Killing The Tarot Spread: How and Why I Ditched Positional Layouts

by Douglas Gibb on October 27, 2009

Bungie Jumpring Your Way To Better Tarot Readings

I’ve declared independence from positional layouts in Tarot spreads.

After more than 10 years of experimenting with hundreds of different Tarot spreads, of creating different spreads with different positional meanings, of trying to figure out why the card that represents the client’s past seems to hint towards their future, of trying to understand if the outcome card is really the outcome card, of confusing myself more than anyone, or anything else, could ever do…I’m done.

It feels so good to say those words! It feels so liberating to finally break free from positional layouts.

I’m done!

I’m done because Tarot spreads create unnecessary confusion, and I’m tired of having doubts. I’m done because despite what other people say, despite what you may have read, despite what apparently makes things easier, Tarot spreads simply counteract the effectiveness of a Tarot reading.

Does life really fall into neat sections? Does life really fall into simple categories? Can we really section someone’s life off so completely as to say, “this one card represents the past, and this one represents work, and this one represents relationships”?

Of course not. Life is far more complicated and subtle than any Tarot spread can accommodate.

Yes, we all have a section of our lives that is devoted to work, and another section devoted to relationships – but don’t the two inform each other? Doesn’t the past hint at the future, and the hopes/fears say something of the past? Don’t relationships in the workplace get equal status as the relationships outside of work?

Modern day lifestyles are far too complex to be adequately covered by a simple positional based layout.

Wait! What is a positional layout?

A positional layout is a Tarot spread that allocates “positions” and assigns those positions with a certain meaning. For example, a three card Tarot spread could be turned into a positional layout by allocating meaning to each position of the three cards. For instance, position one could represent the past, position two could represent the present and position three could represent the future.

Let’s create this example Tarot spread:

  • Position one (past): Emperor
  • Position two (present): 7 of Swords
  • Position three (future): Page of Wands

Interpretation: In the past you were bullied at work; in the present people lie, and steal from you; in the future, you receive a letter that promises an opportunity to change your lifestyle (probably career related).

This is a fairly one dimensional Tarot reading. It doesn’t allow for multiple interpretations of the cards, which, as most of you will be aware of, is vital to the success of any Tarot reading.

Okay, let’s try and read these three cards without the use of positions.

Interpretation: A lack of trust has developed within the father/daughter dynamic of this family.

What’s the difference between the two?

One is very fixed in its approach, while the other is much more fluid, adaptable, and responsive.

One of the major problems with just using a Tarot spread that relies on fixed positions, is that the number of cards used is relatively small.

I regularly read Tarot spreads with more than 20-30 cards laid out in a line, none of which have been allocated a “position”. In my experience, the more cards you use, the more accurate the reading. The less cards you use, the more likely you are to doubt yourself, feel unsure of your interpretation, and also, feel compelled to double check your interpretation next to the one in the books.

Essentially, Tarot spreads that use a positional layout are often limited, and limiting, by the small number of Tarot cards they actually use.

I could go much further into explanations, but I think you get the point.

How I ditched Positional layouts

I’ve actually been experimenting with this over the last couple of years, phasing out positions instead of ditching the Tarot spread altogether. But the transition I’ve made is already well in progress, and I’m going to share with you some of the steps I took in phasing out “positional” layouts in Tarot spreads.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Start by doing nothing: The best way to phase out positions from your Tarot spreads is by doing nothing. If you use the Celtic Cross, keep using the Celtic Cross. If you use the Horseshoe Spread, keep using the Horseshoe Spread. The point is not to make drastic changes over night. By using the Tarot spread that you’re most comfortable with, you will be in a much more comfortable position to ditch the positional layout.
  2. Read the Tarot spread traditionally: Simply start by reading the Tarot cards as normal; use the positional meanings and make sure that you and the client are connecting and that the reading is going well.
  3. Get comfortable: As soon as you feel comfortable, as soon as you feel the reading is going well, as soon as you are ready to take a risk, drop the positional layout completely.
    At this stage, I want you to imagine there are no positional meanings at all. This means, there is no “past” position, no “future” position, no “outcome” position, no “relationships” position, no um, nothing. Now, allow your mind to scan the cards. What can you see now that there’s no limitation, no imposed structure?
  4. Look for patterns: Start looking for patterns. How many Trump cards are there? How many court cards are there? How many Pip cards are there? How do they interact without any positions to tell you which part indicates the future, and which part indicates the past?
  5. Remember, there can be multiple stories being told: Now that we are free from the constraints of a positional layout, we are free to trust our intuition. At this stage, allow your intuition to flow, you may be surprised at the multiple story lines you are able to interpret.
  6. Fear: If you get worried or nervous that you are losing your connection to the client, simply reapply the positions to your Tarot reading. That way, when things go wrong, you have a back up plan; a way to help you to re-establish a connection with your client.
  7. Use Elemental Dignities: One of the best techniques that I know of to help you read Tarot cards without having to rely on a positional layout, is Elemental Dignities. This technique works for two reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t depend on positions and secondly, it will teach you how irrelevant the Divinatory Definitions can be.
  8. Look at the direction the Tarot cards face: Another useful tip is to look at the direction the Tarot cards face. Does one card look like it’s moving towards another? Does a Court card look isolated? Does a card look like it’s trying to keep their eye on another card? Are they successful? How does this alter the dynamics of the Tarot reading?

