A long time ago, while serving as an Air Force Officer, I received orders to report to a new base, for duty. There I met an older woman (older than ME, anyway, which wasn’t saying much, as I was only 24!) She was a Major, and she quickly introduced me to several other junior officers. I’d been shy all my life, and had very poor social skills – whereas the Major was well-liked, confident, and seemed unusually empathetic. One night, she invited me to her home for dinner, with some other young officers and their wives. We had a nice meal, with some stimulating conversation, and, over the coffee, we began to debate what we’d do next, as we were all enjoying ourselves and had no desire for the evening to end. One of the lieutenants there asked our hostess to read for us all.
I had no idea what that meant. Was she going to pick up a book and narrate it to us?
Several other people chimed-in their approval, and, absent any objections, our hostess went to the living room, and then returned to the table with a little wooden box. From this, she took an odd deck of cards. I could see that they were unusually large, and the deck appeared to be a lot thicker than one of normal playing cards. She began to shuffle them, and when this had gone on for a while, she stopped and offered the deck to the lieutenant, who accepted it and began to shuffle. When he handed it back, Maggie, our hostess, began to deal out the cards in a strange pattern that resembled a cross. As she placed each card, she made a comment, in the sing-song voice of long habit:
“This Is you … this Crosses you … this Crowns you … this lies Below … this Behind …this Before …”
She finished the cross, and began to deal cards in a column beside it, continuing her litany.
“This is how you see yourself … this is how another sees you … this is your hopes, your fears, or dreams … this is what it all leads to …”
It was the first time I’d ever seen a Tarot reading. I didn’t know any of these people well, but I knew I liked them, and most of them had known one another for years. As Maggie progressed through the reading, she seemed to test the meanings of the cards against one another … and the onlookers, more aware than I of what was happening in the life of the person she was reading for, seemed to feel the meanings she arrived at had genuine significance.
She read for another, with similar results, then a third … this time, when the cards had been dealt, she frowned down at them – and surprised me by calmly announcing that this reading was meaningless.
The young woman she was reading for (who was as new to the group as I) asked, with some slight anxiety, what that meant. Maggie explained to her that, often enough, the meanings of the cards just didn’t “hang together” … they bore no relation to things Maggie knew were going on in the woman’s life. When the cards produced nonsense, Maggie explained, it could mean many things – but most commonly it meant that nothing important was impending, or that too much was going on at the moment to make any sense of.
The woman was disappointed. “There is a lot going on for me right now, but that’s why I’d hoped this would give me some advice!”
“It has,” Maggie explained quietly. “The advice this reading gives is to use your own good judgement. When people receive such a result it can mean that there’s nothing to be done, but to wait out events – or that what is to be done will be so obvious it needs no guidance. In any case, while Tarot can give you insight into your life, it shouldn’t ever be used to make choices!”
The young woman looked a bit skeptical at that, but asked no further questions.
Then it was my turn.
Maggie shuffled, the offered me the deck to shuffle. It was a little awkward: I have small hands for a man, and the deck’s cards were outsized, but I eventually managed it without cards flying everywhere, and when I’d shuffled a few times I offered the deck back to Maggie. She seemed to take care to keep the deck oriented as it had been in my hands, and began to deal, repeating the litany she’d used before.
I’d already noticed the decks used different suits from the playing cards I was familiar with – and some weird cards I’d only seen in movies. Because this was my first Tarot reading, Maggie later insisted I write down the results, which is how I know that she dealt, in order, the 4 of Wands (upside down), the King of Wands, the Queen of Pentacles (upside down), the Fool (upside down), the Knight of Cups (Tarot decks, I learned, had a knight between the Jack, or Page, and the Queen of each suit), and The Magician (upside down). Next, in the column beside the cross, she dealt (bottom to top) The Knight of Swords, The Hanged Man, The Moon (upside down), and, finally, the 8 of Cups.
Maggie looked at the cards, frowning, for a fairly long time, then looked back up at me.
“You’re engaged, aren’t you?” She asked. I nodded and she looked back down at the cards, for another long moment, then shook her head. “I won’t read this in front of others,” she said, with some finality, then glanced up pointedly at the first person she’d read for.
