Telling Time with Tarot

By Andrew McGregor

I do a lot of divination for myself and for others. One of the most awkward questions for me to answer has always been, “when will this particular thing happen?” Some cards have obvious associations with timelines but others do not. How long a time is suggested by the knight of cups? What point in time is indicated by this card? Well the question can be resolved easily when one sees how the cards fit onto the wheel of the zodiac as depicted in the model we are looking at. This is the first advantage of working with this visual tool, answering the difficult question of “when” actually becomes actually quite simple.

The second advantage to knowing this model is that it can help give clues as to which kind of energy one might want to work with in relation to the question. Sure there are the elemental attributions of cards but these may be too limited, or if you are working on a more macrocosmic level they may not be enough by themselves, and you’ll be asking, “where do I look next?”

So as we go through each card below take a look at the illustration. It may look a bit complicated but it will be simple if you read along and keep referring to the illustration.

The Wheel of the Year and the Tarot

Tarot cards laid out on the wheel of the year.

So we all know there are 12 signs of the zodiac. These each rule 30º of the zodiac. It’s a no-brainer we just divide the wheel of the year 360º by 12 to get the amount each sign will rule. But note that the Astrological year starts in Aries, in March, and not as we are used to in January.

The confusion starts to creep in with the small cards and the court cards. Each quarter of the year is ruled by one element as represented by its Ace. So, for instance, the first quarter is ruled by Taurus and Earth. It is also ruled by the Princess of that same suit. After subtracting the Princesses and the Aces we have 36 small cards and 12 court cards left over.

The small cards each rule 10º of the zodiac, three to a sign. Each small card is also governed by a planet. Its meaning is actually the product of that planet in the sign that gives it its meaning. For instance the 2 of Wands is Mars in Aries, in the Thoth deck Dominion, Mars in the sign it rules amplifies the martial energy to create power and control. Each of the small cards can be understood in this manner.

The court cards, like the signs of the zodiac, rule 30º of the wheel. However due to their intermingled elemental nature they are offset from the signs of the zodiac by 10º so each card rules from 20º of on sign into 20º of the next sign. This can also help to determine what energy a person would have in their personality. Sort of like a mini astrological chart.

I have found this to be and invaluable tool for expanding the way I relate the tarot to both the year and to time in general. I hope it helps.

Andrew McGregor

How I use the 3 Card Spread

By Odyn PenDragon

If I am not mistaken, the common view of the 3-Card Spread has the basic model of a “Before / During / After” methodology. The method is entrenched in a time-based causal-linear mode. One flanking card is described as “leading up to” or “preceding”, and the other flanking card is described as “following after” or “succeeding” — or otherwise similar metaphors.
But I have found it more ‘profitable’ to take the mind out of such a causal-linear model in the initial stage, and then subsequently consider a causal-linear image to make the possibilities of the ‘prediction’-picture “fuller”.

“What the hell does he mean by all this?”
There is a way of viewing the Houses of Astrology in terms of four clusters of three phases (yes, I get that this is not new, but just be patient), and the three phases can be described with ideas that lend to divorcing from a causal-linear mind-set, even though the ideas in that context still do apply to an “input / output” model. The three metaphors used are an “Entry phase”, an “Assimilation phase” and a “Preparation phase”. What I found fascinating was to shift the mind from the “input / output” model to a “condensation / evaporation” model. (Fans of classic alchemical metaphors will find a parallel by taking “solve et coagula” and inverting it to “coagula et solve”.) There is a “coalescing” and a “dissolution”. This process is intimately bound to my own conception of YIN and YANG in terms of “enfolding” and “unfolding“. To steal terms from ‘wave dynamics’, there is a “compression” and there is an “attenuation”.

The central card still retains its description as “the central consideration”. It is the focus of the theme. The flanking cards are auxiliary to this “central theme”. That does not change. What changes is the beginning assumption that the flanking cards describe “before / after”, “preceding / succeeding” causal-linear determination. This is where the reader’s mind is challenged. How does the “condensation” to the “central issue” not “precede”, and the “evaporation” of the “central issue” not “succeed”? The reader is forced to face an intrinsic time-based causal-linear bias; which, in my opinion, ‘limits’ the possibilities of what can be delivered with the reading. The reader can still eventually consider a time-based causal-linear description — it just might best not be the primary mode.

“So how do you get out the time-based causal-linear mind-set?”
I do no have a convenient ‘cookbook’ answer to that. (Actually, I do, but that is way beyond the simple considerations here.) The key is simply “change your mind”. You do not have to go into any “cosmic jim/jane” mode to get there. Just dare to consider a way of viewing the picture without a “before / after” model. The best way to describe the mind-set is to really take the “Be Here Now” attitude to heart. The entire event is concurrent. It is like sending a message, and getting a response ‘before’ the message-receiver might have received the message, but ‘after’ you sent the message; or, receiving ‘the response’ just as you ‘send the message’ — as if “they read your mind” (or some similar soothing explanation). When Uncle Einstein described the ramifications of ‘general relativity’, he described how when the vehicle “slows down” and the passenger’s body ‘falls forward’, it is caught in a ‘gravitational field’. The usual causal-linear mind-set thinks “brakes applied”=”make gravitational field”. What really messes with the causal-linear mind-set is to first consider “gravitational field”=”brakes applied”, then to wonder “did ‘gravitational field’ make the ‘breaks applied’ phenomenon?” Now you are getting closer, but no less confused.

I choose to view the flanking cards as if one of them is like an enfolding to the “central issue”, and the other is like an unfolding of the “central issue”. As with any Card Spread, it is up to the reader how to determine which card ‘means’ which. If you choose to do a ‘controlled spread’ and have the cards placed ‘side-to-side’, or ‘above-to-below’, is entirely up to you as the reader. If you choose to discretely place a card before you and call that one “the central issue”, and then wildly fling one card one way in the room and call that one “the enfolding“, and then wildly fling another card another way in the room and call that one “the unfolding” — so be it!

I happen to have another novelty, which really gets in touch with “random Mercury”. I am the one who does the thorough shuffling, and then the querent is the one who divides that shuffled deck into three sections. When the querent divides the deck into the three cuts, I “mentally determine” which segment is which group. Then from each of those sections, I randomly choose a card thereof, by ‘wildly’ poking my finger into each of the designated groups, and pulling the according card.

I must emphasize that nowhere am I claiming that a time-based causal-linear interpretation is ‘incorrect’. I simply feel that it is a limitation of an otherwise richness that can be offered even by a simple 3 Card Spread.