A lot of people come for a Tarot reading telling me, “I just want to see what the cards say about” this or that. Finally, I began replying, “The cards don’t say anything; they are pieces of cardboard with pictures on them.” You—the client--and I, I explained, are going to answer your question; we’re going to read it in the book of your soul. The cards are just the illustrations. Or, if you prefer, miniature Rohrschach ink blots with slightly less baffling images.
One young man wanted insight into a long string of tragedies that had befallen his family over the years. After hearing my description of the personality type it represented, he identified the Page of Wands as his father. Much later in the spread, I described the King of Swords, and he again saw his father—but he quickly backpedaled as he realized how different the youthful, energetic, eager Page, full of what Sunryu Suzuki called “beginner’s mind,” was from the stern, logical, unswerving King of Swords. “I guess they can’t both be my dad,” he said.
I am naturally bookish, and good at memorization, and it took me a while to trust my intuition enough to loosen my grip on what the cards “meant,” and how their positions in the spread focused each card’s spectrum of possibility, and to remember that they are only useful aids in the search for significance. And when this client disclaimed his own intuition about his father, Miss Manners’ advice dropped into my head, and I immediately knew what to do. “Whatever meaning is present here,” I told myself, “is not on the table; it is on the chair.”
“No,” I assured him, “You are right. This,”—indicating the Page, “is the father you grew up with. This,” pointing out the King of Swords, “is the father you have now.”
Watching his face in the next few seconds was like seeing a high-speed game of Tetris, all the losses and hardships his family had suffered falling into place, transforming the open-hearted, pliable young father of his childhood into the disillusioned, dryly rational man of his latter years.
In retrospect, this conclusion seems obvious—but I would have sought it in vain by staring at the cards as though they themselves had anything to say. Because the meaning is in the client, not the cards. The cards are the extraction tools of meaning.