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Tarot: The Lo Shu Magic Square Spread

Alongside Tarot, Eastern spiritual philosophies have been of interest to me from an early age. As with most ancient sciences, one set of questions leads to a trail of thought provoking answers that beg even more questions, rooting and taking branch into seemingly different directions yet all interconnected. Consequently, I have delved into Jyotish, I Ching, and Feng Shui, to name a few of these Eastern disciplines.

I certainly wouldn't profess to be an expert in any of these fields, as to be truly proficient takes a lifetime of dedication and study, usually under the guidance of a renowned Master. Frankly, I doubt my rampant curiosity would allow me to stay focused in just one area! Each discipline contains interesting theories, expressed in different ways according to the various cultures. The constancy of these ancient beliefs and wisdom underpins traditions and daily practices, still relevant to their way of living in the modern world. It is, perhaps, this aspect of Eastern philosophy that holds my particular fascination.

A number of similarities exist between Tarot and Eastern philosophy, such as polarity or the force of opposites that we face on the path toward integration. Polarities and their integration towards wholeness is a recurring theme worldwide in various philosophies, as we seek to find our balanced position within the universe.

The yin-yang sign symbolizes two opposing yet complementary forces of universal energy. Together they represent a balanced whole, also known as Tao, which means "the way." Through balancing yin-yang energies it creates harmony between Heaven and Earth. The ancient Chinese science of Feng Shui seeks to establish environmental balance by promoting balanced energy via particular placements and the five traditional Chinese elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal, in order to create an auspicious and harmonious existence.

Lo ShuFeng Shui is connected to the Lo Shu magic square, which originates from an ancient Chinese text dating over four thousand years ago. This square was associated with the legend of a giant turtle that emerged from the flooded River Lo. The shell of the turtle contained a pattern, formed by dots within a grid and the dots represented numbers. It was discovered that when a line of these numbers were added together in any direction they totaled fifteen.

Eventually, the numbers were translated into the eight primary trigrams, the basis of sixty-four hexagrams that form the I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes. Over time, these became connected to the Pa Kua, an octagonal shaped reference used in the practice of Feng Shui. The eight compass points correspond to the magic square, with magnetic North always placed at position 1 and South in position 9.

Moving through the timeline of history and various cultures, additional references to magic squares can be found and are often linked with occult practices. However, it is believed that the Chinese Lo Shu grid is the earliest reference of magic squares and forms the basis of Taoist magical workings.

The ancient Seal of Saturn can be found by tracing a line through the boxes in numerical sequence. Those familiar with the works of Agrippa, the Western occultist from the 16th century, will also be aware of the seven magic squares associated with the seven planets.

The Lo Shu magic square corresponds to the order of three (3x3), so if we consider the number three and Saturn further, we find that they both connect to the third sephiroth on the Tree of Life, Binah, which means understanding.

It was whilst adjusting some Feng Shui in my home that I experienced one of those moments of synchronicity, where all the information suddenly collided at such speed that my mind was putting it together simultaneously whilst already jumping ahead...so I reached for my Tarot deck.

Working with the Lo Shu magic square I have tried various combinations in order to find a reading that worked successfully. I felt with certainty that the answer lay in there somewhere, if I could just figure it out. Binah probably gave me the answer—it was an understanding that took time and patience, not one to be rushed!

There are numerous ways the grid and connected information can be used to create a meaningful Tarot spread. For myself, I still consider my work with the Lo Shu magic square and Tarot to be a work in progress, as I’m sure there is still so much more yet to be revealed. However, from my experience so far, I hope you will find the few examples presented here sufficiently thought provoking enough to inspire you to look deeper into the magic square and try some variations of your own. I would be most interested to hear of your creations and experiences with it!

The Pa Kua Spread
The first example is the more simplistic of the two, based on the Feng Shui Pa Kua itself. If you look at the Pa Kua diagram, given above, you will notice that each of the segments represents an area of life.

To perform this spread, shuffle and prepare the cards in your usual way, then lay out the cards using the numbered sequence as shown in the Lo Shu magic square, with number one starting at the bottom, until you have the nine cards laid out in the 3x3 configuration.

