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Tarot: The Celtic Cross Spread

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I'm a professional tarot reader with 23 years of experience. For me, tarot is a fascinating system that reflects all human life.

The Celtic Cross Spread: How to Do It

A spread in tarot is a layout, or the pattern in which the reader places the cards down on the table. Each position in the spread has a meaning and modifies the card placed upon it. The Celtic Cross (CC) is the most widely known and possibly the most commonly used tarot spread. It is a little complex for an absolute beginner reader, but it is well worth taking the time to learn and assimilate it, as it may prove to be the only spread you need, apart from the essential one, two, and three-card readings.

The Celtic Cross was "invented" by the famous occultist AE Waite, creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck. So it is a fairly modern device, although some practitioners will have you believe otherwise! It is thought that he based his famous tarot spread on a similar one used in Europe, although the origins of that one are lost in the mists of time.

I like to use a Celtic Cross as the "anchor" for my readings for clients. It is ideal for clarifying situations and evoking additional questions. It's important to not use it indiscriminately; for example, if reading for yourself, it is completely pointless to do a full-length CC reading on a daily basis. It makes much more sense to limit its use to once a month or even less frequently. I have found over my many years of tarot reading that the information offered by a good, in-depth Celtic Cross can continue to unfold over 12 months or more.

Celtic Cross using Tarot of the New Vision

Celtic Cross using Tarot of the New Vision

Before Laying Out the Cards

You probably have your own method of conducting your readings, and that's good. However, one thing I recommend before commencing is to explain to the client that this layout is ideal for interaction. I tell them I'm an intuitive reader, not a psychic or a charlatan who is looking for "clues," and that they will get more from the reading if they participate. This breaks the ice and puts us both at ease. There is nothing worse than trying to read for someone who folds their arms in fear of "giving something away." I like my readings to be a two-way process.

Layout and order of the Celtic Cross spread using the Gilded Tarot, face down

Layout and order of the Celtic Cross spread using the Gilded Tarot, face down

Celtic Cross: The First Two Cards

The first two cards of the spread are the most important part. In fact, tarot author Sandra A. Thomson has a book based entirely on the first two cards of the Celtic Cross, The Heart of the Tarot. She holds that they are all you need to produce an insightful and useful reading. Her theory is that if you have the situation and the problem, you also have the solution or advice. She illustrates her ideas with many two-card combinations. The book is hard to get hold of these days so if you happen across a copy, grab it.

Cards one and two of the Celtic Cross, using Tarot of The New Vision

Cards one and two of the Celtic Cross, using Tarot of The New Vision

Cards One and Two: The Heart of the CC

Position One: The Current Situation or Challenge

The first card illustrates the main situation that faces the seeker. It can be something they are aware of or possibly something they are oblivious to but will make its presence known pretty soon. If you can't immediately pinpoint the challenge, briefly use the card's main interpretation to describe a typical situation that the card represents. Ask the client if it means anything to them. Usually, the circumstances become clearer as you progress through the reading.

In our example above, we see that the seeker is being challenged by a situation represented by the Five of Swords. Fives are always challenges in themselves, and this one tends toward intellectual or communication problems. Here, we see that there is some dispute going on, or maybe the seeker is involved in a bullying campaign.

Position Two: Obstacles and Blocks

The second usually indicates the obstacles or blocks to the resolution of the problem, and bear in mind that there is generally a "problem" or the client wouldn't be wanting a reading in the first place. Often, this card represents another person or another person's wishes.

For you, the reader, it is important to read these cards as a pair; almost as one card, if you like. Look at the images. Do they help or oppose? Is there a story there? Do they remind you of anything in your own life? Speak out, say what you see—remembering to be tactful and mindful of your client's sensibilities, of course.

As you can see, these two cards can immediately clarify the situation, hence the idea that this, sometimes, is all the person needs. They can visualize their circumstances from an objective standpoint. It is worth asking them what advice they would offer to someone in the same situation. The "aha!" moments that question provokes are priceless.

In the example, the seeker is faced with the Five of Cups—an emotional challenge this time. This indicates that whatever is shown in card one has resulted in a loss or deep regret and that it is this which is preventing the seeker from moving past the problem.

Positions Three to Six

Card Three is the base or root of the current situation. It can represent influences from the immediate past right back to childhood. I generally look to this card as the reason for the reading.

Card Four is what is in the past or is in the present but already receding. If there are negative cards in the reading, this is where I would prefer to see them.

Card Five illustrates what the client is moving toward or what the client sees as an outcome. I have heard this position called the "hopes and fears" or "alternative outcome" card. In other words, it shows the "Law of Attraction" in action. Often what the querent believes will happen *will* happen. It is useful to read this as a pair with Card 10.

Card Six is what is in the immediate future or is already moving into the present. Look closely at cards four, one, two, and six. They represent a timeline. Take your time to re-examine them and try to pick up the thread of the story.

Cards Seven to Ten

Card Seven is important. It shows what influences the querent brings to the situation. It can represent their emotions, actions, and opinions. Look at this card with the card in the third position, and you will get a better picture of where the client is coming from. The two cards, together, will often tell you more than the client is letting on.

Card Eight. The card in this position represents other people in the situation. Their influence, feelings, and emotions. It could also represent a group or an institution. In other words, it is "the other." Look at this with card seven—see if there is a "pushing against" going on. Two opposing forces, neither willing to concede their position. Don't forget that this can also be a helping position—the card may show someone who can help.

Card Nine is often considered to be guidance or an alternative to "hopes and fears." I like to think of it as the wildcard; I don't assign it a meaning until I see what turns up here. It can be the pivotal card and give the answer to the problem.

Card Ten is the outcome if everything stays the same. In other words, if the querent continues along the path without making a change. You can read this as a pair with card five; they will often portray the future with great accuracy.

