Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes
Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!
Our theme for this hop was provided by Morgan Drake Eckstein, formerly of Gleamings from the Golden Dawn, now officially Occult Garden Parties, and co-hosted by Sharron Basanti of Seeds of Shakti. They challenged us with sharing the oddest, most interesting, most educational associations that we have adapted in our divination practices. I had so many to share that I divided it into categories. Here are the five interpretive styles that most readily produce odd tarot associations!
This topic reminds me of the time we wrote on the theme Oracular Anomalies. I wrote two posts for that hop, one for the Denver Tarot Convention blog and one here on Completely Joyous. In that 2015 post on this blog, I shared my favorite story of the 9-year old who asked me what wolves and dogs meant to her. I had to provide an answer based on the Ten of Wands. After an interminable, blank pause, I was thrilled to realize that because the wands were grouped together in a bundle, it meant she was looking for her pack. There are a variety of ways tarot readers develop interpretations, and some of the oddest I’ve come up with have been due to the following exegetical methods.
When I started doing regular psychic fairs in the early 2000s I had an experience reading for a young woman. We pulled the Hermit to start off her three-card spread. I had gotten in the habit of describing the card to get my mouth moving, which was the hardest part for me in doing readings for others! I told her, “You do something all by yourself, something at a great height.” Here’s a reminder of why it’s important to read the cards and not just say whatever random thoughts you’re thinking — it seemed logical to me that she was a mountain climber or hiker. But I didn’t say that, I only spoke the most literal words that arose from the image I was looking at. She gasped and explained that she was a sky-diver.
I will not relate the story of when I told a woman who drew the Eight of Swords that in her relationship she was “all tied up” and in truth she and her partner practiced a particular form of bondage!
Many of my odd tarot associations have resulted from the most literal reading of the card. I try to always start there and only go on to more abstract or symbolic meanings if the most straightforward interpretation falls flat.
Reading the Cards as They Fall
This is another topic I’ve written on before, and in fact both my previous article and the example I’ll share today are based on the Eight of Swords. In a recent class that I taught, the participants were practicing readings for each other. One set of students was stumped by their layout. The spread was 1. Where you Are Now, 2. Where You Want to Be, and 3. The Path to Get There. In the “Where You Want to Be” position she had pulled the Eight of Swords. The Eight of Wands showed up as the Path to Get There. What a conundrum! It made no sense to them.
I called in the other students to mull it over. I reminded them to think of the question and find the answer in the cards. But more frustratingly, the woman’s question was a timing question: When should she launch a new interactive website offering online workshops and classes? Another woman came over to look at the spread and resignedly shook her head. “It looks like hurry up, slow down to me,” she said. Everyone thought it was nonsense.
I turned to the “hurry up, slow down” woman and told her she was exactly right. “The answer,” I said, “is to offer a soft launch of the site immediately” (8 of Wands, titled Swiftness but also representing Sagittarius and learning), “in order to discover what the problems are” (8 of Swords, in which the figure is tied up, stuck, unable to move).
Where this woman wanted to be was stuck, i.e., the next step for her website was to find out what didn’t work for actual users: broken links, dud apps, where the directions made no sense, etc. To make this site work, she needed to see where her users got themselves tied up in knots. (Chances are she’d go through a period of frustration as well.) Then she could address the problems and have a more formal launch once everything was smoothed out. The students who wanted to produce a more psychological meaning for the card or use it as “advice” (“don’t tie yourself up in knots over this”) instead of reading it as-is failed to uncover the practical recommendation offered by the spread.
Image Specific Interpretations
I was taught to base my meanings on the specific images of the cards and have always done so. I haven’t been able to avoid learning some “standard” meanings over the years, and have studied esoteric symbolism extensively. But in my day-to-day readings I primarily pull from the image of the card. I enjoy working with decks that deviate in a fresh way from the RWS standard, but still work within the larger context of a recognizable tradition. My standard client deck for six or seven years now has been the Legacy of the Divine by Ciro Marchetti. It has shaped the meanings I use for the cards, just as each deck preceding it has.
A favorite example is the Legacy of the Divine Four of Wands. In this card the four wands form the corners of a box, and with a roof shaped by light descending to each wand from a centralized point above, the shape looks like a house. Within this protective container is an idyllic scene: green grass, trees, stream, fluffy clouds, and a rainbow. Outside the boundaries of the house-shape we see dead trees, stormy clouds, and, below, a fiery inferno. In readings, I point out the details of the illustration and express the meaning of the card as a safe place or sanctuary. I say that when the outside world is in chaos, the querent has created their own comforting safety zone.
This is not quite the “celebration” standard meaning, nor is it based entirely on the confusing “Perfected Work” title, nor is it the cultural symbolism of the marriage canopy, all influences on this card’s usual interpretations. In fact, it differs greatly from the meaning I gave the card when the Tarot of the Old Path was my client reading deck. That image shows a man holding a pitchfork, a woman holding a broom, and a child holding two leafing staffs in the V-shape of a plow. That card expressed family, home, and putting down roots by tilling the land. Neither the meaning of “sanctuary” nor the sense of “putting down roots” roam far afield from each other, and they both work within the tradition, but each has its unique image that anchors the meaning in slightly different locations.
Client Specific Interpretations
One client in her forties had an ongoing, dissatisfying, long-distance relationship with her high-school sweetheart, whom she had reconnected with. She always pulled the Page of Pentacles for him, which in my deck is a pretty, curly-haired child. We always joked that this on-again, off-again suitor acted like a little girl.
I get the majority of my odd tarot associations from my study and use of esoteric correspondences. One of my most popular services is my “half-and-half” reading, in which half our time is spent on astrology and the other half on tarot. Probably the most interesting thing that happens in my readings is how the planetary and zodiacal correspondences for the tarot cards start referencing specific topics that we discussed in the astrological chart. The cards allude to transits, natal qualities, or timing themes, highlighting the most practical focus to address.
Astrological and qabalistic correspondences have influenced the meanings of all the cards for me. (Check out my current series on tarot card astrology for many fascinating odd tarot associations) Many students are concerned that these philosophical approaches will produce overly abstract and ultimately unusable meanings, but it is shocking how apt they can be. During an exercise I led for a community presentation, one person pulled the Tower card for a health problem. She was concerned and talked to me afterward. As we discussed it, what seemed the most relevant is that the card’s correspondence, the Path of Peh, connects the right and left hip. Her problem was in one of her hips. I suggested that addressing both hips equally would be one interpretation for that card.
Another time in a class I was teaching, a student asked about budgeting, specifically if she should move to save money. The cards revealed a disproportionate amount of Capricorn energy. The answer was not to change her living situation (which would have been addressed by Cancer cards) but rather to step up her game in her career (Capricorn). She was self-employed and worried her work was insufficient to cover her basic needs. The solution was not to compromise her monthly budget, but rather to demand that her business step up the game and produce the living wage needed to reside in a growing city. To that effect, the cards addressed a number of solutions to increase her income and reduce work-related expenses.
Thanks for stopping by! If you have any fun stories about odd tarot associations I’d love to hear them in the comments! And please hop on through our circle of blogs, seeing the interesting twists each writer has given to this topic!
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.