Tarot Card Counting Tutorial

Tell the story of your life through tarot

Card Counting

Contents

Introduction

Card counting is a wonderfully rich and exciting technique for reading tarot cards. Brought to light by the Golden Dawn, but used much earlier by European cartomancers, it allows a sequential story to unfold before your very eyes. It removes any cases of doubt as to what happens next or what tarot card meaning to apply within the circumstances because it is a very clear cut way of reading the cards. This tutorial will focus on Card Counting as refined by the Golden Dawn, their system is interwoven with the Qabbalah and the Tree of Life, and you will see influences from these systems in Card Counting, though you don’t need knowledge in either to count cards.

The Golden Dawn also incorporate the system of Elemental Dignities in determining the strengths and weaknesses of the cards they are counting and examining. While these two systems work extremely well together, they can equally be used separately, and for the sake of simplicity, I’m not including their use in this tutorial. Their use doesn’t rely on the other and therefore learning each system separately will bring extra rewards to the student.

Some tarot readers aren’t comfortable with the strict and definitive rules applied in Elemental Dignities but find the Card Counting method to be thorough and rich by itself. Card Counting is easier to learn and so makes transition into advanced tarot reading a smoother and more pleasant experience. I have written other tutorials and articles about Elemental Dignities which you can access before or after this one to widen your knowledge and skills in these advanced tarot reading systems.

To begin with, we must first assign numerical values to each card which will allow us count the cards consistently, and these are outlined and discussed below.

Card Groups and Counting Values

Each card has a unique counting value assigned through the Qabbalistic Tree of Life. You don’t need to understand this system to use it for card counting. It’s just a way value the cards and add order and structure to the technique.

The Minor Arcana Groups

The Aces count 5 and represent the four elements of nature, plus the fifth element of spirit, or aether.

The Small Cards, or Pips, are assigned their own numerical value, that is, the 2 of Cups would count 2; the 8 of Pentacles would count 8, and so on. These numbers represent the sephiroth on the Tree of Life.

The Pages or Princesses, count 7, being the Seven Palaces in the Tree of Life, which also correspond to the Seven Planets of the ancients.

The Knights, Queens & Kings count 4, representing the 4 letters of the Tetragrammaton.

The Major Arcana Groups

The Fool (air), Hanged Man (water) and Judgement (fire) count 3 as they are the primordial elements and as such represent the 3 Mother Letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The Magician, High Priestess, Empress, Wheel of Fortune, Tower, Sun and the World count 9 and are called the Planetary Trumps, representing the 9 planets of the solar
system.

The Emperor, Hierophant, Lovers, Chariot, Strength, Hermit, Justice, Death, Temperance, Devil, Star, and the Moon count 12 as they correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Click here to view and download all the card values in the Tarot Card Counting Reference Chart

The Mechanics of Card Counting

Card counting is used in the epic tarot spread, the Opening of the Key, and has a very specific way to determine where to begin counting from. For this tutorial, we will begin counting from the first card, for the sake of simplicity. We will count in our natural side movement, left to right.

When we count, we include the card we are counting from as the first card.

We then count from one card to the next, telling a story as we progress.

When we land on a card that we’ve previously landed on, this is what ends the counting and if you follow the Golden Dawn rules, it also ends the reading.

Card Combinations

Card counting and card combinations work very well together. Reading in combinations allow for a richer story with more detail. The cards can be read sequentially, as three cards telling a mini story within the main frame. As more information can be obtained from multiple cards, it’s best to read in triads (groups of three); we need to read the card we’ve landed on as well as the cards either side of it. We can term these the central or principal card and the moderators or flanking cards.

If you’re already familiar with Elemental Dignities, reading in triads will come easier to you, however, I will suggest that reading triads in card combinations without Elemental Dignities is less structured and allows for more freedom of interpretation as there are no rules to be applied.

During the counting, if we land on a card that is at either end of the row of cards, we include the card on the other end to make up the triad in our assessments of that combination. Consider that the line of cards is in fact circular and therefore continuous and without immediate end.

Beginning to Card Count

The following graphic is a reading of carefully selected cards that show all the different groups of numerical values, with different lengths of strings (counts) and is also ready for the more advanced techniques that follow later.

