How The Tarot Works
As it is stands today, the tarot is a deck of 78 cards, including the so-called Minor Arcana, or Suits (Swords, Wands, Cups, and Pentacles), consisting of 56 cards (each suit has cards numbering from 2 to 10, plus an Ace, Page, Knight, Queen, and King); and the Major Arcana, consisting of various figures or concepts, such as The Emperor, The High Priestess, The Chariot, The Tower, The Devil, The Magician, The Fool, The Sun, Temperance, Strength, and The World.
Each card has a meaning, or, really, a range of meanings. For example, The Lovers could signify anything from temptation, to a love affair, to an artistís dream (his love of art and the artistic life), to a difficult choice to be made in life ("Should I stay with my wife or leave her for another woman? Should I study accounting, or music?")
There are also a variety of "spreads" in use today - patterns of laying down the cards - in which each position also has a meaning, which provides a context for interpreting the card which is set down there. For example, as the 6th card in the popular Celtic Cross spread, The Lovers might signify a love affair appearing on the horizon, or just beginning to develop, whereas as the 5th card laid down, it might indicate a love affair that was on the way out, beginning to fade or lead to something else; even one that was already past.
Potential Meanings of the Cards Laid Down in the Celtic Cross Spread (this is one variation of the C.C. Spread)
The Celtic Cross - Card Positions
6 1/2 5 9
1. "Significator." Reflects the current situation of the subject, the starting point of the read.
2. "Crossing Card." Reveals what is generating the main problem or obstacle to the subject.
3. "Crowning Card." Describes the subjectís situation, on a more "surface" level.
4. "Base of the Matter." Describes the base, root of what is behind or underneath the current situation.
5. "Past Influences." Describes a situation which has influenced the subjectís life, but may be on the way out.
6. "Forthcoming Influences." Describes a situation that is about to materialize or become important in the subjectís near future.
7. "Where One Finds Oneself." Describes the situation in which the subject will soon find himself, or should find himself.
8. "Views of Others." Reveals the way others see and feel about the subject.
9. "Hopes and Fears." Indicates the hopes and fears of the subject.
10. "Final Outcome." Describes the final development and outcome of the process and situation which is being dealt with in the read. (It does not indicate the final outcome for a personís entire life.)
(Note: The set meanings of these positions may sometimes be overruled by the readerís intuition, when other meanings seem to spring from the configuration of cards laid down on the table - for the cards sometimes seem to weave connections of their own. At such times, the cards may create alternative frames of reference, based upon each other, rather than upon their exact positions within the spread. In my own readings, to give an example, I am generally very liberal in how I take the cards in the 8th and 9th positions, while I tend to adhere more strictly to some of the other positions. I have also found that, in some spreads, the reading really hinges upon the dynamics manifested by a strategic group of cards, while other cards seem to be "turned off." These cards cannot be underestimated, however, because they may, in fact, be exerting a subtle influence, contributing to the overall mood of the read; or they may even be "sleeper cards", cards pregnant with meaning, which are not yet understood. For this reason, even when I am doing a long-distance read - as with this service - I always list each card that I have drawn in a spread, whether it forms a key component of my reading, or not.)
The cardsí meanings may be further affected by the questions posed before the cards are laid down, because it is assumed the cards drawn will have a special bearing on that question, and should usually be interpreted in light of it. For example, if the person the cards are being spread for has specifically asked a question concerning sex and love, The Lovers card is more likely to relate directly to just that, and to refer to lovers, real or potential; to love affairs, desire, and cravings of the heart. On the other hand, if the person has asked to be illuminated about his economic future, there is a greater probability that The Lovers card might relate to some crucial career choices, or important decisions to be made at work.
It should be pointed out that the tarot is a resource. The exact manner in which it is used varies greatly from reader to reader. There are many different spreads in use, many different ways of drawing cards, and many readers place very different emphases upon certain cards and adhere to the general meanings of the cards and spreads with greater or lesser degrees of strictness/flexibility. The only really right way to read the tarot is for the reader to be true to a system which works for him, or her.
Of course, in these modern, scientific times, the tarot is frequently dismissed as mere superstition. Its operating principles and points of contact with reality are questioned. How could the future be foretold? How could the answers to the deepest questions of someoneís life really be produced by the random drawing of cards out of a tarot deck?
