Tarot cards have been used for centuries as a tool for divination, meditation, and self-reflection. Learning how to properly lay out a tarot spread is key to getting the most out of a tarot reading. There are countless different tarot spreads, each with their own unique purpose and meaning. This article will provide an in-depth guide on how to lay out some of the most common and useful tarot card spreads.
Choosing a Tarot Spread
- The first step in laying out a tarot spread is choosing which type of spread you want to use. Here are some of the most popular options:
- 3-Card Spread – Provides insight into past, present and future. Simple and straightforward.
- Celtic Cross Spread – One of the most classic and comprehensive spreads. Provides insight into key aspects of your life.
- Horseshoe Spread – Focuses on current challenges and how to move forward.
- Star Spread – Provides clarity on your path ahead and areas for self-improvement.
- Tree of Life Spread – For big picture insight and understanding your greater purpose.
- Consider your intention for the reading and choose a spread that aligns. If you are new to tarot, start with a simple 3-card or 5-card spread.
- Always read the meanings of each position in the spread before beginning. This will provide greater clarity as you lay out the cards.
Preparing Your Space
- Clear your space and create a peaceful environment for your reading. Dim the lights, light some candles, burn incense or play soft music if you wish.
- Gather your tarot cards and spread cloth (or towel/blanket). Make sure your deck is complete and shuffle the cards well. Shuffling infuses them with your energy.
- Sit comfortably. Ground and center yourself by taking a few deep breaths. Set your intention for the reading and clear your mind.
Cleansing and Energizing the Cards
- It can be helpful to cleanse the deck before use, especially if they are new. You can use sage, incense, crystals, bells, sunlight, moonlight or your own preferred method.
- Gently shuffle the cards while focusing positive energy into them. Imagine the cards illuminating with bright, white light to reset their energy.
- Finish by placing the cards face down and cut the deck into three piles using your left hand. Then restack the piles together. This helps align their energies.
Laying Out the Spread
- First place any significator cards. These represent you or another person/situation the reading is focused on.
- Then lay out each position of the spread in order, moving from left to right or in a circular direction around the significator cards.
- Place the cards face down as you lay them out. Go slowly and pay attention to the process.
- Feel free to leave space between the cards or have them slightly overlapping. There is no wrong way, as long as the positions are clear.
- Some readers lay the cards out without looking at them first. Others lay them out and flip each one over as it is drawn. Choose whatever resonates.
- When all cards are laid out, take a moment to pause and reflect before flipping them over to interpret.
Tips for Laying Out Cards
- Keep the cards close together so the spread is contained but avoid crowding.
- Make sure the cards are laid evenly in neat rows or circles.
- Place the cards upright, rather than sideways or inverted. Only certain decks are designed to be read reversed.
- Handle the cards gently and respectfully. Never forcefully slap or flip the cards down.
- Work from your center outward when laying a circular spread.
- Double check card placements and positions before interpreting.
Interpreting the Spread
- When ready, flip each card over and note which position it occupies.
- Read the meaning of each card and how it relates to the position.
- Look for connections, patterns and relationships between the cards. Some may complement or contradict each other.
- Trust your intuition. Your first impressions often provide important insights.
- Take your time and don’t rush the interpretation process. Allow the full story to unfold.
- You may wish to take notes or journal about the reading to retain key insights.
- Focus on applying the message from the cards practically to your situation. The cards provide guidance, not rigid predictions.
Laying out and interpreting a tarot spread properly takes patience and practice. Allow yourself time to get comfortable with the process. The more you work with the cards, the more natural it will become. With an open heart and mind, tarot spreads can provide deep wisdom and understanding for your life path.
Common Tarot Spreads and their Meanings
Here are some of the most common tarot card spreads and how to interpret them:
The 3-Card Spread
The 3-card spread provides insight into your past, present and future. It’s simple yet powerful for providing clarity on key aspects of your journey.
- Card 1 – Represents the past and provides context for your current situation.
- Card 2 – Depicts the present circumstances and where you stand now.
- Card 3 – Reveals the potential future or outcome if you continue on your current path.
When laying out a 3-card spread, place the first card on the left, the second card in the middle, and the third card on the right. Flip the cards over from left to right and interpret the interplay between them. Often the middle card is most significant as it denotes the crux of the matter.
The Celtic Cross Spread
The Celtic Cross is one of the oldest and most comprehensive tarot spreads. With 10 cards, it provides in-depth understanding about key aspects of your life situation.
- Card 1 – Your present state of being
- Card 2 – Immediate challenge
- Card 3 – Distant past influencing the present
- Card 4 – Recent past events
- Card 5 – Best outcome
- Card 6 – Immediate future
- Card 7 – How you see yourself
- Card 8 – How others see you
- Card 9 – Hopes and fears
- Card 10 – Final outcome
Lay the cards out in a cross shape as shown and interpret each position in order. Pay special attention to cards 1, 2, 5 and 10 as they relate to your core situation and probable outcome.
The Horseshoe Spread
The horseshoe spread is excellent for gaining perspective on your current challenges and how to move forward. With 7 cards, it provides pointed advice around clarity, action and potential resolutions.
- Card 1 – Current situation
- Card 2 – Challenge or obstacle
- Card 3 – Past influences
- Card 4 – Advice on overcoming challenge
- Card 5 – External influences
- Card 6 – Hopes and fears
- Card 7 – Likely outcome
Lay the cards out in a horseshoe shape. Read cards 1-3 to understand the context. Then focus on cards 4-7 for guidance to overcome hurdles and make forward progress.
The Star Spread
The star spread offers a simple 7 card formation to gain clarity about your path ahead. It highlights areas for development as well as hidden skills or resources available to you.
- Card 1 – Central focus
- Card 2 – Past influencing present
- Card 3 – Hopes and fears
- Card 4 – Best outcome
- Card 5 – External influences
- Card 6 – Inner resources
- Card 7 – Final outcome
Lay the cards out in a star pattern as illustrated. Interpret each card individually then look for connections between cards 2, 3, 4 7 to understand your trajectory and illuminate your way forward.
The Tree of Life Spread
Based on the Kabbalah tree of life, this spread provides big picture perspective on your life purpose and development. With 11 cards in the shape of a Kabbalistic tree, it provides a profound look at your greater journey.
- Card 1 – Root – life foundation
- Card 2 – Trunk – central focus
- Card 3 – Lower branches – material world
- Card 4 – Middle branches – relationships
- Card 5 – Upper branches – spirituality
- Card 6 – Fronds – life purpose
- Card 7 – Fruit – goals
- Card 8 – Flowers – opportunities
- Card 9 – Leaves – insights
- Card 10 – Clouds – challenges
- Card 11 – Sky – guidance
Lay the cards out in the illustrated shape. Move from bottom to top in your interpretation for the full story of your soul’s journey. The trunk card is most important, representing your core focus and path.
Tips for Reading Tarot Spreads
Here are some additional tips for getting the most accurate and insightful readings from tarot spreads:
- Relax and center yourself before starting. Clear your mind of expectations.
- Phrase your intention or question neutrally rather than negatively.
- Move slowly and thoughtfully as you lay out the cards.
- Interpret based on your first impression then look deeper.
- Examine the imagery and symbols on each card closely.
- Reflect on how the cards relate and build on each other.
- Some cards will feel more significant than others – pay special attention.
- Keep notes on the key insights and advice obtained.
- Avoid becoming dependent on repeat readings around the same issue.
- Trust in your own intuition and inner wisdom when interpreting.
The tarot provides mirror-like reflections to illuminate your inner world. With practice, laying out spreads becomes an enlightening ritual of self-discovery and guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cards are usually used in a spread?
Most tarot spreads contain 3 to 10 cards. Very simple spreads may use only 1-3 cards, while more complex or astrological based spreads may have 12 or more cards. For beginners, it’s best to start with smaller 3, 5 or 7 card spreads.
Should tarot cards be laid out in a particular pattern?
Yes, most tarot spreads follow a specific pattern that relates to the meaning and positions of the cards. Common patterns include lines, crosses, circles, squares, triangles, stars or other creative shapes. Following the correct layout is key.
What are the best materials for a tarot spread cloth?
A tarot spread cloth (or towel/blanket) provides a clean, sacred surface for laying out the cards. Optimal materials include silk, linen, velvet, felt or tapestry. Avoid loud patterns or overly slippery surfaces. Choose something that feels nice to handle.
Is it okay to move the cards around after laying them out?
It’s best not to rearrange the cards from their original laid out positions. Shuffling or moving the cards too much can disrupt the energy of the reading. Only touch the cards when you are ready to flip them over.
Should I interpret a spread all at once or card-by-card?
It’s usually best to interpret each card individually in order first. Make notes on each card meaning before looking at connections between them. Then reflect on patterns and relationships between the cards for deeper insights.
Laying out a tarot spread properly provides a powerful ritual for guidance, clarity and self-reflection. Choose a spread design aligned with your intention, prepare your space, cleanse your cards and lay them out mindfully. Interpret the cards systematically while noting connections and symbolic meanings that weave the narrative together. The more you work with tarot spreads, the deeper your wisdom and understanding will grow. Trust in the process and where the cards lead you on your life’s journey.