There’s an expression you might have heard: “What falls to the floor comes to the door.”
This is a popular saying among tarot enthusiasts, and it refers to the fact that sooner or later even the most able-handed shuffler is bound to drop a card or two during a reading. When this happens, many readers will consider the card which falls out of the deck to be significant–either placing it directly into the spread they are using, or else they’ll set it off to the side and allow it to inform their judgement as a sort of “background influence.”
It might surprise you, though, to know that not all tarot readers follow this practice. So let’s consider what this idea of reading cards which fall onto the table is rooted in, what other opinions are out there, and how we might best handle a clumsy shuffle.
Everything is significant
Some tarot readers consider everything which happens during a reading to be a sign. This is especially true for those tarot readers who view divination as a magical act or ritual. These readers will frequently begin a reading by setting up a sacred or ritual space, calling out to their guides or spirit helpers, and asking for their assistance. Everything which takes place from that point forward can be taken as part of the answer to whatever question is being asked.
Even those readers who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves magicians often consider the time and space of the session to be significantly different from the “mundane.”
In Yoav Ben-Dov’s excellent book, Tarot: The Open Reading, he writes:
The reading of Tarot cards involves a particular perception of reality. In the normal everyday perception, which is sometimes called “consensus reality,” the cards are pieces of printed cardboard, and shuffling them is a random process. Yet when we read the cards, we shift to another framework of reality perception in which there is one basic rule: everything is a sign.
The rule is first and foremost expressed in the fact that we interpret the cards not as a random collection of cardboard pieces, but as a meaningful sign with a message for the querent. However, the signs to be interpreted are not limited to the specific cards in the spread. Everything which takes place in and around the reading session may also be seen as a sign. In other words, during the reading session our perception of reality is that nothing happens by mere chance. Everything is a sign.
A little while later, he goes on to write specifically about cards which fall out of the deck during shuffling…
If at the initial shuffle in the reader’s hands a certain card pops up time and again, it’s a sign. If during the shuffle a few cards fall from the querent’s hands, we can look at them and try to understand what they signify. Maybe it is something which does not fit with the way we formulated the question, or a message that the querent rejects as it is too much for him to hold.
In my experience, this approach to dropped tarot cards tends to be the most common. The card popped out of the deck during the reading, so it’s a part of the reading.
There’s another wrinkle to consider, though.
Intention is everything
In the Western esoteric tradition you’ll see the word “intention” come up again and again. For example, in many How-To-Magic books the author will explain that if you perform, say, a spell for prosperity, it’s likely going to come to nothing if you don’t have a clear idea of what “prosperity” means to you fixed in your mind. Understanding what you want, and being able to concisely and confidently express it in a single thought is often seen as the first pre-requisite to performing any sort of magic.
Many tarot readers adopt this thinking with regards to how one should ask a question. It doesn’t do much good to throw the cards if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
The same thing, however, could be said about the act of laying the cards on the table. If we consider the cards in the spread to be individual pieces of a whole story, shouldn’t the act of drawing and placing each card be an intentional act meant to fill in that piece?
I know very few people in the tarot community who would give much credibility to a lazy, haphazard reading given by a tarotist who didn’t care about the session in the slightest and just sort of tossed the cards down. Given that, why give much weight to cards which just happen to fall out of the deck without deliberately intending to lay them down?
When worlds collide
Personally, I tend to lean toward the “everything is a sign” approach. I’m maybe 60/40 in the camp that, yes, when a card pops out of the deck, you ought to pay attention to it. That said, I also consider intention to be pretty important.
When I perform a reading, and either myself or the querent is shuffling the cards, I watch to see if any cards peek out accidentally. If one or more cards either “flash” or fall out of the deck, I take note of them, but I allow them to be shuffled back in. After I’ve laid out the cards of the spread (intentionally) the first thing I look for is whether or not any of the cards I saw during the shuffling have re-appeared.
Should a card on the table have been previously revealed, I consider that card to be strongly emphasized in the reading. For instance, if the querent has asked me a question about their financial health in the next few months, and I see the Five of Pentacles pop out while they’re shuffling, if that card also makes an appearance in the spread, it tells me that they are likely to experience some significant challenges.
If a dropped card doesn’t appear in the spread, however, I don’t necessarily discount it entirely. Rather, I keep it in my mind and consider whether or not it seems to be in agreement with, or otherwise related to, the cards on the table or the question which was asked. In particular, I try to determine whether or not the cards which fell out might be seen as pre-cursors or pre-requisites for the situation shown on the table.
For example, if a querent is contemplating a career change, and the Eight of Pentacles falls out of the deck, that’s probably a sign that what is revealed in the spread will only happen if the querent works or practices diligently to build up the skills they will need.
What this idea of “what must come first” is rooted in should be obvious. The card or cards fell out of the deck before the spread, so they most likely speak to what will or must happen before indicated answer will either make sense or come to pass.
All of that said, sometimes a dropped card is just a dropped card. If it doesn’t re-appear in the spread, and it doesn’t seem connected in any way to either the cards on the table or the question which has been asked, I chalk it up to having drank too much coffee and leave it at that.
At least, that’s my take on dropped tarot cards.
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