself of the card’s position, and relate the card’s meaning back its position. This also serves to help you formalize what the card means in this particular situation in your own mind.
So, after going through that for each card in the spread, its time to look for patterns! There is, again, no set way to do this. Generally, the first thing I look for is patterns of suits. Are there a lot of Wands in the spread? Perhaps, then, the situation calls for courage and forging onwards without looking back. Lots of Disks? Perhaps you should be cautious and think things through carefully before moving forward. Are there a lot of Major Arcana? This might be a major turning point in your life. The tone of the spread overall can be drastically affected by the various amounts of each suit represented. Make note also of absent suits.
After this, I look for patterns of numbers. Are there a lot of Aces? Perhaps a new beginning is coming your way. A lot of tens? Perhaps an ending. Lots of sixes? Your life may be well-balanced at the moment. If there are a lot of a particular rank of Court Card, perhaps this personality has come to dominate your life and the choices you make. Additionally, if you have all four of the Court Cards of one suit in a spread (or even, to a lesser extent, just all four Court Cards), make a note of that, as it indicates that all aspects of that suit are represented somewhere in the spread.
Some decks have other classifications of cards specific to them. For example, the Wildwood Tarot was designed with the Wheel of the Year in mind. When using the Wildwood deck, after interpreting the spread initially, I often rearrange the cards to that each card is in its position relative to the Wheel of the Year, to better understand the spread’s composition. Doing similar other things can be helpful in determining other patterns, too. Just remember to make sure that you are done interpreting the cards’ positions before rearranging them!
Once you have looked at broad patterns, you can focus. Many cards have associated opposites or complements; Learning the Tarot here has a page on some of these, and there are many others. For example the Magus and the Priestess are opposites, as well as the Emperor and the Empress. The Seven of Disks and the Six of Disks are often opposites. Opposites are often easier to see than complementary cards, such as the Seven of Cups and then Ten of Cups. Also, remember that the numbered cards form a progression, from one to ten. If you can see this progression in the spread, it can also be interpreted in its own special way. For example, if in the past you see the Two of Swords and in the future you see the Three of Swords, you might want to consider how the path of Swords influences your life, as you might be going down it. It might be worth it to ponder how the rest of the suit might manifest in your life.
The meaning of these linked cards can be reinforced if they are also in linked positions. The positions in each spread, as I have said many times, have specific meanings, and some positions are linked to others through these meanings. For example, the past and present positions in the Celtic Cross are opposites, the central and supporting factors can be either opposing or complementary positions, the Conscious Influences, Future, and Advice/Hopes/Fears positions in the Celtic Cross are complemantary, the bottom two positions on the Celtic Cross staff are linked, the Past and Subconscious Influence positions are linked, and the entire Yin-Yang spread is composed of opposites. Learning the Tarot has a page on linked Celtic Cross positions here.
If you see opposing or complementary cards in these linked positions, it can either strengthen a certain message or weaken it. Watch these positions carefully!
If reading the patterns in a spread isn’t enough, and you really want the meaning of a particular card to become clear, you can draw another card from the unused deck and place it next to the card in question. This card will clarify the meaning of the card you drew it to help you understand. It can clarify the card in a number of different ways; either by showing how the card’s energies will be expressed, where they will be, how strong they will be, or can add a second factor to the card, sometimes showing the situation to be even more complex than before. Try not to try a second clarifying card if you can; always try to use the cards before you already before drawing more.
Most spreads have a single card that “sums up” the rest of the spread. This card is good to end a reading on. Of course, interpret it individually along with the rest of the cards, but at the end, after you have taken everything else into account, return again to this card and look at it in a new light, and determine why it is that this card applies to the entire spread, and how the rest of the spread represents various aspects of this single card.
Once you are done interpreting the cards, it is time to put them away. There are countless ways to do this, as with every other step, but my own personal method is to thank my inner guide, move the cards together into a big pile, shuffle them among themselves, and then shuffle them back into the deck, before putting them away and moving on.
It’s very difficult to be specific with posts of this nature, but hopefully this was interesting and at least mildly helpful!
Almost as important as – or some would argue more important than – interpreting the tarot cards as they are laid out before you is the process of actually laying out that spread. This process varies wildly depending on the reader, so it is impossible to create a “universal” process (indeed, for any esoteric art, it is impossible to create a “universal” anything). So, in this post, I will describe what I personally do, the steps of which include many items common to many readers.