I think those steps should help you break out of reading the Tarot using a positional based layout. The most important aspect of it is to remain with your favourite Tarot spread, and to switch back and forth between using the positional layout and using nothing but your intuition.

Will it work for everyone? Perhaps not in the short term (although everyone can do it – sometimes we have to take things slowly to allow our confidence to grow). If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Apply the above tips very gradually and don’t rush things. Relax, and enjoy the process and eventually it will all click into place.

How was I able to ditch positions?

I’m always open to experimentation, to try something new, to take a risk, to contradict myself and to allow myself to remain open to “possibilities”. For me, ditching positional layouts is all about realigning how I read Tarot cards to how I see life. I don’t see life as simple, easily compartmentalised, easily categorised, easily sectioned. I see it as something dynamic, flowing, unpredictable – where each element affects the whole. I simply don’t think that positional layouts accomplish this.

Where do we go from here?

Experiment with using positional and non-positional Tarot spreads.

Personally, I find non-positional spreads work the best. I don’t feel so constrained to read in a certain way, nor do I suffer the usual amounts of self-doubt that often accompany a positional based spread.

I suspect that self doubt arises, to a large extent, from the privileging of Divinatory Definitions as the primary method of interpretation. Not only is this simply not true, but it’s also the number one reason people suffer from issues of confidence.

Summary

Start by using the Tarot spread that you are most comfortable with. Gently start to interpret the cards without using the associated positions and gradually build things up from there. If, at any point, you need to use the positions, please do so. Part of the transition from positional to non-positional spreads is to remain with the Tarot spread you’re most comfortable with.

I already do this. Whats the next step?

The next step would be to abandon the Tarot spread completely. Instead, deal out the cards in a linear formation. I would recommend gradually increasing the amount of Tarot cards you’re using; aim for around 20/30 cards. By increasing the amount of Tarot cards you use, the more accurate the Tarot reading will become.

Do you agree with what I’ve written? Do you find positional layouts to be confusing? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. I’ll see you in the comments.

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78 comments… Let's discuss

Paul Hughes-Barlow October 27, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Right on Doug!

Trying to impose one’s own view or structure onto the world of another is an exercise in futility.

Use the cards to see how the other person sees the world, not filtered through our own biases. Looked at the other way, by renouncing positional spreads we allow ourselves to see not only the strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, aspirations, and how much someone is living in the past or future, dependent on previous events, but also allow ourselves to learn something from those different views.

Given the chance, tarot cards are brilliant at giving an accurate representation of the life of the client, all you have to do is relax your grip and see where the ride takes you.

Paul

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Douglas October 27, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Hi Paul,

Thanks for dropping by :)

…but also allow ourselves to learn something from those different views.

What an awesome point to make. Yes, I have also found myself learning through reading for others. It’s something that isn’t always talked about, but it certainly happens when no artificial positional based structure is placed over the cards.

…all you have to do is relax your grip and see where the ride takes you.

LOL how true.

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Jason October 27, 2009 at 7:20 pm

What a great article! If I hadn’t already ditched positional spreads, I’d be sure to do so after reading this. :)

I get much better readings without positions. It also makes reading the tarot more fun; I’m more engaged in the process. Sometimes I work for that intuition! But at the end of the day, I think it makes me a better reader.

I currently favor a line of five cards. When I want more depth, I do two lines of five, one over the other. I have techniques for grouping the cards to expand the combinations; these are based in cartomancy and Lenormand.

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Douglas October 27, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Hi Jason,

Thank you for your kind words :)

I’ve also found that it makes the Tarot much more fun. It keeps me engaged in the process, keeps me more creative, and opens me up to intuition in a way that positional based spreads just don’t do.

I currently favor a line of five cards. When I want more depth, I do two lines of five, one over the other. I have techniques for grouping the cards to expand the combinations; these are based in cartomancy and Lenormand.

I imagine that applying techniques that you have adopted from cartomancy and Lenormand adds to the fun even more :D

Thanks for dropping by :)

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Bobbie October 27, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Great idea! I’ve actually been thinking of doing this with the horseshoe spread, but I would like to keep the formation and also keep the top card as a significator. I was doing this spread the other night and was getting confused because when I looked at the spread, it was telling me something totally different than when I was looking at the cards and applying what the positions represented. Great post, Doug, as usual! :)

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Douglas October 27, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Hi Bobbie,

Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you liked the post :)

I’ve actually been thinking of doing this with the horseshoe spread, but I would like to keep the formation and also keep the top card as a significator.

Great idea! The key to ditching the positional layout of the Horseshoe spread is to stick with the Horseshoe spread. By laying out the cards in a way you’re comfortable with, by initially reading the cards using the positions of that spread, you will be in the right place to experiment with ditching the positions.

The fact that you’ve already noticed a conflict between your intuition and the positions tells me that you will be very successful with this technique. Go at your own pace and in time you will notice multiple story lines emerging from your Tarot readings :D

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Stacey Riley October 27, 2009 at 7:43 pm

I rarely use spreads unless I’m looking for specific information eg a past life…

I generally use three cards in a line myself. I got in the habit of doing this after doing the Tarot Triplet exercise at Tarot For Life. I don’t use strict elemental dignitaries but I do look at the elements of the cards to give me the energy of the situation.