He laughed and said, “I guess that’s a hint that it’s time to be gone!”
There was some good-humored moaning from the others, but they quickly gathered up their things, thanked Maggie for the evening, shook hands with me, and vanished out into the night. When the last was gone, I turned to Maggie, with a smile.
“It really is late,” I said, “Should I be on my way as well?”
Maggie shook her head.
“That’s up to you,” she said, “You didn’t ask me to read for you – and plenty of people think this sort of thing is bogus. If you’d like to hear your reading, though, it might be of some help to you.”
“Uh, sure!” I said (ever the masterful wordsmith!)
She led the way back to the table, and, when we were seated she began to read, her eyes on the cards and not me.
“The 4 of wands represents your current situation … upright, this card is about celebrations – often Marriages; reversed, as it is here, it speaks of a marriage postponed or on hold …”
Two days earlier, I’d spoken with my fiancé by phone, as she lived some distance away. She’d told me that her Mom was raising issues about the cost of the wedding. With some prompting, she admitted that there was plenty of money – but she thought her dad, who’d never been in favor of the match, was digging in, and urging her mom to use finances as an excuse. I’d replied that we didn’t need a big wedding: we could either have a smaller one, or forego the whole thing and get married in a civil ceremony. My fiancé, being the traditional southern girl that she was, had dreamed of a big church wedding her entire life, and begged me to keep clear of the situation and just let her deal with it. Reluctantly, I’d agreed – and I didn’t know anyone in this town well enough to speak to about any of this.
Maggie continued, matter-of-factly, as if reading from a book, rather than interpreting the complex meanings of cards.
“Your fiancé’s father, or some other important older male involved, is an obstacle to your goal … the reversed Queen of Pentacles represents her mother, or some other older female involved with money or fortune, who is currently making her influence felt … The reversed Fool is in the position of hidden influences – a circumstance you are either unaware of, or haven’t fully realized: it strongly indicates one or more people involved in this situation – perhaps everyone – is extremely immature, or behaving childishly.”
She finally looked up, to see me gaping at her. Apparently, she took that (correctly) as amazement at the reading’s accuracy.
“It’s a very clear reading,” she explained gently, “and this is a very common set of circumstances. Nothing brings out childishness like a wedding. Shall I continue?”
I nodded and she once more looked down at the cards.
“In the past, the Knight of Cups … this is a young person of sensitivity, artistic talent, and an unfortunately romantic frame of mind … he has a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve and to assume wishes will come true, rather than waiting to see.”
“Yeah, that would be me!” I growled.
Maggie shook her head.
“It’s not you so much as a pattern of behavior … It appears in the past as a reminder of previous mistakes and the lessons that could be learned from them – it’s a warning to consider your behavior and motivations, and try to avoid making the same mistakes again. The next position represents the near future – not so much a prediction, as it is a suggestion … the card there is the Magician, reversed. Upright this is a very positive card, indicating that you have all the tools – the skills and knowledge – to make your current efforts successful.”
“And reversed?” I asked.
“it’s not that you don’t have the tools,” she said quietly, “It’s more a question of whether this show should really go on … you almost certainly can prevail over your difficulties, and perhaps you should buckle down and give it your best effort – but you might also spend some time considering whether this really is in your best interest.”
I nodded, frowning, and she continued.
“This column of cards is what I call ‘The Pillar of Perception’ – the cards in these positions are about our perceptions, all save the very last. It’s important to remember that even the most perceptive of people often get it wrong – so these cards say that a perception exists – not that it actually matches reality. The first position is ‘How you see yourself’ … The Knight of Swords, in this position, is a brash young man, confident of victory, rushing into a fight. Next is ‘How another sees you’ … in this position, we have The Hanged Man –“
I laughed, “That must be about her father! I’m sure he’d want to hang me!”
