All about tarot spreads

Happy New Year, witches! It makes me so happy to say that I have been receiving quite a few messages from those of you who are delving into the world of Tarot! A few of these messages have contained questions about various spreads and how to use them, so I thought I would write you a handy guide!

So first of all, what is a spread? A Tarot spread is a specific pattern for laying out cards. Each spread has a particular theme (that could relate to anything: romance, personal growth, or even the time of year, just like the New Year spread in my last post), and each card position has a particular meaning. This means that when you read from a spread, you are not just considering the meanings of the cards, but their relation to the question asked, position in the spread, and the spread’s overall theme.

So why use a spread instead of drawing cards at random? There’s nothing wrong with the latter! Just remember that you can use a spread to get super specific. Tying the meaning of the cards to the meaning of the spread gives your reading a more structured sense of context, which can help you gain a deeper understanding of the overall message.

Let’s go over a few of my favorite spreads! We are using the beautiful Tarot in Wonderland deck, which I received as a Winter Solstice gift (thanks Mom!).

More often than not, when I do a reading for someone (or myself) I ask if the person would like one, three, or five cards. How do you know which is right for the situation? Go with whatever feels right! Remember that less cards will be quicker and will give you a very focused answer, but more cards will give you more details and take a bit more time to decipher. So it really just depends how deep you’re trying to go with whatever you’re asking about.

I always have whoever is asking the question (in Tarot terms, the “querent”) shuffle the deck. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – when you feel like you’re done, you’re done! Whether it’s one card, three, or five, I always give the option of spreading all the cards and selecting them at random, or pulling from the top. If it’s one card, that’s all you need to know! You can try drawing two cards for a short but balanced answer to your question as well. But it’s when you start drawing three cards or more that I would generally consider the reading a “spread.”

3 card reading

There are multiple ways to read a three card spread, but I have three favorites:
1. Read them cohesively – what do the cards represent together? Consider their meanings in harmony and in relation to each other, and reflect on how that relates to your inquiry.
2. Read them chronologically – the lefthand card as the past, center as present, and righthand card as the future (remember, that doesn’t mean what WILL happen in your future – it represents an influence or effect that could potentially result from the factors described in the previous two cards).
3. Body, mind, and spirit: The lefthand card represents your inquiry’s effect on your physical being, the center represents your mental response regarding the situation, and the righthand card represents the inquired-about situation’s effect on your spiritual self.

When I read a five-card spread, I usually either consider the meaning of all the cards together, or I think of them as a “storyboard” chronologically playing out the answer. For the latter, starting on the left the first card represents the influences at the beginning of the situation, then more recent past influences, then the present experience, then influences that are beginning to start trickling in, with the final card representing the likely direction of the situation, given the path these previous influences have led you down.

Celtic cross spread

Are you ready to really go for it? One of my favorite spreads to really delve into an inquiry is called the Celtic Cross spread. I have seen many different variations on this so please know that my method is not the only one! But this is how I have always done it. Ten cards are drawn and laid out in the pattern listed above. It’s perfect for just about any question as it gives you a very in-depth and well-rounded answer (for this particular reading I asked about my career). Here are the meanings of each card placement:
Card #1 represents either the inquired-about situation, or the querent or person inquired about. In this reading, I got the Seven of Pentacles, which tells me I’m a bit burnt out and wondering if all my recent efforts are going to be worth it. Painfully accurate, unfortunately!
Card #2 represents the main obstacle or influence that #1 is facing. In this case, the Nine of Wands is telling me I’ve been a bit worn out from my struggles, but have learned a lot from what I’ve been through.
Card #3 is something you (or whoever you asked about) already has. And for me it’s the Nine of Cups – being happy and content with what I have!
Card #4 represents the most recent influences on the situation at hand. Recently I have been putting my all into generating creative success and abundance in my life, so it makes sense to see the King of Pentacles in that spot.
Card #5 represents a goal or the best that can be attained in the situation. The Ace of Pentacles is it, baby — I’m out here seeking to create new, potentially fruitful opportunities and endeavors!
Card #6 shows us what influences are about to start moving into your life, if they haven’t already. I’m happy to see the Three of Cups here, signaling cause for celebration with those around me!
Card #7 represents your attitude (or the person-who-you-asked-about’s-attitude) in relation to the situation at hand. Two of Cups signals duality and things coming together; my best guess is that I’m trying to tie together my interests and goals so they are harmoniously intertwined in my life.
Card #8 is the world around you, or the environment of the situation. The Page of Swords encapsulates all the new beginnings, ideas, and future plans my life is swimming in right now. Perfect!
Card #9 can represent either your hopes, your fears, or both. The Seven of Cups is a card that shows the feeling of having many options and opportunities, but not all of them are totally legit. Pretty much sums up my worst fear, as we mentioned earlier when we saw the Seven of Pentacles: I worry that I’m not putting my efforts in the right areas.
Card #10 is the closest thing you’re gonna get to a future prediction, but I’ll maintain that it is NOT actually a future prediction, so don’t take it as a death sentence! (Literally, see, because I got the Death card, huh? Ha…) I think of it as a likely outcome as a result of all the other factors leading up to it (aka all the previous cards). In this case, my best guess is that I might need to reevaluate and change a few things to get what I want out of life. Kinda had a feeling.

I hope these examples helped! I know it can be a lot to try to relate the card meaning to the placement to the spread’s theme and then to the question asked, but if you’re ever getting caught up and confused, don’t be afraid to take a step back. Sometimes in order to tie everything together, you have to “zoom out” and just reflect on all the cards as they are. The purpose of the card placements is to give you a guide and a suggestion, but don’t get married to specific placements! If something isn’t making sense, try to think about it in a different, more abstract way. How specific or vague you want to get is totally up to you!

If you’re hungry for more spread options, you don’t have to go far to find more! One of my favorite resources for creative spreads is Emerald Lotus. There are tons of other websites out there too, so let Google be your BFF! If you want a spread for any particular purpose, just look it up – you will be pleasantly surprised at the wide variety available! And once you get familiar with different spreads, you might want to try creating your own to really personalize the process!

Hopefully these tips helped demystify the concept of Tarot spreads. Remember, they are just another tool to help you get the most out of your Tarot reading experience. Feel free to use what works for you and ignore what doesn’t. Remember that Tarot’s most important meaning is what it means to you, so your experience is what you make of it!

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