If you have a Rider Waite-Smith deck, use it to follow along in this tutorial. If you don’t have one, use a Rider Waite-Smith based deck. This is for no other reason than to keep the similarities apparent between the cards here and your own.

Card Counting Layout

These are the cards we will use for this tutorial. Please also lay these cards out from your own deck so you may follow along at your own pace.

They are, in order from left to right:

  • Knight of Pentacles
  • Ace of Cups
  • 3 of Wands
  • 3 of Cups
  • Page of Swords
  • The Lovers
  • 9 of Cups
  • 7 of Wands
  • 6 of Swords
  • Judgement
  • The World
  • 9 of Pentacles

The reading will begin with the Knight of Pentacles as he is our first card, and as such, he will be the focus. This reading will be about him and the most important aspects of his life at the time of the reading.

Counting from the Knight of Pentacles

The Knight has a count value of 4, so counting from him, and including him, count four cards to the right. You will land on the 3 of Cups.

Counting from the Knight of Pentacles

Assess the 3 of Cups, including the cards immediately either side of it if you’re reading card combinations.

We could say we have a young man (Knight of Pentacles) who is perhaps attending a celebration (3 of Cups) after securing a contract (Page of Swords) that will see his future expand, possibly including emigration (3 of Wands).

Reading in a triad from the card we landed on, the 3 of Cups, we include the cards either side of it to read the triad as a combination. This is to assume that the cards on either side of the central card are affected in some way by its flanking cards. This is a similar theory and method to Elemental Dignities, and if you go on to learn that system too, you will find learning to count cards has prepared you well for that slightly more complicated system.

From the 3 of Cups

Counting 3 cards to the right, including the 3 of Cups and we land on the Lovers.

Counting from the 2 of Cups

Assess the Lovers in relation to the story that’s building incorporating card combinations if you’re using them.

This it seems, is his dream job (3 of Cups), and perhaps a partnership (The Lovers) that he’s signed contracts on (Page of Swords) or with.

The 3 of Cups shows the celebration and not necessarily the dream job itself. Who would celebrate to such an extent if it weren’t significantly important?

From the Lovers

Counting 12 cards to the right, including the Lovers, and we land on the Page of Swords.

Counting from the Lovers

Assess the Page of Swords in relation to the story that’s building, incorporating card combinations if you’re using them.

It looks as though this partnership is with the Page of Swords who is also celebrating. This could have been that either one were selected from a larger group.

It’s interesting to see how interrelated these opening cards are. Counting from the Lovers brought us exactly to the Page of Swords who is most definitely part of the celebration. Later in this tutorial I discuss a technique called Directional Dignities, we can use that here to look at the Knight of Pentacles and the Page of Swords – they are facing each other, with non-aggressive body language, confirming their interaction and correct inclusion in our assessment of the opening cards. It’s also worth noting the cards in between them are also relevant to them and the way their lives will entangle, as we shall see later.

From the Page of Swords

Counting 7 cards to the right, including the Page of Swords and we land on the World.

Counting from the Page of Swords

Assess the World card in the usual way and include the cards either side of it.

There are high financial rewards connected to this job, with the possibility of a relationship with a woman (9 of Pentacles), he makes his move abroad (The World).

The Judgement cards add to this triad the feeling or sense of destiny, that with all the pieces falling into place, this was meant to be, in the eyes of the Knight of Pentacles.

From the World

Counting 9 cards to the right, including the World, we land on the 9 of Cups.

Counting from the World

Assess the 9 of Cups in the usual way, including the Lovers and the 7 of Wands.

All seems to be going well (9 of Cups), but he meets with his first troubles or opposition (7 of Wands).

We could read more into the 9 of Cups, in this position. It’s themes of satisfaction could show that the Knight of Pentacles is happy with his new partnership (The Lovers) and how things are beginning, not including the 7 of Wands… Every new thing needs a period of transition and settlement and the 7 of Wands could just be showing this initial period.

From the 9 of Cups

Counting 9 cards to the right, including the 9 of Cups, we land on the 3 of Wands.

Counting from the 9 of Cups

Assess the 3 of Wands in the usual way, including the Ace of Cups and 3 of Cups.

He is perhaps homesick (3 of Wands) now with only the potential love affair (Ace of Cups) holding his interest. Perhaps the excitement is now waning (3 of Cups) as the dust
settles.

