My Equinox Reading: The First Operation

Eight times per year, at each of the holidays of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, I perform a Tarot reading for myself. Not just any Tarot reading, but a massive, full-throated Opening of the Key spread. It’s something I’ve been doing for several years now, a way to check in with myself throughout each year and see the big issues that are manifesting in my life and the capital-W Work I have to do.

This is the only time I ever use the Opening of the Key. It’s such an overpowered spread that I really think it’s not suited to everyday readings, and as a general rule I don’t like oversized spreads (the sort that use the whole frigging deck). They flood a reader with so much information that it becomes all but impossible to tease out what’s relevant. But as a way to track the Big Things in my life over time, I’ve found the OOTK is absolutely perfect.

Today, I’m going to walk you through the reading I did for myself at this vernal equinox. There’s a lot of information in here, so I may gloss over some of it, but I thought this would be a fun opportunity to see a bit of how I read–especially for anyone who isn’t familiar with the OOTK and is intimidated by the prospect of trying it.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Opening of the Key, it’s one giant reading that consists of five smaller readings, known as “operations”. You pick a significator to run through all five readings; in this case, I’ve chosen the Empress because I associate her with the spring equinox. For the first operation, you divide the deck into four piles, which represent the four elements. From right to left: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. The top card on each pile tells you the major theme of your life with regard to each of those elements.

The First Operation.

Here, I have the Tower, the Six of Cups rx, the Two of Swords rx, and the Six of Pentacles. All of this makes sense. In my religious life, I’m definitely feeling the energy of the Tower, the sort of rapid, fits-and-starts expansion that leaves you feeling dizzy and breathless. Two Sundays ago, I went into the woods near my home and meditated for two full hours, and let me tell you, friends, shit happened.

Similarly, seeing the Six of Cups rx in the Water position was no surprise. My emotional life has been in a bit of a weird place lately. Not necessarily a bad one, but a weird one. I’ve caught myself repeating some old behavioral patterns that I had thought I’d put to bed, and my love life is like the second act of a formulaic rom-com. I also, as a general rule, struggle immensely with anything resembling emotional vulnerability, because it makes me feel small and weak and childish. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the past months to get over that hurdle, but there’s still some stuff I’m sorting through, and I see a lot of that work reflected in the Six of Cups here.

At first glance, the Two of Swords rx speaks to a lot of what’s going on in my life as a grad student right now. I have a paper from the fall semester that I’m still working on, and that has dragged me down in a number of ways. It’s making it more difficult for me to focus on my work for this semester, and it’s also leaving me feeling somewhat confused and indecisive with regards to new projects that I want to (or have to) take on.

Of the four cards I turned up, the Six of Pentacles is the one I understand least. There’s an obvious numerological connection with the Six of Cups in Water, but for the most part, my health and material circumstances are pretty well set. I don’t have a lot going on in this area, and I’m still not entirely sure how the energy of the Six connects in. I’ll need to reflect on it further. One thing that’s interesting and worth noting, just from the initial look of the First Operation, is that I appear to be well placed elementally. All three Minor Arcana cards are in the positions corresponding to the elemental dignity of their respective suits; there’s no ill-dignified combination of a Wand in the Water position or a Pentacle in the Air. And the Major Arcanum that turned up in the Fire position is, itself, quite a fiery card.

At this stage in the reading, you sort through each of the four piles to see which one has the significator (in this case, the Empress) in it. That sets the elemental tone for the whole Opening of the Key, and gives you a hint as to what the reading is about. It lets you, as a reader, start to narrow your focus in on a particular issue or issues. For myself, I was simply hoping for anything other than Water; I did not want to have to deal with a reading about my love life.


I found the Empress (rx) in the Air pile, so I set aside the rest of the deck and laid out all the cards from that pile in order. The next step of the OOTK involves card counting techniques; there are a variety of ways to approach card counting in Tarot, and I had a post about card counting many years ago. Start with your significator; note the cards it falls between. Here, we have the Empress rx between the Queen of Swords rx and the Knight of Swords rx. Then, using whatever method you prefer, count from the significator to another card on the table. I counted seven cards to the left of the Empress, because the Empress is a planetary card and it appeared reversed. This took me to the Two of Pentacles rx, which in turn took me (two cards to the left) to the Wheel of Fortune. You keep counting until you land on a card you’ve already selected.


The sequence of the cards you select tells a story. Here, we go from the Empress rx to the Two of Pentacles rx, then to the Wheel of Fortune, the Chariot, and the King of Cups rx. (The counting should actually have continued after that point, but I miscounted from the King. My bad.)

So what do we see here? We have the Empress in reverse in a reading about Air–so intellect, communication, etc. I see some kind of hampered growth; the reversed Two of Pentacles echoes the Two of Swords from earlier, and makes me think a key issue here is some kind of indecisiveness or unwillingness to make a commitment. But then beyond that, with the Wheel of Fortune and the Chariot, we see that there’s something bigger going on; there are certain elements of this reading that are beyond myself. Both of these cards from the Major Arcana speak to a sense of being driven, of a sort of reactionary change. Things are going on in my environment, and I am being forced to adapt to them. The King of Cups in reverse pushes this notion as well; Court Cards are often external agents, people with whom the querent interacts. In this case, I’m inclined to see the King of Cups as someone in my immediate social or professional sphere, perhaps someone I look up to, who is involved with these big-level changes.

Taking a step back from all that and just looking at the other cards that came up, I see a ton of Swords. The picture quality here is not great, because my many virtues do not include expertise with photography, but we have the Two, Knight, Queen, Page, Ten, Eight, Six, and Nine of Swords. I know this is the Air pile, but holy damn, that’s a lot of Air. Fully half of the cards in this pile are from the suit of Swords, and three of the four Court Cards are present. This tells me that whatever is going on, it’s an issue that I spend far too much time thinking about. It’s something that has me up in my head, and it occupies a great deal of mental energy. It’s probably also something that I’ve been talking about a lot, considering how speech-oriented the Swords generally are.

At this stage, I don’t feel a need to press for a more specific subject in the reading. The First Operation is just about laying the groundwork for a reading, and there are four more operations in which to hone in on a problem and discover a solution. This part of the reading is just about setting some general terms and knowing the sort of thing to look for in the following stages.

I have only covered the first of five operations, and already this post is at 1500 words, so I’m going to do us all a favor and break it up into several parts. I’ll do one post for each of the five operations of the Opening of the Key, and I’ll post more frequently than I usually do so that my blog doesn’t just become a month-long analysis of a single reading. Because that’s no fun. Stay tuned for the Second Operation sometime in the next couple of days.

6 thoughts on “My Equinox Reading: The First Operation

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