Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What is a spread and why do you use one?

A spread is an organizational chart for cards. It is a basic structure, or set of rules, to add an extra layer of depth to your readings. The cards tell the story, but the spread marks the plot points (the juicy parts).

Let's say you are doing a one-card reading. This means you ask a question and pull "one card." This is useful for simple, or trivial, spreads. I see too many people relying on them however and then they ask what it means. What it means is that they have been trained poorly by self-study or bad books on the tarot (and there are no shortage of those). Something as important as knowing the future is worth the time and expense of hiring a decent teacher or at least buying a GOOD BOOK and really studying. Don't be lazy; we have enough people who are who pretend to read the tarot.

So with one-card you can answer simple yes/no questions by whether the card is a certain suit, or if it is reversed, or what number it is, whether it is a "major" Arcana or not. Simple stuff, but hardly informative. Generally for more detailed information you want to add more cards, not try to extract and entire reading's meaning out of one card. The point where this becomes absurd is usually above ten cards in a single spread that is dealt all at once. Asking your deck (the gods, your spirit guides, etc.) to answer everything all at once with a minimum of shuffling and using every available card means that you will have to cast ten thousand times to get the right answer (the actual truth--not an answer you like). 

Tarot cards work on random probability augmented by "divine intervention" (for lack of a better term) and interpreted by your psychic sense and cognitive awareness. Logic is the final step in the process, as if you try to apply it too early you will eviscerate the connection that allows you to gather information from the ether and your egoic self will commandeer the process and you will be relying on your personal judgments and biases, NOT on any real assistance from the collective awareness (or whatever you want to draw from).

So, short simple spreads work. Cast the appropriate number of cards (usually 1-12 but even more often 4-10) and seek your answers based on the spread you are going to use, and if necessary use clarification cards to help or open cards up to determine their hidden meanings. Note: All of this is covered in The Easiest Way to Learn the Tarot—EVER!! but don't let that hold you back from learning if you are dead broke and can't afford even one book on the tarot. Get free lessons easytarotlessons.com. We have lessons and a free tarot podcast to help you (with homework!) Use these resources

Know in advance what spread you are going cast (cast: throw or deal cards) or you will get unreliable results. Study the spread before you cast it. A good exercise that is 100% free and will teach you more on how to use the tarot than many books I have suffered through is to simply cast your favorite spread face down. Don't shuffle the cards and do NOT turn the cards over. The actual cards are irrelevant at this point. You are looking at the positions themselves. Look at the meaning of each card position (shortened to the abbreviation "CP" as in CP1, CP2, etc.) and establish in your mind what that CP means. Imagine any random card (of your choosing) in that spot. Just see what that says to you generically. Do this with all of the card positions in that spread. 

Now compare and contrast a few card positions. After this try combining a few (start with two and after a few passes try combining three) to get the feel of this. This one exercise will strengthen your ability and your confidence when reading fro a real-life situation with a real-life person sitting across from you.

Let's use the Celtic Cross (or "CC")  spread as an example. The version of the Celtic Cross spread I use can be found in The Easiest Way to Learn the Tarot--EVER!! I was just looking through a few books in my tarot library and found the version I use in Power Tarot. If you have that book, but not mine, flip to page 236 and find it there.

So... let's compare and contrast the most obvious: CP7 versus CP9. These two spots are extremely helpful in determining exactly what your querent is asking as they show first their fears and then their desires. If their fears (CP7) are stronger than their desires (CP9) than you know that they are fighting against themselves, or that there are outside circumstances holding them back. Check CP8 to see what other people are saying/doing/thinking. Is this (CP8) a supportive environment or is it harmful to their progress. Again, we are just looking at the backs of the cards, making the card positions tell us what the real story is behind the question. The final outcome (CP10) is highly dependent on these factors. The final outcome may be bright and sunny only to have limitations placed on it by the querents inner attitudes or the support or jealousies of other people involved in the reading. You can't give accurate answers just by looking at the last card in the spread.

John Donne, Elizabeth's master poet and spiritual advisor penned a famous poem entitled "No man is an island." Pardon he inherent sexism as that was the coin of the realm at the time. Let's witness his genius together:

No man is an island entire of itself; 
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, 
as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; 
any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
it tolls for thee. 

The cards of ANY spread are no different. Past, present, future. All are intertwined. In a spread you can cast three cards and try to make them distinct and separate entities but they all blend into one existence, one enduring experience. The future rules us all, as it is our past efforts that were all accomplished in the hopes of the present, which was our future then. Our present is a slave to the future. We do things today to make our existence tomorrow bearable. All eyes are on the future even as we toil to make it to our desires. Thus it is with the tarot. All of the cards in a spread work for the employer who is that fateful, final card. 

Continuing. The crowning card, or CP5 affects CP10 and could come to be. It hangs over us as surely as CP6 must be passed through. Combine these cards after comparing them. First, we see what could be, what looms overhead, the spectre, or overtone of the situation. Is it congruous (or sympathetic) with CP's 6 and 10? If the cards line up to show a parade of activity and intent all in lock-step toward a final outcome then the future is assured unless a violent break from the path ("drastic action") is undertaken. If the cards are inharmonious and bickering then it shows problems and missteps that sour the victory, even if the final card is glorious. Combining them, do we see a pattern or patterns within patterns? Are these three cards all "major" Arcana? Are they of the same suit? Are they of similar meaning? Without straining yourself can these cards blend or are they inharmonious, or even indifferent to each other? It is by knowing your spread and how the card positions interact that we gain multiple layers of meaning from simple cards in a simple spread.

As this is getting long I wills top here and leave the experimentation to you. Do your favorite spread and take the steps I have outlined above. Compare and contrast the various card positions (CP's) and blend them. Get a feel for what would happen if supportive or conflicting cards showed up. Do this only with the card backs showing. The very next time you read using this spread you will be amazed at how much more information you get.

I am always available for private teaching if you need help. My rates are one-fifth of what they should be, so I would advise you get help now, or find a teacher you can learn from locally. If you have my book post all of your questions at the ATS forums where we can work this out together, with the help of other students and the occasional teacher. And don't forget to sign up for the easy tarot lessons (free) at easytarotlessons.com. The sign up form is very simple, takes all of three seconds, and is at the top of every page of that site.

Never quit. If you get frustrated get help. Thanks for reading.

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