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Six Alternative Tarot Spreads

Updated on October 05, 2016
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TR Smith is a mathematician and card game enthusiast who first learned the tarot as a teenager.

Uncommon Tarot Card Layouts for Beginners and Experts

The two most commonly used tarot spreads (layout of the cards in a tarot reading) are the three-card spread and Celtic cross. These are well-established spreads that tarot readers usually learn first. However, a tarot reader may sometimes find the three-card spread too limiting for a querent's issue. A novice may find the Celtic cross too cumbersome and unintuitive, while an experienced reader may find it not a good fit for a particular query. One of the wonderful things about reading tarot cards and cartomancy in general is that there is no single correct spread for all situations, just as there isn't a single correct way to interpret a card and its orientation. Here are several unusual and less frequently used tarot spreads for different types of queries.

The horseshoe tarot spread is an intuitive layout to analyze a decision the querent is facing. Should I accept a job offer in another city? Should I accept a marriage proposal from a man I've been dating for six months? Should I contact my birth mother? The horseshoe spread has seven cards, but depending on your style you may also deal a significator card (labeled 0) before dealing the horseshoe itself. The significator is a card that represents the querent.

In my family it is customary to hang a horseshoe good luck charm with the ends upward, like a cup, to keep your luck from "spilling out" so I also deal the horseshoe spread with the ends up. Other readers deal it with the ends down, like a rainbow. Do what feels most intuitive to you.

  • Card 1: The past, things from before that affect the situation today, things that may have caused the situation to arise in the first place.
  • Card 2: The present, things that are going on right now that affect the situation.
  • Card 3: Hidden influences, things the querent is not aware of that are affecting the current situation.
  • Card 4: Obstacles, things that are getting in the querent's way, things that prevent the querent from sensing the hidden influences or from making a decision.
  • Card 5: Family and friends, how the querent is influenced by those close to her or the situation, how others see the current situation and what side they fall on.
  • Card 6: Progress, what steps the querent should take to resolve the situation and make the right decision, how to proceed.
  • Card 7: Result, what the querent can expect to happen if she follows the guidance of the previous cards, or what she can expect to happen if she chooses a different path.

Mathematically, six is a very special number for tarot readers using a 78-card tarot deck (such as Rider-Waite and Thoth). Six divides evenly into 78, and the digits of 78 reduce to six: 7+8 = 15, 1+5 = 6. Also, both six and 78 are triangular numbers. The six-card pyramid tarot spread can be used to address financial issues facing the querent. The base of the pyramid represents the root of the problem, the middle layer represents possible actions the querent can take, the apex represents the future.

  • Card 1: The past, factors in the past that have led to the current situation
  • Card 2: The present, ongoing factors that are affecting the situation
  • Card 3: Hidden obstacles, things the querent is unaware of that are affecting the situation for the worse.
  • Card 4: Active strategy, proactive things the querent can do to resolve the issue.
  • Card 5: Passive strategy, what the querent can expect by waiting it out or letting things progress without direct action.
  • Card 6: The future, lessons learned, how the querent can avoid money trouble in the future.

The storyboard or comic strip spread is, as its name suggests, a layout read like a simple eight-panel comic except that the cards are read in a clockwise loop. Vibrant picture decks lend themselves well to this reading because each card depicts a scene. The cards should be read in sequential order paying close attention to the transitions between scenes.

  • Card 1: The querent, who is the protagonist of the story.
  • Card 2: The protagonist's side-kick, a special skill, or an external force that helps the protagonist.
  • Card 3: The main antagonist of the story or an external force that works against the protagonist.
  • Cards 4 and 5: An obstacle faced by the protagonist, a problem that needs to be solved, an unforseen disaster or negative event, or fight between the protagonist and antagonist.
  • Cards 6 and 7: How the protagonist solves the problem.
  • Card 8: The moral of the story, lessons learned and a view toward the future.

The sword spread is another tarot spread for making decisions or gaining clarity. This spread has several variations in which direction the sword points, the order of the cards as they are laid out, and the length of the blade, though its purpose remains the same. While some readers may associate the sword suit with negativity or violence, the sword of the layout cuts through a cloud of confusion to see a matter more clearly. In this spread you should pay careful attention to sword suit cards.

  • Card 1: The core of the matter, what is at stake.
  • Card 2: Things out of your control that may work in your favor or work against you.
  • Card 3: Your starting position, where you grasp the sword, how you see the situation.
  • Card 4: Your support base, your assets and advantages, your friends and family.
  • Card 5: An obstacle that the querent is surmounting, a problem the querent is solving.
  • Card 6: A desire of the querent that is being attained, a goal being reached.
  • Card 7: A view toward the future, gaining new insights, discovering something that was hidden or previously unknown.

Many relationship spreads involve five cards and focus on both the querent's and his partner's desires and goals in the relationship. A relationship tarot spread can be used to read an established romantic partnership or a new love. It may also be adapted for the querent who is not currently dating anyone but open to meeting the right person.

  • Card 1: The querent, his feelings on the current state of the relationship.
  • Card 2: What the querent is bringing to the relationship.
  • Card 3: What the other person is bringing to the relationship
  • Card 4: What the other person wants out of the relationship, how the other person sees the relationship progressing in the future.
  • Card 5: Will the querent be happy or satisfied in the relationship?

The face spread is good for self-readings, questions about point of view, or helping a querent figure see a situation more objectively. Is he flirting with me or am I projecting my feelings? Is the project's failure the fault of my employees or my poor leadership? Is she out of my league?

  • Card 1: The left eye, how the querent views the situation, the querent's hopes or fears.
  • Card 2: The right eye, how the situation is viewed by querent's opponent, love interest, or business partner.
  • Card 3: Influences from the past, facts or events from before that affect the present situation today.
  • Card 4: Present obstacles, why the querent feels inadequate, why the querent cannot express herself candidly and openly, why the querent and/or his partner/opponent cannot see eye-to-eye.
  • Card 5: Querent's responsibilities and path, things the querent can control in this situation and things she cannot control, how to proceed, a different way for the querent to view the situation to gain clarity.

Tarot Reading Tips

Remember that reading tarot cards is more art than science. Your querents are more interested in your intuitive interpretation of the spread rather than the "correct" strictly by-the-book meaning of each card. Take your cues from the information the querent gives about herself and what she wants to get out of the reading. During a good session, the card reader establishes a connection with the querent while helping her establish a better connection with her own intuition.


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    • threekeys profile image

      ThreeKeys 5 months ago from Australia

      I am a fan of the tarot. I like your tarot spreads? Creative and interesting. Would you mind if I tried them out?

    • calculus-geometry profile image

      TR Smith 5 months ago from Eastern Europe

      Thanks, threekeys. Try them out.

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