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Revitalizing Your Tarot Practice, Part II: Spreads

This article was written by Barbara Moore
posted under Tarot

In "Revitalizing Your Tarot Practice, Part I—Decks," we looked at ways of recovering from Tarot Reader Burnout. We considered a number of ideas that include using or incorporating another deck. However, what can you do if you only have one deck, do not wish to use another deck, or want to renew your enjoyment of an old favorite deck? Why, you change the way you use or approach that deck. There are many techniques that can revitalize your practice. In this article, we’ll look at the role of spreads in livening up your relationship with your cards. Next time, we’ll look at other techniques that you can try.

The way you lay out the cards, called a spread, forms an important framework for the interpretation and synthesis of your reading. Just as looking at the same images can create rote and stale readings, so can using the same spreads or using a spread in the same way. Spreads are a stable foundation—the positions stay the same while the cards falling in them or question asked can change. Spreads seem to me a lot like the 4s in tarot. Generally speaking, I like 4s, including the Emperor. Having a steady place from which to work is a good thing. However, the downside of the 4s (and perhaps, by extension, spreads) is the danger of stagnation. So let’s get that stagnant energy flowing again.

New Spread

A simple way to break out of a spread rut is to try a new one. There are so many places online to discover new spreads, such as the tarot spreads section of the Aeclectic forum (http://www.tarotforum.net) or check out websites and blogs of your favorite author or artist. Of course, there are books of spreads you can buy. If your deck came with a book, or even just a Little White Booklet, there is likely at least one spread provided.

You can just pick ones that look interesting or that might be well-suited to answer the question at hand. You might gather as many as possible and try them all. While I don’t recommend doing multiple readings on a question, just for the sake of experimenting or playing, try using the new spreads you’ve found to answer the same question. Notice how different spreads reveal different insights. Who knows? You might discover a new favorite.

Necessity is the Mother
Necessity is the mother of invention. If you don’t have access to different spreads or don’t find any of the ones available appealing, then make up your own. I remember the first time I realized that is okay to do this. Rachel Pollack was in Minneapolis for an event and was booking readings. I was lucky enough to get a spot. We discussed my question and then she said that she usually made up spreads on the spot using the question itself to dictate the design. So, if you have a question, break it down into its most basic elements and determine the exact information you want. Use that data to create a custom spread. Or, invent a new basic spread that could be used for a variety of questions. There are books about this, if you want to delve deeper into the theory of spread design, or check out helpful websites such as http://www.ehow.com/how_2116442_own-tarot-spread.html.

A variation on creating your own spread from scratch is to modify an existing spread. One modified spread that I really like is by Christopher Penczak (found in his book The Outer Temple of Witchcraft). He uses the middle of a Celtic Cross, eliminates the staff, and uses three cards on the left, right, and bottom instead of one, reading each of theses groups of three as past, present, and future.

Reading Without a Net
Spreads, as we said earlier, create a framework for interpreting the cards. One of the ways a spread does this is by assigning meanings to each position, such as “past influences,” “challenges,” or “advice.” What would happen if you removed positional designations? What if you just laid out a number of cards in a row or several rows and read them free form? I’ve had readings done this way and they were amazingly helpful. They also seemed more predictive than most readings I’ve had. What would the cards say if freed from the box of positional meaning? Would they interact differently?

Become an Expert

Pick a spread and become an expert at it. By expert I don’t mean merely memorizing the positions. I mean knowing it intimately…such as knowing how the positions relate to each other, how to read mini-spreads within the main spread, how to find additional information or layers of information. For this I’d suggest a longer, more complex spread such as the Celtic Cross or Mary K. Greer’s Hidden Influences Spread (http://marygreer.wordpress.com/2008/04/05/the-hidden-influences-spread/).

Same Card, Different Position
This idea is based on a workshop taught by James Well at the 2008 Readers Studio. Use any spread and any deck you wish. Ask your question, shuffling your cards, and pull just one card. Read that card in each position. This technique accomplishes a couple of things. First, as James pointed out, it shows how the question asked has a huge impact on what the answer will be. After all, the positions in a spread are all questions themselves. The “past” position asks “what events or influences from the past are affecting this situation?” The “obstacles” position asks “what obstacles I am facing in this situation?”

Second, it encourages you to think about the different possible answers within each card. Say you are doing a three-card reading where the positions are Challenge-Advice-Outcome and you pull The Sun. Your interpretation of The Sun card as a challenge would be different than The Sun card as advice, wouldn’t it? This is especially effective if you use a spread that has positions that are polar opposites, such “do this” and “don’t do this” or “benefits” and “dangers.”

Hopefully at least one of these ideas will shake up your world in an exciting way. If not, never fear. In part III of "Revitalizing Your Tarot Practice," you’ll get some more tips and tricks.
Barbara MooreBarbara Moore
In the early 1990s, at a party, someone put a tarot deck in Barbara's hands; she's held on tightly ever since. Tarot provides just enough structure so that we don't get lost as we explore the mysteries, plumb our dark corners, and locate our North...  Read more


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