Fledgling tarot readers are often overwhelmed by the choice of spreads (layouts). Indeed, they are very likely to run before they can walk and begin with the famed Celtic Cross. Whilst a very valuable tool, the Celtic Cross is usually too complex for a beginner to understand all its nuances and permutations of meaning.
I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some suggestions for working with tarot pairs and simple two-card spreads.
Note: This article was originally written by TheRaggedEdge for a TABI newsletter in the long distant past.
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Why use a two-card reading?
Most readers already know the value of drawing one card for a reading – it is amazing how much information one card holds in relation to particular question. However, the possibilities created by adding a second card are endless. The second card will confirm, expand upon and add nuance to the first card. It can reveal underlying reasons for the querant’s situation. Sometimes it will offer a solution to a problem.
There are many ways to use pairs in a reading and I can only address a few of them here. Perhaps my suggestions will help you to find your own methods of developing your own two-card system?
Let us examine the area of personal relationships – as any reader will know, relationship issues account for our most frequently asked questions.
Compare and contrast two cards
First of all, there is the simple drawing of two cards in response to a given question. No positional meanings need be allocated and the reading takes the form of comparing and contrasting the two cards. Placing the two cards side by side, first look at the images. Sometimes the cards automatically fall into the ‘his point of view versus her point of view’. This is particularly the case when the cards are Court cards or illustrated Minor Arcana. I tend to mentally put the querant on the left as I look at the cards, with their partner (or potential partner) on the right.
Ask yourself a few questions: are there human figures in the cards and do they appear to be interacting in some way? Are they facing each other or are they turning away? Does one look like s/he is trying to communicate with the other who appears to be ignoring all overtures? Without even delving into the actual meanings of the cards, it is possible to form an initial impression of the situation in question. What happens if you swap the cards around? Does this give a lead towards offering a possible solution?
Look at this pair: the Three of Swords and the Seven of Wands from Kat Long’s “Golden Tarot”. Often the Three of Swords is interpreted as a ‘broken heart’. That doesn’t work for me as Swords are connected with intellect and communication, therefore when I see that card it reminds me of tangled thoughts and words (which, of course can lead to a broken heart).
Okay here we have a chap standing up for himself. He’s been put on the defensive for some reason. And here we have his lady who has either misunderstood him or been misunderstood herself. She’s obviously drawn some conclusions that are extremely upsetting but very likely wrong. Can you see how you could develop this into a full interpretation complete with solution (they really must sit down and talk about it)? It will help to ask the querant the relevant questions to find out the basis of the miscommunication.
Look for the fine details
Next, look at the finer details such as colour and symbols. Is one card full of light and sunshine whilst the other is grey and cloudy? Examining these points can give a clue as to the atmosphere surrounding the situation. Are there any shared symbols that emphasise a common link? Again, something may catch your eye and suggest a solution.
So, it is possible to carry out a complete reading based only on what you can see and what impressions you receive from the two cards.
Now we can examine the suits and numbers of the two cards. If you wish you can incorporate other systems at this point, such as elemental dignities and numerology. Personally, I find that I never follow a particular order in my examination of the cards – the image, the suits, the numbers and the meanings all combine in a mish-mash. I then make a decision on exactly how I am going to untangle the threads into some kind of structure which will produce a coherent and cohesive reading.
I feel that the actual numbers of the cards are very important and although I do not profess any expertise in numerology, a basic knowledge of the energy of numbers is essential in my readings. Combine this knowledge with the suit and your divinatory meanings are practically handed to you.
There are many ways that the meanings of numbers are expressed but here are my quick and easy favourites:
Ace/One – potential, beginning, inspiration, gift
Two – relationship, balance, choices, waiting, planning
Three – expression, communication, growth, creativity
Four – foundation, manifestation, stability, security
Five – challenge, adventure, adjustment, instability
Six – harmony, achievement, balance, triumph
Seven – discovery, understanding, wisdom, options
Eight – regeneration, movement, assessment, fine-tuning
Nine – endings, attainment, integration, knowledge
Ten – transition, pause, renewal, preparation (for the next cycle).
Keep looking at the cards
So if, in our unspecified relationship reading, a five and a nine appears, my first instinct might be to consider that the partnership may be about to reach an ending, and not a particularly easy ending at that. Or maybe a two and a three will point towards the relationship growing and developing towards stability. A six and an eight may indicate a good relationship that may be undergoing a shift of some kind.
And, of course, we mustn’t forget the traditional meanings for the cards. Do they support? Oppose? Does the second flow on from the first or is there an indication of conflict? Do they tell a story? Most importantly – do they suggest something that resonates with your own intuition?