Of course, if one is to accept Science, in its present state, and at this present time, as all-knowing and definitely in touch with every nuance of reality, then the tarot, astrology, and psychic visions must all be dismissed as baseless, and their results written off as delusions, deceptions, or the products of coincidence. Some of us, however, who respect Science, yet do not see its work as done, find that there remains ample room in the Universe for us to continue to believe in the mysterious forces and connections necessary to bestow plausibility upon our occult methods.
Of course, we are speaking of forces utterly mystical and spiritual. And yet, no more mysterious and spiritual than the forces involved when we make a prayer, and hope for it to be answered. In the case of the tarot, the truly sincere reader will treat his cards with the utmost respect, just like sacred objects, and he will earnestly seek, through prayer and the formation of deep intention, to connect himself to the divine forces needed to guide him as the deck is shuffled, then as the fateful cards are slowly drawn and laid down. The preparation of the reading should have all the feel and power of a ritual, and an invocation; it should be filled with the intention of "finding", of "being given" the "right cards", the cards that will most help the person who has come to have light shed upon his path, and to have the weight of not knowing lifted from his shoulders. With this initial intention and drive to reach the right cards (which, in a really strong reading, may come into being in the same magical way as synchronicities), the foundation for a great reading is laid.
Of course, the initial encounter and lay-out of the cards needs to be followed by insightful and flexible interpretation. The reading should be artistic and intuitive, flowing from impressions and things that seem to jump out or to fall into place as one looks at the cards. Imagination should be set free, to connect with hidden, and sometimes little-used dimensions within the cards: hidden nuances which may also be manifested in the relationships between cards, and in their effects upon each other. There should be a sense of freedom, given form by the cards, but not confined by them. For the very best results, the same as in dream interpretation, there should be a degree of constructive interaction between the reader and the subject, because interaction allows the complex possibilities residing in the cards to be focused and applied more precisely to the specifics of the subjectís life. Whenever this is not possible, the reading ought to be left open-ended, providing the subject with several alternative lines of interpretation (if, indeed, there are). Essentially, the subject will then be given the raw material with which to view the private details of his life through the prism of the tarot.
A fundamental key to top-notch interpretation of the tarot is the preservation of the agency of the subject, which depends upon a basically fluid metaphysical outlook, in which the future is not held to be something that "befalls" us, but as something which we participate in creating. Every moment contains, within it, the birthplace of innumerable alternative futures, and every decision we make or do not make, every action we take or do not take, every attitude we accept or reject, possesses the power to generate a different outcome in our lives. The tarot, really, therefore, should not be seen as the revelation of an unavoidable future, but as the revelation of a potential future, which we still have the power to affect. And so the tarot reading need not conclude with, "You will fall into a pit tomorrow", but rather, with, "There is a pit ahead, and if you continue on the path you are traveling on today, you will fall into it." It ought not to proclaim, "Your marriage will end", but rather, warn, "There is a problem in your marriage that, if it is not resolved, could cause it to come apart." Although there is no hard-and-fast rule of tarot interpretation, the good reader and the good reading should usually maintain this space for the human will to play its part. Otherwise, the tarot loses its usefulness, and could become a tool for conditioning people to accept what they do not need to accept, a self-fulfilling prophecy, even a source of demoralization and fear, depressing the spirit of the subject, and robbing him of his will to struggle. Life is filled with struggle, hope, and dreaming, and the tarot is not meant to deter this, nor to supersede this, only to play a part in the drama that is human life, by increasing the vision of the traveler, as he travels, with his own legs, upon his own road.
One obvious example of a bad tarot read would be the automatic equation of the "Death" card with physical death (luckily, this is something that only the most rigid and insensitive of readers would do). That card can just mean so many things, and symbolize death on so many levels, some of them ultimately constructive (though rarely painless). A person could die, a dream could die, a relationship could die, a job could be lost, money could be lost; but, on the other hand, an illusion, a limitation, a negative condition could also die, translating into "liberation." And even when something desired was lost, its "death" might only be the painful, but necessary, means by which something better was able to find its way into a personís life. Hindu religion recognizes and embodies the creative aspect of destruction in the God Shiva, whose "emptying" and "leveling" of the world creates the space needed for new things to arise. While the Sufi sage and poet Rumi captured the essence of loss as a veiled form of gain in his poem, "Joy at Sudden Disappointment", in which he recounted a tale in which an eagle is said to have swooped down, snatched Muhammadís boot before he could put it on, and flown away with it. Muhammad was, at first, outraged and upset, till he saw a poison snake, which had crawled into his boot and hid there while it was off of his foot, fall out. And then he realized that the eagle - "the thief" - had actually saved his life. "You took away my grief," Muhammad thanked the eagle, "and I was grieved!" And Rumi added: "Donít grieve for what doesnít come. Some things that donít happen keep disasters from happening." (The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, p. 170, 171.) Or as Bob Marley asked in "Coming in from the Cold", to drive home the point: "Why do you look so sad and forsaken? Donít you know, when one door is closed another is open?"
The compassionate tarot reader will not leave you alone on the dark road of a hard card. He will explain the meaning of the card, and attempt to frame its meaning in such a way as to give you the maximum room possible to exercise your will, and either avoid the outcome, soften its impact, or transform it into a positive learning experience, which will further your growth and development - empowering you, rather than crushing you.
Nor will the talented tarot reader limit his interpretation of the cards to what is going on outside of you. It is not merely a question of outside forces acting upon you, but of your own internal dynamics, attitudes, and conditions interacting with those forces, and participating in the generation of your unique reality. For example, two people, working in the same workplace, may have very different experiences. One person may feel happy, well-treated, and fortunate to have the job while another person may feel miserable, abused, confined and stunted on that same job. It does not mean that one person is right or wrong, or better or worse, or stronger or weaker, or smarter or dumber, or more or less "enlightened", than the other. It simply means that the two people are different, and that different psychological processes are going on in each one of them, producing very different forms of reaction, very different emotional responses to the exterior conditions being faced.
Not only do these differences receive the impact of outside forces differently, to SOME extent they may also elicit, attract, and create the outside forces which act upon the individual; meaning that what seems to be coming from the outside is often, at least in part, generated from the inside. For example, in the workplace, a workerís attitude may rub the boss the wrong way, whether that attitude is negative - like grumpiness, or arrogance, or laziness - or positive, like pride (not a slavish a-kisser), or a sense of justice (speaking up for his rights and the rights of others). Sometimes, something about the workerís past or bossí past, which remains alive as an inner dynamic, may set off conflict. For example, a boss whose self-esteem has been crushed by another boss, or by cruel and overdemanding parents, may "need" his job as a place to recover his self-esteem, by being treated like a God, or just as a place to wreak his vicarious revenge upon those who hurt him in the past, by hurting others, in their place, who are "weaker" than himself. Likewise, a worker who has had a problem with his own parents in the past, and has an "issue" with authority figures, may be so overprotective of his "freedom", that he resists the bossí normal expression of his authority in the workplace, threatening to destabilize the productive operations. Sometimes, just an innate quality of the worker or boss may provoke conflict. For example, a worker who is more intelligent than his boss may excite jealousy and fear, and incite persecution and harassment for no other reason than that he is who he is. While a boss who is overweight may trigger some response in some workers, reinforcing the stereotype of the exploitative boss who lives off the sweat of others, while enjoying the fruits of their labor.
It is therefore important for the tarot reader, as much as possible, to put the subject in contact with his inner state(s) as well as with the forces of the exterior world, since neither world - inner or outer - really exists alone, or is independent of the other. In this way, the deepest reading should, in some way, help the subject to reflect upon his own inner condition, and even offer elements of psychoanalysis. (Of course, the tarot reader is not a psychoanalyst. Yet, even so, he may sometimes use the cards to help the subject look within, to find where and how certain inner realities connect with outer circumstances.)
