A ‘spread’ in tarot is the layout; the pattern formed when you place the cards down on the table. There are many traditional and modern spreads to choose from. You can also create your own tarot spread… or not use one at all.
The purpose of a tarot spread is to enhance the meaning of the card by giving it a position, for example you might lay three cards down in a row, naming the positions past, present and future. The card position modifies its meaning, which helps the reader with his or her interpretations. As you become more experienced, you’ll find you tend to use the same ones over and over. You may also discover that your spreads become more fluid; you may set out a certain number of cards, but you need clarification, so you draw another card, or several.
Note: The tarot deck used for the illustrations is the Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti.
How do you decide which spread is appropriate?
It depends on several factors:
- The question being asked
- The level of detail you want
- Time available for the reading
- Which spreads you are familiar with.
Taking each point in turn, let’s look at the question first. If you are looking for a yes/no answer, then one card should suffice. Similarly with an either/or. For example, when I was expecting our youngest child I playfully asked the tarot if it was a boy or a girl. I turned the Two of Cups – yep girl. You don’t need to even know the meaning of the cards to determine favorable/unfavorable or masculine/feminine, you can instantly know by your own reaction to the card… and practice makes perfect. I love using one-card spreads for many things as a single card can give a whole lot of meaningful information.
If the question is a more general one such as ‘What influences are going to affect me over the year?’, then you could use a wheel spread, starting with three cards up to however many cards you feel comfortable with. I like to lay out a clockwise circle of five or six with a center card to represent the general flavor of the year to come. The circle merely represents the year unfolding, so the first card = beginning of the year and the last card = end of the year. 12 + 1 cards are useful as you have have one card for each month, plus the extra center card.
The level of detail required is up to you. Some readers can get sufficient information from a few cards, whereas others are happier with a larger spread. One of the best spreads to become familiar with is the 10-card Celtic Cross. I use it often in all kinds of ways. For instance, sometimes an email client will ask for a six-card spread, but I will lay out a full Celtic Cross anyway, picking out the relevant positions for their question. The other cards then act as support, giving extra dimensions to my reading.
The time you have allocated for the reading is important – it’s no good trying to interpret a full Celtic Cross or 12-card year spread if time is limited. Opt for fewer cards and your reading will be more useful.
Familiarity with several spreads is useful. As you learn more spreads, you will have more to draw on. However, it is likely that you will find your favorite few and will stick to them.
It’s obvious, but bears saying anyway, that the spread should match the question. For instance, you might be wanting to show off your new 15-card personality spread but your client asked about his career options. Your reading wouldn’t make sense.
‘As You Go’ Tarot Spreads
What if you can’t think of a spread or none of the ones you know are good for a particular question? Don’t worry about it – you have two options. Either forget about the spread and simply turn an appropriate number of cards based on the question, detail required and time available. You can start with one card and keep turning them until the issue is covered. You get a feeling, after you’ve turned and interpreted several cards, usually around four or five, when you know that the next card won’t be relevant.
The second option is to make it up as you go along, allocating positions that are pertinent to the question. Using the example of the man considering his career paths above, I might lay out 3 + 1 to represent his potential pathways, plus one card for an overview. Or for more depth, allocate two cards for each job choice. It’s up to you.
Book Recommendation: Power Tarot
I highly recommend, “Power Tarot” by MacGregor & Vega. It contains 100 spreads and very a useful card interpretation section broken down into aspects of life: work, romance, finances, health, spirituality and empowerment. I’ve had my copy for years and still refer to it when looking for a specific spread.
Like all skills in life, the more readings you do, the easier it becomes to choose a spread.
If you’d like more information about the practical considerations of laying down tarot cards, then have a look at my article, “How to deal tarot cards”.