Changing direction

by Nov 29, 20133 comments

Card Counting The Tarot: changing direction

The Courts give you the option of changing direction in the middle of the count. In the Golden Dawn model, the Kings and Princes count to the left, while the Queens and Princesses count to the right. Things get a little more complicated as it is not clear what happens with reversals. As if that is not enough you also have to decide how to end the count, for if the counting is reversed, and you land on a counted card, but from the other direction, is that the end? or do you continue until you land on a count from the same direction? The complexities magnify when the count bounces between courts. This grey area comes out in the counting below.

A real example of a tarot reading using  counting

This example of an Opening of the Key Reading between Elayne and myself via email.

Elayne cut the deck into four piles using the Opening of the Key Method, and determined that the Significator, the Queen of Swords, was in the Water Pile. The Cards were spread out in a horseshoe, with Ten of Disks, to the right.

Now you have many ways of analysing the strings. For example, are any of the counting sequences free of reversals? Which sequence has the most reversals? You can also see the elemental distribution of each sequence very easily. One sequence is composed almost entirely of Fire cards.

  • 4 of Wands
  • 3 of Wands
  • Princess of Cups
  • Queen of Swords
  • 2 of Cups
  • Universe
  • The Fool
  • 6 of Wands
  • 3 of Disks
  • Lust
  • Knight of Cups
  • Knight of Swords
  • 6 of Cups
  • 9 of Swords
  • 7 of Disks
  • 7 of Wands
  • Prince of Cups
  • The Tower
  • 10 of Disks

Elayne: The Ten of Pentacles, completion in earth, is auspicious on top of the water pile.

Paul: This also suggests gain, possibly financial, but since the question is about love, we would stick with gain.

Elayne starts by analysing the positions according to Elemental Dignities:

E: Considering the overall elements in the sequence beginning with the universe, we find they are balanced. The universe, earth, is represented as the completion or heart of the matter. The courts, air of water and water of air, are compatible. The Four of Wands lends the active energy to show the union.

Comment: Elayne started with the Universe because it represents the ‘matter at hand’, so the cards surrounding it will give clues. Elayne counted from the Queen of Swords (see Column 1 above) to the left (because it is reversed), which goes to the Four of Wands, then four to Prince, and because it is reversed, we return back to the Four of Wands, and then the Queen of Swords. We are in a short loop.

  1. Queen of Swords
  2. Four of Wands
  3. Prince of Cups
  4. Four of Wands
  5. Queen of Swords

E: The Queen and Prince get into a loop and just stay together. The high number of reversals suggests to me that this may take a while to happen.

P: All these cards in the sequence are reversed, but they are not reversed to each other. They might be going against the grain as far as the other cards are concerned, but that is not how they feel: the reversed grouping strengthens their meaning.

E: The Queen of Swords’ tendency to worry too much and try to think the relationship into existence is moderated by the gentleness of her Princess of Cups aspect, and that she is truly in love. This, and the absence of active cards, gives her patience, which she may need as while the prince is under fire.

Friendly cards, the Three of Wands giving strength, and suggesting a strong sexual bond, support the union represented by the Four of Wands. The Ten of Pentacles suggests the union will be materially blessed, or will actually materialize.

P: The problem with this idea is that we are in the Water Pile, so any Fire is automatically weakened. On the plus side, friendly cards to it surround the Four of Wands.

E: The Prince is in a difficult situation, surrounded by Fire. He is going through a Tower type experience, but his valour and personal strength will help him through it.

P: He has obviously been hurt before, as indicated by the Tower, which can represent the effects of past actions.

E: The Universe surrounded by the Fool and Two of Cups suggests this love is not a product of the individual egos, but is strongly desired by their souls as a part of their growth.

This really seemed too easy. Was I blessed with an easy beginner’s set, or am I totally off?

P: Card Counting is easy. It only looks difficult, especially if you only follow the GD rules, which are intimidating. How would you see the other Courts?

E: I’m not sure, but I will have a go. Counting from the Knight of Swords, (Col2) we get:

  1. Knight of Swords
  2. Seven of Pentacles
  3. Three of Wands
  4. Queen of Swords
  5. Four of Wands
  6. Prince of Cups
  7. Four of Wands
  8. Queen of Swords

E: Because Knight of Swords is reversed as well, I see him as an aspect of the Prince.

P: All the cards are reversed in this sequence. I haven’t discussed this subtlety before, but we can look at not only the cards either side of a Significator (or any card), but when card counting we can apply the same rules of Elemental Dignities. The sequence you give here is a good example:

Sequentially, the Prince is weakest, because the cards are fiery, and note that the Knight of Swords starts with Failure, Seven of Pentacles, and of course Air and Earth are incompatible. The Queen of Swords, to the contrary, is the strongest as she has fiery cards. We can have the interesting situation whereby a card is weak when we look at the cards either side, but dynamically when we card count, it is strong – and vice versa also applies, of course.

E: He may be more developed mentally than emotionally.

P: Right.

E: I see the Knight of Cups as another person, because he is upright. The Knight of Swords is seeking fulfilment (which I associate with Six of Cups more than just pleasure)

P: Good. You are relating to its position.

E: But feels he has failed (Seven of Pentacles) because he has been ill-treated (Nine of Swords) and has been cruel in his own actions at times. This in spite of his best efforts to have the past relationship succeed. A confirmation of the tower in the previous sequence.

P: You really have the idea!

E: A strong sexual attraction, and a desire for a stable, nurturing relationship, pulls him toward the Princess of Cups/Queen of Swords, and they get back in that loop.

P: Yup.

E: Counting from the Knight of Cups:

  1. Knight of Cups
  2. Six of Wands
  3. Princess of Cups rev
  4. Seven of Wands
  5. Lust
  6. Tower
  7. Lust

E: The Knight of Cups may be a past lover of the querent, with whom there was a relationship that was strong but not lasting (Six of Wands) with her (Princess of Cups). The relationship failed because Knight of Cups, try as he might, lacked the noble qualities associated with Seven of Wands, and which Prince embodies. We then get into a loop of Lust, Tower, Lust, Tower,… This may represent that the past lover is still very much attached to querent, and/or that this relationship represents a pattern in the querent of relationships that begin with a strong attraction and then fail.

P: Certainly the passion displayed here is in distinct contrast to the Knight of Swords.

Counting from the Princess:

  1. Princess of Cups rev
  2. Seven of Wands
  3. Lust
  4. Tower
  5. Lust

E: If the querent does not follow the Queen of Swords and engage, with 4 Wands commitment, in the relationship with Prince, but rather chooses to follow the (passive) Princess aspect of herself, she would fail in the relationship with the Prince and stay in the cycle of repeated relationships. This seems to be saying that her most noble intentions are not enough to break the old pattern; she  commits to union with all the power of her will. (So maybe the Prince could be any one of a number of men who didn’t meet her standards of valour, and/or who she was unable to commit to despite her own valiant efforts.)

P: Perhaps she is surrendering herself to Fate.

E: It’s not clear to me how you got this.

P: The Princess starts with action, Seven of Wands, and then it is taken out of her hands with the Major arcana.

P: You can really get a feel for the character of the Courts can’t you? Sometimes, it is like a soap opera where there are several story-lines playing at once.


E: As for the pairs, I’ve looked briefly at your website, and I’m pretty lost about how to handle them.

P: It is part of the system, and gives extra information about what is going on.

E: I’m going to list them, make some guesses, and invite your comments.

Four of Wands rev./Ten of Pentacles — 2 cards that are friendly and indicate stability and success

P: Or, we are starting from that situation.

E: Three of Wands rev./Tower rev. — something strong arises from the pain of the past

P: Right.

E: Princess of Cups rev./Prince of Cups rev. — again the couple is linked.

Queen of Swords rev./Seven of Wands — Queen of Swords is very strong in this reading.

P: See how the different approaches tend to bring the same conclusion – this is how you can build confidence in your interpretative skills.

Two of Cups rev./Seven of Pentacles — oops, the failure of love with passivity, this doesn’t look good, or maybe with all the positive indicators, it’s advice not to be passive.

P: You’ve got the idea.

E: Universe/Nine of Swords — again, the outcome looks negative. More positively, the pair learns to be kind to themselves and give up their mental self-torture.

P: Now would you have ever come up with this interpretation using only the Divinatory Meanings?

E: Fool rev./Six of Cups — Six of Cups is friendly to the Fool, so there may be a new level of pleasure and fulfilment for the pair.

P: Which would be from an unexpected source: the next pairing gives us a clue.

E: Aren’t these supposed to be read in linear sequence, so that the experience of pleasure spurs Knight of Swords to the experience of success?

P: The Fool represents events that happen out of the blue or from an unexpected source.

E: Six of Wands/Knight of Swords rev. — success for Knight of Swords.

P: Success for the Knight of Swords despite his actions, or that he loses.

E: Three of Pentacles rev./Knight of Cups — passive elements. Maybe the Knights of Cups will fade from querent’s life, perhaps it will take effort for this to come about.

E: Lust — querent is being called to crawl out of her passive ‘spiritual’ and mental shell, to acknowledge her desires for this relationship, as well as other physical manifestations, and to engage passionately in her life.


P: Right. Can you pull the whole lot together to give us an overview of exactly what is going on, and what relationships you think are going on? Since we started this thread on the idea that there was a financial gain (Ten of Pentacles), do you think the gain is represented by Lust?]

