How to Select the Significator that will be used in the Opening of the Key

by Douglas Gibb on June 8, 2011

Or not. The choice is yours.

There are three main approaches to the Opening of the Key that I’ll be referring to in this tutorial series; Crowley’s approach, Regardie’s Golden Dawn and Paul Hughes-Barlow’s variation. Both Crowley and the Golden Dawn make use of a Significator, whilst Paul Hughes-Barlow does not.

Israel Regardie, in his book called the Golden Dawn, deviates somewhat from Book-T. When I use the term Golden Dawn, I’m referring to Regardie’s book on the Golden Dawn, not Book-T. Interestingly, Crowley follows Book-T exactly.

Choosing whether or not to use a Significator is a critical decision. It will determine what steps you follow for the rest of the first “operation”.

Use a Significator and you will be using a Crowley or Golden Dawn version. Don’t use a Significator and you will be using Paul Hughes-Barlow’s version.

But before you can make an informed choice, you’ll need some additional information.

Why are they important to both Crowley and Regardie’s Golden Dawn?

Significators play a vital role in telling you what the client’s question is and what card to start Card Counting from.

To make things clearer, here are the steps involved (without any detail):

  1. Select a Significator.
  2. Shuffle and cut the deck into four piles (I’ll explain how in the next post).
  3. Know that each of the four piles represents an area of the client’s life.
  4. Find out what pile the Significator is in.
  5. That pile represents the client’s question.

The last point is particularly important. Both Crowley and Regardie start the reading without knowing what the question is.

So, you select a Significator to represent the client, put the Significator back in the deck and shuffle. The next step is to cut the deck into four piles and then find the pile that contains the Significator. The pile that contains the Significator represents an area of the client’s life. This allows you to make a quick prediction on what general topic their question involves.

I’ll be covering what the four piles represent in the next post. But it is important to understand at this early stage that for both Crowley and Regrdie, the Significator plays an active role in the Opening of the Key.

How do I select a Significator?

You have two obvious choices. You can chose the Golden Dawn way, or the Crowley way.

Regardie’s, “The Golden Dawn” says to use the physical description of the client, whereas Crowley says to use their character.

Crowley’s method

1. The Significator.

Choose a card to represent the Querent, using your knowledge or judgement of his character rather than dwelling on his physical characteristics

The Book of Thoth, page 249

The Golden Dawn’s method

Before commencing the Divination, one of the sixteen court cards should be selected to represent the significator of the enquirer, and should answer as nearly to his description.
Wands generally – very fair-haired and red-haired persons with fair complexion.
Cups generally – moderately fair persons.
Swords generally – dark persons.
Pentacles generally – very dark persons.
Kings – Generally men.
Queens – Generally woman.
Princes (Knights) – Generally young men.
Princesses (Knaves) – Generally young women.

– From The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series), page 567

What if you have never seen them before or don’t know their character?

On this point Crowley is silent, but The Golden Dawn offers this suggestion:

If the Diviner be performing the Divination for a person at a distance and of whose general description he is ignorant, he can select the significator by cutting the pack, and taking one of the court cards of that suit, cut to represent him of course earnestly thinking of the person at the time.

p. 567

Not everyone will be comfortable with this approach. If not, you could always use a different method.

For instance, select a Significator based on their date of birth (Astrology) or use any Tarot card, not just Court cards. I know the Golden Dawn insists on using a Court card but it might suit your particular situation to use a minor or major card.

Yeah, but Doug, I hate Significators

Then don’t use them.

In the next post I’ll cover what the consequences of that decision are, but they’re neither good nor bad. It just means that you need some other device to select one of the four piles to read from – and which card to start counting from.


Decide what you want to do. Do you want to use a Significator? If so, do you want to use Crowely’s way or the Golden Dawn’s way? If not, don’t. Paul Hughes-Barlow doesn’t and it’s effective.

When it comes to working with a Tarot spread, you have to be comfortable with it. And that means adaption. A Tarot spread is not rigid. It’s dynamic and a confident Tarot reader will adapt a spread to suit their style. If a Tarot spread is so rigid that it can’t adapt it becomes a hinderance.

There is nothing sacred about any Tarot spread. They are just Tarot spreads. I mentioned in the introduction that most Tarot readers have their own version of the Celtic Cross. The Opening of the Key is no different. Each person who uses the Opening of the Key will have their own version.

The purpose of this Tutorial series is to keep things practical. I want you to be able to use the Opening of the Key, adapt it and be effective with it. To do that you need to understand your options and choose the right approach for you.

