What Tarot Can Do For You: 3 card pathway

Sometimes you need a laser, sometimes you need a flashlight.

Focused understanding is great. Sometimes all you need (or want) to know is a specific thing about a specific thing…what to do about thing X at work or what is the most important part of situation Y or how do I approach relationship Z.

All those are important pieces of the puzzle. But they are flashes…like turning the light on and off in a room. They lack one important aspect…time.

Time is where Tarot gets tricky. It isn’t about predicting future time, but about guiding our understanding and choices that unfold over time.

There are a couple of ways to deal with the intersection of time and the static light-flash, snapshot nature of a tarot reading. The first is the daily meditation Tarot practice that we talked about in yesterday’s post and that’s described in more detail in #PeaceTarot.

The other is using more cards in one go. Either way, you put the snapshots together, like animation. You don’t see what the end of the cartoon is definitely going to be, but you do get a sense of movement, and maybe a glimpse of the direction things are headed so you can make adjustments accordingly.

The three card Pathway reading has its roots in the days of fate and predictions. That kind of thinking just isn’t useful or productive in a world of the time-space continuum, parallel universes, democracy and a (theoretically) mobile social structure. When people were freed, Tarot was freed to do more as well. Instead of the traditional “past-present-future” structure, I look at the pathway reading with more freedom of choice, but with the same sense of movement through time.

The first card looks at the “past”, at the road that brought you to where you are today. It can be a validation message (something that you’ve done well, or even just a message that the larger Cosmos has seen and understood what you’ve been through). It might be an advice message (something that you’ve done well before that would be good to do again in this situation) or a caution message (for goodness’ sake don’t do THAT again!)

The “present” This is like the one-card snapshot, the strobe light in a dark room look at what is going on right here, right now to help you understand that right-here, right-now situation. You have to know what the problem IS before you can solve it. The “now” card helps with that part.

The old “future’ card is again adapted from static “fate” to a more modern framework of movement. This card doesn’t tell you what the future will be but the best way to move forward into the future. It gives you an idea of your best next step and the direction that things are currently moving. Knowing that,  you can adapt and adjust if you so choose.

Here is an example of a three card reading, used with permission:

Q: I used to live (in the USA) but I have recently returned to Taiwan where I lived as a child (for personal reasons). My background and work experience is in early childhood education, but it would be hard to return to that here, because the educational systems are very different. I’m torn between continuing that work and finding something else. Do you have any advice?

A: Your cards today are:

Lessons from the past: 9 coins – truth
Where you are now: ace of wands – creation
Ideas to move forward: temperance – balance

Ni hao ______.

I can only imagine what it must be like to bridge cultures like that. All else being equal, there is a feeling of striking out away from education, at least of the early-age type. There is a feeling of being able to get a new start, and follow another dream.


In the card spread we have here, the 9 of coins speaks of the lessons and experiences of your past. Often it reminds you of old lessons that can help you now, or it gives a validation of things that you have done well. In your case, it feels like both. You have had an ability to be truthful and honest with yourself…that much shows in the question you have sent. And I think that is the real answer here…it isn’t a matter of ability…it is a matter of desire. If you take a truthful look, what is your heart’s desire to do? If you wish to continue this career, you have the ability to do so despite the cultural challenges…you could find a way to make it work if you really want to do that…OR if your honest desire is to try your hand at something else, then you can find a way to make that work too. Half the problem is knowing what you really deep down WANT. Once you know where you want to go, getting there is less daunting.


The Ace of Wands is your challenge now…you may have to “get creative” and think “outside the box” to do what you wish to do…once you know the truth of what that is. If you wish to teach, you may have to teach a different age group, or even adults, to find the cultural fit you need, for example. There is also a sense of creaTIVITY as well as creaTION…this may be a chance to do something self-expressive or creative that you wouldn’t maybe have the same opportunity to do here in the states…artwork, or writing about your adventure, or writing a text about teaching in different cultures or something on that order…again, the honest look at your heart’s desire, and a willingness to be flexible and creative in making that desire workable will guide you


The Temperance card is an idea to guide you forward…a good next step. I feel it is all about finding that balance between cultures…perhaps teaching Taiwanese culture to Americans and vice versa. I want to say symbiosis too…the two things balanced and harmonious, yes, but at the same time being stronger than either alone.

My mind keeps returning to the book “Iron and Silk”. I can’t remember the author’s name right now. Have you ever read it? It is a memoir of a man from America teaching English at a school in China (I think it was the mainland, though) There aren’t a lot of similarities between you and the person in the book, but it may have some small idea or inspiration for you.

Usually I open to any impressions that might come through, whether they are related to your cards and question or not to let any important messages to come through. To be honest there isn’t much energy in this part…just a mental image of blue and grey silk scarves blowing in the wind – similar to a bit of the movie version of “Iron and Silk” come to think of it. It feels symbolic somehow, but I can’t tell what exactly…perhaps you can think of something. Whatever you think it might be…that is it…your hunches and intuition is the thing to listen to here.

Now I see an old iron temple bell, and a metal – looking fu dog statue. I remember seeing a TV show about Taiwan and the Dharma Drum Mountain temple….I see their bell and thier bohdi tree with the paper leaves and the wishes written on them. Are you near there? The color pink of the paper they used catches my attention a little bit too…pink is often associated with love, compassion, and the heart chakra.

And there the energies step back

Good luck to you! Hao Yun!