If something jumps into your mind – maybe a personal memory or the thought of someone with a particular situation or characteristic, or perhaps a relationship that you know of… don’t be afraid to go with it. Never dismiss it. The cards are supposed to jog your thoughts along – say what pops into your head (though you must never blurt it out unthinkingly, always phrase yourself carefully. Try asking a question or using an example to get your client to open up).
The heart of the tarot
There are readers who would be more comfortable assigning positional meanings before drawing the cards, and one of the most useful two-card spreads is dealt with in The Heart of the Tarot by Sandra Thompson, Robert Mueller and Signe Echols (Harper ISBN 0-380-80900-1). This book reduces the over-used Celtic Cross down to the first two cards. In other words, right down to the heart of the reading. The positions have been renamed ‘the situation’ and ‘the challenge’. The authors stress the importance of asking the right question and go on to analyse each card as it appears in both ‘the situation’ and ‘the challenge’. An extremely useful spread that can provide insight into almost any situation.
So when will I meet ‘the one’?
Using this technique and the information given in the book I carried out the following reading.
The initial question: When will I meet my soul mate?
Having gone through a phase of restating the question on the seeker’s behalf and coming back round to the view where I don’t see much value in so doing; for the purposes of this exercise I will reformulate it.
Restated question: The issue is focused on my potential life partner. What do I need to know regarding the circumstances of our meeting? How can I enhance our chances of meeting in the first place?
You can see how this opens up the question and paves the way for a fuller, more in-depth answer.
Okay, for our imaginary querent I have drawn the following cards from the Robin Wood deck:
1.The situation – Two of Swords
2.The challenge – King of Pentacles
Two of Swords.
A woman dressed in a flowing but simple white gown sits on some broken masonry.
Her back is to the ocean, which is choppy but not stormy. Her arms are crossed in front of her chest and in each hand she holds an upward pointing sword. She wears a white blindfold and a stern, unhappy expression. It is night time and dark, raggedy clouds are scudding across the sky. There is a bright crescent moon above and slightly to the woman’s left.
Swords = head-stuff; communication, thinking, clarity, vision
Two = waiting, choice, balance, planning
Image = someone refusing to open up, communicate or acknowledge
It appears that our seeker is reluctant to acknowledge the truth of her situation. She may be blocking off one or more avenues that might lead her to meeting her true love. It is possible that some past experience has caused her to build barriers around herself thus discouraging potential lovers. Or she might have a specific vision of the man of her dreams which is preventing her from seeing the potential of someone she has already met.
The King of Pentacles
The King sits on his throne in a lush, verdant garden. He is surrounded by grape-bearing vines. He wears a crown of leaves and holds a sceptre in his right hand and holds a golden pentacle with his left and lets it rest on his knee. His clothes are opulent – all greens, reds and gold. In contrast he appears to be wearing bedroom slippers on his feet. He is bearded and jolly-looking. In the far distance are cultivated fields, and beyond them a town or perhaps it is the king’s castle.
Pentacles – material concerns, money, business, home, health
Four (13: 1+3=4) = foundation, manifestation, stability, security
Image: confident, comfortable, mature man
I generally, but not always, view Courts as representing actual people who have a major influence in the situation. However, this card has appeared in the Challenge position – to me this may well be someone whom the querent has overlooked in her quest for love. She may well have dismissed this person as being too old or outside of her social sphere. The King of Pentacles may well challenge her ideas of romance as he is the most practical and down-to earth of all the Courts – a great catch but not every girl’s dream of love ever after.
So how is she going to meet him?
Essence of the reading: I would gently suggest to the seeker that she should firstly concentrate on analysing her own attitudes to love. She might need to examine if she has narrowed her choice down to a vision she holds close to her heart, thereby blocking off potential partners. I might encourage her to focus on her self-esteem – she needs to be able to see herself worthy of receiving love before she is able to love another on an equal basis.
I would then ask her to think about her friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc and emphasise the importance of developing good solid relationships with the focus on friendship first. She may well discover that love comes in all shapes and sizes and that a foundation of friendship is the best basis for lasting love.
Having said all that, she is going to meet him in a pub, cafe or restaurant, somewhere near a sea-front or harbour. See it, say it.
I am sure that with practice, you will find that the two-card spread is one of the most useful for answering the myriad questions that you will be posed in your career as a Tarot reader. New readers tend to get hung up on huge ten card Celtic Cross spreads that merely confuse and overwhelm. Having carried out hundreds of one and three card readings for the free reading networks, and now mainly using two cards for my quickie readings, I have reached the conclusion that the twos have it – they tell you all you need to know about a situation and give many suggestions for further action.