In my client readings, I try to formulate card spreads that allow the client to actively determine, assign, choose, or win the four Cardinal Virtues as they apply to options or choices that reveal themselves in the spread or draw. The point is sort of to make the session into a kind of game, albeit a skill game, since that is how the origin of the tarot came about. It “returns” the divination aspect back to its intent, which was to encourage the players—in a way subconsciously forcing them to participate because of the visual prompts in the cards, which the more one plays, the more times one is subjected or confronted by their imagery—to contemplate the virtues and virtue ethics, not just within the parameters of the game, but because the cards serve as a kind of ars memoriae-flash-card-system, that the philosophies might reach over into real-world conundrums and be applied…perhaps as simply or colloquially as we, today, apply sports analogies or baseball metaphors to our everyday activities… (“She made a home run during her presentation to the board of trustees this morning, due in large part to the amount of research she put into her supporting material.”)
I really like pyramid or branch spreads because it is often an easy way to highlight alternative options, or ways of thinking, or ways of moving forward, using a binary-polarity visual system.
The spread that I just pulled for myself as an example (illustrated) came out excellently… The significator cards at the bottom (which were assigned—not drawn) represent three areas of a recurring issue that I pre-determined:
The High Priestess = the Church
The Hanged Man = my feelings of sacrifice
The Lovers = the choices I’m forced to deal with [as a result of the path that led from leaving the monastery]
Obviously the spread overall deals with my confusion, sadness, anger, and feelings of directionless-ness in leaving the monastic-contemplative life. Every time I think that I am making headway in getting past my self-inflicted hurt, I realize that I am still wallowing in sadness and loss.
Appropriately the second row of “branches” that are here drawn were heavy with the suit of Cups, indicating how emotional the situation is and has been.
The third row, representing even more options or possible eventualities were heavy with the suit of Wands, indicating that any movement forward would need to entail a lot of creativity and work.
As an example of the multiple triangles or branch possibilities, let’s look at a detail of the larger spread; let’s contain our view to the inverted triangle or branch system that is affiliated with the Church (personified by the High Priestess). One branch leads to the Chariot—my ability to drive my sense of social justice that needs to take place in the Church… to grab the reins and steer the conversation (force it) through my deft communication skills, or my agility in writing, or a balancing-act in interpersonal dialogue—in other words, using my creative skills to steer the Church towards a social justice ideal.
The other branch—the 9-of-Cups—might reflect a choice to walk over the bridge of comfort and ease and “fulfillment” of a placid, beautiful, comfortable life, full of the riches I dream of (no anxiety, a life of routine, stability, contemplation, of a communal sharing community that takes care of one another). All I have to do is keep my mouth shut and nod ‘yes’ to whatever the Church hierarchy says and commands (even if it is antithetical to my dreams of what social justice looks like).
The next level up of the branch system shows two possible outcomes of being the Chariot-person: it might mean becoming the Queen of Wands (or someone with her character)—a respected and learn-ed person, but also a kind of “outlaw-rebel.” Perhaps this is an admission or return to more earth-centered ways of celebrating spirituality, of seeing God and Christ in the biodiversity and bio-syncretic-mysticism in which I’ve dabbled during a younger lifetime.
The other branch alternative—the 5-of-Wands—seems like a continued sense of entrapment… Perhaps if I don’t go “full-throttle” (Queen of Wands), then trying to maintain affiliation with the Church may be even more frustratingly convoluted, and internal immobility (or public ridicule) may continue or become an even bigger issue.
But if I follow the path of the 9-of-Cups—conformity—the two possible eventualities are [again] the 5-of-cups, except this time it likely will/would be due to guilt at abandoning a different segment of my community (the LGBT community).
The other possible branch is The Sun—another kind of fulfillment. Or, as noted in this previous blog post, it could mean my most true, inner, radiant-self. This is certainly a beautiful scenario, but I don’t know that it is the most prudent, considering its path. It is everything I dream of… but it’s not how the problem is solved. Or rather, it is how the problem is solved, but it’s not the path that Justice would take or follow. So even though it looks enticing and stable (right therein the middle of the pyramid and at the apex, balanced at the center, golden and shiny, etc…), it’s not the path that will win the game. (As a correlative example, the enticements along the rainbow path on the playing board in the game of Candy Land ® look delicious, but the point is not to get sidetracked or to diverge from the path.)
