A spread is a preset pattern for laying out the tarot cards. It defines how many cards to use, where each one goes, and what each one means. A spread is a template guiding the placement of the cards so they can shed light on a given topic. It is within this template that the meanings of the cards come together so beautifully.
The most important feature of a spread is the fact that each position has a unique meaning that colors the interpretation of whatever card falls in that spot. For example, the Four of Pentacles stands for possessiveness, control, and blocked change. If this card were to fall in Position 4 of the Celtic Cross Spread (the “Past” position), you would look at how these qualities are moving out of your life. In Position 6 (the “Future”), you would instead view them as coming into your life – a quite different interpretation.
Tarot spreads can be any size or pattern. Rahdue’s Wheel includes all 78 cards and creates a vast tableau of one person’s life. A spread can also contain just one card. In lesson 5 I show how a one-card spread is useful for daily readings.
Most spreads contain between six and fifteen cards. This range is small enough to be manageable, but large enough to cover a topic in some depth. The pattern of a spread often forms a design that reflects its theme. For example, the Horoscope Spread is in the shape of the traditional circle that forms a person’s birth chart. The twelve cards of this spread correspond to the twelve houses of astrology.
When cards are related to each other in a spread, an entirely new level of meaning is created. Combinations appear, and a story line develops with characters, plots and themes. The weaving of a story from the cards in a spread is the most exciting and creative aspect of a tarot reading. It is an art, but there are many guidelines you can follow. I discuss these in later lessons and give examples of the story-making process.
In these lessons, I refer to just the Celtic Cross Spread. I think you will be able to concentrate more on developing your intuition if you stick to just one spread at first. Once you know the cards well and feel comfortable reading them, you can expand your tarot practice by exploring other layouts. Before you continue with the lessons, read over the Celtic Cross Section. We’ll be using this spread throughout the course.
Exercises – Lesson 4
Exercise 4.1 – Celtic Cross Spread
Spend a few minutes looking at the Celtic Cross Section so you understand how it is set up. Don’t worry about memorizing anything. The goal is simply to get comfortable with the information.
Now, lay out ten cards of your choice using this spread. Read the page for each position one by one. Think about the meaning each card takes on because it falls in a certain position. You will learn more about this later, but just speculate for now.
Exercise 4.2 – Designing a Spread
You can design spreads yourself to suit your needs. Create for yourself now a three-card tarot spread. Follow these steps:
- Draw a picture of the physical layout – where the cards should go.
- Number the positions to show order of placement.
- Write a short phrase or two describing the meaning of each position.
This is a basic three-card spread that covers events in time.
Here’s a spread to use when you belong to a three-person team and want to know the expectations of the members (including yourself). The cards form a “Y” with the tops facing inward. This pattern suggests a meeting of the minds.
The Celtic Cross
Here is one approach to interpreting the Celtic Cross.
- Look at the six cards of the Circle/Cross section. They show what is going on in your life at the moment of the reading.
- Examine the cards in pairs, perhaps in the following order:
- Look at Cards 1 and 2 to find out the central dynamic.
- Look at Cards 3 and 5 to find out what is going on within you at different levels.
- Look at Cards 4 and 6 to see how people and events are flowing through your life.
From these six cards, create a description of your immediate situation.
- Consider the Staff section of the spread, perhaps in this order:
- Look at Cards 7 and 8 to find out how more about the relationship between you and your environment.
- Look at Card 10 – the projected outcome. How do you feel about it? What does it say to you?
- Review the cards to discover the factors leading to the outcome. See if one card stands out as key. Also:
- Compare the projected outcome (Card 10) to a possible alternative outcome (Card 5).
- Consider how the near future (Card 6) contributes to the projected outcome (Card 10).
- See if Card 9 tells you something you need to know. Do you have a hope or fear that is relevant?