We certainly need to be careful that we don’t get carried away with one theme (love) when there could be a number of reasons the Ace of Cups is present. It’s rather tempting though, isn’t it? Notice how the 3 of Wands initially indicated his longing for expansion and potentially moving abroad, but here now, to me at least, it seems to show his longing for home, or something else. He could of course be looking back and assessing his gains and losses so far and preparing his next move. The 3 of Cups also takes on a new tone in light of the 3 of Wands in this new triad, it now seems to me that he is ignoring the 3 of Cups, or he has shifted his focus, temporarily at least.

From the 3 of Wands

Counting 3 cards to the right, including the 3 of Wands and we land on the Page of Swords again and so ends the count. The Golden Dawn instructions do not show further analysis of this card, but we could look at this as a further development.

Counting from the 3 of Wands

We could say that his work or business partner (Page of Swords) either steps in to try and rescue the deal (3 of Cups), or is the actual cause of his melee (3 of Wands).

It all kind of feels a little sour now. The Knight of Pentacles is not normally known for wearing rose-tinted glasses and romanticising a situation, but it seems that he may well have done just that. Interestingly, the Lovers could be our clue or confirmation regarding this. The smugness often associated with the 9 of Cups could be showing a side to his character that exhibits a little arrogance. From here, it looks to me that the seduction came straight from the Page of Swords (check the closeness of those cards) either in his excellent sales pitch, or a personal need of the Knight of Pentacles to be more dynamic in life, and dare I say, is trying to be more like the Page of Swords? It would help account for his new found dissatisfaction and apparent unease in his new position and life.

Summary

Now while this reading could equally be about love, the definitions here are irrelevant. When you go through these cards yourself, add your own meanings and definitions to them.

The Golden Dawn took things literally, and I have tried to follow that line here as it allows the card counting to take center stage and not the card meanings, though I have added extra thoughts beneath my initial assessments to help show where my thinking lay at the time.

Once you do go through the count yourself, you can add your own depth and complexity to it. The important thing is getting the counting right.

A big mistake that a lot of people make when they start practicing card counting is not including the card they’re counting from in the new count.

Spend some time playing around with this technique and getting comfortable with it as it’s important to practice thoroughly to gain fluidity.

During your practice runs with different cards than these, you are likely to encounter some anomalies, or issues with card counting, and we’ll look at those next.

Card Counting Anomalies

When we lay a number of tarot cards out in a traditional tarot spread, we fully expect to interpret each and every card, either in isolation in their positions, or in groups or combinations. Most likely the only problems we may come across are related to understanding a particular card in a particular position.

With card counting, there are a number of problems that can arise.

The Short Count

When the count is particularly short, it doesn’t tell us much about the situation we’re inquiring about. This can indicate that there really isn’t much to tell, or that the most crucial information is contained within that short count, a lot of information can come from just one card so while it can initially appear limiting, focus on what the count has shown you before you look at other strings and counts. A short count can also, quite bluntly, tell you that your options are limited.

The Long Count

A long count that can go on and on can become confusing and you may even forget the gist of the story that you began telling, and is often the case, forget where you began counting and what you’ve already counted and when to stop. You may not even like where it’s going. Like life though, too many options can blind you, and too many chefs can ruin the pot. Rooting out the best options is what you would be hoping to discover, focus on the cards that scream or shout out to you the loudest and explore them first.

The Loop

This can incorporate the long and the short count but essentially, it involves counting that seems to go round and round in circles, achieving nothing. It can indicate repeated patterns of behaviour that essentially are detrimental to the best outcome. It’s a common thought in tarot that we keep pulling the same tarot card in readings or our daily spread because we have a lesson to learn with that card that we keep missing. The same can be said for Loops in card counting.

What Can I Do to Remedy These?

There are a number of techniques at your disposal, though it has to be said that these techniques can be used in counts that aren’t experiencing any problems, like the count I showed you earlier. They are techniques that explore the cards more fully, but it can also make counting complicated. Learning to card count is one thing, applying more complicated techniques is another.

Counting Aces as Either 5 or 11

The Golden Dawn stipulate the Aces count 5 because they correspond to the 4 elements of nature, plus the 5 element of spirit, or aether. Aleister Crowley instructs that the Aces count 11 as he believed the number 11 to be magickal. This idea was introduced to me by Paul Hughes-Barlow and I can attest to its effectiveness.

