The Secret Path in Tarot
A useful technique to add to your Tarot tool box of skills is looking for a Secret Path between the cards. This is an idea that I first heard about years ago in a book called The Secret Language of Tarot by Ruth and Wald Amberstone.
A Secret Path is where you can link the symbolism of one card directly to another in your deck, perhaps even more than one) and then use this ancillary information to help flesh out your interpretation of the original card.
While the technique might not be new to you, you maybe haven’t considered applying specifically it to your Tarot Court Card work.
It can be especially useful if you are working with single card readings. It allows you to talk about a Secret Path card as well as the card in hand. You’ll never run out of good divinatory information!
I should point out that It has to be a symbol within the card,, rather than a suit symbol, otherwise it doesn’t work. For example, if a Cup is depicted in every single one of the suit of Cups, you are not going to make much sense of your ‘Cup’ symbol as a Secret Path!
Likewise, a crown is no use as a Secret Path if all your King and Queen cards are wearing one.
However, if one of your court cards – not of the Cups suit – happens to be holding a goblet, can that non-suit symbol goblet provide a secret pathway from THAT card through to the suit of Cups – is there an element of that card that speaks of relationships and empathetic emotions?
Or is there another character, hiding away in the deck, also holding a similar goblet?
Here is a Secret Path example from The Wildwood Tarot that runs to two additional cards:
The Queen of Vessels (who is the Wildwood Tarot’s version of the Queen of Cups) is Salmon. If you are stumped about what to say about this court card, look at the other symbolism in the card. There is a hazel tree in the top right and a waterfall behind her.
Let’s think about the hazel tree first – are there any other cards in this deck where you will find a hazel tree? The one that springs to my mind is X The Wheel.
The Wheel in Tarot represents the changes of fortune, which can just as quickly cast us on a downward path as it can to grander things. Does Salmon have anything in common with that? Salmon is a fish that undergoes incredible changes in order to fulfil her destiny – transforming from a salt-water fish to a fresh-water fish. Salmon powers its way upstream, battering endlessly against insurmountable odds (leaping up, being cast down – like The Wheel?) to reach ancient spawning grounds.
You may even know the legend of the salmon and the hazel and can work that into your interpretation too.
In the background of The Wheel card, we can see three long legged birds – cranes – which catapults my insights from The Wheel to the three dancing cranes found in the 3 of Vessels and the communally experienced Joy associated with that card. Salmon is, ultimately a joyful card – thanks to this final link!
Now you can turn your attention to the waterfall – is there a waterfall that you can immediately think of in any other card in the deck? How about the splashing waterfall in the 10 of Vessels with its keyword of Happiness. This strengthens our earlier ‘joyful’ insight, doesn’t it?
Not every Court Card will have such fine symbolism included as The Wildwood Tarot does, but there will be other things for you to consider – hair styles, backgrounds, clothing, colours, hand positions, standing positions – these can all act as secret paths through your Tarot deck.
I recommend sitting with your current working deck’s courts and methodically going through the rest of your deck to find hitherto undreamed of links to other cards. It can take a long time! So set aside a weekend for this project!
To do it, take the first of your 16 court cards and select a symbol in it. Look at every other card for that symbol. If it arises more than three times in other cards, it may not be hugely useful to you as a hidden path, but more useful to you as a symbol in its own right.
Do this for all symbols in your card before moving on to the next card. If your cards are complex, you can see how this will take a dog’s age to carry out!
For example – if only two cards have a full moon, then this would constitute a hidden path. Six cards? Less useful as a hidden path, but absolutely becomes a significant symbol within your deck for you to research further.