Maggie smiled. “That might be it, if the card meant what you think it does – it doesn’t. The Hanged Man is the person out of step with the world: the one strong enough – and strange enough – to go his own way! Whoever sees you like this is either entranced with how unique you are – or worried about how different you are! The next card is a catch-all: hopes, fears, dreams, wants, wishes, desires … in this position, we have The Moon, reversed … the most mysterious card in the tarot deck, the Moon, upright, is about faith … about following a path and knowing it will lead you where you need to go. Here, the card is reversed, and most likely speaks to your fears that your instincts can’t be trusted. The final card is the 8 of Cups: the card in this position foretells an eventual outcome … the 8 of Cups speaks of great efforts spent on a labor of love, that simply didn’t work out – the only choice left is to turn and walk away.”
“You’re saying the marriage will fail?” I asked.
“No – but something will! The card speaks of effort spent for love – it often is speaking about a love relationship, but it can just as easily refer to bystanders: your fiancé, and perhaps you, go to efforts to be agreeable to her father and mother; she may go to efforts to be agreeable to your parents; perhaps you both labor to be agreeable to your siblings. The thing about a wedding that brings out so much childishness is that it compels families to accept one another – whether they are inclined to do so or not! This card foretells the failure of one such effort.”
There was more to the reading: Maggie and I ended up talking for some time before I said goodnight and headed home, thinking hard about my future. On the way, it occurred to me that it hadn’t been at all like the Hollywood version of a Tarot Reading – it had been much more like opening up to a trusted friend. The thing is, I didn’t know Major Maggie well, and I’m ordinarily an extremely private person – which is why I hadn’t spoken of my engagement to anyone, beyond revealing the bare fact that I was engaged. Yet here, for over 2 hours, I’d been discussing my hopes and my fears, and my private dreams, and more private dreads – and I felt I’d gained insight from the experience.
In the end, I did buckle down, and give it my best effort, as did my fiancé, and we were married – and almost from the beginning, it was a disaster. I won’t go into the details, but there are two important points I’ll mention. First, my wife was never sure of her love for me (her mother, with the mindset of the previous century, had drummed it into her head that a kind and gentle man with good prospects who wanted to marry her should be snapped up, rather than allowed to get away – and she had been too inexperienced to know what very poor advice that was!) Secondly, I had wanted so badly to be with her, that I’d talked myself, and her, into believing we were in love – and somehow, her dad, who was not the villain you might be thinking, had known it, and was, in his own way, trying to save us from our own stupidity.
I had labored long and hard to build a world shaped the way I’d wanted it – and, in the end, all of that effort had to be abandoned – the exact meaning of the 8 of cups Maggie had drawn for me, 7 years earlier. When we could no longer kid ourselves, we hugged, we wept, and finally agreed to divorce.
Despite the circumstances, I really hadn’t thought much of Tarot, in all that time. Many years after, I met another woman (also named Maggie, believe it or not,) who read for me, and offered to help me learn the Tarot. That was 15 years ago, and I’ve been reading ever since. I’ve experienced, over and over, the accuracy Tarot can achieve. I’ve learned, first hand, the way it feels to help someone gain a little better perspective into a problem. I’ve had clients return with confirmation of the accuracy of their readings – some joyful, and some upset. Time after time, reading after reading, the lessons of that first experience with Tarot have been hammered home:
1)Used correctly, Tarot can be a means to understand what’s going on in your life.
2)Tarot sometimes yields nonsense – the correct response to which is to relax, and deal with things with as much wisdom as you can. (NOT to shuffle and deal and shuffle and deal till you have an answer you can sort-of twist to match the facts!)
3)Some Tarot readings can be incredibly private, and shouldn’t be done in front of others.
4)Tarot should never, ever, be used to decide how to live your life – it’s a tool for understanding your life, not for deciding what to do day to day! (There are Tarot readers who seriously disagree with this, and who use certain positions in certain spreads as “Suggestions” of action – a practice I feel makes about as much sense as using the daily Horoscope in the paper to make life decisions!)
5)That said, understanding your life, your tendencies, and your hopes and fears, often does lead to insight into what actions to take – arriving at a decision yourself, with insight gained from Tarot, is a far different thing than following blindly the “Suggestions” of the cards!
6)Something Major Maggie never made clear to me, but later-on-Maggie did make a point of: if Tarot provides answers, you should be EXTREMELY careful to whom you address the questions!
That discussion is where we’ll begin our exploration of Tarot.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish