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Preparing to Read

Before working with actual spreads, practice reading cards in pairs to observe how they interact. Cards come to life when they interact with each other.


Dignities are often used with historic decks instead of reversals since many pip cards are identical upright and reversed. Adjacent cards strengthen or weaken each other, depending on how compatible they are.  If you’ve already assigned elements to the suits, then you’re ready to use elemental dignities. Suit dignities bypass the issue of assigning elements to the suits.

Elemental Dignities

Ancient alchemists determined which elements were compatible or antagonistic according to their underlying qualities (hot, cold, wet and dry). For now, all you need to know is the following list:

 Compatible:  Fire & Air, Earth & Water

Incompatible:  Fire & Water, Earth & Air

All other combinations are neutral.

 A more organic approach is to think about how the elements interact in nature. A fire card placed between two water cards in a spread is in trouble since water extinguishes fire. Water and earth cards together might suggest moist, fertile soil, mudflats or a container of water. Personalize this system by thinking about how the elements interact in your environment.

 Suit Dignities

 This system considers the qualities of the suit symbols themselves rather than assigning elements to the suits. Traditionally the round Cups and Coins suits are compatible with each other because they are both receptive and passive. The active long suits of Rods and Swords are likewise compatible with each other. But Cups have straight stems, and even-numbered swords cards have no straight features. This adds ambiguity to the system.

Look at the suit symbols in your deck. Which suits seem compatible with each other because they share qualities like color or shape? Are Cups compatible with Rods because Cups have straight stems? Or are Cups more compatible with Coins because Cups have round bowls? Where is the center of gravity – the center of the card, or divided among the suit symbols? Which suits seem the least compatible? Can you find any common ground between Coins and Rods?

Draw up a chart showing which suits reinforce each other or work against each other by just looking at the appearance and arrangement of the suit symbols.

 Quantity Compatibility

 Even when cards are compatible by element or suit, their size may work against them. A large-numbered card is not well supported by small cards; but then it doesn’t have rivals or competitors. Small numbers can be crushed or overwhelmed by large numbers; or they can have powerful protectors. A large fire can evaporate a small amount of water; but a large bucket of water can extinguish a small fire.

When using dignities, consider the quantity and weight of each card. Put a large- and small-numbered card next to each other.  Does the smaller card seem overwhelmed or threatened, or protected and reinforced? Does it make a difference whether it’s with a compatible suit or not?

Exercise: Pull two cards at random and describe how they influence each other because of their element, quantity, general energy and any other associations. Make up a story about how they interact.

You’ll find spreads to work with on the next page.

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