Tarot Readings: Three Approaches

There are three basic ways to read the Tarot. They are:

Straight interpretation based on traditional meanings Intuitive readings Combination of straight interpretation and intuition

When you first start out, you will probably want to stick to the Straight yesInterpretation approach. If you are reading for friends and family, there’s no reason to feel embarrassed or self-conscious about checking the meanings of the cards in your journal, especially if you’ve designed it to look like a natural extension of your Tarot deck.

Later, as you become more familiar with the individual meanings of the cards, you will find that intuitive ‘flashes’ will come to you as you present readings. If you sense that an intuitive flash deals with the person’s future, you may want to explain to the other person exactly what these flashes are, and that unlike the symbolism and imagery found in the Tarot, there is no way to verify these intuitive flashes until the event actually takes place. Indeed, some of the events may never take place, depending on the actions and attitudes the other person carries forward with them from the reading.

It is helpful to think of the Tarot reading as a temporary partnership between you and the person you are reading for. Unless you are presenting yourself as some all-knowing psychic (and WHY would you want to do that?), it is entirely natural to involve the other person by asking them to participate in the process. Ask them if they feel drawn to any particular card in the spread. Does any aspect of that card stand out for them? The answers you get may surprise you, and will ultimately help you get a better feel for both the Tarot and the process of the reading.

Set & Setting
“Set and setting” is a psychological expression that simply says that a person’s experience is defined by their set of preconceptions and expectations, and the setting the experience takes place in.

You can’t necessarily influence someone’s preconceptions and expectations, at least not directly, but you can make your Tarot reading special by putting a little thought into the setting it takes place in. Lighting is an easy way to set a mood, and a somewhat subdued atmosphere can be very conducive to a meaningful reading.

At the very least, overhead lights should be avoided. Wherever appropriate, candles can be very effective in establishing the proper mood. Just make sure it’s not so dim that the cards are hard to make out.

The use of incense was at one time an integral part of Tarot readings, but it’s difficult finding a fragrance that everyone can appreciate. A friend of mine keeps his Tarot cards in a wooden box with a bag of potpourri, which infuses the cards with the fragrance of the potpourri. When the cards are laid out for a reading, the subtle fragrance is enough to signal that something special is taking place.

Some people like to play music during a reading, and there’s no reason not to, as long as it’s not a distracting piece of music or played too loud.

Seven Simple Spreads for Different Occasions
But first, a word about shuffling and other rituals. Some books will tell you that you must face a certain direction, recite a prayer and follow a particular shuffling ritual before proceeding with your reading. The subject of shuffling itself can be a topic of debate: should you let someone else touch your cards and risk disturbing your intuitive link with them, or does the act of shuffling fill the cards with the vibrations of the question in the person’s mind?

Realistically, there is no right or wrong way to conduct this portion of the reading - whatever feels right to you is the right way to do it. The only exception I would make to this is that both you and the other person must take the entire process seriously. To treat a Tarot reading with disrespect can often be a recipe for disaster. Not unlike the Ouija board, the answers you get from the Tarot depend entirely on the questions - and intent - you approach it with.

One procedure I follow - and you are, of course, free to disregard this altogether - is the manner in which I turn the cards over. I always turn the cards over in a way that prevents the other person’s attention from wandering. In other words, in the example of the Five-Card Horseshoe Spread below, I won’t turn over all five cards because I’ve found that the other person can often be distracted by what they consider to be an ominous card in the future (like The Hanged Man or Ten of Swords).

With the spreads that are laid out in rows that represent a specific period of time (the Pyramid and Square, for example), I will turn over an entire row at a time in order to get a better overall perspective, but I won’t turn over any of the other rows before we’re ready to interpret them. Just as in life, I believe that bridges are best crossed when you get to them, not before.

One-Card Spread
One-card readings are rarely used in a public reading, but they are an excellent way to learn a new deck. The best way to introduce yourself to a new deck (aside from going away for the weekend with it) is to select a different card each day, and to carry that card with you throughout the day. Take it out whenever you have a free moment and reflect on the different aspects of the card. Not only is it an effective way to get to know the deck, it also beats a cigarette break, any day of the week!

Many people use the One-Card reading as a way to gain insight into what they will be facing over the next 24 hours. This approach usually involves selecting a card in the morning, but it could work equally well if you selected the card before going to sleep at night. Be sure to log any dreams in your journal that result from this practice.

Two-Card Spread
Two-card spreads are helpful when you want to look at options presented by two choices, such as offers of employment, different lovers, and travel plans. In a two-card spread, deal the cards face- down onto the table and identify which card belongs to each option before turning them over. Once you have turned them over, interpret the cards to see what aspects each of the choices may hold for you.

Three-Card Spread
The Three-Card spread is useful when you want to give a quick reading. The most common application of the Three-Card spread is to select three cards and designate each of them as Past, Present, and Future. The Past card indicates an experience or attitude that helped to create the present situation, the Present card illustrates current aspects, and the Future card provides insight into a possible outcome.

Another approach to the Three-Card spread is to designate each of the three cards as Mind, Body, and Spirit. In this type of spread, the Mind card indicates the attitude of the person you are reading for, the Body card represents actions being taken, and the Spirit card shows what lessons might be learned from the experience.

Five-Card Horseshoe Spread
In this spread five cards are arranged in a modified horseshoe pattern. Moving from left to right, the cards represent the present situation, present expectations, what is not expected, the immediate future, and the long-term future.

Nine-Card Spreads
There are two very basic ways to lay out a Nine-Card Spread. The first is known as the Pyramid Spread, and is laid out in the following pattern:

The first row of five cards represents the time period starting with the present and going forward two months, the second row of three cards represents the two- to four-month time period, and the final card represents the four- to six-month time period. I like this one because the shape of the spread can be imagined as a road heading off to the horizon.


The other easy Nine-Card spread is called the Nine-Card Square, and is simply three rows of three cards each:

Unlike the Pyramid Spread, this spread represents a twelve-month period of time divided into four- month segments. The middle row represents the present time as well as two months back and two months forward, the first row (1 2 3) represents the past (up to six months ago), and the top row (7 8 9) represents up to six months in the future.

A variation on the Nine-Card Square Spread is the Fifteen-Card Square Spread, and as you might imagine, it consists of three rows of five cards each. The timing is the same as the Nine-Card Square Spread.

Twelve-Card Clock Spread
In the Twelve-Card Clock Spread, twelve cards are laid out like the numbers on a clock, starting at 1 o’clock. Each card represents a month of the year that begins with the current month, making this a nice spread to do on a birthday or New Year’s Eve. Although each card can be interpreted individually, you may be able to detect trends if you see multiples of a particular suit showing up in a consecutive manner.