Twisted Tales of Tarot: The (Celtic) Cross I Bear

Celtic Cross

I have to tell you, I had a blast doing the Tarot 101 series of posts. And I’m sure you’re all going to town, reading for every warm body that slows down long enough for you to grab your cards.

I say, “Good for you!” Read those cards! Do your thing. Get into it and have a blast. Just remember, not everyone is going to agree with you on how to read the cards.

My Secret Shame

Hop into the Wayback Machine with me, kiddies, and I’ll tell you a tale of a 90s gal with a spanking new deck of cards, a desire to learn, and the attention span of an inebriated tsetse fly. It was the first part of the last decade of the last century, and all the Cool Kids were dabbling in the New Age – crystals, meditation, oracle and tarot cards, that sort of thing.

Like any new reader, I bought my deck convinced I was going to discover the Deep Secrets of the Universe, while earning fame, fortune, and adoration with my mad divination skills.

Then I opened the book. It was a gorgeous book, filled with pictures, text, and all sorts of goodies to learn and discover. The smart thing would have been to just start from page one and read through the entire thing, just to get a feel for it.

Yeah, enter the Inebriated tsetse fly. Young, impatient, and slightly lazy, I was not about to waste time. I wanted to get to the readings. And for a while, I was fine. I pulled single cards, read the book, pulled another card, read the book, and limped through adequately for quite a bit.

Enter….The Purist.

The Purist

Every group has their own version of The Purist: the foodies who only eat organic, locally-sourced products. The audiophiles who scoff at any recording not done on vinyl. The priestess who is convinced that the only true path is Gardnerian, and every other witch out there is just a sham.

We all know these people. Most of the time, we meet their arrogance with at best humor, at worst, resignation. But sometimes, when you’re just learning something, the vehemence with which these purists make their pronouncements on what is right and wrong in their pet arena can be downright daunting.

Even your humble blogstress, seemingly imbued with limitless light-hearted confidence, almost quit reading tarot in the beginning because of purists’ insistence that there was one way, and one way only, to read the cards properly.

Take What’s Good, Leave What’s Bad

Given that I’ve always had a bit of trouble with authority, I got really good really young at cutting through the wheat and chaff of well-meaning advise. When I first started reading, tarot purists gave me a litany of do’s and don’ts that a True Reader must follow to be legitimate. Here are just a few:

  • No one should ever touch your cards. Yeah, my cards are friendly and don’t care if you give them a tickle.
  • You should never buy your own tarot deck, but wait for them to be gifted to you. Um, when I bought my deck, everyone I knew was broke AF. Nobody was giving me a $20 deck of cards. If I wanted them, I had to buy them.
  • You should never read for yourself. Unless, of course, you’re a broke chick in your 20s and don’t have a spare fifty bucks lying around to get a reading.
  • You should wrap your cards in silk only, and store them under the moonlight in a wooden box made from a white ash tree raised on the Isle of Man by 7th-generation traditional Druids…named Byron. I have and do wrap my cards in a cotton cloth and store them in a draw string bag with rainbow colored tropical fish on it. My cards don’t mind, and the druids were not available for consultation.

As you can tell, I am not easily intimidated or impressed by tradition. But one thing did intimidate me, almost to the point of destroying my confidence as a reader.

The Dreaded Celtic Cross

Oh, Celtic Cross, you 10-Card Pattern of Doom! You nearly broke me, you bastard!

If you open a book on tarot, any book on tarot, to the Spreads section, one of the first things you will encounter is the Celtic Cross spread. Ten cards, each with its own meaning, interacting with each other in time-honored and specific ways to help the reader unlock the mysteries of the universe.

And in my case, a big pile of gibberish.

When I was first reading cards, I struggled like Hermione Granger on a bender trying to force myself to learn the Celtic Cross spread. Book in one hand, cards on cloth, I would flip furiously from the page that defined the spread to the page that told me what the cards meant, then try to match them together before moving on to the next card (hopefully without forgetting what I’d just read.)

It was like a sadistically artful game of Scrabble.

I hate Scrabble.

For the first year I read, I dutifully trudged through this most majestic of spreads, hating every minute of it, feeling like a fraud, and growing more and more resentful of the whole tarot thing. You see, I knew I could do it. I knew I was blessed with intuition, and that these cards were right for me. I knew it, but I was struggling with a level one problem I simply could not get past.

It didn’t help that every time I tried to read for anyone who knew anything about tarot, I felt like a fraud because I struggled through the Celtic Cross. I would watch more experienced readers–sometimes even readers with less experience than I had–whiz through the spread like it was made for them.

It was demoralizing.

Not My Cross to Bear

I didn’t start reading regularly for other people until I got together with Kat in the early 2000s. By that time, my cards and I pretty intertwined, and I felt comfortable enough with Kat to dispense with formalities and just read for her.

Before long, I found I was throwing down the cards in the same pattern (three cards, two atop them, then one on top the pile) each time. She asked what spread I was doing, and I honestly said I didn’t have a clue.

The spread had found me.

Slowly it dawned on me that spreads are frameworks for the cards, nothing more, nothing less. The Celtic Cross is popular because it works for a lot of people. Lots and lots of people, over generations, have used it to trigger their own instinct and imagination to make the cards their own.

But I am not lots of people. I’m me. And I had to find my own way into the cards, a little left of center, and definitely less structured than what the purists insisted was needed.

In the end, I found my own path and it served me well.

The Moral of the Story

The truth is, if I had to, I could probably use a Celtic Cross spread these days. But I’m not going to–not because it isn’t a great spread, but because it isn’t a great spread for me.

As you move out into the world and read for more people, some of them are going to try to tell you how to do it “properly.” As my friend and mentor Miss Dawn once told me, “the only right way to read cards is the way that works for you.”

There are so many tools and techniques out there to make you a better reader. I would absolutely recommend trying them. But in the end, only you and your cards are the final authority on how you read. Listen to your instinct, and read on, my friends.

Peace and Love,



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