There are many different ways to use the tarot cards. They can be taken as a whole telling the story of the Fool's Journey and they can be interpreted only a few at a time in order to divine an answer to a question or divine the future. Below are several layouts for reading the tarot cards.
Three Card Spread
The three card draw is Tarot “quick and dirty’. It is especially useful for confirming a longer reading. It has much in common with modern rune divination layouts. Some readers prefer a laying out the middle card first and then the cards on the left and right, but the cards are still read right to left as past, present, and future.
The Celtic Cross
The Celtic cross is probably the oldest and most popular pattern for reading the tarot. It has survived so long because the layout of the cards is simple, but powerful. A strong thought-form has built up around this spread due to its use by so many people over the years.
You can think of the Celtic cross as divided into two sections: the Circle/Cross on the left, and the Staff on the right. The Circle/Cross section is made up of two crosses - a central one (card one and two) nested within a larger cross (six cards). The smaller cross represents the heart of the matter - what is most central to you at the time of the reading. It is the hub around which the wheel of your life is turning.
The larger cross consists of two lines that overlay the mini-cross. The horizontal line shows time moving from your past on the left into your future on the right. The vertical line is your consciousness moving from your unconscious on the bottom to your conscious mind on the top. Together these six cards give you a snapshot of your inner and outer environment at the time of a reading.
The cards of the Staff section comment on your life and lie outside of the immediate situation. Here, your Inner Guide helps you understand what is shown in the Circle/Cross section. You receive guidance about yourself and others, your life lessons and your future direction.
Look at the six cards of the Circle/Cross section. They show what is going on in your life at the moment of the reading.
Examine the cards in pairs in the following order:
Look at Cards 1 and 2 to find out the central dynamic.
Look at Cards 3 and 5 to find out what is going on within you at different levels.
Look at Cards 4 and 6 to see how people and events are flowing through your life.
From these six cards, create a description of your immediate situation.
Consider the Staff section of the spread in this order:
Look at Cards 7 and 8 to find out how more about the relationship between you and your environment.
Look at Card 10 - the projected outcome. How do you feel about it? What does it say to you?
Review the cards to discover the factors leading to the outcome. See if one card stands out as key. Also:
Compare the projected outcome (Card 10) to a possible alternative outcome (Card 5).
Consider how the near future (Card 6) contributes to the projected outcome (Card 10).
See if Card 9 tells you something you need to know. Do you have a hope or fear that is relevant?
Diana’s Bow Spread
The Diana’s Bow spread is also known as the Seven Card Ellipse Spread, Diana’s Crescent, and the Seven Stars Spread. This layout is good for when you are asking about a project. The basic question that will be answered is "What is to be done?" It offers advice, guidance and warning, which is seen as the divine guidance of the Goddess Diana. This spread is especially poplar among the Romani or Gypsies. The dramatic fanning and slow turning of the cards is characteristic of this layout, and is also associated with Romani fortune telling.
Shuffle the cards and fan them out in front you, face down. Draw seven cards from the fan. Do not turn them face up. Shuffle these seven cards and lay them out as shown in the diagram below. Turn them over, one by one, interpreting each card as you go. This spread is unique in that the cards are not to be considered as a whole until card four is turned. Then cards one through four may be examined together. Only at the end of the reading may all of the cards be considered together.
1. Turn over the first card: This represents the past, or that which is ending.
2. Turn over the second card: This represents the present.
3. Turn over the third card: This represents the future, or that which is beginning.
4. Turn over the fourth card: This represents the path to take and what to do. It is the counsel of Diana. Review cards one through four. How do they influence each other? How does the advice of card four apply to cards one through three?
5. Turn over the fifth card: This represents helpful or harmful outside influences.
6. Turn over the sixth card: This represents hopes and fears.
7. Turn over the sixth card: This represents the final outcome. Review the cards together as a whole. How do they influence each other? How does the advice of card four apply to cards five through seven?
Sometimes prioritizing our lives can be the most daunting task of all. This simple layout is designed to guide you towards what is most important and helps to point out what can wait. This is very useful for seeing where your energies are going.
Position 1: Important and Urgent
Position 2: Important but not Urgent
Position 3: Urgent but not Important
Position 4: Not Important and Not Urgent
The 15 Card Spread
The 15 Card
Spread layout, also know as The English Spread, is associated with
Crowley's Book of Thoth tarot deck. It originated among the Golden Dawn.
This spread is extremely helpful when at an impasse, or caught between
several choices in one's life as it offers advice in the form of
options. It is my personal favorite spread for giving readings.
The fifteen cards are placed clockwise into four triads
around a center triad. Each of these triads presents an aspect of the
situation. Usually, the center card of each triad presents the general
influences of the situation. The card to its left shows the mental and
emotional influences of the situation, while the card on the right
presents the physical and material aspects of the situation.
Examine the triads of cards in the following order:
at Cards 1, 2 and 3 to find out the central dynamic. This will give you
an idea of what is going on in the person’s life, and what the reading
is specifically about.
Look at Cards 4, 8, and 12 to find out what direction the future is pointing to.
Look at Cards 15, 11, and 7 to discern an alternate choice for the future.
at Cards 14, 10, and 6 to see how people and events are flowing through
your life. Consider Cards 5, 9, and 13, the projected outcome. How do
you feel about it?
Review the cards to discover the factors leading to the outcome.
Look at Cards 1, 2 and 3 review the theme of the reading.
Compare cards 1, 2, and 3 with cards 4, 8, and 12. What about your current situation put you on this course of action?
cards 4, 8, and 12 with cards 15, 11, and 7. Which is more favorable?
How can you change your course of action if needed? If your current
course of action is favorable, how can you ensure that the less
favorable future does not occur?
Look at Cards 14, 10, and 6. How can these factors assist you in making the best possible decisions for your future?
Cards 5, 9, and 13. How do they work with the immediate future you are
heading toward? How do they interact with the alternate future? What
do they tell you about the resources offered to you in cards 14, 10, and
Consider other groups of cards formed in the layout, and how they relate to each other. For example:
What are the internalized (emotional and mental) influences of cards 3, 4, 5, 15, and 14?
are the core influences of cards 1, 8, 9, 10, and 11? Together do they
help give a more clear vision of what the specific subject of the
What are the externalized (physical and material) influences of cards 2, 6, 7, 12 and 13?
do other card triads positively and negatively influence each other?
Do any of these influences make a “good” card negative or lessen the
blow of a “bad” card? Do the suits of these cards strengthen or weaken
Cards 15, 10, and 7; Cards 11, 14, and 6; Cards 4, 9, and 12; Cards 5, 8, and 13