Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Very Old Tarot Spread

I am an active member of the Aeclectic Tarot forum, where I take part in a number of remote reading exchanges on a regular basis, where we do readings for other members of the forum whom we haven't met and often whose "real" names we don't even know. And they work, and provide pertinent, relevant information, quite specific to people's individual situations. There are a few circles that I enjoy taking part in regularly, and just in recent weeks  have started taking part in a Tarot de Marseilles exchange circle.

In this exchange we use Tarot de Marseilles style decks: decks with older-style artwork reminiscent of woodcuts, with unillustrated Minor Arcana cards. And it was suggested this week that we use a very old spread.

To quote the attribution of the documentation concerning this spread, I go to a member of the forum that I know as Le Charior, who says: This spread comes from an essay called "Du Jeu des Tarots", published in 1871 in the eighth volume of "Monde Primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (The Primitive World, analyzed and compared with the modern world)" by Court de Gébelin. The author is the given as M. the C. of M., and has been identified as Louis Raphaël Lucrèce de Fayolle, the Comte de Mellet.
The actual document being quoted reads:

"... VI
Way in which one proceeds to consult the Fates.

Now let us suppose that two men who want to consult the Fates, have, one the twenty-two letter cards, the other the four suits, and that after having shuffled the cards, and each having cut the cards of the other, they start to count together up to the number fourteen, holding the trumps and the lesser cards in their hands face down so that only their backs are visible; then if a suit card turns up in its natural place, that is, which bears the number named, it must be put aside with the number of the accompanying letter card at the same time, which will be placed above: the one who holds the trumps places this same letter there, so that the book of Destiny is always in its entirety, and there is, in no case, an incomplete sentence; then the cards are mixed again and again receive a cut. Finally the cards are run through to the end a third time with the same attentions; and when this operation is completed, it is a question of reading the numbers which express the accompanying letters. Whatever happiness or misfortune is predicted by each one of them, must be combined with what the card announces that corresponds to them, in the same way that their greater or lesser power is determined by the number of this same card, multiplied by that which characterizes the letter. And for this reason the Fool which does not produce anything, is without number; it is, as we have said, the zero of this calculation.

I used this spread for the first time, not having tried it out first, in an exchange. My exchange-partner had requested a general overview of what they might expect in the upcoming year. As I was using a very old spread, arguably the oldest recorded, it tickled me to use the newest Tarot de Marseilles in my collection (I have several of that style of deck), one designed by Major Tom Schick, that I reviewed once here. It seemed to me that there was an ironic symmetry in doing that, combining an old spread with a new deck

I separated the Trumps, or Major Arcana cards from the Minor Arcana or pip cards, and placed both piles face-down on the table in front of me, the Majors near my left hand, the Minors near my right hand. And I selected my pairs this way: counting one-to-ten for the numbered cards, then eleven to fourteen for the Court Cards (practically, one to fourteen), I turned over the cards one by one with my right hand so that I could see if they matched the numbers I was counting aloud. At the same time, with my left hand I'd move one Major Arcana card at a time from the pile on the left into a new pile.

Four times through the deck, I found that the Minor Arcana that I turned was the same number as the number I was calling, so I would put it aside as a part of the reading I was about to do, along with the Major Arcana card taken at the same time from the other pile.

Four pairs, eight cards, each, comprised my reading for this person. I don't propose to tell you what I said to them in any detail because all of my readings are between the client and myself only, but I'm happy to discuss how I came by what I said to them. I was laying them out with the Major of each pair to the left, the Minor to the right, the first pair on the top, then below it the second, etc, until the fourth pair was the one on the table closest to me.

The first pair was Strength and the Nine Cups. I was struck by how tranquil the Nine Cups looked, and how both the lion's and woman's bodies were pointed towards it, but how the woman's eyes seemed to be looking elsewhere, and how I felt about her glance on that particular occasion. I made some quite specific statements about how I felt that these impressions related to the life of hte person I was reading about.

