Tarot on a Plate: The Deconstructed Reading

Tarot on a Plate: The Deconstructed Reading

Tune in to Masterchef. There’s a pile of crumble, or ‘soil’. A neat dollop of fruit compote and, if you’re lucky, a side of custard in a teeny jug (read crème anglaise, if you will). A huge moon-white plate showcases each artful plonking. And as we know, plating in Masterchef is very important indeed, involved foam, some kind of piped gel, and micro herbs. I can say this with all the seriousness of a Gregg’s sausage roll. 

And yet. As a foodie and tarotist, I’m seeing the process of reading as deconstruction: arranging a set of cards in a formation which suggests how a jumble of thoughts, experiences and aspirations might be temporarily separated and expressed in a way that makes sense. We’re rearranging the client’s crumble in one clean serving, looking at the fruity bits, the hard topping, the runny flow of existence. (Of course, I’m being free with my metaphors here, but that’s my job: to make connections, one card to the next, and ultimately delve into how tarot readings work – for us, as readers, and for the client.)

Deconstruction creates space. It shows up the gaps between ideas and creates definition through separation. And that’s a key aspect of divination: to walk into unknown spaces, to feel and to interpret what’s not immediately apparent. When we simplify, we see.

In Ideal Suggestions,Kristin Prevallet says: 

‘Imagine a spider web woven between two bushes – a web that shapes and defines what otherwise would have been an empty space. Now imagine that the web reveals the actual texture of the space in between – because these two are form the same thread, woven like cosmic strings, vibrating existence into being.’

Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics, Selah Saterstrom (Essay Press, 2017)

Reading this quotation, I imagine a spread of tarot cards as the web, and the spaces between them the texture. A further image is writing a sentence in ink and lemon juice. The first and last words are in ink, and the words in between are written in juice. When we read cards, we’re holding the paper over a flame, seeing the hidden words, the mysteries, writing themselves onto the surface. They look different from the words recorded in ink: scorched, sepia, perhaps incomplete. Something substantial is emerging, which was always there, and now it’s appearing in the once-blank space in a sentence. In tarot, the cards in a spread create two things: a pattern of physical cards, and a pattern of space between them. As the physical cards hold energy, energy also exists in ‘negative’ space. (By the way, BETWEEN is the Switchword for activating clairvoyance, or clear-seeing – see my site www.switchwordspower.com). 

Of course, we want to make sense of a reading, to bring every card’s meaning into a whole narrative that makes sense to us and to the reader. But if we’re focussed purely on this – making a linear story from a layout of cards in which there is only a beginning, middle and end with no pauses, no gaps – we can deny ourselves the space for insight. I’ll call this the ‘third space’, the realm of imagination, intuition, sensation. It’s that split-second gap in which intuitive ‘flashes’ happen; a disruption in the narrative in which truth raises its hand.

Client A wanted to know the outcome of a relationship issue – would she stay with her husband of twenty-two years? And with this direct question, she was giving me her power. I didn’t want it. Neither did I want to turn counsellor or advisor, turning the question back to her, saying, ‘What do you think? Do you want to leave this relationship?’. Instead, I offered her the elements, the life-fragments represented by each card. Unsurprisingly, one card was Death, at which she almost shouted, ‘That’s the end! It’s the end of the relationship.’ (We were at a wedding at the time, which made the reading rather poignant…) The next card was the Six of Cups. The client, who had some tarot experience, wanted to interpret this with Death as ‘And then he comes back!’ But what spoke to me in that moment was the gap – what lay between Death and the Six? Looking at each card without trying to make a story triggered an image. If felt as if the two figures on the Six, a man and woman, had no place in space or time. They were floating on a cloud by a fairy tale castle, disconnected from reality. There was no feeling of continuance after Death, despite the traditional meaning of reunion associated with the Six. I related these impressions without offering an answer to her question. It was for her to know and to experience. And taking that position in a reading can be difficult, because as readers we’re so judged on whether we get it ‘right’. I could have given her a straight prediction in a few minutes, but that space-in-between was telling me not to do so. 

A year later, this client contacted me to say she and her husband had tried a relationship re-boot, and enjoyed six months of feeling they were back on track. But this didn’t last, and hadn’t feel real; they couldn’t recapture past happiness and so they separated – but had felt glad they had recommitted to working it out, giving their marriage one last try. They’re on good terms. She’s since moved on to a new partner.

As readers, it’s not for us to offer absolutes, or fix a problem, whatever that is. What we can do is present the cards and then be willing to walk into the spaces and pathways in between; to deconstruct that irresistible narrative that wants to shout out the beginning, the middle, the happy or unhappy ending without pausing for breath. To not have the whole crumble in one mouthful. And instead let those spaces, the gaps on the plate, speak. 

