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Tarot Reflections


 September 01, 2003

Book Review: Tarot Card Combinations
Christopher delaMaison, CPTR

By day, Christopher delaMaison is a mild-mannered computer instructor at a private college in Wilsonville, Oregon. By night, he may be found doing tarot readings or drumming for belly dancers at the local SCA events. This summer, Christopher will be teaching beginning tarot classes at the August 1st Seadog Nights/Gypsy Carnival, in Marcola, Oregon. When not reading tarot or drumming, Christopher can be found hanging out with his Sci-Fi friends planning the upcoming 25th Anniversary of the Oregon Sci-Fi convention, Orycon25. Check out this link for details.

His web site: features a number of items which you simply have to see for yourself.


Beginning readers are taught to use various card spreads, as a way to help them see and tell the story revealed by the drawn cards. Related to this is the idea of card combinations. Card combinations help the reader see aspects of the story that might be given only a cursory look, or even go unnoticed. Treated as “mini spreads” during the reading, card combinations allow readers to see and present stories within stories for their clients. This helps provide insight into the lives of our clients, allowing us to see and fully understand the questions they bring to us. One text which does an outstanding job of presenting a wide variety of card combinations is Dorothy Kelly’s book, Tarot Card Combinations.

Working card combinations is not unlike learning new card spreads. It involves using our intuition to see and understand what the cards are trying to tell us, as well as understanding what might constitute a card combination. As pointed out by Kelly in her text, it would be nearly impossible to create a text with a complete set of all possible card combinations. To address this problem, Kelly does what any other artist would do, present a frame work within which a reader can understand what a credible card combination is, and then provide a wide range of examples for the reader to study.

In Part 1 of her text, Kelly begins by providing basic, introductory material on tarot reading. She addresses deck structure, interpreting the Court Cards, working with Reversals, and interpreting the story as the reader sees it. While such topics are standard fare in most tarot texts, it helps provide a basis upon which the reader can build his/her understanding of working with card combinations.

In Part 2, Kelly provides definitions of the Major Arcana in both upright and reversed positions. She then provides examples of combination pairs in both upright, both reversed, and one upright – one reversed. These combinations, and their attendant definitions, give the reader clues as how to recognize, interpret and present information from such pairings.

Part 3 addresses the same combination pairing for the Minor Arcana cards. Each Minor Arcana card is given with a standard definition, for both upright and reversed positions. The Minor Arcana cards are then shown in combination pairs, both upright, both reversed, and one upright – one reversed. Again what is attempted here is to give the student a taste of Minor Arcana card combinations in various positions.

Part 4 combines the Major and Minor Arcana information into a Random Combination section. Kelly mixes the Major and Minor Arcanas and creates card combinations with all of the cards of the deck. She begins with combination pairs, and then presents card combinations of three and four cards. These combinations also include reversed cards as well. While it is possible to conceive of card combinations of more than five cards, the author stops at presenting four card combinations. Such examples are more than enough to present the idea of card combinations, as well as demonstrate the diversity and complexity of possible combinations.

Kelly concludes her book with a Part 5 – Reading the Cards. In this section, she presents six common card spreads for the reader to explore. These include the Celtic Cross, a Six-Month Reading, the Rainbow Spread, the Open Spread, the Twenty-Eight Card Spread, and the Yearly Clock Spread. These spreads are presented to give the reader a few sample spreads within which to practice spotting and interpreting card combinations. This is a particularly well done touch, as some card spreads are not as conducive to recognizing card combinations as others.

The 10-Card Celtic Cross, for example, lends itself well to working with card combinations. I have found that by taking a little more time with my readings, the Celtic Cross will always yield additional information for the client, illuminating factors of a reading that shed additional light on a client’s question. Some card combinations also seem to balance each other. Again, from the Celtic Cross spread, the overlying issues and underlying issues card form a card combination that seem to almost always shed light on the Crossing Card’s interpretation. Balancing this is the card combination formed by the Recent Past and Near Future cards. The combination they form seem to point out why a client’s significator card is what it is. Just as in a painting, these card combinations seem to blend the colors and influences depicted by the cards drawn for the basic spread.

While I might take issue with some of the methods and practices Dorothy Kelly identifies in her book, I am genuinely impressed with the determination she has shown in putting together an illustrated text of card combinations. There were, of course, a large number of possible card combinations she could have included in her text, as well as any number of other possible card interpretations. However, I felt the goal of this text, to provide a reasonably large number of card combinations examples, was met with very professional results. As in any art form, the artist can only show his/her student how to try to create a masterpiece work. In the end, it is the individual readers who must learn how to see the card combinations before them, how to interpret them, and how to relay this information to the client in a coherent, free-flowing manner. I would certainly recommend this text to those tarot students looking for examples on how to identify and interpret card combinations.

Tarot Card Combinations is published by Weiser Books 1995, Boston, MA.

ISBN 0-87728-829-1



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