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"The Missing Card" and "Blurring the Lines"

In my years as a Tarot reader I have heard many people remark that to get really accurate information you need to use spreads containing many cards, and the more cards, the better. They seem to believe that the amount of information you get is proportional to the number of cards you draw - but such rigid laws of proportion do not apply to the Tarot. The amount of information you get depends only on the amount of information you look for. There are trends and patterns in the Tarot that are often overlooked, but which can add many extra dimensions to a reading. In this article I will explore two of these dimensions.

The first of these will be familiar to any who use regular playing cards for games such as cribbage, where "runs" of cards in numerical order are worth points. I do three-card readings for the Free Reading Network, and on many occasions I draw two cards that are part of a three-card set - but the third and final card is missing. So I'd draw the Moon and Judgement but not the Sun, or Temperance and the Tower but not the Devil. Eventually I saw that it is not only the cards which appear in a reading that give information about the situation. The cards that don't appear are just as important. They show what should be there but is missing for some reason.

In the latter of the two cases mentioned above, the missing Devil card was a sign of disorder, and a lack of control. A firm hand and an unwavering will was needed, but the client was taking a relaxed approach, and it would cause trouble unless something was done to fix things and bring the proper energies back into play. As a matter of fact, the absense of the Devil card was more important to the meaning of the spread as a whole than the card which ended up taking its place! I have also seen numerous instances of Temperance and the Hanged Man together indicating a fear of change; Death is necessary to fill the gap, and is conspicuous by its absence.

The concept of the "missing card" doesn't just apply to three-card readings, of course. Say that, in a large spread, three of the four Pentacles court cards turn up - but one of them is absent. Or perhaps three cards of the same number appear in a reading, but the fourth is not present. That should be a major clue to the nature of the situation. If the client is asking about problems in their financial status, for example, a missing card could show that they are neglecting a certain aspect of the "big picture" and that bringing this missing piece into play will help them turn things around. A relationship question with a missing card might show what the client seeks (but is unable to find) in a partner.

At first glance it would seem that this technique only works for spreads containing three cards or more. Obviously, trying to find a "missing card" in a one-card draw is a pointless exercise because every card, except the one you drew, is missing. But just as there are ways to consider more than three cards in a three-card reading, there are ways to see one-card spreads as if they contain more than one card. One such technique, which I call "blurring the lines", was uncovered by one of my students. I explored and developed it, and I have found it to be quite useful for single-card draws.

The basic idea is as follows: Since all the cards in the Tarot fall into a clearly defined sequence, each card in the deck contains bits of the cards before and after it. So the Nine of Swords does not only represent sorrow and anguish, it represents sorrow after difficult times (Eight of Swords) but with the promise of release (Ten of Swords). The Fool would contain some of the Magician's energy, as well as some of the energy of whatever card comes before it in the sequence. This may be the Ten of Pentacles, the King, or the Page - or some other card. Whatever card you believe occupies place #77, some of its energy will invariably turn up in relation to the Fool.

How is this useful? I will use the example of the Six of Wands. To many readers it represents victory and acclaim. But how was this victory won? How was this acclaim earned? If you use the technique outlined about, you can see that the victory was earned through overcoming strife and adversity (the Five of Wands). It may even have come at a cost to the victor. You can also see that now is not the time to rest on one's laurels because further challenges lie ahead (the Seven of Wands). So in one card we have a present situation, some hints of what the past was like, and a potential future. Who can still contend that you cannot get useful information from one card?

Clearly this technique is not limited to broadening the depth of readings; it is useful for gaining insight into the natures and interpretations of the cards. But it is in readings that this technique really shines. One card becomes three in the mind of a reader who has mastered this method. Three cards can become nine and five can become fifteen. Large, unwieldy spreads like the Celtic Cross are no longer necessary because a five-card spread, properly analyzed, contains more information as a standard Celtic Cross. The trick is knowing where and how to look for it.

There are, without a doubt, many other techniques that can be used to see more cards than are really there, and hence maximize the information you can get out of a reading. They operate on different principles but have the same ultimate goal - to ensure that a spread is more than the sum of its cards.

Copyright 2000 James Rioux