How to Deal or Spread Tarot Cards

Updated on August 7, 2017
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A professional tarot reader with 18 years' experience, I have a resource-rich website and tarot reading service at

Tarot spread (The Gilded Tarot)
Tarot spread (The Gilded Tarot)

Tarot Basics

One of the most important aspects of a tarot reading is the laying down of the cards. Most readers will use a certain pattern or spread. Each position in the spread has its own meaning which modifies the interpretation of the card – it adds another layer of information to help answer the question. This article offers guidance on preparing to read, choosing which spread to use and how to use it to deepen your readings.

It is important to remember that there is no one 'right way' to perform a tarot reading. Your own style will develop with time and practice.

Formulating a Question

Before you start, you and your client or 'querent' should discuss the question they wish to ask. You need to be sure that you understand what they are asking. The best kind of questions to ask the tarot are open-ended ones, in other words, questions that cannot be answered by a simple 'yes' or 'no'. An example might be that your client has asked if her former lover will return. That could be answered with a yes or no, so think about what would be most useful to her. How about “What does xxx need to know about her relationship with yyy?”. That covers everything, including whether or not he wants to resume their courtship.

Three-card spread
Three-card spread

Preparations Prior to Laying out the Cards

Set up the space for the reading. Many readers light a candle and lay out a silk or woolen cloth. Others dispense with accoutrements and simply ensure the surface of the table or desk is clean. It is always worth making a quick mental blessing requesting insights and clarity.

If you are reading for another person, have them sit next to you, rather than opposite. This is so you can both see the cards from the same direction. Crucial if you are using reversed (upside-down) cards.

Quieten your mind and begin shuffling the cards. Focus on the person you are reading for. Visualize making a mental connection with them. I always use the image of a web of blue lightning connecting me to my client. Very useful if they are elsewhere in the world.

Your method of shuffling is completely up to you. If the deck is large and your hands are small, just make piles of cards and pick them up in random order. Turn the piles or portions of the deck now and then if using reversals. If you are a complete beginner, try to ensure all the cards are upright – leave the reversals until later.

Shuffling, Cutting and Dealing the Tarot Cards by Popa Don

How to Ask the Tarot a Question

When you are done with the shuffling, hold the cards between both hands, thinking about the question; feel the transference of energy.

Ask the querent to cut the cards with their left hand, take the bottom pile and place on the top. Look at the card at the bottom of the deck and make a mental note of it. I find that this card can be enlightening as to the motives of the questioner. You don't have to show them or discuss it – this is information for you. If it is particularly relevant to the question, then I might point it out to them at the end of the reading.

Start turning the cards from the top, placing them on the table in the spread you have decided on.

How to Choose a Spread

It is a good idea to have a small collection of spreads to choose from. The one you choose depends on how long the reading is to be, the question and your personal preference.

For quick readings, you can use a single card. Very valuable if you are reading for many people or offering free tarot readings from a website. This single card, by its nature, does not have an allocated position – use it to answer the question in a straightforward manner.

Two card readings are extremely useful and you can allocate positions. Card one might be 'atmosphere surrounding xxx', while card two could be 'help or hindrances'. Or how about any of the following combinations?

  • Him/her
  • Situation/solution
  • If I take this path/if I take this other path
  • Why did that happen?/What can I learn from it?

You get the idea. Just be sure you are clear in your mind before you begin shuffling.

There are any number of predefined spreads available. One of my well-thumbed resources is Power Tarot by Trish MacGregor and Phyllis Vega. It contains 100 spreads as well as a large section on tarot interpretations when applied to different aspects of life. I highly recommend it.

Large Spreads

Using a greater number of cards can give a very in-depth reading. However, I would caution the absolute beginner, as a big spread can be overwhelming, and it is tempting to over-simplify. All the cards in a spread influence each other and this should be taken into account. A small spread is like a tinkling melody, whereas a large one is like a full orchestral symphony.

Having said that, the 10-card Celtic Cross is everything you need for a full, comprehensive reading. I think most readers adapt it slightly to their own style, and generally it is the most used, after the ubiquitous three-card 'past, present and future'.

There are many books and websites which explain and discuss the Celtic Cross spread. I will list one or two in the resources section at the end.


