Elements of a Tarot Spread
The first step toward designing
your own tarot spreads is to define the basic elements of a spread and
be able to recognize and work with them. In general, every spread you
will design or use contains the following basic components:
A question or topic area
The number of cards to be dealt
The spatial arrangement of the cards
The meanings of the card positions
The order in which they will be laid and readSome spreads have additional elements, including:
Special constraints on how the cards will be placed or read
cards that are not part of the main spread but add to it in some way.
Even a one-card reading can be thought of as a spread, although it
doesn't have all of the elements above. For a one-card reading, the
question you define is especially important, as even more than usual it
will determine whether or not you receive a clear answer. For example,
if the question is "Why can't I ever seem to meet my deadlines at
work?", you could define the card you receive as "The main reason you
can't meet your deadlines." Other choices are also possible. For
example, you could choose "The one thing you can do to meet your
deadlines more often."
An interesting design element of a
one-card reading is that you can define upright cards to mean one thing
and reversed cards to mean another. This provides added information and
flexibility to the reading. In the example above, let's assume we
defined the one card as the main reason you can't meet your deadlines.
We could also say that if it is an upright card, it represents an
external influence (such as constant interruptions at work), while a
reversed card would represent an internal issue (such as really wanting a
Now let's look at the larger, widely used
Astrological or Horoscope spread shown in Figure 1 to see how all the
basic elements of a tarot spread are incorporated into it.
Astrological spread lends itself best to questions that are similar to
those that might be answered using various kinds of astrological charts.
For example, a spread could be laid out similar to a natal or birth
chart to examine a client's life purpose and the strengths and
challenges she faces in this life.* Another approach, similar to a
solar-return chart, would be to look at the coming year starting on the
querent's birthday. A third choice would be to look at the compatibility
of a relationship by laying out two cards in each house-one for each
Number of Cards
In this spread, there are
twelve cards, one for each house in an astrological chart. Twenty-four
cards may be used if you wish to place two cards in each house, or if
looking at a relationship as described above.
design refers to the arrangement of cards in space, or the geometric
layout of the spread. In this case, the cards are arranged in a circle,
starting just below the nine o'clock position and proceeding
counterclockwise around the circle. This is based on the arrangement of
an astrological chart, in which the first house falls just below the
nine o'clock line.
In this spread,
each of the twelve cards falls within one of the astrological houses,
which govern a particular area of life or the personality. Some keywords
for the houses and positional meanings are shown in Figure 1.
Order of Laying and Reading
spread is normally laid in the order of the houses, starting with the
first house and proceeding to the twelfth. The cards may be read in the
same order, however, there are often patterns among opposite houses and
houses with the same elemental affinity that are worth noting and may
affect the order in which the cards should be read or discussed.
are normally no particular limits on what cards can be placed or dealt
into each position. However, one example of a more specialized approach
would be to use the client's actual astrological birth chart. You could
place the major arcana cards associated with each planet into their
actual houses at the time of birth, and reverse any cards associated
with retrograde planets. Then conduct the reading, perhaps filling in
empty houses with minor arcana cards dealt from the shuffled deck to
represent less significant influences.
with most spreads, additional cards can be added to an astrological
layout. One example might be to place a card in the center of the
layout. With a life reading, this card might represent one's life
purpose. With a solar or birthday reading, this card might represent the
general outlook or main theme of the coming year.
chapters discuss each of these design elements in detail, focusing on
how to use them in creating your own spreads.