This whole exercise can be duplicated for another subset of branches in the spread—for example to interpret the cards in the branch above the Hanged Man (the angst of the sacrifice I made), as well as for the Lovers (the overwhelming choices with which I am forced to engage due to the life-altering choice to leave the monastery). And just as we have exemplified with the Justice card, each Cardinal Virtue can be considered in relation to each possible branch to assuage which branch best represents or fulfills the particular virtue. What is interesting is that not every virtue is represented equally by the same branches…
Justice might fit best in the branch that meanders (1.) High Priestess, (2.) Chariot, (3.) Queen of Wands. But Temperance doesn’t necessarily fit there. Sometimes Justice demands actions above and beyond what is considered “moderate”in order that the object of Justice might be noticed, brought to the attention of others, in order to be taken seriously, or attained.
And although we haven’t looked in detail at the pyramid further to the right, I found a place there where Temperance might best fit into the scheme of the game…
…It’s above the Lovers card (VI), representing the myriad choices I have to make that have blossomed since the separation from my brothers… the foray into the “real” world. And if I could somehow come to peace with the two opposing-clashing worlds that I currently broach, maybe create a union of them (Two of Cups—Equilibrium)), and if I could somehow calm my mind and take a break from the beleaguered work and distress of trying to determine how to survive out here (Seven of Wands—Breakthrough), I might somehow arrive at an inner place (because the card is reversed) of sanctity, sacramentalism, and “integrity” (Nine of Wands—Integrity). I appreciate the faceless figurine icon as a representation of humility, because I should like to remember to leave fate in the hands of the Creator. And I like that the icon is in front of an enclosed chapel space with a candle or light burning inside—again affirming that this peace needs to come from inside, and also because such spaces bring a sense of calm and reverence and prayer for me…but just as much as a huge flock of birds flying overhead (as this card also depicts) might evoke the same sense of reverence and prayer.
This leaves poor Prudence unaccounted for, and just like in my current dilemma, I don’t know how to find a place for her. I can’t justify—yet—a path for her in this game, and it is really what is so frustrating. We always feel like a game should be tidy—that someone finally wins the board game, or that all the cards in our game of solitaire line-up and fall into place exactly as the universe intended for them to do. But life isn’t like that. Someone always gets mired in the caramel pits off the rainbow path in the game of Candy Land® and loses because they can’t catch-up; sometimes we have to scratch our game of solitaire because we’ve run out of cards and there’s nowhere left to place anything. Sometimes the sacrifices we make for Justice leave us abandoned and sapped for Strength, and Prudence wanders off aimlessly like crazed Ophelia when “the world is out of joint.”
All is not lost, however. This is the other point of the game of tarot. The Virtues aren’t lost and don’t lose their meaning just because we can’t figure out where they fit in the scheme of things. The game still provides us with possible alternative paths that might eventually reveal how to make the world right once again. A person has to have Faith that the cards will shuffle and get laid-out in a way that brings all four Cardinal Virtues into harmony. We don’t just “find” the Virtues (just like we don’t—really—just “find” happiness). We take the Virtues as recommendations, as a map, and as sources of walking on our way to create them. They are noun and verb at the same time.
Coincidentally, the deck that I used to represent the four Cardinal Virtues is the Deck of the Bastard, created by Seven Star. In this deck, the Priestess (II) is represented as Prudence with her coiling snake and reflective mirror. Generally, in most decks, Prudence’s location is a mystery. (I plan to blog and conjecture on Prudence’s location in a future post). The Priestess (or la Papessa) card can also be interpreted as the Church herself—a personification of the Church, or alternatively as the Virtue of Faith. So maybe, come to think of it, this last card belongs in my heart as much as anywhere in the spread…
Although I have used myself as an example to explain how the Virtues can be assigned or applied to various branches of a pyramid spread, if this example were played-out with a client, I would’ve considered the game a success, because although we didn’t “place” or assign Prudence directly among the card game, after discussing the fact, we have formulated the task of keeping our vision open to her, and after making sure we have an understanding of the concept of Prudence, we can know that she does, in fact, hold a special place in our active life. Even if we weren’t able to come around to integrating one of the Virtues, it can be a message that maybe we should focus more on that particular Virtue (much like how when a certain suit is missing from a spread, that fact can be as much of a red flag about the absence of that suit’s character just as much as if it were the most represented suit).
Virtue cards represented by cards from the Deck of the Bastard by Seven Star (© Tarot by Seven, LLD).
All other cards in this spread are from the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless (© James Wanless).