To give an idea of how the meanings of cards may be drawn out and applied, I will give some examples, using a card from my own deck, the "Mythic Tarot" deck. This deck, developed, or at least expounded upon, by Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene, with artwork by Tricia Newell (The Mythic Tarot: A New Approach to the Tarot Cards), is a reworking of the famous Rider-Waite deck, with symbols and meanings reestablished on foundations of Greek mythology. (The Rider-Waite deck, perfected around 1910 in England, by Arthur Edward Waite, the master conceiver, and Pamela Coleman-Smith, the brilliant artist, is the classic tarot deck, which is most often used today. Its host of archetypal characters, projected through evocative imagery and magnificent pictorial symbolism, stirs the imagination, liberates the intuition, and seems to trigger deep occult communications capable of interacting with our surface lives.) The Mythic deck which I use parallels the Rider-Waite deck in many ways, but also attains a life of its own, utilizing images and story-lines taken from the Greek myths to connect to the issues of our present-day lives. (The suits of Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles, for example, relate to the myths of Eros and Psyche, Jason, Orestes, and Daedalus.) As these myths are exceedingly profound, often reaching into the very core of the human psyche, and touching our essence at its point of origin, the Mythic Tarot is endowed with a special capacity for attaining human insight and psychological depth.
Before going on, just to give an idea of the parallels between the Rider-Waite and Mythic decks:
In the Rider-Waite deck, the archetype of "The Emperor" is effectively portrayed in a powerful symbolic way, which is not, however, completely grounded in any particular culture or history. The crown of the mighty, enthroned figure, for example, seems European or Russian or Byzantine, his beard seems Slavic or Assyrian or even rabbinical, the ramsí heads on the throne could be of ancient Greece or elsewhere, and the asate-cross scepter in his right hands seems reminiscent of the Egyptian ankh. This Emperor is a subconscious force brought to life with elements of different times and places by the artistís hand. In the Mythic Tarot, The Emperor is represented, simply, as Zeus. The cardís universal and archetypal lines of interpretation are maintained, while offering additional possibilities to the reader familiar with the mythic lore surrounding Zeus, and his powers and activities.
In the case of the card of "The Chariot", we see, once again, a powerful archetypal representation in the Rider-Waite deck, which seems to combine elements of ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, and medieval Europe, as a warrior dressed somewhat like an ancient Roman, rides in a chariot pulled by Egyptian sphinxes, through what looks like a medieval European town. In the Mythic deck, The Chariot is represented by Ares, the Greek God of War, riding in a chariot pulled by two horses. Once again, the interpretation of the cards in the two decks is similar - The Chariot often signals conflict, strife, the manifestation of aggression - but in the Mythic deck, for anyone well-versed in the Greek myths, a whole secondary world of mythic content and knowledge becomes available to tap into.
Of course, what matters is not so much the deck, as the reader, and the readerís relationship to his deck. Which concepts and images fuel him, excite him, open him up the most, best connect him to the mystical place of connection, which is the sacred space in which the tarot reading ought to take place?
This having been said, let me take a card from the Mythic deck to demonstrate some of the possibilities contained in a single card. Letís use "The King of Cups." This figure is portrayed, in Rider-Waite imagery, as a rather severe, unhappy-looking man, to me more reminiscent of some powerful medieval cleric than a king. Nonetheless, he does represent a powerful force in the "Suit of Cups", which is the suit of emotions, and he could portray a person who is caring, compassionate, and helpful to others, a person who wants to love and be loved, yet who may also be characterized by mood shifts, and who may emotionally withdraw, at times, or not give himself completely in a relationship, as a result of his sensitivity, which enables him to be wounded deeply. To avoid that hurt, which he may already have experienced in life, he may, therefore, sabotage his own yearning; maintain a protective distance, even as he is in the midst of others; and seek to remain "in control", to avoid the terrible risk of having to depend upon someone elseís kindness. Often a great listener, and support to others, he may himself, sometimes, feel drained and overburdened by the needs of others, helping the world, while he is, on a level few understand, very much alone. This individualís emotional wealth and love-power may sometimes be channeled into creativity and the arts. It may also lead him to construct, in arts and dreams, visions with which others, in the "real world", cannot compete, especially given their unreliability in his eyes.
Of course, every tarot reader tends to build up his or her own associations with a character of the tarot. Although certain general meanings and possibilities for each card will tend to be universally recognized by the tarot reader, who will have absorbed the basic lore of the tarot and most likely accepted basic meanings about which there is consensus, readers may also evidence significant differences when it comes to the nuances and emphasis which they place upon particular cards. Once again, the key is that the reader knows his "system", and is able to work effectively with it.