The combined energies can tell you a lot in itself. I also use rudimentary numerology to work out an overall card for the reading.

I find Druid Craft is a good deck for this combined reading technique, also Ciro Marchetti decks for their vivid imagery and use of colour.

The readings are more in depth and on the whole accurate with even just three cards because it forces you to look at the whole picture.

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Douglas October 27, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Hi Stacey,

Thanks for stopping by :D

The combined energies can tell you a lot in itself. I also use rudimentary numerology to work out an overall card for the reading.

I find Druid Craft is a good deck for this combined reading technique, also Ciro Marchetti decks for their vivid imagery and use of colour.

Thanks for sharing some of your techniques. I especially like the use of numerology to discover, “an overall card for the reading”.

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Barbara Moore October 27, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Excellent article (once again). I’ve been flirting with ditching positional spreads for about 18 months now and saying that I’m reading “gypsy style” when I do that. Then I see a spread that I think will be the end-all-be-all and try that for a while (most recently, the Horseshoe Spread as taught by The Tarot Lady). Most recent no-position spread is Catherine’s signature spread on Tarot Elements. However, I’ve never gone up to 20/30 cards. Thank you.

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Douglas October 27, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Hi Barbara,

LOL, I love that – “gypsy style”! :D

When I use 20/30 cards, I do use additional techniques to help me get into the reading should nothing just jump out at me straight away – card pairing is an example.

I also loved experimenting with the Tarot Elements signature spread.

Thanks for sharing :D

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Nina October 27, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I agree: excellent article!
Like others I rarely use spreads as such, but more simply 3 cards in line. I do, however, often have troubles after pulling the cards because I’m stressing about the positions (i.e. is this past-present-future, body-mind-spirit, etc. etc.???).
I definitely will try this. Thank you, Douglas!

xxx

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Douglas October 27, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Hi Nina,

I’m glad you liked the article. I’d love to hear from you if this post helps, in some small way, to reduce the stress you can sometimes feel.

Thank you for your kind words :D

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AJ October 27, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Thanks for this post. One of the reasons I’ve never practiced the celtic spread is because there are a lot of variation to the positions of the cards. I am afraid of reading the cards incorrectly. But the solution to this is applying my own positions to what is comfortable to me. It will just make it simpler and less complicated.

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 8:58 am

Hi AJ,

I’m glad this post has been able to help you tackle some of the bigger Tarot spreads. The Celtic Cross is a great spread but there are other spreads that are equally good. One such spread is the Horseshoe spread.

One possible approach would be to use another Tarot spread (like the Horseshoe) as a stepping stone to the Celtic Cross?

I think this is about you getting to a stage where you feel comfortable trusting your intuition.

If we take the Celtic Cross as an example, it really doesn’t matter what positions you apply to the cards (that’s why there are so many variations). I know it can appear a bit daunting at times but if you feel you want to try the Celtic Cross, don’t be put off by variations.

I think you’ve already got an excellent solution – select your own positions. Why not pick a couple of the variations that you like the best, then morph them into your own version. After you’ve done this, stick with the Celtic Cross for several months. Allow this spread to sink deep within your unconscious so that the level of connection you feel to the spread will start to deepen. Eventually, when you give Tarot readings, you won’t even be thinking about what position means what because your unconscious mind will be processing all that information, freeing your conscious mind to get on with the task of communicating with the client.

Thank you for sharing :D

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AJ October 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Thanks for the tip! Ok, I will practice on the horse shoe spread first. Then when I’m comfortable, I will try the celtic cross.

I’m happy to say that my intuition is slowly developing. Before, I always check the little white book or my books after making my daily reading. But now, I just see them and look at what the picture is telling me. Thanks again!

Oh and I’m starting to work soon. I remembered the reading you told me when I got it… =D Later!

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Douglas October 29, 2009 at 8:39 am

Hi AJ,

That’s great news about the job :D

Let me know how you get on with the horseshoe :)

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Hannah October 28, 2009 at 8:59 am

I find that if you decide and hold firmly in your mind, what the positions of the Celtic Cross are, you will read them perfectly ;0)

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Chris Roberts (Macavity) October 27, 2009 at 10:43 pm

I think e.g the reading of a subset of cards in “defined” positions and the use of the whole deck in e.g. the “Opening of the key” spread are rather like two end of a continuum. I suspect similar information can be extracted from either – In the right hands. But I learned quite quickly myself that, what I used to add as a summary or addendum, to readings, based on the elements, dignities, rank, number etc. so often proved to contain ALL that I had said before… But often far more concise and moreover independant of the constraints of spread, deck etc. I think this is the (general) way to go, but then I haven’t read seriously in while… ;)

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 9:13 am

Hi Chris,

Thanks for dropping by :)

Interesting comment; especially the bit where you say, “I suspect similar information can be extracted from either – In the right hands.”

In a theoretical sense, you make a good point!!! If we look at things in this way, then it all comes down to the individual. Some people will read very well using positional spreads and other people will read very well using non-positional spreads. It’s really important to experiment in order to find out which one fits most comfortably.

…But often far more concise and moreover independent of the constraints of a spread, deck etc.

