What is working well? Appreciative inquiry
What's my problem? A Tarot spread

Two for one: A tarot technique

Rules? What rules? If there are rules to a tarot reading, it's time to break them.

[A modified version of this technique was published in SynTAROTis.]

The Sceptic's Tarot will show you ways to reinterpret, add, substitute, reshuffle, combine, replace, remove, or reject a card, or play games with the cards.

Let's start with substitute.

A small detour: In 1971, Bob Eberle gave us SCAMPER, a technique to solve problems. SCAMPER stood for (S)ubstitute, (C)ombine, (A)djust, (M)odify (or magnify or minify), (P)ut to other uses, (E)liminate, (R)reverse or rearrange, pointing to actions one can take to modify or invent a creative new product or service.

You ask yourself, "What can I substitute?" or "What can I combine?" until you have exhausted your imagination.

So what does all this have to do with tarot?

A normal tarot reading involves cards in a pattern or a row. These cards are 'read' to explore a problem or tricky situation. What does not happen is that one card gets substituted for another.

Until the "Two for one" technique makes its bow. It involves two cards for the same position.

A second difference is that the cards are also used to brainstorm solutions, instead of just being read.

Here is how it works.

  1. In step one, you select a spread, draw random cards, and read these cards in the usual way. Make your notes in your tarot journal.
  2. In step two, from the cards in the spread, you now pick one to take away. Any card. For whatever reason. Perhaps you drew a card you feel is negative, or you didn't like what a particular card had to say about a particular position in the spread. Or perhaps you simply want to explore a particular aspect of the reading further.
  3. Thirdly, from your deck (you can reshuffle it first if you wish), you draw another card at random to replace the card you have taken away. This card will change the character of the reading.
  4. Reread the spread, this time with the substituted card.
  5. All the cards can be used for inspiration to find solutions to the problem.

What new insight do you gain? Did the substituted card do what you hoped it would?

Sample exercise

This exercise will show you how a card is substituted for another and how it changes the character of the reading.

Abby's son, Chris, refuses to go to the university his father, Don, has selected. Don wants Chris to study something safe, like accounting. Chris, however, wants to travel the world, making an income by selling his paintings.

Don is furious with Chris and worried about his son's future. Don believes in university and a safe career; Chris believes that his art is more important than anything else and that it is good enough to make a living.

Abby finds herself in the middle, trying to make peace.

For a spread, Abby chooses:

  1. Problem
  2. Cause
  3. Consequences
  4. Solution

Using Mark McElroy's Bright Idea Deck, she draws:

  1. Red 5 (Five of Wands) for Problem
  2. Guidance (The Hierophant) for Cause
  3. Green 7 (Seven of Pentacles) for Consequences
  4. Blue Doing (Knight of Cups) for Solution.

Here's what it looks like:

Two for oneCard 1: Problem (Five of Wands)

On the card, two men are fighting, and a woman stands between them, trying to keep them from hurting each other.

The card perfectly illustrates the problem.

Card 2: Cause (The Hierophant)

The card shows a man (who looks a little like Indiana Jones!) climbing steps up a mountain and holding up a globe. A cable cart dangles in the distance.

Two sets of values are clashing.

Don wants Chris to take the easier, and safer, route (the cable cart), while Chris insists on a more dangerous and difficult route (climbing the stairs up the mountain).

Don is afraid that Chris will find it more difficult than he expects to establish himself as an artist (he might have to climb the mountain without the stairs and a guide).

Both have exaggerated fears that this decision will decide the rest of Chris’s life (the globe).

Card 3: Consequences (Seven of Pentacles)

The card shows a group of people evaluating a painting.

Chris might find himself unable to sell enough paintings, or at a required price, to make a living. He is afraid that, if he follows his father’s plan, he will be a mere spectator of the art world, not a participant.

Don fears that Chris’s art will not be good enough. His stubborn insistence on a university is souring the relationship between father and son, and the disagreement is making Abby anxious.

Card 4: Solution (Knight of Cups)

The card shows two women in a cave trying to find a way out. One woman holds a candle that has a feeble light; the other holds up a torch. The first woman has her arms crossed in front of her.

The first woman (Don) is closing herself off (crossed arms) from opportunities and solutions by arguing with too little information (the candle). The second woman (Chris) is holding up a torch that illuminates much of the cave, but even she has not found a way out.

Abby feels the situation needs to be ‘illuminated’ by expanding the possibilities. Using all four cards for inspiration, she brainstorms the following options. Chris could:

  • travel for a specified period, a year perhaps, then return to study ‘something sensible’ (Don’s words) (the vehicles in Card 1),
  • attend university in a different country (the globe in Card 2),
  • have his portfolio evaluated by experts (people evaluating a painting), and
  • identify mentors who could 'illuminate' him by giving guidance on making a living from his art (the torch).

The spread as a whole

The spread illustrates a movement from anger and near-violence to a peaceful quest for 'illumination' or a way out.

This movement echoes Abby's hope that, with more information, the arguments will cease.

The two middle cards now take on connotations of questing.

Substitute a card with a randomly drawn card

Abby decides to draw a replacement card for "Cause."

She draws Trump XVI: Demolition (The Tower).

Reading for Two for One--The Tower

This card, substituted for the Hierophant, changes the interpretation of the spread.

The second reading begins with two cards that evoke violence and anger.

The final two cards now suggest a desperate quest to prevent ‘demolition.’

If ‘demolition’ is the cause of the problem, it could mean that Chris and Don are blinded by anger and fear and that communication has broken down.

They are ‘looking at the wrong picture’ (Evaluation).

They are fumbling in the dark (‘illumination’ with a candle) and ignoring other possibilities (the woman with the torch).

Although Abby feels the problem has not yet reached the stage of ‘demolition,’ it is a possibility. The search for ‘illumination’ now seems even more urgent and should include the unconventional. Don and Chris need to break through their narrow views.

Stimulated to search for more options, Abby suggests:

  • identifying art experts in various countries with whom Chris could study (so he will still travel),
  • mapping a route to include museums and institutions to study the works of masters,
  • attending a university in a different country to study art,
  • studying ‘something sensible’ part-time, and part-time art.

These possibilities will require more compromise from both sides if Chris is to ‘follow his dreams.’

That's it! Let me know if you find the technique useful.

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