It’s a tricky subject to write about, this third space in tarot. By nature it is indefinable. Putting it into words feels like trying to catch a dream just as you’re waking up: a slippery fish that won’t be landed. Think too much, grab too hard, and the dream-fish disappears. Immerse yourself in the stream and follow its glint, and there you are, in the third space without quite knowing how or why – which can be indescribably magical. 

Cards in the featured image are from HBO’s Game of Thrones Tarot (Chronicle Books, 2018). Liz Dean (author); Craig Coss (artist).

When the Lyrics Get You: The Led Zep Spread

When the Lyrics Get You: The Led Zep Spread

When the lyrics get you: The Led Zep spread

Ever wake more than one morning with an insistent tune in your head? This week, it’s Stairway to Heaven.Taking me right back to warm cider and joss-stick burns on my mam’s carpet, it’s one of the defining rock anthems from the Greatest Band in the World Ever. The lyrics keep running around my head from around 6.30am, which is horrendously early for me, so I’m giving in to this, getting up, making tea and finding my notebook, writing down the words I recall… May Queen, piper, gold, makes me wonder, bustle in your hedgerow (whatever it means, it feels epically poetic). I don’t have my glasses on at this point, and the daylight’s just coming through the kitchen window… so I’m not sure my scribbles are even legible. But the words, reading them back, echo with laughter (sorry, couldn’t resist) and soon the song bird will soon be singing. Yes, I decide to do whatever respectable tarot read should do in the circumstances to make sense of this: create a spread. I’ve used fragmented lyrics from Stairway to create card positions. Try it and see what you think.

Hitting the Target: Tarot Shots

Hitting the Target: Tarot Shots

Hitting the Target: Tarot Shots

Last week I went to an air rifle range. Yes, me. Uncomfortable with speed as I am – I have an aversion to jet skis and even riding a bike downhill – I found myself agreeing with the Prof that it might be ‘a laugh’. Me, the Prof, a grandad, father and his son aged about nine who was probably going to shoot the pants off us all, we’re sitting at tables in a grey warehouse in Washington (that’s Tyne and Wear, not the US, btw) and given instruction by hefty Scotsman Andy, the Range Officer. We’re taught how stay safe, then how to load our rifles with fiddly wee pellets.

Rather than feel I was about to enter some kind of Call of Duty hell, the quiet descends. There’s no machismo and I’m feeling strangely comfortable and calm. We start popping our rifles. The great thing is, no one can see my target – so they’re not going to see how shit I am at this, I think. I have evidence of past poor performance. The Prof advised me strongly before arriving that I wasn’t to refer to shooting as ‘pointing the stick’.(We’d been clay pigeon shooting once and had to abandon it because I was incapable of pointing. Actually pointing at a moving target. Ended up giving my shots to the Prof, but that’s another story.)

Andy comes to check on our progress and gives me a few pointers (ha ha), and my shots begin to improve. I actually hit a bullseye! For the next hour, all five of us are in deep concentration mode. We’re collectively thinking about lining up our shots, keeping the trigger depressed for two seconds after firing to let the pellet reach the end of the barrel… oh yes, it’s getting technical. And I realise I’m really getting into this. The precision involved in preparation. Rather like Temperance, carefully balancing volatile factors to get the right formula: the hold on the rifle, body position, intention, the timing.

I begin to get shooting the way I get fishing. That maybe it’s not the target or the catch, but the process – like a meditation, becoming more attuned to your breathing, movement and thoughts, which impact upon the outcome. On the way home, I thought how I’d express this in tarot. Say we begin with an outcome card, or target, then the question is – how do we get there? What’s the catalyst that creates the right outcome?

Here’s the spread I put together. First, consciously choose a ‘target’. Go through your deck, and select a card that most expresses your ideal outcome or goal. Lay it to the right.

Then shuffle and choose three more cards, laying them as below:

The Tarot Shot Spread



What to focus on



The trigger: access to the target                                Target card



What position to adopt


You can repeat the reading as needed, choosing different target cards.




Angel of the North I Salute You

Angel of the North I Salute You

Picture Credit: Owen Humphreys, PA/Telegraph Online

Angel of the North I Salute You

Towering over Gateshead, the Angel of the North looks over the roads and train tracks that lead to the heart of Tyneside. Owen Humphrey’s amazing photograph of our steel guardian, taken today in a blizzard, got me thinking about the raw power inherent in Antony Gormley’s landmark sculpture and how at odds this is with the commercial portrayal of our favourite celestial beings (think blond, winged sylphs in chiffon looking meaningfully up at the midnight sky, framed diamante wings…  you know the kind of thing). Our Angel of the North, now nearly 20 years old, was commissioned as a symbol of hope to a region in transition between heavy industry and the information age. Built from steel in a factory that once built ships, the Angel is my kind of celestial. It’s probably because as long as I’ve been reading tarot cards, I’ve related to angels as powerful agents of change. Here’s why.

There are three principle angels in the major arcana, and all have a dynamic role in the cards’ interpretations. (This came up for me I was writing my Ultimate Guide to Tarot, while explains all the symbols on the major and minor arcana cards.) We have:

* Archangel Raphael on VI The Lovers, who presides over a couple faced with a decision; Raphael brings love and the strength to make a decision that will impact upon our future.

* Archangel Michael on card XIV Temperance, is the alchemist of time; Michael brings protection and courage to manage what we must deal with in the present moment.

* Archangel Gabriel on card XX Judgement heralds the Day of Atonement. Gabriel awakens us to the impact of our past actions.

See the cards’ numbers – VI, XIV, XX. Add them together: 6 + 14 + 20 = 40. Reduce to a single digit – 4 + 0 = 4. Four is the number of the angels.

What also connects these three cards, for me, is the concept of time. Time to make a decision, time to get the formula right, time to sharpen our awareness, to become fully conscious of our role here on earth.

It might also be time for that blizzard to let up, though…

Why I Love Game of Thrones Tarot LOVERS

Why I Love Game of Thrones Tarot LOVERS

Why I Love Game of Thrones Tarot LOVERS

Today, when a US journalist asked, ‘What’s your favourite card in the whole Game of Thrones tarot deck?’ I was momentarily stumped. ‘Favourite’ has a load of connotations for me, as in which baby out of all the cards is best. I can’t answer that one. When I switched the question to ‘Which do I feel most passionate about?’ there is a card that, for me, pulls at the heartstrings. One could even call it ‘uplifting’ (yes, there is a heart-warming moment amidst the chaos of beheadings, betrayals, and blood…): it’s card VI, The Lovers, which depicts Jon Snow and fire-kissed Wildling Ygritte atop the Wall (Kit Harington and Rose Leslie). After a hair-raising, perilous climb that almost kills them both, the sun illuminates a truly magical vista. As Ygritte says, “I’ve waited my whole life to see the world from up there.” They kiss, grateful for their survival and for each other. This scene just had to be our chosen scene for Game of Thrones Tarot Lovers.

The kiss depicted so beautifully by artist Craig Coss on the GoT tarot Lovers card captures a timeless moment when love is perfect. We know their time together is precious which, for me, makes the card all the more evocative. As tarotistas will know, the Lovers card also begs a decision. Jon and Ygritte may be together now, but tribal allegiances divide them – and eventually tear them apart.

After Craig painted the card came the press announcement in September 2017 that Jon and Ygritte were engaged, and lovers in real life. In fact, there’s some talk that doing those scenes on the Wall led to Kit Harington falling in love with Rose Leslie. They kept their relationship under wraps for four years, so they were, secretly, lovers all along…

Now that, indeed, was a good prediction.

Oh, Solitaire

Oh, Solitaire

Oh, Solitaire…

‘A man comes. He travels over water. He brings violence and destruction.’ Remember that reading from Solitaire, tarot-reader extraordinaire, in Live and Let Die? I’ve never forgotten it. The film had voodoo, an evil drug lord, tropical islands. And tarot. Magic was afoot; some kind of mystery I wanted a part of, and still do. And of course, there were Solitaire’s magnificent outfits. No sackcloth for her, rasping fortunes from a damp cave or forest hut. Solitaire was just so… glamourous. She wore metallic eye shadow. She had a magnificent red feathered headdress and matching cape and her own desk for readings.

Just to break the spell for a moment, the film is loaded with racial stereotyping. Then there’s the misogyny. See our Solitaire, imprisoned on the fictional island of San Monique in the Caribbean lest she falls in love and loses her power? Evil crime-lord Dr Kananga, the ruler of San Monique, values only her virginity and her prophesies. But this passed way over my ten-year-old head, watching Solitaire lay out Fergus’ Tarot of the Witches, the deck used in the film. It was the first tarot I had seen, and Solitaire, beset with jewels, beauty and mystery, was the locked-away Princess about to be rescued by fair Bond.

Here’s Solitaire’s spread, as seen in Live and Let Die, along with how you might allocate the card positions in a reading. I first developed this reading when researching The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Spreads. Difficult to see the exact card positions from the film, but I’ve followed Solitaire’s layout as closely as I could.