E: Ok, a summary.

The relationship the querent asked about is likely to develop to represent the culmination, at least as she sees it, of the embodiment of a loving partnership, stable and supportive, in the physical plane.

P: The Ten of Pentacles represents the Earthy part of Malkuth.

E: The relationship is quite likely to be stable (Four of Wands), satisfying, financially comfortable (Ten of Pentacles), and sexually compatible (Three of Wands). (Queen of Swords and Prince are linked in a loop starting from Queen Swords OR Prince OR Universe, and all are reversed.) In fact, the relationship seems strongly fated to be. (Though there are not a lot of majors, Universe and Fool lead directly to this relationship.)

P: Universe and Fool are about Endings and Beginnings. I usually see a conjunction of these two as like revolving doors.

E: Querent (Queen of Swords) is strong, both patient and loving, and passionately involved, in this sequence. (Gentleness of adjacent water to balance her air, and energy of fire surround her in the counting sequence.

P: And of course she is looking for the Ten of Pentacles – earth, to balance the situation.

E. The love interest is weaker. He is emotionally vulnerable (water surrounded by fire), and is dealing with the failure of a past relationship (Tower) that he had done his best to save (Seven of Wands). Even the passion which he feels for the queen, positive as it is, is frightening for him.

P: For this read commitment, I would think.

E: Mentally (Knight of Swords) he is also reeling from this failed relationship (Seven of Pentacles) and the mutual attacks of the partners (Nine of Swords). His passion to do the right thing (Seven of Wands) is stronger (fire) than the suffering (air/earth). He is drawn by his passion (Three of Wands) to create something with Queen of Swords.

P: Ok.

E: There is a second man (Knight of Cups) who has been or might be (querent has been asked about this man and cannot name him) successful (Six of Wands) in drawing querent into sexual, passionate (Three of Wands) relationship. This would result in failure or at least great difficulty (Seven of Pentacles) with the love interest (Prince), and a passionate Lust) relationship with the second man (Knight of Cups). There would be continued (loop of Lust and Tower) conflict with love interest (Knight of Cups, Tower) about this second relationship. It would not be a clean choice of one or the other.

P: When I first read this, I thought I saw the word ‘homosexual’, but of course it isn’t there.

E: The querent, in an aspect of herself (Princess of Cups) would actually choose this conflicted path (counting from the princess.) (Any advice about the contrasts between these two aspects of self?)

P: She wants to be a little girl again?

E: This seems less likely, though. (Except for Tower, cards of this sequence are upright, and princess is reversed, and therefore better dignified in the sequence beginning with Queen of Swords.)

P: Ok.

E: A likely scenario from the pairing: The pair starts with a very strong bond, perhaps through work, a shared interest, a strong friendship. (4 Wands,Ten of Pentacles) The failure of a romantic partnership opens the opportunity for a romantic relationship to develop between our pair. (Three of Wands, Tower) They do join in this romantic pairing. (Princess of Cups, Prince). The querent contributes the passion and strength in the first stage. (Queen of Swords, Seven of Wands). The love goes through trying times, a danger of their splitting apart. (Two of Cups, Seven of Pentacles)

P: Yup.

E: The reason for the difficulties, and their growth area, is their torturous thoughts, with which they attack themselves and each other. (Universe, Nine of Swords).

P: This can also be taken to mean that they are literally looking at the Universe to understand their plight, much in the same way that people never think about God until a relationship goes wrong, and suddenly they ask why their God has deserted them. The 9s can be seen as trying to understand sorrow and misery and the human condition. Combined with the Universe, they see a bigger world.

E: From this pain is born a renewed relationship, fulfilling at a new level. (Fool, Six of Cups) Love interest is then able to successfully overcome his internal demons. (Six of Wands, Knight of Swords)

I don’t get this one. Anyone else? (Three of Wands, Knight of Cups)

P: A man who gets in trouble with work because he is neglecting it or losing interest?

E: The outcome is a passionate relationship, probably leading querent to a new sense of passionate involvement in other areas of life. Quoting BookT: “the joy of strength exercised… and the rapture of vigour.”

P: Happy endings are always nice.

E: OK, there’s probably more, but I’m absolutely out of time!

E: What do you think, Paul?

P: I think you have done a brilliant job.

E: I think you’re an excellent teacher. You worked through some examples yourself, and then you helped several of us with spreads, so it was much like doing a series of spreads ourselves. Plus people here are interested in learning and supportive of each other. Also, actually counting makes the Elemental Dignity stuff come alive. I had been through most of the lessons at your website and blown this method off. It seemed too dry. How wrong was my impression. I see what you mean about how much freedom this method gives compared to having positional meanings, and yet it isn’t more difficult.