Each card position then provides information regarding an area of life:Card Position 1: Trigram Kan – North direction – water element
Represents: Career

Card Position 2: Trigram Kun – Southwest direction – big earth element
Represents: Love, romance, marriage, and partnerships

Card Position 3: Trigram Chen – East direction – big wood element
Represents: Health, well-being, and harmony within the family

Card Position 4: Trigram Sun – Southeast direction – small wood element
Represents: Wealth, fortune, and prosperity

Card Position 5: Center of balance and energy
Represents: Self and balance to the other areas of the reading

Card Position 6: Trigram Chien – Northwest direction – big metal element
Represents: Helpful people, mentors, and networks.

Card Position 7: Trigram Tui – West direction – small metal element
Represents: Children or creativity

Card Position 8: Trigram Ken – Northeast direction – small earth element
Represents: Knowledge, education, and learning.

Card Position 9: Trigram Li – South direction – fire element
Represents: Recognition, reputation, and fame.

As it covers so many different areas this spread works well as a general reading, providing information on what you most need to know in order to attain balance in each area represented. The central card may represent what is going on around you at the time of the reading or, alternatively, it may reveal your balance or imbalance in relation to the other areas of life.

The Lo Shu Magic Square Spread
So far, my exploration with this spread has tended to show that it works more favorably as a self-reading, one where you may require clarity or wisdom about a certain matter. This is partly because all the cards are read more than once, each time adding another layer of information. I found this also made it difficult to assign time to the card positions for each line read, (such as past, present, future) as it became contradictory or inconsistent. Instead, try to read each line as a sentence, from left to right for the horizontal rows and top to bottom in the vertical and diagonal rows.

Whilst concentrating on your question, shuffle and prepare the cards in your usual way, then lay the cards out in the numbered sequence of the Lo Shu magic square.

Start to read the cards in the following sequence: Horizontal Row 1 - Cards 4, 9, 2
Horizontal Row 2 - Cards 3, 5, 7
Horizontal Row 3 - Cards 8, 1, 6

Vertical Row 1 - Cards 4, 3, 8
Vertical Row 2 - Cards 9, 5, 1
Vertical Row 3 - Cards 2, 7, 6

Diagonal Row, starting from top left corner - Cards 4, 5, 6
Diagonal Row, starting from top right corner – Cards 2, 5, 8

Special attention is given to the middle card, number 5, as it is the only card that is read four times and therefore provides the heart, or key, of the reading.

Generally, this has worked better as a personal contemplative reading of reflection, especially considering the various connections that are not always immediately evident. At times I have been known to leave the nine cards in place and return to them whilst pondering the significance. However, I remain hopeful that the Lo Shu magic square is one that could be used for client readings, because when the cards have responded in past readings, they have been very accurate. For this reason, I keep persevering with this particular spread.

To give an example, the spread below is one where all the required components came together extremely well. Unfortunately, it is also the type that would make you wish you could simply disappear, rather than have to pass on the information to the client!

The question was concerning a relationship, which had seemed outwardly happy, stable, and progressive, with potential futures having been discussed. Quite suddenly, yet subtly, the atmosphere of the relationship changed and the client felt her partner had become slightly irritable or disinterested without apparent reason. The question asked for clarity to the situation within the relationship.

I appreciate that most readers will have established their own interpretations for the cards, but for the purpose of this exercise, I will be relating those that I use, or that particularly resonated for me in this reading. The information provided is intended to give only a brief summary, to demonstrate how well the spread can work. The interpretations provided for you here are far more forthright than as were relayed to the client, as I am sure those of you already making the connections can imagine!

The first thing to note was the central card, which did not represent the client. So the key somehow concerned another lady. I usually use personality descriptions for the Kings and Queens, but if the client doesn’t recognize the person from this then I will revert to the astrological sign (in this case, The Queen of Cups, denotes a water sign.)

Horizontal Row 1: The Moon – Page of SwordsThe Lovers
The Moon could represent the uncertainty and atmosphere the client was intuitively picking up, however the Page signaled either some disappointing (or delayed) news to come concerning the relationship. Alternatively, The Moon indicated situations under the surface that could not yet be seen, the Page could also be someone creating trouble in the relationship, and with this combination, the possibility of a third party being involved. However, it is too early into the reading to be certain…

Horizontal Row 2: Five of Swords – Queen of Cups – The Tower
The Five of Swords signals something underhand or unethical taking place connected to the water sign lady, leading to an unexpected shock or revelation for the client.

Horizontal Row 3: Five of Cups – The Hanging ManThe Star
With the information already provided, The Five of Cups tended to represent betrayal. The Hanging Man shows that this could then cause the client to look at the relationship from a different perspective. Thankfully, The Star provides healing, with faith and optimism for the future.

Vertical Row 1: The Moon – Five of Swords – Five of Cups
With this combination, and as an additional layer, the cards began to provide more clarity to the situation. The Moon with the Five of Swords represents the secret agenda or underhandedness, leading to an upset that seems to be on its way.

Vertical Row 2: Page of Swords – Queen of Cups – Hanging Man
Disappointing news concerning the water sign lady, causing the client to view the relationship differently.

Vertical Row 3: The Lovers – The Tower – The Star
The only row with three Major Arcana cards adds further confirmation to the messages we have seen so far, with the relationship heading toward the revelation about to transpire and The Star providing healing, or hope for the future, following the event.

Diagonal Row (from top left): The Moon – Queen of Cups – The Star
Illusion and deception from The Moon connected to the water sign lady. Given what we have gleaned, it may be difficult to understand how the Queen of Cups can lead to The Star for the client. Although an unpleasant situation, my first thought was that in the long run, perhaps she had done the client a favor. (I doubted the client would think this at the time though!) It is also worth remembering that whilst the Queen may be central to the reading it doesn’t necessarily mean that she knows about the client either.

Diagonal Row (from top right): The Lovers – Queen of Cups – Five of Cups
The relationship connected to the water sign lady and the client’s feelings of loss and betrayal.

Once you have followed the sequence (horizontal rows, followed by vertical rows, then the diagonal rows) you can, if you wish, go back and look at any of the connecting rows together. For example: starting with The Moon in top left, read the first horizontal row, then the vertical row and then the diagonal row that each begin with The Moon, which can help to crystallize everything. As the reading progresses, each line should add another layer of information, providing further insight into the situation.

Unfortunately, concerning the reading shown, the events unraveled almost immediately. I believe that because the timing was imminent it could explain why the cards were so clear, as this isn’t always the case. It transpired that the Page of Swords represented disappointing news being brought to the client, concerning her partner with another lady, who was a water sign. The relationship had developed very quickly and had already started at the time the reading took place. Whatever the client chose to do in her situation, to stay or go, was ultimately her choice. With The Star’s message, this healing could either represent her own, or for the couple’s relationship.

Using the Lo Shu magic square the additional methods I have tried include reading the cards in the order they are laid out, one through nine. In addition, to read them as three separate lines that make up the Sigil of Saturn, positions 1, 2, 3, then 4, 5, 6 and finally 7, 8, 9, but, so far, this hasn’t proved very productive for me, although perhaps you may find otherwise.

With the connection to the lunar phase of approximately fifteen days from new to full moon, and vice versa, the Lo Shu magic square spread can also be used to ask for insight into this period.

Because the Lo Shu magic square spread reveals deep insights, it works particularly well as a focus for personal development, spiritual growth, or meditation. However you choose to allow this spread to serve you, I hope you find it useful on your journey.

"To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders." Lao Tzu

References: All interpretations taken from Easy Tarot: Learn to Read the Cards Once and For All!, Josephine Ellershaw and Ciro Marchetti, featuring The Gilded Tarot deck. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2007.

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui. Lillian Too. Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element, 1996.
The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation. Taoist Master Alfred Huang. Mackays of Chatham plc., 1999.
Three Books of Occult Philosophy: The Foundation Book of Western Occultism, written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa. Translated by James Freake. Edited and Annotated by Donald Tyson. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2005.
The Kabbalah Tree: A Journey of Balance and Growth. Rachel Pollack. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2004.

About Josephine Ellershaw

For Josephine Ellershaw, the Tarot has been a constant life companion on a personal journey that spans more than three decades. Alongside her business background she has many years of experience providing readings, healing, ...

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