A very cool observation. I’ve also found that reading without a positional based layout is a lot less “work” for me as a Tarot reader LOL :D

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Ginger October 27, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Doug this is a great post. I too have been pondering what I call the no spread spread…lol. I have been using it on and off since the beginning of my card use because it was suggested by MacBeth in the Frouds Faeries book. I love the freedom of it although I still do enjoy experimenting with spreads too.

I think one of the problems I have with positional spreads is that sometimes the cards do not seem to fit the position BUT might fit some other part of the reading…I do believe that positional spreads can be successful however part of the problem I experience…I have come to believe is that the spread is not a “signature one” for me. What I mean by that is a spread I have made my own…one I know backwards and forwards…one that my mind immediately recognizes and perhaps pre-recognizes (the intuition allows me to deal the cards into the right positions because it is sooo well known that it is a part of me.) When I use what I consider my signature spreads…I almost always get an accurate and meaningful reading. While it is fun to experiment….this is a reminder to me to use the three spreads that I am most comfortable and in tune with. WHEN I use one.

The Once Upon a Time Spread that I developed when the Fairy Tale Tarot came out is sort of a no spread spread but it does use the significator card. I like it a lot even though sometimes even with it the “timeline” blurs. I think it is because time is a constraint developed by human kind or at least the measurement of time is….I tend to believe things are kind of a two way street so a factor from the past may influence the present or future BUT the present and future could also be a “repeat” of the past so to speak…And then of course the future is always fluid and changes minute by minute.

I have grown tired of the three card spread…especially the past present future one because as you say…there’s not much depth there…I do like using 5-7 cards and honestly even though I have read with the Lenormand cards which call for rather large spreads…I simply can not at this time imagine using 20-30 tarot cards…oh dear me…the very thought staggers me…the confusion…I’m not ready for anything near that large. I know you say the larger number helps you clarify…but to me they seem to muddy and contradict….now I say that loosely because obviously the cards could be speaking of different life aspects and so therefore may not be contradictory at all….LOL.

I prefer to simply deal 5-7…or sometimes as many as 12 cards randomly, placing them however I want as I put them out…sometimes a few or in a row with random ones scattered in other spots….THEN…..BEFORE turning any cards over I look a the layout I have before me….what does it suggest? That card in the corner all by itself…is it perhaps a hidden aspect of self…or the sideways one a block…the three together a path etc…Whatever comes to mind I note in my mind…and then as I turn the cards IF they seem to speak in the way I originally considered….yes this is a block etc…then I use that in the reading…BUT if it doesnt make sense to me or something else seems to fit better than I go with that during the reading…It seems to work rather well and eases the stress of “making the cards fit the position” in some way.

Oh dear…a rather long comment but this is a topic quite interesting to me…I mean if intuition allows us to pick and interpret the cards than surely it can play a role in the placement of the cards.

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 10:43 am

Hi Ginger,

Thank you for your kind words :D

I have come to believe is that the spread is not a “signature one” for me. What I mean by that is a spread I have made my own…one I know backwards and forwards…one that my mind immediately recognizes and perhaps pre-recognizes (the intuition allows me to deal the cards into the right positions because it is sooo well known that it is a part of me.)

Great point! It’s very important to pick a spread you like, and stick with it. If you like the Celtic Cross, then stick with it; if you like the Horseshoe spread, then stick with it. Use only your chosen spread when practicing, or reading for others.

I was lucky really. I did this with out realising how helpful this was. I picked the Celtic Cross and read with it for years. I didn’t deviate. I then picked the Opening of the Key and read with that for years. In both cases I became very comfortable with using them.

The benefits of using only one spread, certainly in the beginning, is that it helps you form a foundation that does not change. Some days you’ll be reading well and other days you won’t be; but regardless of how you perform, the spread you use is your one constant – this never changes. The stability this creates will help you recognise what aspects of your Tarot readings need more practice.

…this is a reminder to me to use the three spreads that I am most comfortable and in tune with. WHEN I use one.

Awesome!

…but to me they seem to muddy and contradict….now I say that loosely because obviously the cards could be speaking of different life aspects and so therefore may not be contradictory at all….LOL.

Ah, good point. However, consider this – is there anyone you know who’s life does not contradict itself?

For instance, someone might be a responsible parent but an irresponsible friend, or they might get extremely angry when teaching someone how to drive, but could be gentle and patient when teaching someone mathematics. These fairly commonplace contradictions exist everywhere and are often reflected in a Tarot reading. I can’t tell you the amount of times clients will deny that their partner has any good qualities whatsoever – until they remember an event which illustrates the opposite of what initially thought.

Contradictions are a tough thing to understand. What has “meaning” in this sense, can never be fixed. It’s always withheld – there can be no “final” judgment.

I really like the system you have in place Ginger. It sounds like it allows you enough freedom to express your intuition (and feel confident doing so) whilst allowing you a fall back into “whatever fits”, which is the best way to read Tarot cards.

Great comment :D

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Helen October 27, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Interesting article Doug,

I have to say I like positional definitions although I have read without them. I smiled at your interpretation of your example of past, present and future :D because in those positions I could also see another interpretation more positive

Past Emperor – You have had in the past someone who has created stability and structure from which you can learn.

Present 7 Swords – You are now able to consider the consequences of any actions you may take before you take them. Perhaps helping you to decide on more innovative ways of expressing your actions.

Future – Page Wands You will be able in the future to express those innovative ideas into actions, that you can take forward to the next stage.

