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Join Date: 05 Aug 2001
Location: Virginia, U.S.A.
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MeeWah 
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JMD: Great topic!
When reading non-illustrated pips, I rely on 3 main criterias.
1. Number--The numerological quality refers to the state of being, the condition or the action in progress/to be taken. A basic knowledge of the attributes of numbers plays a crucial part in the understanding of the possible significance of the card.
2. Major Arcana--Following the numerological significance, the card's association with the Major Arcana is next. All pip or minor cards are aspects of the Major Arcana.
Thus, Ace/One relates to 1-The Magician; Twos relate to 2-The High Priestess; Threes to 3-The Empress & so on.
3. Element--The elemental or suit aspect of the card. Wands/Staves/Rods is to Fire; Cups/Chalices to Water; Swords/Daggers to Air; Pentacles/Coins/Disks to Earth.
(Some decks switch the correspondences between Wands & Swords. The individual would need to determine what school of thought to align the self with in this for a cohesive interpretation, or make the necessary adjustments depending on the deck used.) Combined with the numerological aspect, it refers to the *nature* of said card.
Thus, Ace/One pertains to the essence of the element; the raw energy or the potential that is to be directed or manifested. It can refer to a dawning awareness or an awakening. Twos are the beginning of manifestion; pertain to union, balance or duality, opposition; the yin-yang principle; etc.
I do not really look at the pip illustrations as I do not find them to be particularly helpful, which may be odd as I am visually oriented. In this instance, however, they can be more distracting than an aid to the focus.
Though I do not include this in the criteria, it is usually the first quality that determines how I read a pip (or any card) & that is the intuitive impression of a card. How the card strikes me at the onset or attracts the attention. The card may stand alone to make a statement &/or may also include its relationship to surrounding cards.
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