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I don’t think she knew that while my voice calmly and quietly said, "Sure, that looks great," that my mind was exploding in three different ways. "Hey, she can’t just make up a spread!" "Hey, she made up a special spread just for me!" "Holy crap! I’m getting a reading from Rachel Pollack!" And as quick as three thoughts, my world changed. Without knowing it, Rachel opened a door to a world that I never knew existed—the universe where spreads are created. My heart pounded as promises of freedom, structure, creativity, patterns, and possibilities ran through my soul like blood through my veins. "Yep," I thought. "This is where I belong."
Something is Missing
Consequently, my tarot journey included working with spreads, experimenting, and reading. After about ten years of gathering raw material, I spent about three years teaching classes and workshops testing out my theories and getting the input of other readers and students. The results of all this studying, thinking, trying, and talking turned into my newest book, Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower Your Readings.
Tarot Spreads is really different from many other books on the subject, which usually are collections of spreads. My book analyzes the components of a spread and pays particular attention to the layout and how it visually and subconsciously affects our interpretations.
Another difference is that it not only provides over seventy unique spreads, but it explains how to use them so that you can get more out of your readings. There is also a section on modifying spreads and creating your own.
A Favorite Part
Techniques are not spreads; they are more like options or accessories that you can incorporate into any spread or reading. In my opinion, there are no rules with tarot, except one: let whatever you do reflect what you believe. So think creatively! Play with your cards. Experiment. See what interesting possibilities you discover.
Although often fun and creative, techniques can really super-charge a reading. During readings the energy can become stagnant. It feels like nothing is flowing well, the connection between you and the querent or you and the Divine seems blocked, and you're just not in the zone. When this happens in our lives, sometimes making just one small change helps the energy move and flow. My psychology professor said that you could add new passion and excitement to a, shall we say, settled (or even stagnant) relationship by simply interrupting one routine. When a reading is faltering, pull one of these techniques out of your toolbox and see what happens. If your tarot practice in general needs a boost, playing with your cards in a new way is a sure way to get your tarot mojo shining bright again.
Here's an example of one of the techniques in the book:
Many spreads have a position that represents the querent's ideal, main focus, attitude, or goal. For example, in the Celtic Cross Spread, I see this as the "crowning" card. In most spreads, you can identify the card that represents the energy that the querent is expressing or the direction in which they are moving. In spreads, this position is the easiest to change, for it is the one the querent has complete control over. It is, after all, their attitude and their decision.
When the card in that position is not all that it could be or if the querent is not happy with the outcome of a reading, I like to help them change their focus, and potentially their future. This technique requires a querent who is not afraid to play with the cards. Explain the card that currently represents their energy. Hand them the deck and invite them to go through the cards and pick a new attitude. I tell them that they can pick any card they want, even one that is already on the table.
After they have selected their new attitude, ask them to talk about what they find attractive or useful about it. How does it differ from the old card? What plans can they make to move from one card to the other? Take another look at the spread incorporating the new card and see how its presence changes the situation.
Visual & Subconscious Effect of Spread Design
When speaking of spreads, a layout is exactly what it sounds like: how the cards are laid out on the table. Most spreads are heavily characterized—or should be—by their layout. The layout is usually the most visible aspect of a spread and the pattern does matter. A well designed, effective spread should make use of the layout to create a richer reading experience and to make interpretation easier. An ineffectively designed spread just gets in the way of the reading process.
To understand the importance of layouts in a reading, think about art and graphic design. Both use the principles of design and composition in order to express or communicate their message. These principles are based on how the eye moves and on psychological responses. These, of course, vary from culture to culture. For example, in the United States we read from left to right and usually think of time as moving from left to right, as well. However, that is not every culture's reality. Moreover, any artist or graphic designer will tell you that there is no one master list of The Principles of Design and Composition. That would be too easy. So don't get analytical about these concepts.
Design works because it is based on instinctive responses and on what your eye and mind do naturally. Pay enough attention to understand and use these concepts, but don't let them paralyze you. Most tarot books include correspondences, such as numerology, elemental associations, or astrology. These are meant to enhance your tarot card understanding and interpretation. If explained correctly, they don't get in the way of your natural interpretation, but rather they support your tarot work. Use the principles of layout and design in the same way. When you see these different layouts in a spread, use some of the ideas here to examine the relationships between the cards and the positions more thoroughly. Let them add depth and ease to your readings.
The visual relationship between the cards will affect how they are interpreted because this is the way most of our minds work. Cards laid out in pairs will usually be read in relation to each other. Cards in a row will be read as a linear narrative. Cards on top or separated from a group are viewed as having some significance. From this experiment, you can see that these relationships do happen naturally and unconsciously. Being consciously aware of these concepts helps you use them more purposefully, just as you do associations and correspondences for the card meanings.
Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower Your Readings is filled with spreads and techniques to use in your practice or to inspire new ideas. It also explores the Principles of Design as they relate to layouts. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Barbara Moore (Saint Paul, MN) has studied and read tarot since the early 1990s. She wrote the bestselling Tarot for Beginners and more than a dozen other books, and she has contributed to many bestselling tarot kits, ...