Positional definitions are not necessarily limiting, it depends on what you see in the cards I guess. But I also like free reading too.

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 9:46 am

Hi Helen,

Thank you for your kind words :)

LOL yeah, I guess my interpretation wasn’t really on the optimistic side :D

You gave a great reading ;)

I take your point on board. I can certainly see how positional spreads can be equally as good as non-positional spreads. On a personal level I certainly read better without them. However, in the past I would frequently read the Tarot cards by switching between the two systems.

I have another slightly negative (…um, very negative) interpretation for you :D

Emperor (Past)/7 of Swords(Present)/ Page of Wands(Future)

A manager (Emperor) gets embroiled in office politics (7 of Swords) and ends up either quitting, being fired, or demoted (Page of Wands) LOL :)

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Helen October 28, 2009 at 12:54 pm

LOL Doug! :D

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Reina October 28, 2009 at 12:10 am

I am soooo happy to see that I am not the only one…and that it had nothing to do with being new to tarot :) :) You made my day !!!

I started a year ago to study tarot and after trying hard to use positional definitions without much success, I decided to go wild ;) Positional definitions feel for me like wearing a tailor made suit made for somebody else. Although it fits, it is not really comfortable and does not allow me to read freely.

Now I mostly use what I call the “The advice of the 3wise kings” spread, 3 cards that give me an answer to the question. Sometimes the 3 cards are somehow telling a story, most of the times they are giving individual advice/answer. In doubt, I pick one more card. At the end I use numerology to get to one card that I use as summary of the spread. It works pretty fine for me :)

Thanks for your blog :) It is very inspiring :)

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 11:24 am

Hi Reina,

Thanks for dropping by :D

I loved the way you described Positional definitions – “…feel for me like wearing a tailor made suit made for somebody else” :D

The way you approach the “3wise Kings” spread is really cool. I particularly like the way you use numerology. This is a technique that I use myself ;)

I’m really glad you enjoyed the post and thank you so much for your kind words :D

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Lori October 28, 2009 at 12:58 am

Another really interesting post Doug. I have read with spreads and without over the years but find myself almost completely abandoning positional spreads these days. I find it allows so much more freedom and flexibility and lets the ideas flow back and forth with the cards interacting with each other instead of them being read in a more individual and isolated way.
I do feel that spreads will always have a place and I do have some favourites but it does feel so liberating to be able to leave them behind.
Thanks again for another great post.

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 11:31 am

Hi Lori,

Thank you for your kind words :D

I find reading the cards without positions to be a similar experience to you – “…allows so much more freedom and flexibility and lets the ideas flow back and forth with the cards interacting with each other instead of them being read in a more individual and isolated way.”

I do feel that spreads will always have a place and I do have some favourites but it does feel so liberating to be able to leave them behind.

I know what you mean :D

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BQ October 28, 2009 at 1:42 am

Bravo! One small step for Douglas…One giant leap for tarokind.
Love the post my friend. You already know the extremes of my tarotinkering. Suffice it to say. I couldn’t agree more. Great post!

Love and Light,
Bulal

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 11:38 am

Hi Bulal,

Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it :D

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Paul Yeung October 28, 2009 at 6:34 am

A very inspiring post, Douglas, as always! :D
I shared many confusions with the positional spread you outlined and saw the advantages with non-positional spreads.

In Point 3 you said the best way to shift from positional-spreads to non-position one is to drop the positional meanings when I feel comfortable with it. Does that mean I should read twice in a layout, i.e. to interpret the layout according to positional meanings first, and then going for a second trial interpreting it by dropping the positions? Or should I go for a non-positional interpretation once when the cards are dealt out, as soon as I feel ‘I am ready’?

I’m comfortable with reading 3 cards-in-a-row non positional readings with EDs, as in the 15 cards Thoth spread. But to lay out a series of 20 or more cards in a row… hmmm… I’d be totally lost! Lol. I wonder how do you decide the interactions / the stronger and weaker cards in that case?

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 11:51 am

Hi Paul,

I’m glad you liked the post :D

Does that mean I should read twice in a layout, i.e. to interpret the layout according to positional meanings first, and then going for a second trial interpreting it by dropping the positions?

Yes, as a sort of “transitional” phase to be used until you feel comfortable with not using positions. The first reading of the spread is something you will be comfortable and familiar with.

Or should I go for a non-positional interpretation once when the cards are dealt out, as soon as I feel ‘I am ready’?

Absolutely! If you feel comfortable to jump straight in then please do so. My suggestions were to help people to make a transition from positional based spreads to non-positional based spreads. The methods and tips that I wrote about were ways to help people feel more comfortable with this process. If you, or anyone else, already feels comfortable with it then yes, go for a non-positional interpretation as soon as you ‘feel ready’ :D

I wonder how do you decide the interactions / the stronger and weaker cards in that case?

I usually find myself drawn to a certain group of cards as soon as the cards are dealt. I’ll immediately start talking about what I see whilst scanning the rest of the cards – looking for obvious patterns, connections and Elemental Dignities. I’ll also use card pairing as way to get me into the reading. Hope that helps :D

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Hannah October 28, 2009 at 8:52 am

Right on! I read the cards gypsy style for the influences of a reading and in a general sense so the Querent and I can work out what it means to them. My Mother always taught me to keep it simple too, so I always strive to do just that LOL.