I believe that there are six important steps to throwing a Tarot spread: Formulating the Topic, Choosing the Spread, Writing the Question, Choosing the Deck, Invoking the Guide, and Laying out the Cards.
Formulating the Topic
The first step for me, Formulating the Topic is when you come up with the idea for a reading. This is, perhaps, the simplest step for me. The Topic does not refer to the specific question being asked (I cover this later), but instead the general area that I will explore in the reading. Usually, the Topic comes to me in a flash of inspiration: “I wonder what the state of the world is now,” “I wonder what I should do about X,” “I wonder what might happen if,” and other similar statements. Note how these all started with “I wonder;” if you can turn a topic into an “I wonder” statement, then chances are it can later make a good question and an interesting reading. Of course, some of the time I am not in charge of the topic. When I am doing readings for others, usually they are the ones choosing the topic. However you arrive at your topic – whether by thinking about what you want to do your daily reading on, in a flash of inspiration, or as ordered to by others – Formulating the Topic is the Spark/Origin (Ace of Wands, anyone?) that initiates everything that follows.
Writing the Question
The next few steps can really be done in any order, but the order I listed them here is the order I feel it works best in. The next thing that I do is operationalize the topic by turning it into a question that the tarot cards can help me answer. This is one of the most important steps of the whole process; by doing this you turn the Origin of the Topic into something that can be worked with and used, giving the topic the potential to become an interesting reading (the Ace of Cups, anyone? The Potential?).
In order to write a good question, you must think of your words very specifically. Your question will reflect how you interpret the spread, and writing a good one is essential to being in the right state of mind. If you are just coming out of a traumatic or depressing event and immediately want to throw a spread on it, by all means do so, but make sure that you are able to, at least for this step, detach yourself from the events. This can be difficult, but a biased question will result in a biased answer. If you ask “What should I do about stinking Uncle Larry’s thieving ways?,” you are assuming that Uncle Larry’s motives for thieving are not particularly important, that he is a bad man, and the answer you get will be straight advice, nothing more. This is not, in my beliefs, because the cards themselves will hear you and change to reflect the question, but because you are already in a mindset, when interpreting the cards, that will lead you to interpret them to give you the answer you want. The tarot is all about seeing situations in new lights, and if you are going to them for divination or straight “what should I do, tell me” advice, you are, I would argue, doing them wrong.
Your question should be unbiased and use neutral language, so as to get your mind thinking neutrally and to distance yourself from the situation. Your question should also be simple, so that it is easy to directly relate each card to the question. Your question should never be a yes or no question; if it is, just flip a coin and be done with it. It will waste less of your time. Asking advice in a question is perfectly fine, but “What should I do about’s,” while they can work, generally don’t. The cards are not there to think for you; they are to help you think be letting you reinterpret the situation. Instead, maybe ask “What factors should I consider when deciding what to do about…” Yes, this question is longer and not quite as simple (and both use “I should’s – but in different ways), but it more accurately captures what would be more useful information. Instead of just asking the cards what actions you should take, this question asks if there are any things about the situation that you should take into account when deciding what to do. The images and meanings of the cards will then lead your mind to think about things you may have missed, and help point you to where you want to go.
The cards are not diviners. They are mental aids. Treat them as such. Generally, I find merely putting the words “What factors should I consider when…” can make most statements into a workable question.
The last important thing about your question is its scope. Many readers will tell you to be specific. That is all well and good, but I think that broad readings also serve a purpose – like survey courses at a university. If you are tackling a large problem with many interconnecting parts, it can be helpful to first ask a broad question – for example, “What factors should I consider when trying to improve my company’s performance?” That reading will probably lead you to think of a few key areas you could improve. Then, you can get more specific as you think – “What factors should I consider when trying to fix workgroup R’s productivity problems?” This can lead you on to ask “What factors should I consider when dealing with the tense relationship between James and Ginny?,” and maybe after you come to a conclusion on that, everything will work out fine. Broad questions can also serve as interesting philosophical exercises. Just keep in mind that your answer’s scope will generally be the same as your question’s.
So, the most important parts of a question, I believe, are:
-Nuance (i.e., not Yes/No)
-Asking After Influencing Factors Rather than Straight-up Advice (long part, this one)
-Scope (choose one for each reading and go with it!)
