Tarot 101: The Spreads


Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the cards, the next logical step is learning the spreads. When I first started reading in the 90s, I was completely intimidated by spreads. There seemed to be so many aspects to keep track of, and I almost gave up completely until I found my way around the topic.

Think of tarot spreads like a seating chart for a family dinner—each individual winds up in a certain area for variety of reasons. Honestly, at most family gatherings, you can tell a lot about a person just by where he or she is seated at the table. Who’s at the head of the table? Who has been vanquished to the dreaded Kiddy Table? Who has packed a plate, grabbed a beer, and is eating out on the porch listening to the big game on their phone?

Another important aspect of the spreads is the relationship between cards. To grind that family dinner metaphor to death, if hyper-conservative Uncle Gabe winds up sitting next to Cousin Bobby Jo, you may wind up with World War III if the conversation turns to politics. On the other hand, if Aunt Myrtle and your mom wind up together, they will probably have organized a family trip to Walt Disney World before you even cut into the pecan pie!

The best way to keep spreads from completely freaking you out is this: remember that they are all about position and relationship. Where the card falls, and what card falls around it, can tell you everything you need to know. The rest is just details.

Celtic Cross

If you’ve looked in the back of even one tarot guidebook, you’ve probably seen the Celtic Cross spread. This 10-card spread is the granddaddy of all spreads, and is one of the most commonly used spreads. For a beginning reader, it can be a bit intimidating. It’s great for very structured readings, or for getting an in-depth view of a specific person or situation.

The first two cards are the center of the reading, and frankly, are enough to give you a strong indication of what’s going on. Position One represents the current situation, while Position Two represents obstacles and blocks. (This is made very obvious in the spread, since the reader places the second card on top of the first card!) These cards are the core of the situation, and if necessary, the reading could stop there.

Moving forward in the spread, we get more insight into the situation. Positions Three to Six provide the timeline—the root of the situation, the current issues that are starting to recede, what the client is moving towards, and what the immediate future holds for the client.

You round up the Celtic Cross with Positions Seven to Nine, the Influence and Outcome cards. Who is involved in the situation, what forces are in play that affect how this situation is unfolding, and the guidance or “hopes and fears card.”

The spread ends with the Tenth Position, the Outcome Card. If the client stays on their current path, this is a good indication of where they will end up.

The spread provides a robust investigation into all aspects of the client’s situations, which accounts for its popularity among readers.

Three Card Spread

If you don’t have time for a full ten card spread, or if the thought of juggling ten cards at once gives you hives, you can always opt for a smaller thread. What I use in my readings is a modified form of the Three Card Spread that I’ve developed over the years. The Three Card Spread is easy-to-use, quick, and quite flexible.

If you’re looking for an outcome, the three cards align from left to right as Past, Present, and Future. If you’re looking for insight rather than outcome, you can assign from left to right Mind, Body, and Spirit.

The best thing about the Three Card Spread is its flexibility. Because every reading is unique, the reader can play with these meanings and mold them to the client’s individual needs. It’s also good for getting to the heart of a problem quickly without having to dredge up all the details of the situation. (Sometimes I call the three cards Cheap, Fast, and Dirty!)

One Card Spread

If you are in too much of a rush for even three cards, you can always pull a single card for a quick impression on a question. It can be a quick touchstone to help you either confirm a decision, or go back for re-evaluation.

One excellent use for the One Card Spread is as a daily guide. Each morning, you draw a card to give you insight into what the focus on your day will be. If you keep a journal of your daily cards, with details on how they manifested in your life, you will be amazed by the trends and patterns that come to light.

Design Your Own

As you become more comfortable with your cards, you may find yourself straying from the established paths and developing your own spreads. As I grew, I found the Three Card Spread was a good start, but didn’t always provide enough insight. Over time, I added strategically placed cards to the thread, imbuing each with my own personal meaning. I now do a modified Three Card Spread with three additional cards showing influences, interconnections, and outcome. The spread Kat does with her Oracle cards is similarly unique.

The goal is to get comfortable with your cards. If you think of the spreads as formal place settings, eventually you can imagine the gathering getting more relaxed. People get up and interact. People swap seats. At a good dinner party, the room will eventually settle itself into a comfortable setting. Your cards will find their places, too, if you just relax and let them!

In our next lesson, we will explore what happens when we go beyond the book!

Until then, if you liked this post and would like to follow us on social media, please visit our Facebook page. We are also available to readings in person, over the phone, or online. As always, comments and shares are greatly appreciated.

Peace and Love,


P.S. If you like the image on this post, please check out The Enchanted Tarot by Amy Zerner and Monte Warner.  To access the entire Tarot 101 series, click here.

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