If you have an Ace in your string of cards, you can count 5 in the normal way, but then also check where the counting goes if you count 11 instead. This helps to break a long count, increase a short count and also help you explore a string in greater detail.

Reversing the Count When You Land on a Court Card

The Golden Dawn specified that if a court card was inverted (reversed), then the counting does a 180 degree turn the other way. I don’t use reversals often, so the rigidity of the Golden Dawn rule doesn’t really work for me.

What does work for me is reversing the count when I hit a court card regardless. I do this because it shows I’m interacting with someone and depending on my course of action, that interaction may change my decision or direction. I can either go back and seek another way, or I can push through and see where that takes me.

Our path through life courses and changes, meandering like a river. When we meet people, or allow people into our home and hearts, that interaction and relationship will have an effect on us and can very simply change our whole life, on many levels.

If we look at the string of cards in this reading, we see the Knight and Page facing each other, but in essence, facing opposite directions to each other. If the counting from one lead to the other, we could use this opportunity to reverse our direction, literally going back the way we came. You won’t go back to the same card you counted from because you would be using the new card that you landed on for the counting value. Remember that knights count 4 and pages count 7, landing on either and reversing wouldn’t send you back to the other and lock you into a Loop unless the cards had the same counting value (see Directional Dignities below). This kind of lock down with court cards (the knight, queen and king all counting 4) can be interpreted as having only having eyes for each other. In other cards, it can indicate a stuck situation or a refusal to move on.

Other Helpful Techniques

While the techniques above will help you move more freely among your string of cards, there are some other really useful techniques that will also help with reading a linear tarot spread. They’re not peculiar to this style of reading; they can be used with any other type of spread, though I can attest to their effectiveness when counting cards.

Directional Dignities

This technique is very similar to Reversed Counting, but it takes it further across the whole deck. It’s a technique you can apply in any tarot reading and spread, and works very well with the Celtic Cross and other spreads that have a layout that sees the cards in many different positions.

Directional Dignities allow you to change the counting when you hit any people cards that are facing a specific direction. It can indicate they are looking to the past, the future, or at someone else. Exploring these options allows you to fully explore the people in the deck and their interaction with each other, not just you.

Directional Dignities

From a different reading, we can see the Queen of Swords & the King of Wands locked on each other if we use Reversed Counting. They are also facing each other suggesting they only have eyes for each other to exclusion of everyone & everything else.

While our focus is on the Queen and King in this example, it’s also important to remember the cards in between, as they are part of the story.

The Queen of Swords is Miss Organized, and while she has everything balanced and running smoothly (2 of Pentacles), she has become bored (4 of Cups) and then spots the dynamic King of Wands. The King, Mr Sexy, is also bored with life at court (4 of Cups) and spots some action (2 of Pentacles) and the no nonsense Queen of Swords and he wants to know more…

Counting From Different Cards

This technique is your most helpful as it allows you to see the interaction from other people and situations in your reading from their perspective. Where are they going? What are they doing? How will it affect you? It’s perhaps cleaner and less confusing to just count from court cards or other people cards in your reading. Having so many counts going on can get confusing and can leave you feeling very unsatisfied.

In your early days of learning card counting, it’s beneficial to check these counts as it gives you more room to practice. For myself, I rarely check every possible count now, it’s just not feasible. Restricting alternative counting to court cards lets you see the influences from the most important factions in your reading.

I said this technique is helpful with other types of spreads, though it may seem contradictory when a spread has a clear beginning, middle and end, like the Celtic Cross. This is actually quite restrictive as the story of the reading before you, can begin with the people in it, not just opening card.

Remember also that if you are going to use card counting in a spread where there is no clear beginning, middle and end. The Opening of the Key Spread, from which these techniques were defined, was in fact circular, and counting began with a card that represented the querent or seeker in the reading, as was the case back then, usually a court card.

Putting it into Practice

If you recall the spread from earlier, the one count we did with it was nice and simple. It was a nice length and it didn’t really encounter any issues. What I will do now is look at some other strings within that spread and apply the different techniques presented here.

Let’s begin by counting from different cards. The other person in this card is the Page of Swords so we shall begin with him.

