Combining Cards Together in a Reading
I have seen a few questions pop up occasionally about combining and synthesizing the cards together in a reading and while I don't want to toot my own horn, toot, toot, this is kind of my entire thing, so I thought I could hopefully share some ideas, concepts, and techniques that at I can at least vouch for.
This is a huge topic, so I'm keeping my focus on a handful of components that I feel to be critical, but this topic in general very quickly goes to the weeds/"here there be dragons" territory, and at least in my view the beating heart of tarot.
I also know that tarot tends to best be taught through examples and demonstration, but given the (potential) size of the topic and the limitations on the sizes of reddit posts, I'm going to focus on the general ideas and then ideally follow up questions people with more direct examples, for clarity.
Forewarning: this is an opinionated take. I try to make it as broad as possible and applicable to as many interpretations as possible, but I have opinions that there are more productive ways to read the cards and less productive ways to read the cards.
To practice combining and linking cards, I prefer to work with a 3-card pull, 3-cards in a line. It's dirt simple and for these purposes, too many cards, and too many spread positions would be distracting.
The first thing, is a complete visual inventory of the spread and the scenes I see in front of me. Figures, which way are they facing, are they looking at each other, where are their feet, where is the horizon, hands; what are they gesturing towards, body language and posture, color of the sky and background, where is the horizon, etc., etc.
I tend to be a note-taker, so this usually gets written down, but not always. The important part is the process of the visual inventory, the complete stock of the cards themselves.
From this point forward, repetition is the North Star of this entire process. This can be very overt, such as the repetition of a suit, or a number, and a lot of tarot resources at the very least have something to say about suits repeating, usually connected to their elemental attributions, but I did not make a list of everything I see on the cards for the sake of bureaucratic thoroughness.
What I am looking for is repetitions inside of these smaller visual details. Three figures in card A, three figures in card B, I would say there's a symmetry or a kind of visual rhyme. This tells me that for all their other myriad functions they may serve in the spread, these two cards are fundamentally connected and "in communication" with one another.
Repetition also focuses on the absence of repetition, the singular, and a powerful concept here can be one of transformation, whereby something like the Emperor's scepter becomes the wand carried by the Knight of Wands and we might ask the question, "What authority has the Emperor granted the Knight? What are his orders/commands?" Or perhaps the Emperor's Scepter transforms into the Ace of Swords which would be a very elegant two card reading for a single word, "War". Shape is a very good watch word when looking for transformations.
From repetition, the next critical concept is that every tarot card, and every tarot spread is filled to the brim with lines. A lot of the most important lines are invisible and implicit, but one of them that's usually drawn right on the cards is the horizon, which just like the physical horizon, defines the possible scope and view of the scene. A shifting horizon necessarily means a shifting point of observation/perspective, etc.
For those invisible lines, the three most important are gaze, gesture, and motion. Gaze, often crosses card borders, and defines focus and attention. I've read and seen it argued that gaze is indicative of desire, I feel that this is a little overly specific because being concerned enough about something to look at it doesn't necessarily mean I want whatever it is I'm looking at, but it certainly means it has my attention.
Gesture, however, well, people reach for things with their hands, they use tools and wield weapons with their hands. Hands and their motions are indicative of desire and want. Are the hands reaching out, making an offering, or are they held closer to the body? What is the direction of the hands?
Motion and lines of motion are a dead giveaway. If you read with the RWS, I don't know too many ways to say that the Knight of Swords isn't charging into the card on his immediate left to have a civil conversation. Cards with a clear direction of motion want to be somewhere they are not and they have a reason for wanting to be there.
Color is another factor to keep in mind as you're weaving the cards together. Some decks have a very intentional color design that reflects the philosophy of the deck creator, and while I don't have time to get into every system of color attribution that has ever made its way into a tarot deck, it's still possible to conclude that repetitions of color strengthen the colors theme, and broadly warmer colors are more engaging/ed than cooler colors, etc.
From there and from this soup of visual elements all rhyming with each other, I then try to write out a single sentence that best summarizes the complete scene or narrative I see in front of me with the three cards. There is a simpler version where I try to come up with a single word or phrase based on the interaction of two cards, as seen above with the, however the real meat and potatoes comes in with the three cards to building a coherent sentence/scene.
In terms of practice that's all there really is to it. Now, if you're reading for someone, or you are after the answer for a specific question, there's a step after all of this that involves looking at the story the cards are telling and then asking what this story has to do with the question that was asked. That is another post in and of itself, but the short version at least for me is that context and plausible inference are King and Queen; if someone comes in with a question about work, the "War" indicated by that Emperor and Sword rapidly becomes a "hostile work environment due to an overbearing boss" rather than an actual war, or worse, some kind of projected Freudian drama with the sitters' relationship with their father. Not that that's impossible, but I would be looking for a repetition of the themes of fatherhood expressed by the Emperor in the other cards before I thought anything other than "boss".
Either way, tying the narrative into the question is a different topic than weaving that narrative together in the first place.
This has been my mode of practice for so long that individual cards and even the symbolism contained on them, are mostly irrelevant as long as they remain in isolation and without the context of other cards to ground them. The Sun needs something to shine its light on before it can "enlighten" anything, and so and so forth. The most basic unit of meaning I have is a pair of cards, and reading cards by pairs also forms the basis of the entire Lenormand system and structure, as an outside example of a similar technique.
So, that's what I do to practice specifically tying and uniting the cards of a reading together, though I will say it's very, very easy to say "pay attention to the lines," but it takes a lot of sitting down with the cards and practicing to train your mind and yes to note what they see in these smaller details first, especially if you're coming from a system or resource that teaches the cards as isolated units/blocks of meaning to be interpreted individually.
I'll be around for a while, to answer more questions/give more specific guidance with more direct examples as/if people are interested and I hope this is helpful to at least someone out there and gives at least some idea as to the pieces and aspects that you can draw to connect the cards in a reading.