Teresa Michelsen is a tarot reader and instructor with more than 25 years of experience reading tarot. She is well-known on the tarot e-mail lists under her reading name of Thrysse, and has published many articles on tarot on the worldwide web and in ATA publications. Teresa teaches on-line tarot courses for beginning and intermediate readers, and has published her first book on Designing your Own Tarot Spreads in 2002.Teresa lives near Seattle, Washington, and in addition to her tarot work, has home-based businesses in environmental consulting and mediation.See Teresa's website below for more information on her online Tarot classes!
Elements of a Tarot Spread
The first step toward designing your own tarot spreads is to define the basic elements of a spread and be able to recognize and work with them. In general, every spread you will design or use contains the following basic components: A question or topic area The number of cards to be dealt The spatial arrangement of the cards The meanings of the card positions The order in which they will be laid and readSome spreads have additional elements, including: Special constraints on how the cards will be placed or read Additional cards that are not part of the main spread but add to it in some way. Even a one-card reading can be thought of as a spread, although it doesn't have all of the elements above. For a one-card reading, the question you define is especially important, as even more than usual it will determine whether or not you receive a clear answer. For example, if the question is "Why can't I ever seem to meet my deadlines at work?", you could define the card you receive as "The main reason you can't meet your deadlines." Other choices are also possible. For example, you could choose "The one thing you can do to meet your deadlines more often."
An interesting design element of a one-card reading is that you can define upright cards to mean one thing and reversed cards to mean another. This provides added information and flexibility to the reading. In the example above, let's assume we defined the one card as the main reason you can't meet your deadlines. We could also say that if it is an upright card, it represents an external influence (such as constant interruptions at work), while a reversed card would represent an internal issue (such as really wanting a different job).
Now let's look at the larger, widely used Astrological or Horoscope spread shown in Figure 1 to see how all the basic elements of a tarot spread are incorporated into it.
The Question The Astrological spread lends itself best to questions that are similar to those that might be answered using various kinds of astrological charts. For example, a spread could be laid out similar to a natal or birth chart to examine a client's life purpose and the strengths and challenges she faces in this life.* Another approach, similar to a solar-return chart, would be to look at the coming year starting on the querent's birthday. A third choice would be to look at the compatibility of a relationship by laying out two cards in each house-one for each person.
Number of Cards In this spread, there are twelve cards, one for each house in an astrological chart. Twenty-four cards may be used if you wish to place two cards in each house, or if looking at a relationship as described above.
Spatial Design Spatial design refers to the arrangement of cards in space, or the geometric layout of the spread. In this case, the cards are arranged in a circle, starting just below the nine o'clock position and proceeding counterclockwise around the circle. This is based on the arrangement of an astrological chart, in which the first house falls just below the nine o'clock line.
Position Meanings In this spread, each of the twelve cards falls within one of the astrological houses, which govern a particular area of life or the personality. Some keywords for the houses and positional meanings are shown in Figure 1.
Order of Laying and Reading This spread is normally laid in the order of the houses, starting with the first house and proceeding to the twelfth. The cards may be read in the same order, however, there are often patterns among opposite houses and houses with the same elemental affinity that are worth noting and may affect the order in which the cards should be read or discussed.
Special Constraints There are normally no particular limits on what cards can be placed or dealt into each position. However, one example of a more specialized approach would be to use the client's actual astrological birth chart. You could place the major arcana cards associated with each planet into their actual houses at the time of birth, and reverse any cards associated with retrograde planets. Then conduct the reading, perhaps filling in empty houses with minor arcana cards dealt from the shuffled deck to represent less significant influences.
Additional Cards As with most spreads, additional cards can be added to an astrological layout. One example might be to place a card in the center of the layout. With a life reading, this card might represent one's life purpose. With a solar or birthday reading, this card might represent the general outlook or main theme of the coming year.
The following chapters discuss each of these design elements in detail, focusing on how to use them in creating your own spreads.