Also, I think it can become confusing, because its easy to forget the structure and intent when reading a positional spread. If you forget or aren’t focused on the intent of the reading, the cards become confusing because you haven’t placed firmly in the mind what the positions are and exactly how you are going to read them. Also, I think people expect exact answers from the Tarot rather than reading for the ‘influences’ of a situation.

So positional spread aren’t that bad as long as you have it clear in your mind exactly what influences the positions and cards are going have on a spread rather then exact answers.

This is why people find certain spreads easier for them to use. Because they know exactly what the positions mean and can identify with them easily. Their intent is clear.

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Douglas October 28, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Hi Hannah,

Thanks for dropping by :D

…the cards become confusing because you haven’t placed firmly in the mind what the positions are and exactly how you are going to read them.

That’s an interesting point. In an earlier comment, a discussion started where I was reminded just how important it is to have worked with one Tarot spread exclusively for a certain period of time. Part of the reasons for doing this can be related, perhaps, to your thoughts on “holding firmly in your mind what the positions actually are”.

It’s true that confusion will arise if there is any uncertainty over what the positions themselves actually mean.

I think you’ve got a reasonable and well balanced point of view on this subject.

Great comment :D

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Paul Yeung October 28, 2009 at 7:21 pm

hmmm…. I certainly got what you mean. I think I just really lack confidence in that. Especially when sometimes I could see two interpretations in the cards that is mutually exclusive. For example I remember reading somewhere that the Knights can mean the coming or going of a relationship. (“Oh come on! So which one is it?!”)

In the past whenever I tried non-positional readings my mind will go completely blank… but today I made a few attempts and the feelings seemed to have differed. Well, I still couldn’t quite lay my fingers on it but I felt that ‘something is there’. In particular the moments after I dealt a series of 10 cards horizontally, they seem to pair up each other quite naturally. Card 1 + 2 seems to be giving an information about one thing, 3 + 4 about another, 5 + 6 yet another but is a further development of the previous… It came about so easy that I couldn’t be sure – I always worry that I might be ‘reading meanings into the cards”. The problem, I guess, might because I almost always only read for myself, so I certainly couldn’t be completely objective…

Immediately prior to writing this comment, I tried another 10 cards non-positional reading again, and for the first time – I had no idea why – I saw the shape of a womb in the card Sorrow (Yes! And for the first time this inauspicious card didn’t disturb me!!) and the Prudence card next to it reminds me of ovaries and eggs – this is totally absurd and I am glad that I was reading it alone in my room! Haha! Perhaps I should leave this last part of comment in your previous post about crazy tarot interpretation instead.

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Douglas October 29, 2009 at 9:04 am

Hi Paul,

LOL yeah, the Court Cards can be a bit of a nightmare ;)

Try not to worry about “reading meanings into the cards”. Although it’s important to be mindful of this, it’s also important to “let go” and just read. Part of the danger of reading for yourself is that you already know yourself, and your situation rather well. This can make reading the cards difficult – the example of the Knight is a really good one!

Everyone knows it’s difficult to read for yourself but even knowing this, it still doesn’t make it any easier. The only solution that I’ve found for this kind of situation is to make up fantasy questions for a fantasy client. This way, the pressure is off and you can really let your intuition flow. After a couple of weeks try giving yourself another reading. It might be a little easier.

It does sound like you’re getting really comfortable with card pairing which is awesome. The way you describe it is the way I also experience it – each pair building on the last! It’s a good sign that you’re noticing how easy it can be. This doesn’t mean you’re “reading meanings into the cards”, rather, it means that you’re allowing your intuition to flow. It’s a good sign!

Immediately prior to writing this comment, I tried another 10 cards non-positional reading again, and for the first time – I had no idea why – I saw the shape of a womb in the card Sorrow (Yes! And for the first time this inauspicious card didn’t disturb me!!) and the Prudence card next to it reminds me of ovaries and eggs – this is totally absurd and I am glad that I was reading it alone in my room! Haha! Perhaps I should leave this last part of comment in your previous post about crazy tarot interpretation instead.

Haha, what a wonderfully crazy insight :D

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KS October 28, 2009 at 8:20 pm

It is just a matter of preference I think :). I’ve always liked spreads but now I mostly use just one card or three because I only read for myself.

I used to love the Celtic Cross and a couple of other larger spreads because they can give a structure to the reading. I used to love the way the story would role out, like the chapters of a book.

I think that larger spreads with position meanings can give quite an accurate picture of any situation. Sometimes the larger spreads can help in the process of engaging with the querent.

But again, it is all just individual style and preference.

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Douglas October 29, 2009 at 9:20 am

Hi KS,

Thanks for dropping :D

I agree. Individual style and preference is really what this all comes down to.

Chris felt that in the right hands a positional or non-positional spread could be equally as effective; Hannah also felt that being absolutely clear on what the positions actually represent would remove a lot of the difficulties with positional spreads. I think you all have fair points in defense of positional spreads.

Using positional spreads can be effective in the right hands, and I think this leads into the whole idea of individual style. If you can make a positional based spread work for you then it’s going to be very effective. As Hannah pointed out, there are methods that can be used to help maximize the potential usefulness of positional spreads.

