OOTK spread examples

four card

The Opening of The Key Examples: First Stage

Interpreting the Opening of the Key tarot examples. Once the tarot deck is divided into four piles, the one with the Significator is analysed in three stages:

  1. Elemental breakdown
  2. counting
  3. pairing

Below is an example from the Golden Dawn book:


The original diagram appears on page 568 of the Llewellyn publication of the Golden Dawn Book, and page 33 of Volume 9 in the Falcon Edition. I have taken the opportunity to highlight the elemental aspects so we can analyse the interpretation according to Elemental Dignities. To begin, we scan across the elemental make-up of the sequence.

Even though I have not counted from every card, it is clear that the Queen of Cups and Five of Pentacles are very significant since they are part of almost all the counting sequences. It would seem that the Queen worries a lot. None count the Knave Wands, which makes the Knave the only unaspected card, and very powerful since no other is influencing it.

General Analysis of the Elements

Earth and Water dominate. We have a passive situation that likes pleasure, but does not especially want to act too hard to make it nor do anything to change the status quo. Since there is only one Air card we can safely assume that not much thought has gone into the situation. On the other hand, it is the Fool, so we would expect some folly…

The cards are equally divided between the Major, Minor and Court arcana. On the face of it, this looks balanced, but the ratio of the Minor: Major: Court cards is 40: 22: 16. In any group there should be twice as many Minor as Major, and one or two fewer Court cards. In this sequence, we should expect 6 or 7 Minor, 3 or 4 Major and 2 or 3 Courts. Clearly, the Courts dominate but events are somewhat out of the player’s control since the Minor arcana are under-represented

So, before we have even studied the particular relationships of the cards we already know we are dealing with an emotionally charged situation between a group of people who may or may not go anywhere due to the lack of energy (Fire) and foresight (Air).

Number of Cards

There are twelve – the number of the Hanged Man, indicative of sorrow, sacrifice and loss. Not a bad summation of the reading.

Meaning of the ‘Top Cards’

Unfortunately we do not know if the ‘top’ is the Tower of Destruction or the Moon. Neither are of good omen in a reading where relationships is the topic under discussion. The Tower refers to events that happen suddenly or catastrophically that serve to change the perception of the people affected, while the Moon is deception. Since Fire is slightly weaker, I would suggest that it is the Moon that is the top card.

Pairing the Cards

Note that four out of the six pairings have contrary elements, while the other two are passive.

These show a bad situation. The elements are enemies, and the meaning of both are not usually positive. We could understand them to mean the uncovering of a deception.

Two passives. A woman with financial problems who is unable to do much about it.

She is looking for a financial advisor who can change her circumstances.

Fire and water are enemies. Two men who are either unable to help her, or give conflicting advice.

Conflicting. The Fool is not good to have when considering a financial situation. We have the only Air, and it is still very weak!

The elements are again weak. A new start that should be happy, but the outcome is not entirely clear.

Note that since we have an even number, there is not going to be a decisive outcome.

Significator 1- Queen of Cups

This is very passive in a situation we already know to lack dynamism, topped off with a probably confused outlook. We have Water surrounded by Fire and Earth. Fire weakens the Water, while Earth is friendly with both Air and Fire. The passive nature is strengthened, but the Fire serves to ruffle the surface. The Queen is being slowly shaken out of her situation. The Queen will want orthodoxy, learning and stability (Hierophant), while she is fearful of anything that will ‘rock the boat’ (Tower).


Counting four to the right we land on the King of Pentacles. Earth and Water are compatible, which is a good sign. Unfortunately the King is surrounded by fire, so he is either under pressure, or he is very pushy, perhaps too much for the Queen. Counting four from the King takes us back to her, so we have a ‘locked’ situation. This is fortunate, if the participants are happy with the situation, but not so good otherwise. The King is much stronger and more likely to make changes than the Queen.

