Using spreads - predetermined contexts or meanings for a card that comes up in specific position - can add clarity to your readings.
Most of us are used to asking the cards questions when we sit down to do a reading. We want answers! But if the answers you're getting don't seem to make sense, you may want to choose a spread to provide an extra level of detail and focus.
Think of it this way: Say you're out with a friend in an unfamiliar neighborhood and your friend asks what you want for lunch. You may come back with a question: What's in the area? If your friend had started the lunch discussion with a few options, telling you there's a great taco truck, cool sandwich shop and a funky diner nearby, you'd have more intel to guide your choice. That's how spreads work: You're giving your deck intel and context so the cards can give you the best possible answers.
Here are some suggestions on working with spreads in your readings.
Framing the question
What do you want to know? How does what you want to know line up with the insight the tarot can provide? This is the intersection where great tarot questions are formed. I am a huge fan of questions that help us shape our responses to specific situations, rather than inquiries about what is going to happen. We can’t always control what happens to us—but we can try to manage how we respond.
For example, for my daily draw each morning I ask, “What energy should I tune into today (for my greatest good)?” One day, the Knight of Cups came up with a message to be charming and engaging. I ended up having an unplanned phone conversation with a prospective employer—the Knight’s energy helped me focus on how to present myself as an attractive candidate for the role. Another day, the Three of Swords may turn up as a reminder that someone I’m close to is suffering—by noticing and acknowledging that suffering, I’m in a better position to help my friend.
Here are some questions I like:
- How can I attract more ________ into my life? (Confidence, love, wealth, generosity, creativity…)
- What can I do to take care for myself in this situation? (Travel, uncomfortable family event, work conflict, scenario where you may not know all the variables…)
- What can you tell me/what should I know about _______? (This is good for uncovering people’s motivations, or making choices about jobs, living arrangements, etc.)
- Where should I focus my energy to reach my goal of ______? (Be explicit about your goal here: promotion, new house, launching a business, health changes, eliminating debt, etc.)
Choosing a spread
How do you want your answer? Think about the format that will give you the best understanding of the matter at hand. How do you plan to use the intel you get from the cards?
Certain questions, such as how to reach a goal or best care for yourself (or someone else) in a certain situation, lend themselves nicely to time-bound spreads:
Other times, you may want to focus on different areas, actions, or attributes:
Start exploring different types of questions and spreads and journal about your results to determine what works best for you. You may find that one type of spread works well for certain types of questions or with a particular deck, while others may not give you the clarity you want. Eventually, you’ll figure out what approaches give you the best results.
Enjoy the journey.