For the sake of simplicity, I won’t assess each card as in Part One, though I will give a brief summary at the end of the count. As usual, the interpretations here are unimportant as you will have your own and should apply them when you do your own counting of these strings.

Counting From the Page of Swords

Immediately we are faced with directional dignities. The Page of Swords in the Rider Waite-Smith is facing his right, which could be seen to be looking to the past, or indeed at the Knight of Pentacles, the main focus of this reading.

If we follow his direction and count right to left, and count 7, we land on the World. From the World, and keeping the direction right to left, we count 9 and land on the 3 of Wands. From the 3 of Wands, we count 3 to the right and land on the Knight of Pentacles and our first interesting challenge.

If we follow the guide to change direction, we know where the Knight goes because of our original counting. What does this mean then? In keeping with the original interpretation, it shows these two people coming together over a single cause, again abroad – their paths were going to cross, their lives now intrinsically linked.

For the sake of exploration, if we continue the counting going right to left, then counting 4 from the Knight of Pentacles will see us landing on Judgement. We haven’t landed on this card directly before. From Judgement, we count 3 cards to the left and land on the 7 of Wands. From there we count 7 cards to the left and land on the Ace of Cups. If we use it’s Golden Dawn value, it takes us to the Judgement card and so ends the count.

What does this count suggest? It’s very close to the other interpretations, as is the nature of card counting. It shows subtleties and nuances, but it can also give some details that may not have been apparent before. The 7 of Wands immediately follows the Judgement card suggesting the opposition and problems the Knight of Pentacles experiences happened almost immediately upon answering the call. If we include the Page of Swords in that, he may also have been unaware of what was brewing in the background. It’s possible dissension was already in the air prior to the Knight’s arrival abroad.

If we take another look at that string, you will see the Ace of Cups was included. This gives us an opportunity to explore this card’s count using a different value. If we count 11 instead of 5, what will happen? Let’s take a look.

Counting 11 to the left of the Ace of Cups, we land on the 3 of Cups, which then takes us immediately back to the Ace of Cups. It seems that the Knight of Pentacles’ best option is his love interest. If he were to stay abroad because of that and instead of the business that brought him there, he will find happiness.

Uncounted Cards

There are often times within a linear spread a phenomena called Uncounted Cards. First written about by Paul Hughes Barlow of Supertarot, he noticed that these uncounted cards were in isolation from the others. Further study brought him to the conclusion that they were the key to the querent’s future and termed them the Source of the Nile, as it shows the beginning of all things.

In this spread, there is one uncounted card, the 6 of Swords. It works alongside other cards, but is missed in the counting completely, if you counted from every single card to check their counts. This tells us that it refers to the future and what is unknown.

We’ve had suppositions about the Knight of Pentacles moving abroad, and this card confirms that. It’s interesting to count from uncounted cards to see where they go and how they interact and affect what we already know about this situation.

The 6 of Swords

Counting from the 6 of Swords, and using directional dignities, we count 6 cards to the right and land directly on the Ace of Cups. From previous counts, we know where this goes, if we count 5. So let’s continue counting to 11 and see what happens.

Interestingly, we land on the 9 of Pentacles (our love interest?) If we continue counting to the right and push through the 9 of Pentacles (effectively ignoring her), we land on the 7 of Wands and straight into troubles. Counting 7 cards to the right though brings us back to the Ace of Cups and would end that count. It seems the Knight of Pentacles will succeed with or without her help, but he has an easier time if he does.

If we count from the 6 of Swords going to the left (effectively backwards) then we hit the 3 of Cups and then the Ace of Cups. The count continues meandering through many cards and ends with the Ace being landed on twice (using either counting value for it.)

Summary

It seems that all of the people involved in this reading are linked to each other, their future lives entwined. I would be inclined to think that the lady in the 9 of Pentacles may be a financial backer that becomes a love interest and it’s also possible that she picks up the reins after the deal falls through with the Page of Swords.

Interestingly, none of the counting involved with the 9 of Pentacles touched the Lovers which can mean several things, but it’s possible here that she is just a fling. She could also be a silent backer and someone who isn’t visible to the Knight at first. She could even be the fly in the ointment and be the cause of the opposition from the 7 of Wands – divide and conquer. She causes division and makes her move. It could be a clever way to bypass breaking contracts or involving legal departments. But enough of my cynical mind…

Doing Your First Linear Reading Using Card Counting

One thing we haven’t talked about yet is dealing out the cards for a fresh reading. I’ve deliberately left that until now so that you could follow the cards in this tutorial to find your feet before you tried your own.

