Monday, 20 October 2014

Richard Abbot's Tattva Spread

Tattva symbols
As I said last week, I really enjoyed Richard Abbot's workshop at the UK Tarot Conference.  He explained a bit about the Sanskrit approach to the basic elements of life, the 'that-ness' that underlies existence (that's the translation of tattva).  This system recognises Akasha/Spirit, Tejas/Fire, Vayu/Air, Apas/Water and Prithvi/Earth as the fundamental elements of existence.

From this, Richard derived a spread with positions/associations which are somewhat different to the way I generally approach the elements.  He also had the interesting idea to use only the cards of the associated suit in drawing a card for each element's position in the spread.

For Spirit, the question is 'What is the lesson here?', and a card is drawn from amongst the Majors.  Fire is seen as hot, burning, forging, expanding, so the question is 'What is growing?' and is answered by a card from the Wands suit.  Air is invisible, colourless (though represented by a blue circle!), and odourless, so Richard's question is 'What is hanging in the air?'  Water is wet, cleansing, purging, and as something being washed away the question is 'What is receding?'  And Earth is solid, fixed, heavy, dense, and his question is 'What is fixed/stable?'

Finally, Richard suggested that we draw another Spirit card to answer 'And if I learn this lesson, what next?'  He also said we could draw another for if we don't learn the lesson.  However, my belief, which he also expressed, is that we will keep being presented with opportunities to learn a given lesson until we do get it, so I decided to skip that card.

As you can see, the questions end up being quite different from those we might expect with more Western, tarot-based associations.  For example, following those ideas the question for Water might be 'What emotions are being felt?' and for Earth might be 'What is involved at a practical level?'  It's also interesting to only answer each element's question with a card from that element, rather than from the full deck.  While the latter approach can be insightful in noting whether or not a card from the associated suit falls in 'its place', Richard's idea brings a different set of possibilities to the table.

To explore this, I asked the cards about the lesson offered to me by the Conference itself.  Here is my answer, from the Mosaic Dream Tarot (Bridgett Trejo, 2014):

1) Spirit - The Tower

My lesson was to cope with having my fixed ideas challenged and shattered.  Mary Greer did some challenging, with her recommendation to seek cognitive dissonance - to try to challenge our own assumptions.  And she helped this along by showing how much we jump to conclusions, and by getting us to look at tough ethical questions like "Is it acceptable to tell a querent what they SHOULD or SHOULDN'T do?"  Richard's workshop challenged my normal elemental associations and preference for pulling from a full deck, but the results were really interesting.  Les Cross' talk challenged my assertion that I don't want to learn any more systems of divination.  Yep, plenty of shake-ups :)

2) Fire - Nine of Wands

What is growing is my ability to push on in the face of these kind of challenges, to not let them put me off.  As one book title famously put it, to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!

3)  Air - Five of Swords

What is hanging in the air, there but not spoken, is the question of whether I will let these challenges leave me feeling defeated.  Whether I will take them as destroying my understanding of things, or pick up and dust myself off, richer for the changes.

4) Water - Seven of Cups

What is receding is my sense that I have to choose one thing or another, to make a firm choice.  As Mary had us say in one exercise: "Yes, and... Yes, and..."

5)  Earth - Ace of Pentacles

What is fixed is the potential that is there, the seed that is always available to be planted and to grow in the rich soil left after the Tower has been razed.

6) Spirit - Justice

What next?  Well, I hope I can be fairer, jump to less rushed judgements, and give credit where it's due.


  1. I'm so glad you shared this - Richard's spread peaked my interest when I read your post about the conference! Yes - it's a real change of perspective from the way I interpret elements too (much along the same lines as you, I think). I really like the idea of using only the cards from the corresponding suit/arcana for each element. Like you, I prefer not to sort through my cards before a reading, but it's good to experiment (and to be fair, it can be very confusing when you pull a sword in an earth position etc!)

    I LOVE your interpretation of the Ace of Pentacles in Earth...following on from your Tower. Suggests that there is really fertile ground for development after having so much of what you believe and feel about tarot challenged.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this, Beth :) And as for not sorting your cards, while in the workshop Richard had us separate out the suits, when using this reading for myself what I do is just shuffle as normal and then keep drawing cards until I get one of each suit, setting others aside - much less work! :D
      And yes, fertile ground indeed. It totally inspired me, and I've been re-structuring something I'd been working on for several months ;)

  2. "to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway"is a definition of real courage to me. It sounds like this tarot conference has pushed your boundaries and made room for a lot of new insights both in the tarot as in yourself :)

    1. Definitely, Ellen, on both counts :) This is one of the things that make a Conference like this so worth while!

  3. Great spread, and cards ;) Thank you for sharing!! I will have to try this spread for myself sometime. I can see how it can be very beneficial and encouraging.

    1. Yes, thanks for the lovely cards, Bridgett, I'm enjoying them. Interesting colour palette, that I like a lot. Hope you do give the spread a whirl - definitely insightful :)