P: Most of the Elemental Dignity articles were written 3 years ago, so I am hoping the input from the CT exercises will result in a re-writing at some point.

E: One more thing, I laid out a spread with RWS, but I didn’t like it, and went and got my Thoth deck. I couldn’t make the mental transition to see pages as women.

P: Pages always were females (in GD terms before the 17th/18th C experts get hot under their collective collars). Crowley gives an excellent insight into the structure of the Courts in the beginning of the Fool commentary in Book of Thoth. I think you will find it easier to read using Thoth tarot simply because every card is coloured uniquely.

Once you have done a few more readings, I would hope you start by reading in the form of the Summary you’ve just given. I had to break down the OOTK readings into their constituent parts as part of the teaching exercise, but they do need to be re-united. Solve et Coagula.

E: What do you think, Paul?

E: It is impossible to convey my gratitude for your help in words, so please receive it energetically.

P: I’m just grateful I am making sense.

Timing Events

P: Now we have figured out about what might be going on, we need to figure out a chronology.

E: Counting from either the Prince of Cups or from the Queen of Swords, there is some coming together of the pair either last October or next October, and a solidification of the pair either this week (!) or next April. Or perhaps the April event is followed by the fall event.

P: You could say to the client that some event happened in October, and that you would expect a result in April.

E: Counting from the Knight of Swords: A difficult experience for Knight of Swords in May, either after the building of passion and commitment in Mar-Apr, or followed by this in the next March to April. Coming together of Queen of Swords and Prince of Cups in October

Counting from Knight of Cups: Knight of Cups experiences lust Feb/Mar, the Princess of Cups gets passionate, or he gets passionate about her, in the summer, further build up of passion in Aug, a crash of the relationship in the following March/April. Wow, these two watery guys are aflame here, aren’t they?

P: This must be too simplistic. For example, Tower experiences can’t always happen in Aries. Also, I have Four of Wands at the same time as the Tower, with opposite meanings.

Ok, I tried, but this doesn’t click. Help! As always, thank you.

P: The obvious mistake is that you have assigned dates for the Universe and Tower, which are Saturn and Mars respectively, and they of course cannot be dated in this way.

E: OK, I understand what to do with planetary majors now.

Are events in the sequence predicted in the order of the sequence, or can they be mixed up? e.g., if the Knight of Swords/Seven of Pentacles event occurs in May, does this mean the Three of Wands event must occur 10 months later, or can we put it out of the sequence to occur 2 months earlier?

P: What you could do is suggest that if events appear to be in the next week, you could say that it would either be Saturday or Tuesday. If you were a ritual magician, then it could be that either of those days could be used for a ritual to achieve the desired result. For micromanagement, then we could zero in on either the planetary hour of Saturn on Tuesday or the planetary hour of Mars on Saturday.

E: So we can look around for planetary cards to predict days of the week, whether they are actually landed on in counting?

P: We have to use some discretion here, but there are possibilities, depending on the nature of the reading.

P: How are you doing learning the divinatory meanings of the Tarot? Not that it seems to matter!

E: I’m pretty stuck. I was doing pretty well learning meanings for RWS, but now I’m interested in Thoth again. These cards don’t show their meaning by the picture, at least for me. I don’t know whether to try to glean Crowley’s meanings, read another book, like Banzhaf’s, use the meanings on your website, etc. Lately I’ve mostly used the words on the minors. One word has lots of associations. The problem is that assigning meanings defines a world-view, and I don’t want to limit what can be revealed, know what I mean?

P: Sure.

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  1. Hermit

    Hi Paul! I’m really interested in your concept of reversals: it adds nuances without having to commit thousands of meanings to memory (although I like to study the cards in Crowley’s and the GD books to get the philosophical background). Do I get it right if I say that, when a card/sequence is reversed to another card/sequence, it is as though there was a sort of “but” between them, or they are somewhat opposite/contraddictory to each other? How would you interpret a string where there is no recognizable pattern of long sequences of reversed upright cards?
    Thank you!

    • Paul-Hughes-Barlow

      Hi Hermit,

      Its all about nuances, not contradictions, so it depends on the circumstances of the reading. Reversals are an indication of something different going on – its up to you what it means


  2. Mohamed Aiyoob

    I think you have some cards wrong and some are missing. E.g. is the 6 of Wands supposed to be 4 of Wands? Where is the 7 of Wands. Is the 10 of Disks supposed to be the 7 of Pentacles? Where is the Knight of Cups?

    It goes for all your articles. If these articles are meant for beginners, then it is better to use Raider’s Waite Tarot Cards. And it looks like it will be easier for you too.

    Fortunately, I have all the articles from Supertarot printed years ago.


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