How to Deal or Spread Tarot Cards
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.
How to Formulate a Question in Tarot
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.
What to Do Before Laying out the Tarot 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?
- 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 . It contains 100 spreads as well as a large section on tarot interpretations when applied to different aspects of life. I highly recommend it. Power Tarot by Trish MacGregor and Phyllis Vega
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 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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
What does each tarot card represent?
I have two other articles that list all the meanings for the Rider-Waite Tarot - one covers the upright meanings, while the other gives the reversals:Helpful 1
When laying out a spread of tarot cards, does the querent draw from the top of the deck, or can they pick any card from anywhere in the deck?
It's your choice completely. I shuffle and cut, then turn from the top. If you prefer, you can fan the cards onto a table and ask your client to pull them. There are not hard and fast rules. It's whatever is most comfortable to you. The right cards will turn up.Helpful 17
When doing a reading for someone else, how do you place/form the deck for the person who chooses their card? Do you just lay all the cards out or do you put them in groups?
You do it how it works for you. When I do my readings, I have my client sitting to my left. I shuffle the deck and I let them cut the cards with their left hand. Then I lay out the spread in front of us so we can both see the cards.Helpful 8
When reading the future is it possible for the tarot spread to become obscured the further along you go?
Yes, because in every moment there are choices, so all the cards can really do is give you an idea of the direction given current circumstances. A psychic reader would be able to be more accurate, but a reader like me, who relies on the meanings of the cards and intuition is unable to be pinpoint accurate.Helpful 6
© 2012 Bev G