The really useful timeline revealed by the Celtic Cross

The really useful timeline revealed by the Celtic Cross

Timeline Tip

Once you have dealt with the cards in their logical order and read pairs and combinations where appropriate, turn your attention to the timeline indicated by cards four, one, two, and six. This can be quite revealing; you have a nice, neat little past, present, and future spread right there. Card three is the recent past, one and two are the present situation, and card six represents the near future.

These cards can also be interpreted in an energetic way rather than in a fortune-telling manner. In this case, you would look at influences and energies that the seeker is leaving behind—influences and energies they are dealing with in the present and influences and energies moving toward them.

Aren't you loving the flexibility of the Celtic Cross?

Celtic Cross Reading Tips

Some readers like to deal the cards face down and turn them over one by one. I find it far more useful to simply flip the cards down, face-up. I like to take a minute to absorb the overall flavor of the spread. You can get an immediate feel as to whether the reading is going to be "up" or "down."

In both cases, you must make sure that the reading and advice given leaves the client feeling uplifted, or at least more positive. I like to use the reading to get my client to take control, and the cards are great at showing where they are letting things happen and where they can begin to make changes.

Explain to the client that the reading points towards actions, events, and situations that could unfold over several months. Offer them the chance to get back to you regarding this reading. It will help you tremendously if you take the time to note down the cards. Later you can add a brief synopsis of the reading you gave, important points that the client raised, and any questions arising.

Normally, a Celtic Cross takes me at least 45 minutes to go through. The remaining time is given over to one or two short readings to address questions that the client may have.

Warning: A tarot reading can help a client enormously—or it can harm them quite badly. Always choose your words with care and observe your client's reactions; adjust your approach accordingly.

Useful Resources

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

Question: Can I use the Celtic Cross spread with regular playing cards for a tarot reading?

Answer: Yes you can, although the layers of meaning won't be so obvious. However, if you have a well-developed intuition, you'll pick up on the messages.

I've never tried a Celtic Cross with playing cards, but I have used playing cards for shorter spreads and instant answers:

Question: Do you ever pick another card to clarify? If you don't understand a particular card in a particular place,wouldn't it help to draw another card to clarify?

Answer: I used to until I realized that it just added to the confusion. I think if you don't understand a card in a particular place, then you need to explore the card in greater depth. And also determine what that position means to you (or the seeker). For example, position nine in the Celtic Cross is always my 'wildcard'; sometimes it offers advice, sometimes it seems to underpin the whole reading. So in a way, that is my clarification card.

If you are unsure of any card, take a photo of the spread, determine what you 'think' it means and revisit the spread the next day. Another really useful resource is 'Truly Teach Me Tarot' - there is no book that goes into as much depth for each card as this lady does:

Question: Card one is supposed to be from the Major Arcana. Do I separate them out and pick the first card then add the remainder to the rest of the cards and re-shuffle?

Answer: I haven't heard that before. I don't use that method. The card that is randomly drawn from the whole 78-card deck is the card that is meant to be in the first position. I don't see the point in excluding any card unless there's a specific reason for it. As you can see, card one in the example is the Five of Swords.

The Celtic Cross was first designed and used by AE Waite, the creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot. He didn't say that the first card had to be a Major. I think you are making it too complicated for yourself.

© 2012 Bev G

Got Any Questions?

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 27, 2018:


Stephanie Fults on June 27, 2018:

I sure would like to have a cc reading from BG.There's a lot of things goings-on. I really need some intell.on please

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 21, 2016:

Yes, been studying tarot for 16 years :) My kids are completely comfortable with their mother whipping out her tarot cards at any time. I won't read for them though. Thanks for stopping by, Jean.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on July 21, 2016:


I've seen you on the forums, but didn't know you were a Tarot reader. Although my first love is Astrology, I often read at parties and out of local metaphysical stores.

I liked what you said about the beginning of the reading. I always ask if the person has had a reading before. I don't read for anyone who is under 16 unless they grew up in a home like mine where there's always readings and astrology chart updates going on. I don't consider it "fortune telling" or "divination" either. Astrology I look at like a personality profile, and a tarot reading tells you what's going on or what may happen, but I always tell them they have free will.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 11, 2015:

Ah... but you can use elements from it - such as cards 1 & 2 to show the issue or lay out the whole lot and just pick out the most significant ones. It is very accurate - these days I only ever use the CC or pairs or threes.

So nice to connect with you again :-)

justholidays on September 11, 2015:

The Celtic Cross is a very accurate spread and I really like it. Should I add that it's my favorite spread? It is... yet with the current rage,which is fortune telling by phone, it's hard to use it for a quick/too quick/hyper quick reading :)

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on January 25, 2015:

Glad to help, Niko :) Thanks for your comment.

Ignacio Mata from Las Vegas, Nevada on January 25, 2015:

This actually turned out to be more useful than some of the guides I've been reading online. Imagine that.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 21, 2012:

Hi Cynthggt, it's possible that he was not referring to what you think he was. You may well have prevailed in another situation and not even connected it with the reading. There is nothing negative in the Justice card - it tends to warn of legal entanglements but, as with every other card, it depends what other cards were drawn with it :)

To answer your question, yes, sometimes Tarot readers do withold information, especially if they feel it would not benefit the client to become focused on something they probably couldn't do anything about. Having said this, there are often ways to prepare someone for a situation without being overly specific.

Cynthia Taggart from New York, NY on September 21, 2012:

Raggededge, when I once had a reading (which was an accident, really, since the anti-Christmas company I formerly worked for hired a Tarot reader for its Xmas party), the guy drew a "Justice" card and told me I would prevail. I have yet to know it that holds true. Do Tarot readers sometimes keep what they see from their clients? Wanted to say too this is a well written and informative hub. Good day.