One of the benefits that you describe with positional spreads is this whole idea of “structure”. I do think this is one of the main strengths behind positional spreads – unfortunately for me (and as you rightly point out -this is individual style) I eventually found this structure to be limiting.

I also agree with your point on engaging with the client. I think this is a very important part of any Tarot reading and the more cards that are used, the easier it can be to engage with them.

Thank you for your comment :D

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Theresa October 29, 2009 at 2:19 am

As always, your posts are thought provoking. I love the rebellious nature of this post – respect the rules but abandon them as necessary! YES! I do what I call a “bastardized” version of the Celtic Cross as my opening spread when I read for a client – I begin by laying out in the traditional positions as a “base” but then start laying cards any which way in a crazy patchwork fashion until I “feel” I am done laying them out. I interpret as I go, noting patterns and connections. It works much better than the Celtic Cross and is way more accurate.

While positional spreads are very helpful, it is always good to color outside of the lines.

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Douglas October 29, 2009 at 9:25 am

Hi Theresa,

I’m glad you like the post :)

Wow! What an awesome method you have for reading the Celtic Cross :D

I really like how you let your intuition guide you – allowing connections and patterns to colour and inform the reading. Very cool :)

While positional spreads are very helpful, it is always good to color outside of the lines.

I couldn’t agree more!

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Irmata October 29, 2009 at 3:38 am

The Celtic Cross gives this tarot n00b the hives!

I am still at the Positional-Level of tarot reading. It gives me a framework to read within; things to remember to focus on. But as soon as I’ve got the gist of what’s being said, I start to work on connecting the cards to each other, who’s staring at who, which numbers come up, which _don’t_, dominant (or domineering!) elements etc. I also make up my own spreads for each new reading, tailored to the situation I’m investigating. I’m probably working towards non-positional spreads, for when I’m more comfortable with the cards and my own understanding of them.

p.s. Thank you for always having such interesting posts. It is really valuable to hear something other than the same old-same old, based on real experience. Very… liberating!

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Douglas October 29, 2009 at 9:35 am

Hi Irmata,

I’m glad you liked the post :D

The Celtic Cross gives this tarot n00b the hives!

Haha!

I start to work on connecting the cards to each other, who’s staring at who, which numbers come up, which _don’t_, dominant (or domineering!) elements etc.

What you’re describing is really the essence of a good Tarot reader.

These are the skills, techniques and methods that will inform each and every Tarot reading you do. They are far more important than say, the divinatory meanings.

I remember years ago listening to a song. I can’t remember the song, or even the exact lyrics that were used but, I do remember thinking, “I must apply that to every Tarot reading I do from now on”. The lyrics that inspired me were something like, “…trying to keep an eye on you”.

I knew that if I could get a sense of what card was tying “to keep an eye on” another card, I would open up a whole new level to my readings.

That lesson never left me and it’s still something I use today.

Once you get really comfortable with the techniques you’ve described (where they become almost unconscious), most things will click into place ;)

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Irmata October 29, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Thank you very much for the encouragement, Douglas!

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Douglas Gibb October 29, 2009 at 5:29 pm

My pleasure :D

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Ginger October 29, 2009 at 4:51 pm

On of the reasons I don’t usually lay out the cards in a non positional spread in a row is because people tend to think a row means that things unfold one after another in sequence…or that the cards may not be inter connected unless they are side by side…So I tend to like a random scattered layout. just a thought for those planning to try non postitional ones

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Douglas Gibb October 29, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Hi Ginger,

What a brilliant suggestion!!!

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Paul Yeung October 30, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Good advise, Douglas! should try it and let you know how it goes =)

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Douglas Gibb October 30, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Awesome – I’d love to hear how you get on :D

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Eugene November 19, 2009 at 6:50 am

Hi Douglas,

This is one of the most inspiring Tarot articles I have ever read. Couple to this your Elemental Dignities Dictionary and you’ve single-handedly rejuvenated my passion for the Tarot hobby, for which I thank you.

I had familiarized myself with the Golden Dawn’s ED concept back in 1999 but never used it in my readings because:
(i) I just read for myself, friends and family and most of the times the readings were simple, requiring 5 to 7-card positional spreads, with the Celtic Cross being the biggest spread.
(ii) I prefered not to depend on GD tarot techniques because of its link to Hermetic Qabbalism, whose explanation of how the material world manifested and man’s place in it doesn’t quite agree with my own personal experiences and other spiritual affiliations.

In hindsight, I can see that my reliance on positional spreads had caused my own Tarot burnout and disenchantment in the past couple of years. So it was not due to any fault in the Tarot’s structure but the limiting positional spreads!

I got back into doing Tarot readings this year and recently went for more ambitious spreads featuring card triads, like the 15-card Thoth spread. However I was stumped in my reading attempts. It didn’t occur to me to try the ED system because I’d put it out of my head for years. Then I stumbled upon your blog, read your articles and then went back to some recent readings in my journal to apply the ED system. BAM! The Tarot’s messages became sharp and clear. How did I miss them the first time around?

The thing that flabbergasts me is: did I already ‘subconsciously’ cause all my readings to be interpreted the GD way ever since I studied the ED concept ten years ago?!! It is a bit creepy, like being an ex-initiate who can’t wriggle free from the influence of a religious organization. :D

Oh whatever… I may still not agree with some Hermetic Qabbala concepts but I have to admit that the Golden Dawn knows Tarot inside out.