So, going back to my first sample question, “What should I do about stinking Uncle Larry’s thieving ways?,” I would recommend rewriting it as “What factors should I consider when trying to understand and handle Larry’s frequent thefts?” The words in this question are less loaded than the original, and the question is more nuanced and open-minded. Also, though the question got longer, it is still just as simple; the wording just changes your state of mind and distances yourself from it (note the removal of the word “uncle”). The scope of the question is also still the same.
So, now that you’ve got yourself a question, how do you answer it?
Choosing the Spread
So, how are you going to think about the answer? Perhaps by invoking the energies of the Ace of Swords (the Thought), which allows you to translate your question into something that your mind can answer with the cards. There are two steps to this process, the first of which is choosing the spread. The spread is the pattern in which you will lay out the cards. There are far too many spreads to list here, but your spread should provide a format for the cards to answer the question.
The most common spread is the Celtic Cross spread, and generally I use it to serve as an overview of a situation, or as a go-to spread. The Yin-Yang spread is helpful when dealing with relationships between two people (and, in theory, could be expanded into large, more complex relationships). My own Personality Spread is useful when trying to understand someone or something thoroughly. The World Tree spread (as seen in the Wildwood Tarot: Wherein Wisdom Resides) is useful for examining the state of the world around you. The Astrological or Celestial Spread (twelve cards in a circle) can give you results similar to an astrological chart reading (though generally much less complex).
So, once you have your question, pick the format of your answer. There is no real tried-and-true way to do this; just follow your inner guide and your own logical thoughts to choose what pattern best answers your question.
Choosing Your Deck
The second half of the Ace of Swords bit! Choosing the deck you use is choosing the images you interpret, and can drastically flavor the tone of a reading. Generally, my go-to/neutral deck is the Thoth Tarot, which I use when I either really want to get a reading done accurately or have no other preferences. If I want to see the negative side of a situation (because I have been seeing the positive), I might use the Necronomicon or Dark Grimoire Tarot because of their darker images. If I am asking a question that reads like a narrative, I might use the Dark Grimoire Tarot because of its structure. If I want to see the positive side of something, I might use something like the Rider-Waite (which I find cheerful, for whatever reason) or the Gummy Bear Tarot (which I desperately wished I owned). If I am asking a question about the natural world, I will use the Wildwood Tarot. If I am asking a deeper, spiritual question, I will either use the Thoth Tarot (especially if I can relate the question to Kabbalah; hand-down the Thoth is the best deck for Kabbalistic readings) or the Celestial Tarot.
Decks can also match up well to the spreads you choose, and often go hand-in-hand (for example, the Tree of Life spread [which is literally the Kabbalistic Tree of Life in Spread form] goes well with the Thoth Tarot, the World Tree spread goes well with the Wildwood Tarot, and the Astrological/Celestial Spread goes well the the Celestial Tarot.
Choose the deck that calls to you and the situation. Again, there is no one way to do this; just follow your heart.
Invoking the Guide
This is a little ritual that any readers do before actually throwing the spread. There are no two ways of doing this. What I do, personally, is hold the cards cupped between my hands, and then shuffle the cards while asking my inner guide and intuition for guidance, and then asking the question I wrote earlier (it is often helpful to write this question down). This step, while it may seem small and trivial, helps get you into the right state of mind, and well make the reading go more smoothly.
Treating your cards with reverence also helps the reading go more smoothly, I have noticed, but do not ask the cards themselves for guidance (on occasion, when exhausted and in a state in which I shouldn’t be doing a spread anyway, I make this mistake. Kids, just say no!). The cards are not doing anything but exist and be used by you. It is you and your unconscious mind doing the work. By performing a little ritual and then asking yourself for guidance, it helps bring out your subconscious thoughts and allows you to see things you wouldn’t see otherwise. This step does not really fall into the Aces thing I have been hinting at; it belongs to the realm of spirit, of Daath, or perhaps even of EinSof.
Laying Out the Cards
This is simple. After shuffling the cards (very important), you lay them out in the pattern of the spread. Always lay the cards out in the same order (for each spread) every time. This removes the temptation to mix around the order to get cards you want. If you change the cards around, you are not helping yourself see things differently; you are merely using the cards to confirm what you think you already know. This is not helpful, and often misleading.
On the same note, never move the cards around or throw a new spread because you didn’t like the last one. It doesn’t matter how scary the cards before you are; if you open the door to moving around your spreads once, you may never stop, and the entire process will be invalidated.
This step coincides with the Ace of Disks – the Manifestation. Now you have actually begun the work of interpreting the cards!
And that is a post in and of itself, coming in the future! Stay tuned!