How to Deal or Spread Tarot Cards

Updated on July 1, 2020
theraggededge profile image

I'm a professional tarot reader with 20 years of experience. For me, tarot is a fascinating system that reflects all human life.

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.

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.

Three-Card Spread
Three-Card Spread

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?

  • 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.

Three of Swords, The Emperor and Nine of Swords
Three of Swords, The Emperor and Nine of Swords | Source

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

© 2012 Bev G

Do You Have a Question About Tarot Spreads?

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    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      3 weeks ago from Wales, UK

      You are welcome, Diane. Feel free to return and ask me anything. I might be able to help.

    • profile image


      3 weeks ago

      This was a really good explanation for a new hopeful reader, well explained, covering all the questions I would have asked. Thank you

    • ravenmoonwitch13 profile image

      Sarah Adamski 

      11 months ago from South Windsor

      Thankyou, i would love some more guidance if u r willing too, because i had a feeling that i was doing ok until this person told me that ld have started with oracle cards instead, so i started collecting and have a ridiculous amount but the weird thing is i have not read with my tarot deck since that day and that was months ago now... I might get them out of their special place and cloth and cleanse them and this time ill just stick with what my inner self keeps telling me,

      Thankyou for your honesty and guidance

      sarah x

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      11 months ago from Wales, UK

      Hi Sarah... almost two decades now!

      No, starting with oracle cards is not a particularly useful way to start with tarot. They are completely different systems. It would be like saying that you need to learn German before you can learn Spanish.

      Tarot is structured. Oracle systems are not. Tarot is, generally speaking, consistent across the majority of decks. Once you have learned one, you can usually learn another very quickly. Oracles are all different and have arbitrary meanings assigned by their creators.

      So, no, that person is incorrect :)

    • ravenmoonwitch13 profile image

      Sarah Adamski 

      11 months ago from South Windsor


      My first set of Tarot cards that were given too me was a gift from my mother and they were a deck of Raider Waite, i had no problems getting attached to them and was even picking it up from the first moment i read for myself and also was always told that i was spot on reading for others also... I have been perusing and watching how other readers read on facebook and i saw a comment one day from whom i think is a pretty good reader that u should always start with oracle cards first, what is your opinion on this, seen as though u have almost been reading for a decade now,

      Have a great day and i look forward to hearing from u

      Sarah x

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      12 months ago from Wales, UK

      First thing is to determine what kind of reader you are. Some people ignore the traditional card meanings and read intuitively. So try a reading for someone you barely know to check your accuracy. If good, then just carry on.

      If there are gaping holes, then get yourself a good book. Learn the meanings of the cards, then volunteer your services at a free reading site, such as the American Tarot Association. Doing lots of readings is the best way to learn.

    • profile image

      Cherokee Collins 

      12 months ago

      So I've just started to get real intrested in learning the tarot. Since I've found an old tarot deck of mine that I've had for years, but never had the time to learn. So my question is, for being a beginner, what would be the best way of learning how to read my card spreads?

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      23 months ago from Wales, UK

      Do it how you prefer, Emma, There are no rules. My preference is to shuffle like a crazy shuffling thing. Cut the deck into two. Place the bottom pile on the top and turn the cards from the top, one after the other while focusing on the question.

    • profile image


      23 months ago

      When creating a spread with the tarot cards, say a 3 card spread... should I cut the deck into three piles before revealing the top 3 cards or rather just pick the 3 cards from the single deck?

    • profile image


      4 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      4 years 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


      4 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      5 years ago from Wales, UK

      Thanks Jonas. Good luck on your tarot journey.

    • profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      5 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


      7 years ago

      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 imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      7 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


      7 years ago

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

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      7 years ago from Wales, UK

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

    • LizzyBoo profile image


      7 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 imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      8 years ago from Wales, UK

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

    • LisaKoski profile image


      8 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 :)


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