I admit that I get annoyed when people say the tarot is not good for yes-or-no questions. When someone says that reading yes-or-no amounts to a guess, then I immediately want to ask why is that? Do they believe any form of divination offers yes-or-no assurances? Do they realize that the granddaddy of divination, classical astrology, was used for yes-or-no questions in the antiquities of time? Astrology once held a respected place in society that tarot has never held, and many intelligent people studied it or relied on its advice. Were they all fools for posing questions which required affirmation or negation?
I don’t know if these people don’t like yes-or-no questions in general, or they believe other media can navigate these binary shoals better than tarot. In any case I believe this is a limitation of the reader, not of the tarot.
There are many yes-or-no spreads, many of which are mechanistic in nature because they depend on how many reversals are present. I’m sure that can work if it becomes a personal, internalized convention. After all, if one believes the will of the divine can be read via the illustrations on pieces of pasteboard, then is it that much of a stretch to say that the number of upside down cards can provide the answer one seeks? Why is it acceptable to have meaningful synchronicity by the cards that appear in a spread, and where they appear, but not how they appear?
My opinion is that yes-or-no is simply the outcome of the story that a spread tells.
If Cindy asks about passing her final exam in a tough college class, maybe the answer is found in the Ace of Pentacles, Seven of Pentacles and The World. Yes, she will pass, because she laid a good foundation early on and she patiently worked at her lessons.
Ace of Pentacles – 7 of Pentacles – The World (Lo Scarabeo Tarot)
Jorge wants to know if he will be getting a promotion at work this year, and his answer comes from the 3 of Coins, Wheel and Knight of Swords. No, he will not. He seems likely be passed over in favor of someone who has been more vocal than Jorge about seeking advancement.
3 of Pentacles – The World – Knight of Swords (Lo Scarabeo Tarot)
We could also empower Cindy or Jorge by incorporating advice based on the story in the cards. So Cindy would get a yes, because she is hard at work studying — and as long as she keeps at it, the world is her oyster. Jorge would get no, but rather than stop there, we could ask if he is making his accomplishments known to his management, and remind him that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The answers as well as the advice are all cued by the story assembled from the cards.
So it seems to me that we can choose to find the answer to a yes-or-no question in the cards, provided we are willing to look for it. All we have to do is tell a story with a conclusion, framed by the nature of the question. It might seem tricky when the cards don’t readily fit into a story. Cindy’s question could be harder to answer if she got three Knights, for example. (Unless you use a system like this, in which case three knights indicates honor and rank, which suggests a “yes.”) But that is true of any tarot reading, so yes-or-no questions shouldn’t be thought of as a special case.
Horary astrology and astrological geomancy have a built-in framework to answer these kinds of questions, while giving much detail of the situation in the process. Tarot does not, although common yes-or-no spreads try to incorporate this idea. One example is laying out seven cards and noting whether upright (yes) or reversed (no) cards are predominant. This would give the banswer and then the cards could be further studied to determine the why’s. Or elemental dignities could be used; perhaps the strongest card’s element could provide an answer, based on whether it is an active or passive element.
These methods aren’t standardized, so each reader would have to experiment and determine a methodology that works best for himself. If the storyline works for a reader, then perhaps that is sufficient for obtaining yes-or-no. After all, at its heart, a tarot reading can be considered telling stories based on the cards that show up. And some stories do have a happy ending.
Do you believe tarot can do yes-or-no questions? Are you good with them, or do you stink? Do you have a good method to share? Please, let me know in the comments.