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Tarot Reflections

March 15, 2005

Under You / On Top of You Spread
Stephen Sharp, CPTR

Stephen Sharp works as a trainer in the corporate world. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Valerie, a psychologist and college instructor. Their son, Nathaniel, is a freshman at UC Santa Cruz. His use of the tarot goes back more than thirty years.


Often people come to us tarot readers seeking help, believing themselves embattled in their lives, beset by myriad demands on their time, confused by what they see happening around them (and to them). When asked if they have a question, they are unable to articulate anything in particular. If they only knew the question, they say, they could begin to formulate their own answers. They feel overwhelmed and crushed, or simply dazed and confused by it all. At such times, a well-defined snapshot reading — focusing on forces in the moment — can prove to be a powerful palliative, opening up a space in which they can breathe and look calmly at their circumstances from a new perspective.

Such general readings as “past / present / future”, or “situation / challenge / outcome”, or “what you know / what you do not know / what you need to do” often prove beneficial. Cards chosen at random, or dealt off the top of a well-shuffled deck can lead to insights.

In some ways, however, the notion of a significator — a card that represents to querent — can bring the struggling client into more intimate personal contact with their situation. She can identify with being placed in space and time and seeing how cards that are closest to the significator can work to support or thwart her efforts to understand and act in a coherent manner. The sense of proximity can lead to an almost tactile appreciation of the situation which otherwise could seem too abstract and theoretical. Simply saying, “Here you are and let us look what is nearby” can serve as a touchstone to bring home the insights necessary for psychological readjustment and behavioral change.

The “Under You / On Top of You” reading is a two-card reading that can be beneficial to those who need perspective in times of confusion. It can also be adapted as a general birthday reading or further refined to address a specific situation. Additional cards can be utilized as needed for clarification. Here is how it works:

  1. Choose a significator, using the major arcana that represents the client’s astrological sun sign (or identify a card to represent particular problem or issue you wish to deal with, such as selecting The Tower for a sudden crisis, or, say, The Emperor for a problem with the boss).
  2. With significator in the deck, shuffle the deck in your usual way.
  3. Cut the deck as you would normally.
  4. Find the significator: note its orientation in the deck and the cards on either side of it.

The card on top of the significator (with the cards face down) is called "What's on top of you".

The card below the significator (with the cards face down) is called "What's under you".

"What's on Top of You"
Pressing issues. Responsibilities. Restrictions, constraints. What's holding you down.

"What's Under You"
Values. Cultural, personal background. Support. Uplift.

The orientation of the significator is always considered upright. The TOP or UNDER cards are thus considered upright or reversed with respect to the significator. If the TOP card is upright (oriented the same as the significator), then YOU are facing up and your issues can be easily identified. If the TOP card is reversed, then it's "on your back" and recognizing it and grappling with it becomes more difficult. (In this case, another card or cards may bring clarity.)

If the UNDER card is upright, then you can draw directly from your support systems -- friends, relatives or your own sense of self or discipline. If the UNDER card is reversed, then you are "lying on your back" -- you are in some ways still groping for understanding of what you can do, still not quite grounded in some way. (In this case, another card or cards may bring clarity.)

In the rare case that the significator turns out to be the top card of the stack, there is nothing really holding you down. Whatever it is you desire, take the boldest direct action you can imagine. Without acting, there is a danger you'll float away. If the significator turns out to be on the very bottom, then you are in a sense in freefall. Pay attention to where and how you land.

If the TOP or UNDER card is a major arcana, the issue could be a major life identity marker. If a court card, there is a specific other person or part of your own personality with which to deal. If a minor, your problems are mundane at the moment, regardless of how daunting they seem.

Locating the significator gives the client a sense of place. Noting cards immediately adjacent adds to the sense of immediacy in the situation. Considering the orientation of the TOP and UNDER cards adds a sense of whether or not the client is ready to address the issues head on, or whether there is yet more to be investigated and discovered. Extra cards may be added for the sake of clarity, but the basic message is simplicity: What holds one down, and what provides uplift.


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Tarot Reflections is a publication of the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2005
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