Let us take the Queen in the opposite direction to the Five of Pentacles, which is surrounded by the Two of Pentacles and the Moon (although the cards are in a line, they should be considered to be in a circle). All elements are passive and friendly, so the emphasis is on the Principal. Since the Five of Pentacles is about loss, between the deception of the Moon, and the changeability of the Two of Pentacles, we have to conclude that there has been financial loss due to deception. A subtler interpretation is that she is fearful of change or action if there is loss, probably due to circumstances that have happened in the past. Since we have such a passive situation, we may also conclude that losses occurred due to the lack of application  or discrimination, or allowing sentimentality to rule.

So far we have a very powerful and pushy man applying pressure to a weak and fearful woman who lacks discrimination. There is a hint of violence (Tower), certainly a fear of it, and there is a fear of failure. The actions of the woman result in loss, possibly due to fraud.

Next in the counting sequence is Six of Cups, Pleasure, surrounded by the Fool and Ace of Wands. Another passive  surrounded by active! Her motivations become clearer. She had a misguided attempt to please the King (The Ace of Wands is next to the King). The only Air contributes to the problems. The traditional interpretation of the Fool is folly and loss in business and financial situations. The next stage takes us back to the Queen of Cups and finishes the sequence. All this is in accordance with the general analysis of the elements we started with (‘The General Picture’ above), and the Tower and Moon (actions involving deception and loss). Interestingly, the woman was forced to go in the ‘wrong’ direction. The Hierophant is about advice, so we know that the wrong advice was given to a woman who had money to start with, since the next stage is financial loss (Five of Pentacles).

The author summarises the reading thus: “A rather fair woman has lost money through some cheating in business, and though she is again beginning to succeed, this success is liable to be damaged by unwise conduct on her part for which she will have herself to thank.” To my mind, this interpretation is rather charitable as it minimises the influence of the King of Disks. If I was the Querent I would certainly want more information. We could infer that the woman brought her own downfall since no other person was involved in the counting sequence. Was it intended that we should think so? Time for some detective work.

Remember at the beginning of this analysis we noted that there was an excess of Court Cards? The counting sequence on the Queen  managed to miss two of them, while the King of Disks indicated a locked situation. Maybe we should look closer at the two mystery Court cards.

Significator 2: Knight of Cups

The Knight is sandwiched between the Fool on the left and the 2 Pentacles on the right. All three elements are friendly, but we are looking for the smoking gun. In the Queen counting sequence we know that the Two of Pentacles caused financial loss through the Five of Pentacles, while the Fool is bad for financial advice. We would presume that these two cards are enough to ‘rouse’ the Knight. What does the Knight do? Next  is four to the left – Ace of Wands – action, and it is between the King of Disks and the Six of Cups, Pleasure. Cast your mind back to the Queen Sequence; notice how we are hitting those cards that just miss the Queens, but equally connect with them as well? We know that the Knight of Disks and the Queen are ‘locked’ together, while the Knight of Cups skips through the situation, just missing the path of the Queen. This man is clever and subtle at covering his tracks. We should also sit up because the Ace of Wands is the first action card we have come across, and it is linked to the Knight of Cups, and the next card in the sequence is the Queen. Now we have uncovered the earlier part of the sequence. It looks like the Knight of Cups used the Knight of Disks in some way. Previously, we noted that the Knight of Disks appeared to be under pressure of some sort, but we were not sure where it came from. Now we know. I would suggest that Knight of Cups achieved his actions through honeyed words or false promises to the Knight of Disks, who appears somewhat plodding and uninspiring otherwise, and under the thrall of this devious man. Whatever he said, the Queen begins her fateful journey to financial loss on her own.