How Many Cards Should I Lay Out?

That’s a good question and there is no hard and fast rule to follow, except perhaps your own. If you like larger spreads then any number above 12 is good as it allows for decent counts, and gives lots of information without overwhelming you. It’s a good idea not to do too many cards to begin with so that you can keep the reading contained.

You could follow Crowley’s magickal lead and deal out 11, but be aware that a zodiacal card counts 12 and in an 11 card reading, always landing on itself and killing any movement. One of my favourite numbers is 9 – it’s magical in a numerological sense and not too many cards to handle and would be a good starting point.

No matter how many cards you deal out, I find it always best to decide before hand so your tarot deck can deliver the appropriate cards within that number.

Working Outside of the Box

By now you will have had an opportunity to go through the techniques in this tutorial. If you have, I suspect you will still have some questions. When I first learned the technique, I certainly did. I was fortunate enough to learn card counting directly from Paul Hughes-Barlow. He was my mentor and during that time, we wrote a book together called Beyond the Celtic Cross.

Our book focused on a tarot reading that I took to Paul for help. Paul is the leading authority on the Opening of the Key spread which incorporates Elemental Dignities, Card Counting and Card Pairing. I wanted to know if we could read my spread using those techniques. This had never been done before, but apart from that, I needed my skills sharpening. Paul had a lot on his hands with a learner back then, but we did it and our book was the result of that intense period of time together.

What does that have to do with this tutorial?

Plenty!

Applying Beyond the Celtic Cross to This Tutorial

Not everyone knows how to count cards, but it’s safe to say that nearly everyone in tarot knows how to read a Celtic Cross Spread. To help you gain some clarity in developing the story that unfolds in your Card Counting spread, you can in fact begin by using a Celtic Cross spread first.

Deal out your ten cards in the normal way and make your assessment of the reading. When you’re happy, keep the sequence of the cards intact and then lay the cards out in a line, keeping the first card to the left. You now have a reading you’re familiar with and can begin counting to your heart’s content. You may even discover something you didn’t see before, as I did with my reading in Beyond the Celtic Cross.

The book that Paul and I wrote together teaches these techniques, plus elemental dignities. You don’t have to learn them to count cards, or to follow the basic premise of Beyond the Celtic Cross – you don’t have to apply elemental dignities at all. If you’re interested in learning how to read and apply elemental dignities, I have written about them extensively already on the blog, as well as Beyond the Celtic Cross.

The first operation of the Opening of the Key, which uses these techniques, is used to discover the current situation of the querent. That has also been my personal experience when doing the first operation and often times when I do a straight linear reading. It doesn’t happen though when I begin with a Celtic Cross, there is always a predictive element which makes our approach to this technique valuable to those who wish to know where they are headed or what may be before them.

Going Round in Circles

It’s very easy to go over the same ground when you count cards. You can seem to be going round in circles. I believe this is why the Golden Dawn were quite strict with their application of definitions and literal in their approach. While showing very distinct themes and actions within a tarot reading, card counting can also fill in subtle shades of grey. The question remains, how many shades of grey are necessary?

Learning card counting can seem like an endless round of useless and nonsense counting which shows the same thing over and over again. This can be true, but once you have become comfortable with counting, the numerical values of the cards, and the techniques that make things easier and richer, it can become a very simple and quick way to read cards. Like everything, it just takes time to practice and gain fluidity.

Card Pairing

One technique that can bring any tarot reading to life is Card Pairing. Another technique made popular amongst UK tarot readers by the Golden Dawn, but certainly in use before them as Eittella talks of this technique in his writings.

Linear spreads work particularly well with card pairing because of its layout – it’s easy to see a line of cards and pair them together. Of all the techniques that can enrich your tarot reading experience, I honestly believe that Card Pairing is about the best there is.

