Reading tarot is an intuitive practice. However, like a scientific experiment, the data you receive is influenced by the way you design your procedure.
In tarot readings, the card design is called the tarot spread. This term refers to the pattern of cards chosen from a deck during a reading.
Tarot readers have different approaches to grounding the querent, or the person asking for guidance before cards are pulled.
Most of the time, the entire deck of 78 cards is shuffled and cut by the querent. While they shuffle, you may want to direct them to think of their intention or question.
Then, the tarot spread will guide your interpretation of their story. The patterns described below offer combinations suitable for all levels of expertise.
There are also tarot spreads that address many issues readers face, including decision-making, relationships, and psychological healing.
Tarot Spreads for Beginners
In the early days of reading, a reliable standard can build confidence. Classic three card tarot spreads are the most common foundations for beginners.
Once you experiment with these, try a five card tarot spread to add more detail to your readings.
Three Card Tarot Spread
The three card tarot spread is relatively simple, which makes it ideal for beginners. Not only is it a classic, but it’s also adaptable to many questions.
It provides enough information for deeper insights without overwhelming a reader or a querent. Thus, the three card tarot spread continues to be a favorite for seasoned practitioners.
As you become more comfortable with your cards, you will be able to invent your own three card tarot spreads. Until then, borrow or adapt one of these tried and true three card tarot spread patterns:
Past-Present-Future Tarot Spreads
In the past, present, future tarot spread, the first card pulled represents elements from the past affecting present events.
This can give you some clues about themes. A Minor Arcana suit alone can guide your interpretation.
For instance, a cup card reveals a feelings-driven question, while a pentacles card may suggest underlying ideas about material gains or security.
The second card, placed in the middle of the line-up, shows the nature of the question or the querent’s current position.
Generally speaking, a Major Arcana card in this position suggests a period of time during which the querent must humble themselves to larger forces.
Meanwhile, a Minor Arcana card in this position indicates that the querent has more control in the situation.
Finally, the third card represents the likely outcome. Meditating on the past and the present cards can show you how the future card fits in.
That said, if the future is undesirable, meditation can also help you make better choices for the given circumstances.
Situation-Obstacle-Advice/Outcome Tarot Spreads
This spread is especially useful to help understand a conflict or resolve the tension. The first card pulled for the situation often represents the querent’s role.
Then, the obstacle card in this tarot spread crosses the first card to show what elements are causing the conflict or tension.
The final card can be flexible. Perhaps it reveals a likely outcome, or it can offer advice for the querent: how should they act to make the most of the situation?
Mind-Body-Spirit Tarot Spreads
Mind, body, spirit tarot spreads can help a reader understand what is needed to add balance to a querent’s life.
For this reason, consider using it for general lessons or impressions. Depending on the querent’s needs, each card may represent the current state, approaching energies, or advice for alignment in each realm.
Five Card Tarot Spreads
While the three card tarot spreads offer plenty of information, a five card tarot spread can help dive into the question, “Why?”
Try one of the two formations below to help someone get to the heart of the matter!
Five Card tarot spread – cross formation
A five card tarot spread can be structured as a cross, which builds on the three-card formation. In this spread, a middle row may consist of three cards showing Past, Present, and Future.
One card is placed beneath these three to reveal a core reason for the circumstances as they exist.
Another card is drawn and placed above the three-card row to show the potential of the situation.
While it may not be the actual outcome, it shows the brightest and/or darkest possibility hidden within the state of affairs.
Five Card Tarot Spreads – Rectangle Formation
In Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot, a well-known comprehensive guide, a five card tarot spread is also used to explore a theme and its variations.
The theme card is placed in the center of the other four cards, which form a rectangle around it. It is usually pulled last.
Some readers prefer to interpret the four surrounding cards loosely, but you can also decide ahead of time what each position will represent.
For instance, the cards might represent fears, desires, conflict, another person’s perspective, a tool to use, or a lesson to be learned.
Tarot Spreads For a Focused Question
Sometimes you may use the cards to answer one focused question. This type of reading can seem daunting because you must interpret the cards in relation to something else.
Of the two options below, the Yes or No tarot spread is better for beginners, while the Celtic Cross tarot spread is a great way to extend your knowledge as an intermediate or advanced reader.
Yes or No Tarot Spreads
Yes or No tarot spreads are excellent for beginners because they are so simple. They involve a focused question and usually one card that represents the answer “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”
Because these readings are stripped down, experienced tarot readers may find this approach to be reductive.
Tarot has the power to add layers and nuance to a life story. Sometimes asking a single question with a single answer limits that power.
Despite this, it’s a great way to practice card interpretation and read the energy of a specific situation.
This tarot spread does not require deep knowledge of the cards, you will only need to know ahead of time which cards represent “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.”
Yes or No tarot readings can also help you learn the cards. For more detail, you can read my post on how to perform these yes or no readings.
Celtic Cross Tarot Spread
I do not recommend the ten-card Celtic Cross tarot spread for beginners, but it is a favorite for isolating issues in someone’s life.
While it can be used for querents seeking general information, it is also a great way to answer a specific question.
The reading begins with a “cross.” The first card represents the theme or the querent’s role. The second card, which crosses the first, is a primary obstacle they must face as they address the issue.
Then, a third card is placed beneath the cross to show the foundations of the issue from the deep past. The fourth card, to the left of the cross, is an event in the recent past affecting the current situation.
