Reading Meaning in Difficult Tarot Cards


When reading a tarot spread, we have to consider the cards and our understanding of what they mean. These cards can have shifting meanings based on how they interact with other cards. And we may have some other difficulties.

Sometimes tarot decks have a few pretty non-traditional cards. Oftentimes these are new interpretations of standard cards, but they also can be new cards. Like anything else in the deck, though, you can still read these cards using your knowledge, skill, and mindfulness. If anything, I think that their inclusion can help to take you beyond the simple listing of keywords and officially established meanings that we start with in tarot.

I did a Celtic Cross reading and got this spread:

  • 1: Present – Two of Wands
  • 2: Conflict – Six of Cups
  • 3: Antecedent – Three of Wands
  • 4: Consequence – Two of Pentacles
  • 5: Goal – Aleph
  • 6: Subconscious – Five of Wands
  • 7: Advice – The Empress
  • 8: External Factors – Eight of Pentacles
  • 9: Hope/Fear – The Devil
  • 10: Outcome – Queen of Wands
  • 0: Not – Eight of Cups

for some info on The Cards

Celtic Cross

This spread talks a lot about dualities and the need for balance of self between joy and labor, freedom and attachment, simplicity and complication, and development and stability. Overall, it’s a pretty positive and affirmative spread, with the attention drawn to the crux of three cards: Goal – Aleph, Advice – The Empress, and Outcome – Queen of Wands.

Introducing Aleph

An astute reader may be saying: “What the hell is Aleph?” Good question, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Aleph (bottom right card in the top image) is one of many additional tarot cards added to the traditional 78 in Egypt Urnash’s The Tarot of the Silicon Dawn deck. This deck is something I like to describe as slippery: (to me) it plays with a wink and a nod, asks more questions than it gives answers, and answers in partial truths. It’s a fantastic deck to use, and part of the fun is the inclusion of many extra cards. The creator suggests that you can use these cards or not, that even the decision to include them was somewhat random and playful, and the whole thing, I think, really adds to the experience of the deck. But they definitely make you think, which reinforces the base idea of tarot.

Aleph, a new non-traditional Major, is suggested as a sort of phoenix card or rebirth, and of breaking the bonds of the past. This comes through in the artwork, but it’s important to go beyond this and place it in the hierarchy of the deck.

The checkerboard floor is a great place to start. There are four other cards in this deck with a checkerboard floor and one with a checkerboard outfit (all Majors, so that’s interesting!). We have Fortune, Fortitude (aka Strength), The Universe (aka The World), and two other new cards, History and She-Is-Legend. This is clearly intentional, because these cards all seem to tie together into a mini theme or narrative within this deck.

Fortune and the new History are the best place to start this examination, not the least because they seem to be two sides of the same card (with History labeled X as a variation of Fortune’s 10). The figures in these cards are both attached to or are growing out of the same floor that Aleph has snapped free from. Both cards in this deck suggest that the figures are bound into the floor: Fortune is trapped by fate or destiny, and I read this card as the inexorable external influences that day-to-day chance throws in your way. History is similarly trapped, with an additional binding of her own words. I believe that she represents a self-made control stemming from one’s own past or self-definition vs. Fortune’s control via the present vagaries of life.

Aleph, then, is the breaking free from these controlling influences.

Reading the Fortitude and She-Is-Legend cards support and deepen this interpretation. The central figure in this Fortitude is taming a beast while also supporting the pillarless arch above her head. Her action of strength, endurance, and willpower has trapped her in place, and while she has six arms to do both of these tasks three of her hands are already full. There is only so much more she can take on before she has exhausted her options. She-Is-Legend, on the other hand, is currently in a state of freedom but this freedom is close to collapsing into a History-like state of definition. This card is about fluidity vs definition. The ambiguous figure, while seemingly non-binary gendered, is close to a moment of revealing physical sex characteristics. (Looking back on these last few sentences, I realize that this is an overly academic way of saying: “They are about to show what’s in their underwear”). Notice, too, that the checkered floor here is warped, not like the stretched binding of Fortune of History, but in a non-regular way. The figure in this card is fluidly free, and will continue to be so unless they choose to define themselves. However, that moment of reveal or definition may soon be here.

The Universe, then, is a culmination of these cards. Through her experience and journey of life she has taken in many influences, and her clothing and appearance itself has become the checkerboard. She may not be immediately trapped like other checkerboard cards, but she wears and carries her experiences. The Universe is about the reflection of changes from the cycle and ending and revisiting that cycle. She carries the proof of her experiences literally on her back.

If we read The Universe as a culmination, then we have to read Aleph as the moment beyond culmination. Ultimately, Aleph is a card of breaking out of controlling influences and in the process, most importantly, redefining the self through the act of breaking. It’s a sort of reversed version of The Tower in that way, or a more affirmative and agency-loaded Death. It’s not about the past anymore. Aleph is about the rejection of influence and about recreation in a way that goes beyond The Universe, The Tower, or Death.

A tarot card like this (or a series of cards) can only really be read in context of their decks. It’s easy, of course, to look at the artwork of Aleph and to see that the card is about breaking free. But from what? When looked at the context of Fortune, History, Fortitude, and She-Is-Legend, and comparing it the condition of The Universe, we can read life into this new card. This is what we should be doing with all of our tarot cards. To go beyond their keyword meanings, consider cards as part of their larger being in the narrative of the deck.

So, remember that this post started off as a Celtic Cross reading? Now we have some context to place our Goal – Aleph card, along with the Advice – The Empress and the Outcome – Queen on Wands. In the face of a balancing act of dualities, when we say that we are looking to break free into a state of sincerity of purpose we now can have the context to understand what the breaking act is all about.

The cards used in this post are from the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn deck.