The next pair of cards was the Devil and the Knight of Wands. I was immediately struck by how the Knight, whom I felt symbolised my client, and his horse, were moving towards the Devil, but how the heads of both the horse and the Knight were turned away, as if suddenly considering other options. And how smug and self-satisfied the two minor minions harnessed to the Devil were, as if some unpleasant, dangerous entity actually made its victims feel as if they were being protected by it. From this I drew inferences about forces in the client's life that might have tempted them into feeling safe when they were anything but safe, and how if they looked at other options they might find a path forward that was a much better option for them. I also felt that I should relate this to a particular area of their life.

The third pair was Temperance and the Two Swords. Immediately, the Two Swords looked like an enticing option again, with bright colours and interesting curves, but very hot and fiery and with sharp blades, whilst Temperance, involving pouring water, bare feet and muddy earth, looked like childhood games involving mud and water. Here, I related my impressions to the client again, with advice to consider whether the dangers of more glamorous alternatives (the Two Swords) were worth it, compared to the safety and child-like simplicity that Temperance seemed to offer in their situations.

The last pair was the Fool and the Five Swords. The Fool was walking towards the Five Swords, on a journey, whilst the configuration of the card made me think of a gateway or passageway towards the future, guarded or possibly blocked from conventional approach. All the unconventionality of the Fool card, I suggested, would be needed for the client to be able to move freely to their future direction.

A lot of people I know, some whose reading abilities I respect very greatly, don't seem to be able to read easily with unillustrated pip cards. I can. I found them hard initially, but these days I find them as easy or even easier than reading illustrated cards with all sorts of visual cues on them. Why?

Largely because they don't have a lot in the way of visual cues. They have colour and basic emblems, which can set mood and tone, but they leave your mind free to follow an intuitive path instead of being nailed down to the mindset of the artist who designed and illustrated the deck. I find if I have a lot of mental activity going on, such as may be triggered by strictly "memorised" rigid meanings for cards or by images that presuppose one major quality for each card such as family happiness, dishonesty etc, these ideas forced on my mind can overrise the intuitive urge to find individual meaning in a card as it falls in that one reading that one time.

So I have learnt to trust my impulses and follow that tiny inner voice, which is much easier with decks that have little or no visual imagery and symbolism to work with. And I believe that I do highly individualised readings specific to each and every client's situation, looking not only for the pitfalls in their situations but the actions they can take to avoid them, and looking not only for the potential in their situations, but for the affirmative actions they can take to make the most of them.

I believe every reader should do that for every client, to the very best of their ability. And this very ancient spread worked so well when I was so inexperienced at it, that I will be using it a lot and mastering this new technique of having no positional meanings for cards at all, but relating a Major Arcana card to a Minor Arcana card in locked pairs, as many or as few locked pairs as the "random" system of counting produces after a good shuffle.

I have done many fulfilling readings recently, where I have seen face-to-face clients sit down with anxiety in their faces and leave with relief and gratitude in their faces, but this one reading, using so unusual a way or laying out cards, was the most personally fulfilling and exciting reading I have done for a long time.


  1. i adore that spread for reading with my tarot de la rea :D

  2. Nice to see some experimentation with these old threads - note though that some of the historical details are wrong. I think a typo has been made with the date, inverting the 8 & 7 - it should be 1781. Also the wrong essay is referenced. The spread is from an essay called Recherches sur les Tarots, et sur la Divination par les Cartes des Tarots par M. Le C. de M. (Research on the Tarots, and Divination by the Cards of the Tarot By M. C of M.) Both this essay and the essay 'Du Jeu des Tarots' by Gebelin appears in the 8th volume of Gebelin's Monde Primitif - but the two are different essays.

  3. I placed a slightly tidied up machined-translated version together with the original on tarotpedia in 2006 - I keep meaning to go back and clean up the translation and presentation a bit more but have never found the time:


  4. Thanks for the correct references, Köy Deli. I appreciate your scholarship. I was using the references given to me by another source, not from my own research.

  5. I've took this 'method' for a test run today. I like that it has a sense of "fate" to it, isn't too small or too big, and the matches between the majors and minors seemed to just fit.