Above the cross, the fifth card reveals potential. The sixth card tells you something that will happen in the near future related to the concern.
Notice how this creates a larger cross shape similar to the five-card cross formation described above!
When the larger cross is complete, a column of four additional cards is created to provide additional information about the events at hand. These cards answer the following questions:
- Card 7: What are the querent’s previous experiences or attitudes about the theme?
- Card 8: How is the external environment, including the people around the querent, affecting the situation?
- Card 9: What are the querent’s hopes and/or fears?
- Card 10: What is the most probable outcome?
If you want to learn more about this well-known spread, check out my article about the Celtic Cross tarot spread.
In this article, I explain not only the positions in more depth but also the relations between certain positions.
Just be patient when working with this tarot spread, especially when you’re fairly new to reading the tarot cards.
Tarot Spreads For Love
Many adaptations of each spread can be used to address questions about love and relationships.
These readings can be used for romantic partnerships or for any kind of relationship between two people, including friendships or early flirtations.
Three Card Love Spread
To learn more about the state of a person’s relationship, pull three cards to represent (1) the querent, (2) the other person, and (3) the relationship.
Depending on the cards that appear, this spread could reveal desires, fears, or other motivations of the two parties.
Five Card Love Spread
It’s also easy to modify a five-card cross formation for love. The central card, or the theme, will stand for the present state or the issue between the querent and the other person.
Place the second card to the left of the theme card to represent the querent’s perspective. Then, place the third card to the right of the theme card to show the other person’s place.
The fourth card, placed below the central card, is the foundation of the relationship or something in the past contributing to the current issue. Finally, the fifth card is placed above the first card to show the likely outcome.
Ten Card Love Spread
Are you ready for a deep dive into a relationship’s history and promise? One ten-card option begins with a row of five cards.
- Card 1: The distant past influencing the present moment
- Card 2: The recent past influences
- Card 3: The current state of the relationship
- Card 4: Influences that will appear in the future
- Card 5: Influences from the external environment (money, family, health, etc.)
This first row gives a detailed picture of the partnership while the next five cards provide larger themes. Place the sixth card above the row to represent the querent’s beliefs about the relationship.
Below the row of five cards, place a seventh card that shows favorable energy and an eighth for what’s working against the relationship.
The final two cards will be placed above the sixth card. The ninth card gives hopes and/or fears, and the tenth card provides the likely outcome for the couple.
Tarot Spreads For Mental Healing
One of her five card cross formation tarot spreads can be used to learn more about our psychological projections, or the attributes we observe in others but not ourselves.
You can use this when you notice yourself labeling or judging others more frequently than usual.
- Card 1 (bottom of cross): What am I seeing in others that I can’t see in myself?
- Card 2 (left of the center card): What is the source of this projection?
- Card 3 (center card): What part of this projection can I reclaim?
- Card 4 (right of the center card): What feelings will I experience when I release this pattern?
- Card 5 (top of cross): What could I gain, like a skill or knowledge, by reclaiming this projection?
Tarot Spreads For More Advanced Readers
Once you have some experience with various tarot card spreads, I recommend trying new shapes. Sometimes an unfamiliar visual pattern can bring about new truths or breakthroughs.
Both of the patterns below are well-documented spreads summarized in Llewelyn’s Complete Book of Tarot.
Horseshoe Tarot Spread
This reading is excellent for decision-making, especially when the querent feels unsure of how to choose the best course of action.
When you pull for this reading, you create a V-shape with seven cards. Traditionally, the V opens downward, but you can also flip the shape if you prefer that formation.
While you can assign your own meanings, here is one way to break down the reading:
- Card 1: Past influences
- Card 2: Present issue
- Card 3: Future developments
- Card 4: Advice for the querent
- Card 5: How people around the issue affect the querent’s decision
- Card 6: Obstacles or hidden influences
- Card 7: Optimal action for resolution
This tarot spread adopts a circular formation for twelve cards that represent the energy of each zodiac sign. This can be a good reading to encourage personal growth or to set goals.
In fact, if you complete this reading at the beginning of the zodiac cycle, each card can represent a period of time in the upcoming year.
For lovers of astrology, this spread is a fun way to bring zodiac knowledge to the tarot. If you have limited knowledge of the signs, here are some questions for each card placement.
- Card 1 (Aries): How do you define yourself or express your identity?
- Card 2 (Taurus): What traditions or authorities guide your values and dreams?
- Card 3 (Gemini): How do you incorporate what you love into your decisions?
- Card 4 (Cancer): How do you stay focused and safe to meet your goals?
- Card 5 (Leo): How do you confront conflict?
- Card 6 (Virgo): How do you regulate your emotions and access inner wisdom?
- Card 7 (Libra): What must you do to be fair to yourself and those around you?
- Card 8 (Scorpio): What do you need to release to move forward?
- Card 9 (Sagittarius): What areas of your life require more balance?
- Card 10 (Capricorn): What temptations may distract you from spiritual growth?
- Card 11 (Aquarius): What is your heart’s desire?
- Card 12 (Pisces): What aspects of your shadow (positive or negative) should be brought to light?
On your journey to tarot fluency, keep a journal of the tarot spreads you use and your interpretations of them. You can even invent new formations and record them.
Which spread are you most excited to try? Do you have a favorite? Let us know by leaving a comment below!