The Opening of the Key Tutorial Series

  1. Introduction
  2. How to Select the Significator that will be used in the Opening of the Key

(Theoretically) Related Posts:

14 comments… Let's discuss

Paul Hughes-Barlow June 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm

An excellent summary of the ways and means of choosing a significator. The reason I do not choose a significator is that I allow the Tarot to do the work for me. It also means I am free to take the reading in whatever direction it goes.

Somehow even if I miss what is important, the Tarot usually manages to find a way of telling me this and nudging things until I notice.



Bonnie Cehovet June 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Douglas –

You are taking this series at a very nice pace! I will have to htink about this one – I am one of those people that do not use significators. ;-)



Anindita July 11, 2011 at 12:09 am

Is it ok to use astrological significators in the opening of the key? Also I wud like to know if you have posted any tutorials on interpretations of face cards when they appear as the outcome card?


Douglas Gibb July 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Hi Anindita,

Yes, that’s absolutely fine. Using astrology is a good way to go :)

When you say ‘face cards’, do you mean Court cards? If so then no, I haven’t written on anything that explicitly covers them as an outcome card. I’m also unaware of any online information that would cover that specific area.

Having said that, I don’t use positional spreads and so I don’t think in terms of an outcome card.

I would say though that if a Court was an outcome card then keep the message simple: “The outcome involves the actions of another”, or this court card signifies the approach of (or departure of) ….”, and so on.


Anindita July 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Hi Doug! Thnks fr d help. Actually I like using d Celtic cross spread which hs d 10th card as the outcome card and while reading the cards for someone who’s a fire sign, I got the queen of pentacles at the outcome position. And this happened several times with her as wel as her kids. They were goin thru a difficult financial period.By the way m prety new to the tarot and dnt hav much xperience. It’s vry nice of u to help people like me thru a website! I plan to take up tarot card readin professionally . Do u think I should get in touch wid a teacher? Or do u think it’s something one can learn from readin books and getting online info? I hav another question-is card countin method applied only to d OOTK spread?


Katrina Wynne July 18, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Hey Doug,

So good to see your stimulating writing again.

Although I don’t use a Significator for any particular spread, I do use it when working with new clients to focus on their unique focus in life. I tend to use Tarot Numerology for this purpose and begin the reading with this technique before moving onto my spread.

If I were using the “Opening of the Key” technique, I would use the Crowley method, much like my Tarot mentor, Lady Dorothy, would use with me many years ago. I find it helps the client tune into their strengths, while also revealing their less developed areas. For example, if my Significator was the Queen of Swords, I might wonder why I was not the Queen of Cups. Sometimes Lady Dorothy would select two queens for me, which helped me feel like I was expanding in my expression and presence.

Looking forward to the rest of the series!!

Love & Light,


Zoe August 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hello, Douglas!

This is a marvellous tutorial!
Please continue…..
So many of us must be waiting (with bated breaths, if I may add!)
Hope you find time…. :-)
Warm regards,


Douglas Gibb August 31, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Hi Zoe,

Thank you for your kind words. Much appreciated :)

I’ll be posting the next part of this series as soon as possible :D


Zoe September 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Hello, Douglas!
Looking forward!

Warm regards,


Anindita August 31, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Hi Doug!
I have a question? Is card counting method useful for other tarot spreads too?


Douglas Gibb August 31, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Hi Anindita,

Yes, card counting can be used with any spread. It’s a technique, and like any technique it can be used with any Tarot spread. Think of it like another tool you can keep in your Tarot tool box. If the job requires that you use that tool, as opposed to another, then you know it’s available to you. But just like any tool, knowing when to use it is as every bit important as knowing how to use it.

I hope that helps :)


Anindita August 31, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Thanks so much Doug!!
Any specific suggestions u have regarding the ideal situations in which this tool might be really useful?


Traci A. Goodrich December 12, 2011 at 4:56 am

Hi Doug,

Thank you for introducing me to a new method of finding a significator, I don’t typically use them, but I am curious to try this technique!

Since I very rarely use significators, I find there are usually several cards in the spread that either represent different aspects of the client’s personality or different “faces” they show to other people.

I enjoy your site. Thank you!



Leigh | The Intuitive Sense August 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I agree with Traci, Doug. I am not a big user of significators either. If there is something that the client needs to know about their personality or character traits, usually a card will come up in the spread that will tell me and the client all we need to know.


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