Bridging the Gap Between Traditional Combos and Actual Readings

Just Call Me Angel of the Morning
"Just call me angel of the morning"
I received an interesting comment by a reader of the blog, Michael, asking some questions about traditional combinations. The gist of his comment is that some of the combinations handed down traditionally seem not to coincide with the strings of cards one actually pulls out during a reading. These combo appear to be almost too convenient and tidy to be useful in something as chaotic as a card reading. 

     As Michael rightly pointed out, it may well be true that Female Lover + Love + Male Lover indicates love between the Jack and the Queen of Hearts, but it doesn't seem likely that such perfect combination would normally come up in a reading. With practice you will see that it does come up, and not too rarely, but this is a very good point and it is worth discussing. 

     I have in mind of creating an additional article for every card in the near future, but for the moment I would like to make some brief considerations regarding how to read combinations, and where traditional combos fit into the picture.

     First of all, and this is true for any deck, from Lenormand to the Sibilla to the Tarot, not all combinations can be described abstractly as having a more or less fixed meaning. I'm saying this because, although I will certainly incorporate more combinations in future articles, I can't give you a list of all possible combinations and tell you "this is going to mean that". It simply isn't true. 

     There is no fixed traditional meaning for many of the possible combos that we could create. If we take Love + Sick Man as an example, this combo could have a huge variety of meanings: it could be an STD, or a relationship that has grown stale, or a morbid and unhealthy feeling, or the inability to attract what you want into your life, or, or, or...

     Even those combos that are described in the tradition must not always be taken at face value, and we must always see if their meaning is relevant or if it fits into the picture. Example: Thought Rx + Hope is traditionally the combo of prophetic dreams. It can definitely be, but maybe there is another explanation that would make more sense in context: maybe the querent is discouraged (Thought Rx) but his hopes will come true nonetheless (Hope walls the combo). Or maybe he wants to cheat on his wife (Thought Rx) with a younger girl (Hope), or, or, or...

     A third, very important point is that combinations are generally passed down in a form that could be called archetypical, that is, very complete and easy to understand. However, in actual practice we don't need them in this extended form in order to understand them.

     Example: traditionally, Love + Child means a new love story. Forget about the fact that it could also mean something else at times: it is true that four times out of five, when this combo comes up it means a new story. However, if the querent's question is "Will I soon find love?", or if the cards are painting a picture that speaks about love -regardless of the question-, we can take the Child card alone to mean a new love interest, even though "archetypically" it would need the Four of Hearts to mean that. 

     Why? Because the Child's main meaning is "something new". New what? Again, if the question is about love or if the cards want to speak about love, it is unlikely to be a new vaccine against ebola: it must be a new flame. 

     This is nothing too abstract or out of the ordinary. The cards have a language. It is as if sometimes they forgot their good manners and started using a bit too much slang for our taste. Consider how many times, in your native language, you omit words that are obvious or otherwise unneeded in context, or how many times you use different expressions to mean the same thing. This is the same with the cards.

     So the point about studying traditional combinations is that you acquire the basic tools of vocabulary that, with time and practice, will allow you to understand a more loose way of speaking that the cards have. 

     This being said, as ever we must plug in our brain before reading. We must be able to see when the cards are trying, with different and even non traditional combos, to convey a particular meaning that could have been conveyed by a traditional combo.

     Example: I remember writing somewhere that Love + Widower + Faithfulness is the best combination for love, being the "Till death do us part" combination of the deck. A couple of weeks ago I did a spread where I found Happiness in the Heart + Widower + Love. The Five of Hearts has many meanings, but in that instance it could be taken to be a generic card of love, filling in for the Faithfulness card which had called in sick. 

     You can see how we can't be too strict with our combinations: the tradition is a powerful set of guidelines, but each spread is a lock that requires its particular key to unlock. This key will never be inconsistent with traditional meanings, but it will be particular nonetheless.