To Use Spreads or Not to Use Spreads—That is the Question


The most perfect metaphor unwittingly arose during our tarot enthusiasts Meetup group in Montpelier last week…surrounding the question of whether it was best to conduct tarot readings using specific and structured spreads, or whether simply “throwing cards down” organically provided more enlightening readings.


And the true answer is…Every reader is different and has his or her own predominant style and should conduct readings in the manner that he or she finds most productive. (I has decreed it so!)


…But I want to talk a little more about this topic, because, frankly, we never really discussed tarot spreads during our hour-and-a-half-long meeting at all. And why didn’t we talk about spreads even though spreads were the entire docket of the agenda for the meeting? Well…for a few reasons. But primarily it was because the meeting was conducted organically, without structure, allowing tangential topics and individual precociousness and personalities to take precedent over a lesson plan. There was a problem child in the meeting—a sort of conversational narcissist—who literally felt the need to conscript any and every conversation by immediately talking about another facet of her overly-abundant extrasensory life. This included, but was not restricted to: i-Ching; vortexes and portals; UFO sightings (in New Hampshire and Vermont); haunted towns; her own haunted house; exorcism; singing bowls; anger at her parents who didn’t believe her psychic abilities; saving her aunt using her psychic abilities; and her complete befuddlement at what the Catholic Holy Ghost was (despite being raised Catholic). This exacerbated the meandering conversations of another attendee who was thus prompted to share her avowed dislike and aversion to Christianity (um, thanks for your embracement of diversity and tolerance?); several past lives; floating portals on her property; reiterating the fact that her “thing” was animal totems (although she didn’t seem too interested in the new totemic animal deck I brought specifically for her to look at); and several towns in the state that just gave her the wrong “vibe.”


Liz Lemon eye roll (pl-EEEEZ!)


Signs You Might Be a Conversational Narcissist

…And between the two of them, and several other rants and ramblings, there simply wasn’t any time for discussion about the tarot…much less discussion about tarot spreads, how to create them, how to use them, and what their value might be. [Sigh.] It was a little frustrating to have traveled so far and come away with no tarot discussion worth mentioning.

But it got me thinking about tarot spreads and what might have been different about the meeting if there had been just a smidgen bit of planning, or an outline, or a written agenda to which we could have referred and brought our focus back to the topic that we had set our good intentions upon to discuss that day…


…When it struck me that this is precisely the point of tarot spreads. …DOH!!!!


Right…so it’s fine to conduct your tarot readings in an organic matter—if that works for you—and to try to determine the core issue or the core question while you and your client are discussing images that appear with the flip of each card…and to just keep throwing cards down, and see what percolates. Some tarot readers start right off throwing cards, and allow the cards to direct the conversation …But with this method there’s nothing that says you aren’t going to waste your 45-minute session rambling about everything under the Sun, and never get to the chewy tootsie roll center of your sugary lollipop.


On the other hand, discussing the client’s issue as the first part of the reading process—before cards are ever laid-out-or drawn (in other words: simply being an attentive listener)—and subsequently assigning specific questions to specific cards (and yes, you can still give leniency to what turns up on those cards if they “trigger” a new idea), but really trying to zone-in on how the resultant card addresses the original question…provides you and your client with a way of keeping to the point of the issue you both wanted to address. …It doesn’t mean that important tangents can’t work their way into the conversation, but if things get squirrely and seem to lose focus…you’ve got that spread position with its specific designation/question that was meant to be discussed, and you can always let it lead you back to the point. It’s an anchor; a lighthouse that reminds you to keep close to shore; a ballast; a cornerstone.

The thing about spreads is that people get intimidated by them. In the mind of a novice reader, spreads have to be complex things with forms and shapes that can only be interpreted with maps and special decoder rings. Tarot readers somehow think—erroneously—that spreads have to include 10 cards or more.

Abolish such fears, I say! Here’s the truth: a “spread” can consist of one, single card. Yes; it’s true. Really, the only thing that designates a “spread,” is the fact that the card has an appointed question or designation assigned to it before the card face is revealed. That’s it. Seriously.


Text Bubble: One-card Tarot Spread


So is a “card-of-the-day” draw a tarot spread? Well…sort of, but not really. A card-of-the-day (COTD) is meant to either be an inspirational message for living your day forward, or it is meant to help in learning more about your deck cards individually. A COTD draw is random and general. A spread designation is not random. If you want to make your COTD into a “spread”…simply assign a relevant, specific question to the card before it is drawn.


Overall, I caution against trying to teach newbie tarot enthusiasts about tarot spreads by diving into ten-card spreads during the first lesson. (The Celtic Cross? BAH!!) There’s no reason to confuse or intimidate people. Start with a lesson about how to determine a cogent and valuable question—something introspective—the “core question.” Then simply assign that question to a single card. …Or “deconstruct” the Celtic Cross into its independent parts and focus on one single card position. (My bet is that you could spend an entire class or reading session discussing that one card!)


If you feel the need to explain tarot spreads as a set of multiple cards—so that images can begin to interact with one another—then use a simple two or three card spread. Also, there’s nothing wrong with using pencil and paper to plot your spread out; it’ll help you remember what your original question was if you get into deep discussion on another part of the spread.





Posted in Discovering Meaning in Imagery, Psychology of Tarot, Tarot Business, Tarot Philosophy, Tarot Reading, Tarot Spreads and tagged , , .

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