Normally applied at the end of a tarot reading, it can reinforce the message of the reading and in many cases, provide some extra information, or show you information from a different angle. Using Directional Dignities with two cards is especially useful, particularly if two court or people cards pair. If they’re facing back to back or face to face, the interpretation is pretty obvious. Both looking to backwards can indicate they’re both looking to the past, perhaps to happier times; both looking forwards can indicate that they are focused on the future and looking in the same direction. Likewise, a court or people card looking toward or away from its paired partner can tell you the status quo and/or frame of mind of the person involved. He may say he’s into you, but if he’s facing away from you in a pair, you know different.

The Card Pairing Technique

Card Pairing works best if your tarot spread is linear, that is, the cards are laid out in a straight line. You can of course pair cards in any spread layout as with practice it will become easier. For now, it’s best to keep to linear spreads. These can be of any number of cards; even a three card reading can use card pairing.

Simply take the outside pair of cards from your spread and bring them together. They now make a pair and can be read in combination together, to bring their own story.

Once you have read that pair, you move inward to the next pair and read them. You continue inward until you have read the middle pair, if there’s an even number of cards in your spread.

Card Pairing the Spread

The Significance of a Single Remaining Card

If you have an odd number of cards in your spread, pairing them will leave one single card at the end. This single card can be said to be the main focus of the reading as it’s unaffected by the other cards, and sitting in the middle of the reading, affects all the others. If you compare the energy of this card to that of a light, you can imagine it radiating out to the other cards, touching them as it moves amongst them.

Let’s take a look at some cards see how pairing works. We’ll use the same string of cards we used earlier, so you can consolidate your knowledge of that spread and the card counting technique. While it’s a good idea to approach the pairs with a fresh set of eyes, unswayed by what you’ve already interpreted during the main part of the reading, there will be times when the connection is so strong that you cannot separate the card counting from the card pairing.

This string of cards creates six pairs:

Knight of Pentacles and the 9 of Pentacles

Knight and 9 of Pentacles

Starting with the outside pair, we have the Knight of Pentacles and the 9 of Pentacles. Seen as a romantic item in that reading, this is now evidently clear. He can’t take his eyes off her while she is looks indifferent – perhaps shows the business nature of the relationship. Interesting that he looks to be bringing her an extra pentacle for her pile. Makes me feel he is desperate to please her and is attempting to prove his worth with what he can bring her.

 
 

Ace of Cups and the World

Ace of Cups and the World

A few interpretations spring to mind; a complete love, a love that makes you feel complete, love that is found abroad, love that is found after moving, moving because of a new love affair. All tie in nicely with the original reading but could also show an extra motivation for the Knight of Pentacles to move abroad, not just for work, as it now looks like. It could well be that he’s met with the woman in the 9 of Pentacles and she is his leading reason for making the move abroad, with work coming in second.

 

3 of Wands and Judgement

3 of Wands and Judgement

Responding to a calling, moving on – both themes that tie in with the previous pair with suggestions of a move away or abroad. Interestingly, the 3 of Wands has 3 ships sailing, while Judgement has two sets of 3 people rising. There’s a deep correlation in this pair that we often look for in life – confirmation you are on the right path. If you’re the type looking for a sign, or for clarity from the Universe, this pairing would give you exactly that.

 
 

3 of Cups and the 6 of Swords

3 of Cups and 6 of Wands

More movement and moving over water! Here we have a celebratory aspect to the pairing, so the coming together of a group and interestingly, we have three key players in our reading. At the beginning of this union, there is happiness on all sides. The 6 of Swords can often indicate a move into the unknown, whether that’s an outer or inner process. This move is being done fearlessly and openly.

 
 

Page of Swords and the 7 of Wands

Page of Swords and 7 of Wands

The Page of Swords, as a possible business partner in the reading now seems to be showing a lack of backbone or competitive nature. His back is turned away from the Seven of Wands, indicating he is trying to hide from any issues. On a more sinister note, he could also be the one who brings the trouble with him, or opens the door to deceit and manipulation. He’s not one to be trusted.

 
 

Lovers and the 9 of Cups

Lovers and 9 of Cups

This pairing can be reading a number of ways; the trick is determining the meaning of the Lovers. Is it the relationship between the Knight of Pentacles and the 9 of Pentacles? Is it their business relationship? Does this card, with its history, indicate both? Whatever we decide upon, being paired with the 9 of Cups is an excellent omen for the immediate future of the Knight of Pentacles.

