My Favorite Tarot Spreads by Geraldine Amaral


Pick up just about any book on the Tarot and you will probably find more than a few spreads at the end of the book or interspersed throughout the book. There are even Tarot books that are solely about spreads (such as The Complete Book of Tarot Spreads by Evelin Burger), with page after page of spreads. Since there are an almost limitless number of layouts in which the Tarot cards can be placed, how do you know which one(s) to use? How can you choose?


Using the Tarot, especially when you are just starting out on your Tarot journey, is one of those times when “less is definitely more.” The symbols and metaphors within the card’s images, and the wisdom in the stories they tell, hold enormous potential.  The fewer cards you use in a reading, the more impact and depth they will have and the easier it will be for your psyche to integrate the messages which are coming through the cards.  A simple spread—one to four cards—can be quite powerful and can provide you with endless insights and guidance.  If a lot of cards are used in a reading, the messages you receive could be mixed or confusing with your conscious and unconscious mind getting sensory overload, so to speak.  Keep it simple!


Here’s one such simple spread: 



       1                  2                      3


          1  The Current Issue/Problem

          2  Action or Lack of Action Needed for Favorable Outcome

          3  New Possibility (Based on Advice of #2)


Casting the Spread


Once you’ve decided on a particular spread, it is important to approach the “casting” of the cards for the spread with the proper attitude.  It may be helpful to think of the Tarot Spread as the large wheel of life (similar to Key #10 of the Major Arcana, The Wheel of Fortune) that is moving round and round, bringing with it all life’s ups and downs -- including times of energy, inertia, positive flow, negative flow, change, death, rebirth and transition in all realms -- material, emotional, psychological and spiritual.  Is there anyone whose life always goes well or always goes poorly?  Like the wheel, which travels over both rough and smooth terrain, the cards will display the “road” upon which you are currently traveling, the most likely events to follow and may offer guidance and insights to help you on your way.  A Tarot reading can be viewed on one level as simply a snapshot or metaphor for your life.  When you lay the cards out in a spread, they are a mirror of how your life (or the life of the person for whom you are reading) is developing!  And like all metaphors, the excitement comes through exploring the various layers of the analogy.  And, not only does each individual card hold layers upon layers of meaning, but the spread you choose will also show you layers of life and how the various pieces of your life fit together. 


Speaking of “wheels” here is another great spread, with cards placed in a circle.  These spreads do utilize more cards so are recommended for more experienced readers.




The Seeker should focus on a specific wish before doing this spread.




                                                                          6                 7

                                                                4                                        5

                                                                          2                  3



                 1  Foundation/Basis From Which Wish Springs

                 2  Past Influencing Factors

                 3  What the Immediate Future Holds

                 4  Current Influencing Factors

                 5  Others Involved Whose Help Might Prove Beneficial

                 6  Forces Which May be in Opposition to Your Wish

                 7  Type of Action or Lack of Action That You Might Put Forth for a Harmonious or

                         Desirable Result

                 8  What You Most Need to Know About Your Wish (MAY Indicate Ultimate Outcome)


The Atmosphere:


Begin by setting up the atmosphere for the reading:  a quiet place, where there are no distractions, a table with a special piece of fabric, perhaps a special object, a crystal or a vase of fresh flowers.  Next, light a single candle.  Then thoroughly shuffle the pack of Tarot cards.  If you are the Reader, you should shuffle them at first to “neutralize” or “ground” their energy since the last time they were touched or used.  By shuffling the deck, you are returning the cards to their original state of “chaos.”  Both the Reader and the Seeker (the person receiving the reading is called the Questioner, the Querent or the Seeker) should shuffle the deck with both feet flat on the floor so that the pack of cards may be neutralized and “earthed” by both persons before the reading.  At some point during the shuffling you may want to place your right hand four or five inches over the deck, or lay your hand right on the deck and make a “benediction” in which you bless the cards and ask that the highest and best wisdom be revealed to the Seeker.  As you invoke Spirit, ask for help in interpreting the cards as well as help for the Seeker in choosing the right cards.  To assist both you and the Seeker in becoming centered, you may even want to join hands with the Seeker to connect your energies.  You may want to do some deep breathing with the Seeker, or a short meditation in which you ask the Seeker to focus on his or her spiritual ideal, like love, peace, God, a special prayer or mantra, whatever captures a spiritual presence.  You may also ask that the teachers, mentors, guides, angels or ancestors of the Seeker come forth to help with the reading. 


Next, the Seeker shuffles the deck.  It may be useful to suggest that the Seeker visualize the deck as a vessel into which he or she is pouring her energies or personal vibrations.  When the Seeker shuffles the deck, his or her subconscious mind begins to take the cards out of their original state of chaos, and puts them into a new order for that particular person, as directed by the Seeker’s unconscious mind. 


Once the cards have been infused with the Seeker’s vibration, there are many ways for the Seeker to select the cards for the reading.  The method most directly involving the Seeker in the process is one in which you, as the Reader, gently spread the deck out before the Seeker (with cards facing down) and then ask him/her to slowly hand you cards, also face down.  Some Readers encourage the Seeker to gently move his/her hands an inch or so above the cards, quietly allowing the intuition to urge him/her to the right cards.  You might say to the Seeker, “Let the cards speak to you . . . the right cards are choosing you as much as you are choosing them.”  As the Reader, you take charge of counting out the appropriate number of cards for the spread – the Seeker should be allowed to fully concentrate on selecting the cards, not on counting them. 


