Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads by Teresa Michelsen
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

Even though it is a wise truism not to judge a book by its cover, in this case, the beauty of the outside is matched by the inside, and vice-versa. While it breaks my heart that Brian Williams, whose art was to grace all of the books in Llewellyn's series Special Topics in Tarot, died before he could complete that assignment, this Pre-Raphaelite version of Temperance by Robert Place is so personally beloved that I bought a print of it to grace my home last year. It is a particularly apt illustration for this book, as it depicts a dynamic  alchemical undertaking, much like developing your own spreads, a process Mary Greer describes as facilitative and empowering.

Michelsen's writing is clear and organized. First, she provides a step-by-specific-step listing of the elements that make up a spread, and spends a chapter on each of them, initially using the classic 12 house Astrological Spread as an illustration of all these elements. Once we have the mechanics down, the author offers sources for inspiration in creating layouts, and, using exercises and examples, shares spreads on a wide range of topics. One thing I found particularly valuable in Teresa's approach is that she refuses to take sides in the predictive vs. psychological/spiritual debate that so often polarizes the tarot community. She offers spreads that are specifically predictive, as well as layouts that are focused on the spiritual/metaphysical and psychological. She even includes spreads for special occasions, such as the Thanksgiving Turkey Spread and a short glossary that most intermediate students will find unnecessary, but for which novices will be grateful. In addition, Michelsen's extensive experience performing Internet readings gives her a modern vantage point that is highly relevant for today's increasingly computer-oriented readers.

While I am enthusiastic about the book in general, I find the exercises especially valuable in terms of recognizing one's own predilections and biases as a reader. This slim volume encourages the reader to test the waters beyond his or her comfort zone, once he or she has figured out through the questions what that comfort zone is. Self-understanding and personal boundaries may be the least explored, yet most vital areas for anyone who reads the cards for others. Exercises challenging you to reflect on your own beliefs using specific examples makes this learning both individualized and intriguing, such as examining a list of questions and determining which (and how) you'd rephrase in order to honor your personal ethics.

Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads is a book that not only does what it claims to do on the cover, but does much, much more. Even if you do only half the exercises Teresa generously provides, you will gain invaluable insights into the card reading process, but even more importantly, you will understand yourself better as a reader. Additionally, doing the exercises can make you a better reader. One example of this is Michelsen's exercise for "Building Associations with the Modern World," where you list daily activities that are not reflected in the tarot and assign cards to them, based on imagery and meaning. You can later draw on that list as a resource to add specificity to your readings.

Occasionally, a sample spread is followed by blank space instead of the remaining text, which is then carried over to the next page. This interrupts the continuity and can be frustrating for the reader. While the author is nonjudgmental and open, sometimes this book has a textbook feel to it which could irritate more free-spirited types of tarot readers, who look for poetry, not prose, in their tarot literature.

In the foreward, Greer cites Gail Fairfield's Choice-Centered Tarot chapter on devising spreads, claiming it revolutionized the tarot-reading process. I completely agree with this assessment, and continue to use Fairfield's  material with my own students, 20 years after that book was initially published. Michelsen's book is the next step in that revolutionary progression, and I daresay it will serve us well in the coming decades.

Books in the Special Topics in Tarot series are geared for intermediate and advanced readers. While tarot novices and professionals alike will glean valuable insights and tools from this book, it does contain reversals, elemental dignities, doubling, and other tarot techniques that might be unfamiliar to neophytes. I recommend Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads to tarot enthusiasts on every level; for beginners, it's a book to grow with, for intermediate students and professionals, it offers new methods that will inevitably make your readings more  on point. Getting back to the cover art, this book can serve as a vessel in which you can revitalize and refine your own tarot practice.

In the name of total disclosure, I must acknowledge that I read this manuscript prior to publication and offered some minor editorial commentary. But I only volunteered to do this because I had long been impressed with Teresa Michelsen's writings on the tarot, which I discovered via her website and tarot email list posts. I thought this was a wonderful instructional manual the first time I read it, and my admiration for Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads has only increased during my re-reading of it for this review.

Table of Contents:

Part I: Fundamentals of Spread Design

Chapter One: Elements of a Tarot Spread
Chapter Two: Defining the Question
Chapter Three: Layout Size
Chapter Four: Position Definitions
Chapter Five: Spatial Design
Chapter Six: Significators and Other Special Cards
Chapter Seven: Placing and Reading the Cards

Part II: Inspirations for Spread Design

Chapter Eight: Sources of Inspiration
Chapter Nine: Multipurpose Spreads
Chapter Ten: Love and Relationship Spreads
Chapter Eleven: Practical Spreads
Chapter Twelve: Alternatives and Decision Spreads
Chapter Thirteen: Predictive Spreads
Chapter Fourteen: Psychological and Interactive Spreads
Chapter Fifteen: Spiritual and Metaphysical Spreads
Chapter Sixteen: Special Occasion Spreads



Timing Elements

Many tarot readings involve issues relating to time. Three basic methods for handling timing elements in a tarot spread are as follows:

1.  All positions are time-related. The main purpose of these spreads is to look at a particular situation over time or to do a reading about the past or future. In this type of reading, all the positions are defined as an increment of time, such as past-present-future, days of the week, months of the year, phases of the moon, seasons or years, astrological transits, or any specific time periods of interest to the client.

2.  One position is used as a timing card. Many timing systems work well with a single card, and if your question contains a time element along with many other aspects, it may be a good idea to include a "when" position. This card can be read in many different ways. One way is to use a narrative approach rather than a prediction of a specific time frame. For example, if the Four of Pentacles appears in this position, you could say, "...when you have achieved a solid financial position." This lets the client know what is needed to bring about the goal.

Other approaches are more specific. For example, the suits may be associated with the four seasons, and the Ace through Queen can be related to the thirteen weeks in a season. In this system, the Three of Wands might represent the third week of summer. Kings are considered the transitions between seasons, and trumps may represent a more significant issue that the client needs to address before the event can take place, which could take any amount of time to resolve. Other one-card timing systems are also possible; it can be related to the astrological correspondence of the cards, or a deck-specific system developed by the designers.

3.  Timing is addressed as an overlay. In this system, specific card positions are not assigned to timing issues, but all the cards are looked at together to estimate the period of time within which something might happen. This approach is typically used with smaller readings, such as three-card readings. In such an approach, each suit might be associated with a general time frame, such as Swords for days, Wands for weeks, Cups for months, and Pentacles for years. The suits and numbers that appear in the spread give the general range within which the event may occur. For example, if the reading included the Nine of Wands (nine weeks), Two of Cups (two months), and Three of Cups (three months), the time period indicated would be two to three months. In all these systems, reversals can indicate delays while the issue identified by the card is worked out.

Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads by Teresa Michelsen
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN #: 0738702633

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

Cited text 2003 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review and page 2003 Diane Wilkes