In the case of The King of Cups, the characterization given just a moment ago may apply to an individual who the subject of the reading knows, or is about to meet; or to the psychological dynamics of the subject, himself, or of some other person. (Context, determined by the question asked, the position of the card, and its relation to other cards drawn in the reading, will all have a bearing upon the interpretation.) The card could also apply to a situation or condition, outside of a person. And it is important to note that the card does not need to be taken in an "all or nothing" type of way. The card may be bringing one element, one facet of itself, to the reading. All of its other nuances and dimensions may, in cases, be "shut down", silent, like "recessive genes", which are present but not manifested in one generation: dormant possibilities overshadowed by one active connection.
In the case of the Mythic Tarot, The King of Cups is represented by the figure of Orpheus, the legendary musician and mystic, a man whose beautiful songs, it is said, could pacify the wild beasts, and even move the stones.
In the Mythic Tarot, many of the basic dimensions of The King of Cupsí personality, as projected by other decks, are reinforced and strengthened. Certainly the creative potential is there. So, too, is the paradox of deep emotion combined with fear of emotion, which is represented by the place where Orpheusí throne is pictured beside the sea. That image conveys the depth of his emotions (water is often used, in the occult, to represent emotion, as in the astrological symbols of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces); at the same time that it shows him holding back from emotion (he is at the edge of the sea, not immersed in it like the water symbols of the crab or the fish). The aspect of The King of Cups that wants to retain control is also well understood, by the student of mythology, in the person of Orpheus: for Orpheus sought to give mysticism a certain order and rule, and to limit its most wild, impulsive and dangerous impulses. But, in the end, he was torn apart by the untamed Maenads, drunken female followers of the wild, ecstatic God, Dionysus, who rushed him and overwhelmed him in a kind of half-sacred, half-sensual madness, an attack upon all restraints and limitations. Surely that fate, and the fear of it, would be enough to make anybody want control!
Beyond this, the mythic background associated with this card enriches it even further. For when Orpheusí wife, Eurydice, was bitten and killed by a serpent, Orpheus descended into the terrifying Underworld to try to bring her from the world of the dead, where she was only a jewel lost in a dark corner, back to the world of the living, where she was now an unbearable hole left in the center of his life, a laugh, a touch, that did not come when it was supposed to, like a voice in a play that misses its cue and leaves only silence when it is expected. His fear vanquished by overpowering love, Orpheus descended into the pitiless darkness. With only his music, driven to a beauty greater than beauty by loss, he won the heart of Charon, the grim ferryman who brought souls across the River Styx, from life to death. Usually only ghosts, paying Charon with the coins placed upon their bodies at the time they were buried, rode with him this way. But for Orpheus, Charon made an exception, and thus, Orpheus stepped, as a living man, into the world of the dead.
Next, Orpheus met up with Cereberus, the giant, three-headed dog who guarded the way into Hades. Again, his music, blooming invisibly from his divine stringed lyre, like a field of sound in the spring of life, brought him past the peril. And then it was the great God of Death himself, Hades, King of the Underworld, who met him, fierce and cold, his realm violated. But once more, Orpheusí music explained himself and made a heart agree. Strong Hades heard the beauty of Eurydice - perhaps a beauty greater than even she possessed, for it was her beauty in Orpheusí eyes - turned into music. He heard her soul, her laughter, her smile, her warmth, her friendship, and he heard Orpheus clinging to every facet of her beauty like a crying child clinging to its mother. And, as a poet said, Orpheusí song "Drew iron tears down Plutoís cheek, And made Hell grant what love did seek." (Bullfinch, The Age of Fable, p. 199.) Hades suspended the tortures of the damned while Orpheus was in his realm, that the sweet music, so alien to the Dark Godís ears, not be polluted by the cries of pain of all those who had fallen into the traps of the earth: kings, heroes, men of pride and wealth, who had broken sacred laws for a moment to hold a jewel that no man can keep. And then Hades granted to Orpheus his unheard-of wish: to bring one of the dead back up into the light of life. But as Orpheus, grateful and overjoyed, started back up the dark trail to life, followed by the sun-accustomed, radiant Eurydice - a ghostly vision beginning to reclaim her womanís form - stern Hades warned him, "Do not look back, not even once, as you lead her back into the world of the living, or you will lose her forever!"
Of course, it was a simple enough command to follow. Donít look back. Just keep going. Just keep looking ahead, towards that tiny trace of light at the end of the long, cavernous passage, leading back to the surface of the earth. But as they went on, and on, and on, Orpheus began to grow anxious. What if Eurydice was not following him anymore? What if he was simply walking back, alone, and she had been left somewhere far behind? At last, able to bear the suspense no more, he violated the Godís command by throwing a quick glance back, over his shoulder, whereupon he saw Eurydice, right behind him, suddenly cry out as though she had been stabbed, and begin to lose substance, life and color, then to fade into a shadow, like a mournful cloud of smoke left behind by a fire that has nothing left to burn. "Eurydice! Eurydice!" Orpheus called out in vain. But she was gone, he heard the tiny but momentous puff of a life being extinguished, and saw a dark, formless thing of pain, more invisible than visible, more feeling than vision, flying back into oblivion. Desperately, he played once more upon his lyre, the magic weapon of his desires, his way of not disappearing into nothingness before the Gods, but now its notes found no one to persuade, nothing to be moved. Like a wind blowing through a town that has been deserted, they only showed its emptiness.
Of course, this poignant, heart-wrenching myth gives The King of Cups an added potential dimension in the Mythic Tarot reading. The card, now, assumes the potential to reveal issues related to a lack of trust, or to a lack of faith. For Orpheus could not trust in Hades, enough, or in his own abilities, enough, or in Eurydiceís loyalty, enough, to follow the Godís command, he just had to look, he just had to see, he just had to doubt. On the spiritual level, he was in the middle of a miracle, but he still could not believe it. Instead, he ended up sabotaging it, by not giving it its full gestation period, by prematurely exposing it to contrary and skeptical processes which disrupted its natural development and flow. What an important card for us today, at this critical crossroads of our personal and cultural evolution, when the great spiritual resources of the Universe, which we need to survive, are challenged and driven away, every day, by a force of skepticism so powerful, that it can only be considered suicidal!
And now to some sample applications of this card, which will further illustrate its depth, and the ability of context to create shifts in its meaning:
(6) The King of Cups (5) The Lovers
The King of Cups is drawn in a reading requested by a woman who wants to know the future of her love life. It is drawn as the 6th card in a Celtic Cross Spread (Forthcoming Influences), after the 5th card (Past Influences), which is The Lovers. One possible meaning, in this case, would be that the woman is headed from a period in which she has several love-possibilities, interests or suitors (The Lovers), into a new phase in which she will choose one of them, perhaps the more artistic, caring, or compelling one (The King of Cups). Or maybe a new man she does not yet know is about to appear in her life. On the other hand, the read could also represent the womanís movement from indecision about how to balance her career (or another concern) with romance, towards a new period in her life in which she will finally decide to invest more energy into the development of a meaningful relationship. Or the two cards could indicate an impending phase of emotional withdrawal about to occur as a reaction to too much uncertainty about love, perhaps feelings of being rejected or disrespected, if she is one of several possible love interests of a man. These are just some of the possibilities inherent in those two cards (out of 10), connected to each other in the 5th and 6th positions of the C.C. spread.
Sometimes, when a card in a spread seems like it could play an important role in the reading, but its meaning is not clear (it either leaves a "cold trail", or, on the contrary, generates too many alternatives at once), the reader may be able to tune into the enigmatic cardís meaning by throwing down a "clarifying card", or several clarifying cards. If, in the case just mentioned, the reader wanted to clarify "The King of Cups", and drew a "10 of Cups" out of the deck, that would tend to suggest that the subject may, indeed, be about to find or choose a man who could bring her great happiness and love (The 10 of Cups often represents the fruition of a search for love, partnership, happiness, family, etc.) If, on the other hand, the card of "The Hermit" was chosen, that could be indicating that the person she finds, or is drawn towards, will be emotionally remote, and difficult to connect with (reinforcing and bringing out that side of "The King of Cups"); or that she, herself, may be moving towards a phase of social isolation, as a kind of withdrawal from the "love game."
Now, imagine that we are dealing with a reading requested by a young man who is considering leaving a lucrative full-time job in business for a part-time job that will allow him to pursue an alternative career as an artist. "The King of Cups" is drawn as the 2nd (Crossing) card, the obstacle card, representing the forces that are creating trouble for him right now. In this read, the 1st card (Significator) is "The Fool", the 5th card (Past Influences) is "The 4 of Cups", and the 6th card (Forthcoming Influences) is "The Tower."
Although these are only four out of ten cards laid down, any veteran reader of the tarot will tell you that they are not pretty, at least to the most obvious interpretations.
"The Fool", as Significator, is no problem in itself, it merely indicates the state the subject is in right now, ready to throw logic to the winds, to follow his heart into the unknown, maybe to grow into a giant on the road, or to get burned. It could go either way. "The King of Cups", in the position of the Crossing Card, could indicate that the manís desire to be an artist (like the creator, Orpheus), could throw his life into turmoil. Indeed, it is this desire which threatens to tear him from a lucrative, secure job, and throw him into the cruel, risk-filled, and frequently heartbreaking world of the artist - admired when he triumphs (not necessarily as an artist, but as a salesman), hungry and invisible when he merely creates greatness that is not caught in the hands of his times. Or, on the other hand, "The King of Cups", in the mythic reading, could indicate that the young manís real obstacle at this moment is his lack of faith in himself, in Fate, and in his art, which may rob him of the conviction he needs to follow his dream.
Certainly the 5th card-6th card flow does not look promising, as "The 4 of Cups" - seeming to represent dissatisfaction and discontentment with his current situation (even though, on the outside of "how it feels", it looks fine) - leads into the devastation and collapse of "The Tower." Look at "The Tower" through the Rider-Waite imagery, and you will see a horrifying picture of an exploding, flaming, wrecked tower, with tormented figures, including an upside-down king, plummeting out (the Mythic Tarot imagery is scarcely kinder). Without knowing a thing about the tarot, you will know the surface meaning of that card right away. Superficially, it looks like the young manís dream, his move out of the safe world of business into the speculative world of art, will lead to disaster. Maybe poverty, the collapse of relationships, despair. On the other hand, "The Tower" could also represent the collapse of old views, old frameworks for envisioning life and the world, a kind of freedom, with new possibilities in it, brought about through the destruction of illusions. Whatever the case, pain and difficulty seems sure to be encountered. Even if the outcome, in the long run, turns out well, there will be hell to bear in the short term, which will surely test the desire, resilience, and drive of the young man, and prove whether he is an artist (victor or martyr) or a pragmatist (the practical man will not stand up to this kind of hardship, for his dream is not more important than his life).
In a spread like this, it would be very important to see the rest of the cards, because their presence could add important dimensions to the reading, and tilt it one way or another. (For example, "The Sun" as the 10th [Final Outcome] card would sure be nice to see; a lot nicer than "The 3 of Swords", which in the Rider-Waite deck shows a heart pierced by 3 swords, and in the Mythic deck, shows King Agamemnon being slaughtered in his bathtub. Need more be said?) - It could also be helpful to throw down some clarifying cards - maybe a lot of them!
Finally, in dealing with a read like this, the human qualities of the reader would be so important. While some readers might just take the surface look of the cards to tell the subject, "Donít be a fool, keep your job and if you want art, buy paintings, itís easier than making them!", I, with a soft spot for artists and for the delicate buds of fragile dreams trying to open up in the winter of our world, could not take that approach. I would emphasize the certain challenge, rather than the possible disaster, in this read, and ask the young man to consider carefully; to look deeply into his own heart and meet his spirit there; to contemplate the price he was willing to pay in the pursuit of his dream; and I would probably advise him not to burn any bridges behind him - advise him to leave a way back to his former world, in case his new one should not prove to be all he had hoped for.
Well - enough said for now!
I hope that this small exposition on the tarot has been useful to you.
Whether you believe in it or not - whether you consider it to be a method of divination or just a vehicle for introspection - a way of playing with the human imagination, and encountering the eternal symbols of the psyche - the fears, hopes, archetypes, and potentialities we human beings have carried in us since the beginning of time - I am sure you will find value in the Tarot, and innumerable ways of being enriched by it.
May it be so!