 
 

In Summary

We can see from pairing the above set of cards that we were able to draw some extra detail from what we already knew. It showed us that the Page of Swords was the first to see those cracks, and perhaps the blossoming affair between the Knight and 9 of Pentacles. It showed us that she was not as enamoured at this point by the Knight, or the thought of a relationship despite him being apparently besotted with her. While they were both on the same page business wise (both being pentacles), he showed himself to be somewhat lacking and prone to influence and infatuation – not something we would normally associate with a pentacle, though in fairness, the Knight of Pentacles is more known for his stoic physical ability than his mental faculties.

Pairing these cards also reaffirmed a lot of what we already knew as well, which is often a wonderful support while you’re reading a spread and may not be 100% sure of the direction of the reading. A linear spread allows you to scan the cards quickly and pair quickly too for early confirmations. You don’t have to wait until the end of the reading until to pair them, if you need confirmation or clarity, pair the cards as you’re going along.

Practice card counting as much as you can, it’s the only way to become adept, but it does happen quickly. It’s an excellent technique for exploring a situation and is a valuable item in your tarot toolkit. Pairing cards always adds to a reading and so even if you haven’t used card counting in a particular reading, if the layout is fairly straight forward, do consider using this technique to get the extra information or confirmation you seek for yourself or your client.

Good luck and have fun!

Tarot Card Counting Tutorial Mentoring

While tarot card counting is easy, it can be difficult to get the hang of initially. There are counting values to remember, directional dignities to consider, counting the cards themselves then of course you have to weave the definitions of the cards into a cohesive story or narrative…

It can be daunting to begin with but with a little help, the process becomes easy – especially if you see it first hand.

A personal 1 hour mentoring session with me over Skype can help give you a head start with the mechanics of tarot card counting where you can watch me count cards and see how it’s done. You then get the time you need to practice with my watchful eye guiding you and easing you into the process. You also get to ask me any questions you may have regarding the process. I even include a PDF copy of the tutorial for you to use on screen or print out to make your learning easier.

You can have all this for a one off payment of £25

Book your slot with me and let’s get you on the road to tarot card counting mastery.

 
Catherine
 

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Copyright © Tarot Elements 2012

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Author: Catherine

I use tarot to help me navigate life and understand myself better. As well as tarot, I enjoy using aromatherapy & herbalism to improve my health & well being. My spiritual seeking lay with Gaia, the environment & what my senses engage around me.

6 thoughts

  1. Shouldn’t the Magician, Priestess, Empress, etc. planetary cards count 7 for the 7 planets? I know there are now 9 planets, but Uranus and Neptune still aren’t considered while corresponding planets to the trumps.

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    1. Hi Benoit,

      The Golden Dawn counted the Sun and Moon as planets, hence the count of 9. Despite the ever changing classification of planets, this count won’t change. Like any system, it can be modified and if you are more comfortable counting 7 instead, please do so. Also remember the pages/princesses also counting as 7 so you may also need to revise that if you do.

      I would love to hear how you get on in amending the counting values.

      Warmly,

      Catherine

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  2. Hi Catherine,

    I tried to follow your counting tutorial and found it interesting that the opening cards are interrelated very often. I think I have to be careful with this because I add to much of my own definitions to them. Any suggestion from you how I can deal with this issue?

    Thank you

    Arthur from Ja Nein Orakel

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    1. Hi Arthur,

      If I understand you correctly, you are saying you draw different interpretations from the cards than me. Would that be the case? If so, excellent! That is how it should be. You are your own reader and none of us interpret the cards in exactly the same way. The other great message coming out of your comment is that you understand the process of counting and interpreting in combinations, so well done!

      Warmly,

      Catherine

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  3. Catherine,

    Thank you so much for this. I love this technique for readings!!! I recently had a reading with someone that uses this method. The minute she started counting the cards, I flashed back to my love of ‘Beyond the Celtic Cross’, by you and Paul Hughes-Barlow.

    I’m going to study up again, and try to teach it in my local community here in San Diego.

    Fred

    Like

    1. Hi Fred,

      Thanks for the kind words! Card counting can be a steep learning curve but it’s an effective method of reading cards and for getting to the nitty gritty of a reading. I hope to be publishing my latest card counting/spread project soon, I think you’ll like this one. It has a working title of Arrows. You’ll know it when you see it.

      Warmly,

      Catherine

      Like

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