Tarot Spread Q&A

What are important aspects to focus on when asking a question of the tarot? Reasons, timing, outcome, decision, clarity... no point having past, present and future, if the question is about deciding where to go on vacation.

Why should the questioner cut the deck with their left hand? The left hand is connected with intuition and the subconscious. It is also, in right-handed, people, governed by the right hemisphere of the brain which is considered to be the intuitive, spatial, artistic side. At this point in the reading, it is good to lay logic aside for the moment.

Which Way Up Should I Lay Tarot Cards? It's up to you. I prefer to turn the cards from the top of the deck using a sideways flip so that the card faces upwards. I like to see the big picture, as it were. Other readers prefer to place the cards face down and turn them over one by one as they progress through the reading.

What is a Spread? A layout, a pattern in which the position affects the interpretation of the card placed there.

What spreads are best? Any that work for you. One card may well give you a complete answer to the question. 10 or more cards can give a reading that will be reflected in events occurring over the next 12 months or more.

Can I make up my own spreads? Yes, yes and thrice yes! Devise your own spread to reflect the question.

Can I Use No Spread At All? – Yes, again. Lay out the cards in a row with no assigned position and see how they dictate your answer. You may immediately recognize that they are showing the unfolding of a situation over time. Or it will be obvious that they are reflecting the personality traits of the subject/s of the reading. All this will come with experience.

What if the person I'm reading for isn't with me? Not a problem. Tarot works very well for distant readings:

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Bev G

    Do You Have a Question About Tarot Spreads?

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      • profile image

        thewisewolf 22 months ago

        It is a funny thing how it's almost like the deck chooses us rather than us choosing a deck. Have tried using two identical decks in the past, my rider waite deck which I had no issues reading from and my ex's deck which is the same version and couldn't read from anywhere near as accurately. I have always seen it that the deck chooses you having been round many new age and wiccan shops and have a couple of decks I've never read from that called out to me, similar to the way we feel for the card in a deck that calls to us.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 22 months ago from Wales, UK

        It's funny how we click (or not) with certain decks, isn't it? Sometimes I wonder if it is the actual deck - if the reader had two identical ones, perhaps they could only connect with one of them?

      • profile image

        thewisewolf 22 months ago

        It's been a while since i last read my deck. As with one of your other articles about finding a deck that suits you an old friend who has read for many years on a visit to see me brought a deck they bought but could never read from properly, it was different to what I'm used to with the cards being a lot different to the rider waite style but very quickly with a bit of practice was able to read from them with ease. With the rider waite deck i prefer to read with a proper spread most of the time but my native american deck i prefer to just go with the flow unless I feel a question needs a little more insight usually going for 3 card spread with a 4th as a reigning card over the situation.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 2 years ago from Wales, UK

        Thanks Jonas. Good luck on your tarot journey.

      • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

        Jonas Rodrigo 2 years ago

        I've had my card read by a colleague a while back and was deeply fascinated by it. I've wanted to learn how to do it myself but haven't really gotten around to it. I love the Q&A portion of this hub; it's simple and straightforward, how all tutorials should be.



      • GwennyOh profile image

        GwennyOh 4 years ago from LaLa Land

        I too do mostly three card readings; but I find there are times when more detail need be found, and then I like to draw up a spread of my own. It's so true that we all read differently!

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 4 years ago from Wales, UK

        Thank you, GwennyOh. These days, I tend to go with the flow and don't worry too much about spreads. It can be lots of fun creating one for a specific purpose.

      • GwennyOh profile image

        GwennyOh 4 years ago from LaLa Land

        Nice overview on how to read with Tarot cards! It's true that designing your own spreads is a great reading enhancer.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

        Many thanks, LizzyBoo :) I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

      • LizzyBoo profile image

        LizzyBoo 5 years ago from Czech Republic

        I found your tread amazing. I am also interested in tarot and I do a Cosmic tarot. This article is amazingly written and I so enjoyed to reading it.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

        Thanks so much, Lisa. I have been given two more tarot titles so watch this space!

      • LisaKoski profile image

        Lisa 5 years ago from WA

        Very interesting and well written. My sister uses Tarot cards and I think she would love to read this so I will be passing it along to her shortly. Voted up and interesting :)