Significator 3: the Knave of Wands

There are only one Fire; the Knave or Page of Wands. Since we know the relative ratios of the Tarot, it is surprising to see a Fire Court when mathematically we should expect two Minor and a Major . None of these feature in the main sequence of the Queen either. The plot thickens. The Princess appears between the Hierophant and the Knight of Disks. Fire between two earth elements is a stable platform for an action. The lack of Water (feeling) and complete absence of Air suggests driving ambition. At last we have a motivated individual, a younger woman, who is a professional, or at least educated (Hierophant) in what she does. It is possible that she works for the Knight of Disks, but it looks like she is in the driving seat. Princesses or Knaves count seven, which takes us to the Two of Pentacles. Interestingly we hit this card whether we travel clockwise or anti-clockwise, but technically we should be going in the opposite direction to the Queen. The Two of Pentacles is one of Change, and it is between the Knight of Cups and the Five of Pentacles, which suggests she has some dealings with this man. When I started analysing the Princess, I thought the motivation could be jealousy, but now I am not so sure, and I doubt there is any collusion between her and the Knight of Cups. Although the next  Five of Pentacles, is loss, it is quite possible that the Princess was trying to sort out or even prevent financial loss, but she may have been mislead by the Knight of Cups. Significantly, the Two of Pentacles and Five of Pentacles are also in the Queen sequence, so we may have a situation that either her advice was ignored, that it was bad advice, or that she charged money for services rendered to the Queen. Whatever happened, the next is the Hierophant which then goes onto the Queen of Cups. This gives us two scenarios. Either the Princess saw a way of making money out of the Queen of Cups and colluded in some way with the Knight of Cups, that caused financial loss, or the efforts of the Princess ultimately caused the Queen of Cups to trust her as an advisor since finances eventually improved (Count 12 from the Hierophant and you hit either the Princess or the Queen).

There are only two remaining that we have not considered in the Counting technique: the Moon and the Tower, that framed our original overview: actions that involve deception and loss. Count nine from the Tower in either direction and you will hit the Knight of Cups and the Knight of Disks, the first direct connection between the two figures. This looks pretty serious, but consider that the Tower has Water either side of it: the Tower is extremely weak, and it suggests that either the actions performed by these two men were inadequate or carried out as a result of jealousy, and as a result things did not happen as expected (The finances of the woman recovered, and perhaps she was not in such a weak situation as we thought). Remarkably, this conclusion is born out if we consider the Moon. Counting twelve in either direction takes us to the Tower and to the Five of Pentacles. Deception was the main reason for the actions, but Water followed by Fire is a very weak combination, as we know. If we follow the sequence Moon then Tower, we come to the Knight of Disks which we suggests that this man was caught in a web of intrigue, and was just as much a victim or the dupe of the Knight of Cups.


The Queen was the victim of an ill-conceived fraudulent scheme using the Knight of Disks as the dupe – he certainly was either unwilling or unable to help the Queen. We are not sure of the prime motivation of the Knight of Cups – it could be jealousy, either sexual or financial. At some point during the scam the Princess got wind of what was going wrong and eventually turned the situation around, winning the trust of the Queen, but probably for a high fee.

If your head is spinning, don’t worry. One of the most important points to grasp is that complex human relationships can be tracked or reflected using these simple techniques, without having to use detailed knowledge of the individual cards. In fact, there has been no attempt whatsoever to study in isolation – it is the interactions and energy flows between them that are important. In the GD text, a pairing technique is used, starting with the outer (Tower and Moon), working to the centre. The conclusion is remarkably similar: the finances improve, but the method of arriving at that conclusion is radically different.

Obviously this is a worked through example. In an actual reading it is unlikely that the cards are read in such detail. As you can see, there are checks and balances within the structure of Elemental Dignities that enable us to be sure we are on the right. Compare the ‘General Picture’ and ‘The Meaning of the Top Cards’ to the detailed analysis with the various Significators, and you will see that all three areas broadly agree. The mundane aspects and daily events in life are perfectly handled within this spread.

Having studied this little sequence of cards, I am pretty certain it was taken from a real reading. What do you think?

Article Name
interpreting the Opening of the Key tarot examples
Opening of the Key tarot examples: once the tarot deck has been divided into four piles, the one with the Significator needs to be analysed in three stages:

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