Once the right number of cards for the specific reading has been selected, the Seeker gently gathers up the cards that have not been selected for the spread in a stack in order to allow for the selection of the “unconscious response.”  This is the card at the very bottom of the deck once they have all been collected.  The Unconscious Response Card can be thought of as a person-to-person telephone call from the unconscious mind, or God’s special line of communication with the Seeker, via the unconscious mind.  The addition of an Unconscious Response Card to any reading often has quite an impact.  It is ideal for the Seeker to gather up the cards herself, thereby directly creating the selection process for this bottom card since it represent a direct message from the Seeker’s unconscious mind.  It indicates what the Seeker has already summoned into life, or provides some important guidance from the Seeker’s deep mind.  Very often, the Unconscious Response Card, which should be the very last card turned over and interpreted, will summarize or expand upon the information that has been gathered from the other cards.


Here’s another simple spread (With Unconscious Response Card):


The Challenge Spread




                                                                    2              3              4


            1  You NOW (Your self-definition, self -image or attitude toward issue )

            2  Your Challenge

            3  Best Result

            4  Unconscious Response (Message from the Deep Mind)


The Significator


To focus the energy of your readings, some Readers place the Significator in the center of the reading.  This is the card in the pack which stands for the Seeker.  The significator is often intentionally selected, usually by the Reader as the symbolic representation of the Seeker.  For example, the King of Pentacles could be selected to represent a man who is financially stable and secure, who is generous or well-grounded.  The Empress could be selected for a woman who is pregnant, seeking to become pregnant or who is involved in a creative endeavor.  The Significator can be based on the personality/“persona” of the Seeker (such as the Queen of Swords for an extremely intelligent, assertive woman), or it can be based on physical characteristics (such as the Page of Pentacles for a younger person who is athletic, nimble and of a strong physique), astrological correspondences (such as The Emperor for Aries or Justice for Libra) or even traits and qualities which the Seeker hopes to achieve (the Strength card for an individual who is working on self-acceptance, compassion and forgiveness).  The Significator can also be selected by the deck, allowing the Seeker to “randomly” choose the Significator from the entire deck (in the same way that the other cards in the spread were selected).  This “random” method is especially useful as the card selected may add further insight and understanding to the reading as a whole and to the Seeker’s posture toward the situation at hand.  The Significator represents the physical embodiment of the Seeker, and since the reading addresses abstract or invisible forces and concepts, this physical representation provides some grounding.  The Significator can also act as the focal point for the entire reading and will draw energy to the reading.  Regardless of the method of selection, this card works like a TV antenna – it tunes in to the correct “signals” and brings them more sharply into focus. 


The following is the Past-Present-Future Spread with the addition of a “Significator.”






                                                                2             3             4





            1  The Significator represents the Seeker at this moment in time

            2  Past           

            3  Present      

            4  Future                             

            5  Obstacle or Challenge

            6  What You Really Need to Know About the Matter (May Indicate Outcome)


The Energy Field


The selection process of the cards appears to be random.  Yet this so-called random selection often yields uncannily precise results.  The theories which support this selection process relate to the electro-magnetic field that surrounds each of us and which is a reflection of our biochemistry, our unconscious mind and its projections, and the interactions of all these components with the cards.  This energy field is unique for each person and is often referred to as the aura.  The theory states that each of us has our own unique magnetic charge and vibration and as you touch and shuffle the deck, the cards are infused with your particular energy and are temporarily magnetized in such a way that the upcoming spread reflects your current life situation.  The cards are simply absorbing your energy and then symbolically mirroring these energies back to you.  As your force field impregnates the cards, your own personal, unique magnetism establishes a rapport between the all-knowing unconscious mind and the cards.  Thus the reading is a “snapshot” of the energies occurring right now and symbolically displays how these energies will be expressed in the future.  Another way to look at this process is that the subconscious mind is ordering the cards during the shuffling process.  Each person will shuffle the cards in his or her own unique way, reflecting the quiet and unseen work of the subconscious mind.  This is why it is so important that the Seeker shuffle the cards -- we want the Seeker’s mind to order the cards according to his or her life.  So, there you are -- the cards which you select are not pure chance –- the meaning of the chosen cards are a direct reflection of you and your psyche.


The Card of the Day


One of my very favorite “spreads” is to pull a card in the morning for each day.  I simply ask a question such as, “What does Spirit want me to know about this day?"  Or “What does Spirit want me to see today?”  Once you’ve selected the card, you can look up its definition in any Tarot books you might have, do some preliminary journaling as to what the card means, or you can even carry it around with you during the day to act as a filter through which you perceive the day’s events.  At the end of the day, you may want to make some further notes on your experiences and how your impression of the card has changed.  Sometimes, just to make life even more interesting, you can choose two cards for the day and disregard one.  You get to pick which one you want and which one you don’t want.  This can be quite an empowering process.  It reinforces symbolically that you have the power to choose what kind of day you will have. 


As you work with the Tarot cards, your skill will improve.  Your understanding of the individual meanings of cards will develop and your ability to interpret the interactions between and among the cards will expand.  There is a learning curve involved, and you can make it easier on yourself by keeping your spreads very simple.  The Tarot holds many gifts for those who are sincere about accessing its wisdom, but be gentle in your learning.  Take your time and be patient.  You skill and intuition will grow as time passes. 


Geraldine Amaral is the author of Tarot Celebrations:  Honoring the Inner Voice and publisher of “Celebrating the Tarot Journal”.  She also made a tarot instructional video entitled “Tarot 1-2-3.”  For information about Geraldine's unique and empowering Tarot classes, to receive a complimentary copy of her Tarot Journal or to find out how to order her video, call 703-671-7421 or email. You may also visit her website.

This article initially appeared in Pathways Magazine.

Article © 2002-2003 Geraldine Amaral
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes