[First published on Autostraddle]
You don’t have to be an experienced reader to create your own tarot spreads.
In fact, I think it’s good to practice creating your own spreads right at the start of your tarot journey.
Crafting spreads builds confidence and helps you to remember that you’re learning tarot your way, nobody else’s. Plus it means you can always come up with your own special approach to all those crazy-ass questions your friends bring you.
It’s cool – I got a spread for that. Via laughingsquid.com
Okay. First, let’s break down a simple tarot spread to understand how it works.
Anatomy of a tarot spread
A tarot spread is simply a method for laying out reading tarot cards in specific positions, so as to interpret cards within contexts: firstly the position itself, and then in relation to the surrounding cards.
Where some readers might simply lay a number of cards and translate these into a message, for others this can feel totally bewildering…especially if you’re new to tarot. Using a spread helps to ‘frame’ each card, so it can be read more easily.
Take this simple three-card spread as a quick example:
1. Dusk / 2. Present / 3. Dawning
First, we have the three specific positions, which instantly lend context to the cards:
1. Dusk – an energy which has been strong in your life, but is now passing away.
2. Present – where you’re at right now in the present moment.
3. Dawning – an energy which is now starting to flow into your life.
Additionally, you can interpret the cards in relation to one another. So in this example, which illustrates three steps in time, you have a sequence. Card 1 (the almost-past) fades into card 2 (the present), which in turn beckons in card 3 (the ‘becoming’ future.)
Symmetry plays a big role in this spread. The centre card becomes a pivot – a moment of change between one state in a person’s life (card 1) and the next (card 3), You can look for the common or opposing elements between 1 and 3 – are there symbols in common, are they of the same suit, do they feel like complete opposites, or more like a gentle transition?
And card 2 – the pivotal ‘right now’ moment – how does this feel when read as a moment of change? What does it do to card 1 to turn it into card 3? How does it act as a bridge between them?
Here, can you see how the jerky, tetchy Five of Wands, with it’s lines veering off in all directions, gives way to the the Nine of Pentacles, rounded, secure and ‘whole-looking’, via the Temperance card in the centre? Temperance brings a sense of calmness and balance, dealing with the ‘conflict’ energy of the Five of Wands. It’s as though this calm feeling that’s happening right now sees off that tetchiness and enables you to gather yourself, beckoning in the confidence and security of the Nine of Pentacles.
Try it out yourself!
Okay, so it’s time to create your own tarot spread!
First, create your DIY tarot spread kit
You will need: One or two pads of Post-it notes, a pen, and notebook or sketchpad. (Or, if you’re feeling fancy, get yourself a set of blank playing cards!)
Start by looking at spreads you’ve already used (or Google ‘tarot spreads’, check your tarot books, or see the guide that might have come with your tarot deck.) Make a list of the positions in these spreads, and write each one on a separate card or Post-it.
If you need ’em, here are some ideas to get you started (click to enlarge)
The list is endless, and you’ll also want to add plenty of your own. This is your personal, ever-growing DIY tarot spread kit. Each time you try out a new spread from a book or a blog, you can add new position ideas.
Make your first spread
You’ve got out your cards because you have a burning issue you need to discuss pronto with the tarot. So grab your kit and let’s make a custom spread to tackle it!
As you work through this exercise and think about your own question, pull the corresponding Post-its/cards from your kit and stick them beside you (you can worry about the order/layout later on).
One thing think about right now is how long you want your spread to be. Will it be a short, snappy little reading? Or do you want to spend all evening poring over a twelve-card spread?
Begin with your question
Mine is ‘How can I make Angel Haze fall madly in love with me?’ And I think I’m gonna aim for seven cards. Because seven is lucky.
Try to break your question down. Firstly – what is your ‘question word’ – your how, why or what? Try to work out the kind of information you’re ultimately after.
So if it’s ‘how’, then you’re probably looking for practical actions you can take. If it’s ‘why’, maybe it’s more about the energy surrounding you, or patterns of behaviour you need to understand. ‘What’ offers you some specifics you can incorporate into your reading.
(If you’re not sure how to phrase your question, here are some hints for phrasing your question so you can create a more exploratory spread.)
Start pulling together the positions
So for me it’s a ‘how’. I want to end up with an actionable to-do list for enchanting Angel Haze into my waiting arms.
I get out my tarot kit and look for positions that can help with that – first off I’m gonna go with ‘one thing to do right now’, and also ‘an overall approach to adopt’ because, y’know, this won’t be like flicking a switch. It’s nice to have something immediate, but also a longer-term strategy.
Other ideas to consider…
- What about the here and now? Try creating positions for where you’re at here in the moment so you have a point from which to move forwards. If your question is about something romantic, how about a position for ‘what my heart is saying’. If it’s about something physical – moving house, a new job, making a million quid, you could ask about your physical strengths or limitations.
- What do you need in order to move forwards from this point? Could it be that you need to let something go, or bring something in? Or are there lessons you need to learn? Resources you could gather?
- Are there any barriers to what you’re looking to achieve? You might ask about what there barriers are. Or, if if you already know them, you could create a positions to help you overcome these.
- Do you feel there is some piece of information you’re lacking? If so, create a position to find this out. You could ask simply ‘what does my heart need to hear?’, or ‘A message I need to hear’
- Think about your strengths too! If appropriate to your question, make positions for ‘my biggest strength in regard to XXX’, or ‘the best thing about me is…’
I could go on and on but as you can see, this will be completely different for every querent and every question. The idea is to think through your dilemma and grab the Post-its you need to address it. You will almost certainly find that you need to make new positions too, as you start to tune up your spread.
Now arrange your Post-its into a logical order, so your spread progresses your understanding as you work through it. Those ‘what/how/why’ positions you looked at first will probably come last: my to-do list will be the final cards in my spread, read only once I’ve learned about my situation, my barriers, my strengths and so on.
You’ll probably find you have way too many positions at this point, so start pruning. You might have several which are essentially telling you the same thing. If you decided on a number of positions at the start, you’ll know how many you want to end up with. Otherwise, aim to get the info you need as concisely as you can, strip out anything that seems ‘fluffy’.
Think about layout
Remember how symmetry played a role in the example spread earlier? Perhaps you want to use symmetry in your spread too (particularly useful if you’re weighing up two options.)
Follow your journey. Will you want to go upwards, downwards, forwards, backwards? Or how about a circular spread? It can be nice to read the cards in a round and come full circle by the end. A friend of mine created a ‘Bridge’ spread, where cards went up one side, then there was a ‘view’ from the high-point card, then you came down and landed on the other side of a river. It really
A cute idea is to physically represent an element of your spread – a crescent moon, a star, a heart.
Look! This person made a Dragon tarot spread! Via spiritedenterprise.com
Maybe number will play a role – if you’re looking to create structure, a four-card square might be appropriate. Or you might want twelve months, seven days, three options or four elements.
I’m gonna make mine arrow-shaped, so it’s like I’m shooting arrows of love to Angel’s heart. Aww.
Test drive your tarot spread
Okay, it’s time to try your spread out! Shuffle your cards, and lay one on top of each post it, and read them as you normally do. Write it up as you go, but pay special attention to the positions and how they feel.
So! Did it work out? Do you want to tweak it? Did it give you what you needed, or was something missing? You might spend a lot of time fiddling with your spread positions before you feel you’ve got it right – that’s completely fine.
Mine didn’t seem quite right when I took it for a spin, but I switched a few things round and I’ve now got a sassy little spread all ready to go. Check it out here!
When you think you’ve got something you’re happy with, give it a name! I’m gonna call mine the Go Get Her spread – punchy and direct, like the spread itself.
Lastly, don’t keep that brand new spread a secret – share it in the comments so we can all give it a go!
Happy spread crafting!
PS Want to cheat? Check out The Deck of 1000 Spreads!
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.