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.
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.
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?
- 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 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
Can I take cards out of the deck?
When you deal the cards, you are taking them out of the deck. It's up to you whether you shuffle and deal them off the top, the bottom, or from within.
What does it mean when a tarot card is in a horizontal position above one in a vertical position?
It depends on the position meaning assigned by the reader. For example, you could lay down a card to represent your current life situation, then you could lay a second card horizontally above to indicate what is opposing or oppressing.
If you are referring to the center two cards in the Celtic Cross spread, it means the same thing. The first card represents the heart of the situation and the crossing card represents what helps or hinders the seeker.
If you have been told that you have natural ability and intuition, how can you find a mentor to expedite abilities? Do you even need a mentor?
You can look for a mentor in any reputable tarot organization; in the US, it is the ATA (American Tarot Association) in the UK (or anywhere else), it is TABI (Tarot Association of the British Isles).
But, know that any other person, however experienced, has their own way of looking at the world, and consequentially how they read the cards.
Personally speaking, your best mentors are the people you read for. They are the ones who give you practice, challenge your assumptions and question your interpretations. Again, you can do free readings at either of the two organizations mentioned above.
© 2012 Bev G