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Join Date: 05 Aug 2001
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Non-illustrated pips


This thread arises from various questions which have been posted related to reading pips on decks such as the Marseilles. Lee and two others have at various times either e.mailed me or sent a private message to ask what I do. I thought that starting a thread with my answer may stimulate those of you who also use non-illustrated decks to post what you do.

In a nutshell, the problem is the following. In decks which fully illustrate their pips, one can use the image in order to interpret the reading at hand. With un-illustrated pips, such appears either impossible or certainly not obvious.
  • Elements
Whether one uses an illustrated pip deck or not, as one develops one's understanding of the element, this will inevitably play into what one sees in the cards. As an example, take any card from the suit of swords, than, assuming that the association with swords is the element of Air (this is not, of course, universal, for both the element of Fire and that of Water have also been connected with swords), then the card may be interpreted with that aspect in mind.
  • Number
Quite frankly, I do think that having unillustrated pips makes more demands on understanding the numerological significance of the numerals 1-10. When reading cards with illustrations, the numerological significance will, of course, also be used, as one develops understanding in that area.
  • Depictions
Here, what is of import is what emerges from the card itself. Even unillustrated pips have adornments and particular ways of depicting the objects. One can certainly sense into what this means in relation to a specific reading. For example, a particular flower and its orientation may emerge as of significance and with a specific meaning at a particular time. Here, whether one reads with our without illustrated pips is not relevant.

In a reading, having non-illustrated pips certainly makes the Major Arcana stand out much more. In that sense, I tend to view illustrated pips as taking away from the visual 'obviousness' of a given spread.
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A number of specific questions were also asked. and hopefully, what follows answers these directly.

In readings, any background understanding will always play. Nonetheless, what is important is to be open to what the combination of cards speak to the situation, and to allow for whatever small depiction to emerge as significant. Memorising number meanings is therefore, to me, not important. What is important is to progressively develop an understanding of, amongst other things, numbers, elements, and relations between these.

With regards to reversals, I personally do use them, but the specific meaning will depend on the reading. It may indicate a blockage with regards to the meaning of the card at hand, or that that aspect is not being focussed on... or that it shouldn't be. Again, the specific meaning will only emerge in a specific spread.

Whether, then, a six cups reversed means that the harmony related to the element of Water, of feelings or emotions, is at issue, will really depend on the other cards in the spread.

Also, when reading, a story unfolds, so that it is not the individual meanings which are important, but the discourse unfolding in the . As such, one need not try to remember each card and its position or meaning. After all, presumably one does not need to 'remember' the learned meaning of each of the words I am here using. rather, one very much penetrates beyond the veil of the individual words into the meaning of the narrative at hand.
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So, how does one learn with pips. I suggest the following:
  • develop an understanding of the numbers 1-10, especially by drawing them in representative form (one as point, two as mirror image, three as triangle, etc);
  • develop an understanding into the four elements, by mentally separating into four aspects a situation one wishes to reflect on;
  • develop reading skills by doing some readings with pips only about, for example, the underlying information behind the front page of a newspaper.
And I'm also really interested to read what others have to add... or how you do it differently.
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