Staying in the question

by Sep 3, 20144 comments

Reading the Tarot is about giving answers, isn’t it? People come with questions, spoken or unsaid, and once the deck is shuffled, cut and spread, all the answers come tumbling out.

Very few readers would argue with that view of the Tarot, but it is no longer a stance that I hold. My perception and confidence in answering questions has been progressively shaky over the years, and now I no longer consider a good idea. The problem with giving an answer is that it kills growth and new ideas – there is solution, so no need to look elsewhere.

Questions empower

Staying in the question is a technique that adds power and potential to the reader – options are always kept open, and it kills off the notion that as tarot readers were are only telling the punters what they want to hear in the first place.  Any kind of agenda as to the outcome is counter-productive, and in other contexts would be considered prejudicial. Open minds are always better than closed ones.

Extending the idea of staying in the question raises… more questions. For a start, all those positional spreads where each place has a name has only one purpose – to give tarot readers answers. To keep things open, names stay vague – nominalization in NLP jargon, but still the reader is trying to shoe-horn a situation or situations in the client’s life into nice easy packages. Trite.

As soon as we choose a significator we kill choice, which is a ludicrous thing to do. I would love to kill the entire notion of Significators, and bury them under a vast mountain of second-rate decks foisted upon us by publishers, and get on with improving techniques of divination and interpretation. Significators cause anguish to the reader – how are they supposed to choose a significator? Apart from never understanding how this is done correctly (the answer being of course whatever daft idea or justification the Tarot reader came up with in the first place), and to mix metaphors slightly, you have to sleep in the bed you made.

Maybe we should have a “Read Tarot Naked Day”, where nudity is in all probability an option not just for the reader, but for the client as well, as it is difficult to concentrate. Naked Tarot would be for the abandonment of all dodgy techniques and methods of interpretation, significators, and positional spreads, and let it all hang out without a safety net, or, I suppose, any kind of parental guidance. Rigidity is out, fluidity is in. Lets give our clients loads of options for where they can take their life. It is not for us to narrow choice, particularly as we mostly live in a Western Consumer Society where choice is paramount.

You may well be wondering by now if I have any prediction for the consequences, but you are not going to catch me out that easy, are you? Be comfortable in ourselves, with messy, jumbled up cards that have no particular place or function in a spread. Glory in having no idea of which direction that entirely spurious Arrow of Time is heading. Allow ourselves to see what is there, and be comfortable in the experience of not having a clue what the cards mean, which is an entirely feasible and potentially correct interpretation of your client’s situation. Life is a mess. The only group of society that imposes such rigidity is the military. Think about it.

Irrelevance of Divinatory meanings

Just how irrelevant the tarot divinatory meanings are to me was hit home during my talk at Brighton University recently. I had made a Powerpoint presentation to illustrate some projective geometry in the Thoth Tarot, so I had images of the High Priestess, Aeon, Queen of Cups, 5 of Swords and 6 of Wands. As each card flashed up, I thought I had better comment about what each meant, and here is what happened: “This is the High Priestess, which means um, change, fluctuation… anyone have any other insights? Here is the Aeon, which is about the end of something…” and so on. Not exactly the scintillating description from someone who has read the Tarot for 30 years is it? Things changed however for the second part of the talk where I do impromptu readings for members of the audience. Each person gets to pick 3 cards, and I do a reading. When I hold the 3 cards, they talk to me, and I am able to say something that is greater than the sum of the 3 cards that is very pertinent to the person. How much of the divinatory meaning of each card is I could not tell, but the links are tenuous.

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  1. 1960boy

    I intuitively feel excited about this post as it makes a lot of sense to me as a reader but I think a client would walk away disappointed. I understand that everything is inter related so could appreciate the conflicting information and direction of a group of cards but would not be sure if clients would accept this understand.
    Maybe I am missing the point here. lol.

    • Paul-Hughes-Barlow

      Why don’t you try? Being in the question means that you do not have to be as specific as you think to satisfy the client!


  2. melissa

    I (sort of) understand your point in staying in question but the over all point of working with some people is to help them find answers (agreeing with 1st post). For me, this is often in the form of mere suggestions,and providing options based on what the cards tell me.. I have people at work asking me to ‘read them’ sometimes during breaks or lunch and I always start by saying, this is just for fun (my disclaimer)..most of the people I’ve read for I do not know personally, only from seeing their faces at work, and they are totally amazed that when I tell what the cards say to me it always directly relates to specific issues or things that are going on presently with that person. Most of the time I do not ask them what’s on their mind I only SUGGEST what the cards speak to me and offer options for change or perspective based on what I feel from the cards (not what they ‘mean” according to a LWB). I will start paying more attention to staying in the question. I believe it will open minds more and thus stimulate better results for the querent as well as helping me evolve. Uh…I don’t use significators-I’ve read a little about what they were supposed to be used for but don’t really understand how to actually “pick” one. Must agree with Paul on not using them. I tried to find a card to represent myself and honestly, the only one that fits is The Fool and if one thinks logically about it, we would all be well represented by The Fool.
    I love the new site!

    • Paul-Hughes-Barlow

      Hi Melissa,

      The point about being in the question is that ciients often turn up with judgments and limitations – which is one reason why people come to us in the first place.

      Being in the question allows us and the client to explore other options that you may not have been aware of until you started to look.

      Being in the question gives us choice, and the whole point about choice is that one choice is not better than another – its just different.

      Your comment about the Fool is interesting, because logic does not apply to it.


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