I will slowly wean myself off positionals. The key spread I want to phase out is the Celtic Cross, with the Romany Spread as its replacement. I’d always wanted to use the latter but never understood its logic. It’s 3 rows by 7 columns, and the 6th and 7th columns are usually given as Near and Distant Future, yet at the same time the 3 rows are delineated as Past, Present and Future – very contradictory. Now, with the ED system in place my next attempt at the Romany will be to take the centre row cards as the main ones and the top and bottom row cards as elemental modifiers. (No doubt, this remains a positional spread but the extra modifiers will offer more scope than the Celtic Cross. When I become more proficient, I’ll try reading the whole spread as a 21-card linear spread.)

Sorry for the ramble, but as you can intuit, I’m an old git who’s become like an enthusiastic child with the Tarot again. Thanks.

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Douglas Gibb November 19, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Hi Eugene,

Thanks for dropping by :D

This is one of the most inspiring Tarot articles I have ever read. Couple to this your Elemental Dignities Dictionary and you’ve single-handedly rejuvenated my passion for the Tarot hobby, for which I thank you.

Thank you!

It’s great to hear that your enthusiasm for Tarot has been rejuvenated. I really appreciate you letting me know and it means a lot to hear that some of what I’ve written has contributed to this.

(ii) I preferred not to depend on GD tarot techniques because of its link to Hermetic Qabbalism, whose explanation of how the material world manifested and man’s place in it doesn’t quite agree with my own personal experiences and other spiritual affiliations.

I understand! It’s important that we all find an answer to the question of mans place in the universe. I’ve also struggled with some of the ideas presented on this subject but occasionally I get inspired by the idea of a relationship with the divine. When I shift my attention from the application of a theory to the devotion of a relationship I start to feel more at ease.

A set theory of the divine, how the universe manifested and mans place within it can often feel so removed from direct experience that connecting with it is problematic. I decided a long time ago, perhaps as you did, to no longer try.

In hindsight, I can see that my reliance on positional spreads had caused my own Tarot burnout and disenchantment in the past couple of years. So it was not due to any fault in the Tarot’s structure but the limiting positional spreads!

Beautifully said!

Positional layouts create confusion which often leads to a lack of confidence and Tarot reader burnout.

Then I stumbled upon your blog, read your articles and then went back to some recent readings in my journal to apply the ED system. BAM! The Tarot’s messages became sharp and clear.

Awesome! I’m glad that the Elemental Dignities series has helped :D

The thing that flabbergasts me is: did I already ’subconsciously’ cause all my readings to be interpreted the GD way ever since I studied the ED concept ten years ago?!! It is a bit creepy, like being an ex-initiate who can’t wriggle free from the influence of a religious organization. :D

LOL possibly :D

Rather than seeing that as creepy, I see that as awesome. It's a clear sign that your subconscious is willing to communicate and work with you via that system; through that system your intuition will flow effortlessly.

When I become more proficient, I’ll try reading the whole spread as a 21-card linear spread.

Awesome. Based on what you’ve said in this comment, I would suspect that you already have everything in place to do this now. It may take time to build up your confidence, it may take time before you feel comfortable reading 21 cards as a linear spread, but I think your subconscious is more than willing to work with you on this :D

…I’m an old git who’s become like an enthusiastic child with the Tarot again. Thanks.

LOL :)

Thank you once again for all your kind words. I’d love to hear how you get on with the Romany spread :D

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Chris T November 21, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I agree with non positional readings. I have been reading for 23 years, it is a constant learning process. I always have divided my majors from my minors and used the horoscope spread with no inverted cards. Majors layed out first, minors on top,(if the area of concern was negative, trust me, the upright cards tell the story as well) I also deal off the top, no cutting of the deck. This system always worked for me, and still does, however, when concentrating on an area of concern, I find the cards read as a book, page after page, card after card. All areas are addressed, or can be, but the reading itself is truly more accurate and in sequential order of events. All readers should try it, especially when court cards are involved (a major source of confusion for many readers). They truly tell a story about themselves and the client with whom the reading is done for.

Let your intuition be your guide! Give it a try, you will be pleastly surprised!.

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Douglas Gibb November 21, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Hi Chris,

Thanks for stopping by :D

I agree! The Tarot is a constant learning process – it always amazes me how something simple can totally transform the way I approach future Tarot readings.

All readers should try it, especially when court cards are involved (a major source of confusion for many readers).

I agree – it’s one of those areas that can often confuse people. The system you suggest sounds awesome; any interesting or helpful way to practice the Court cards should be embraced.

Let your intuition be your guide! Give it a try, you will be pleasantly surprised!.

LOl awesome way to put it :D

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Anna December 1, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Hello. First of all I want to thank you for all the resources you make available on your Blog. I have spent a lot of time on it, and I have learnt a lot. Thank you. I discovered Paul Hughes- Barlow’s web site a few months ago. I found his explanation of the elemental dignities fascinating. I have been studying Tarot for over twenty years, yet, I barely used the elements interactions in interpreting my readings. I did, but I just touched the surface. Anyway, I have paid more and more attention to them. I followed your explanation of them, and it is starting to make more and more sense.
Last night I read your posting about reading without formal spreads and positions. I like spreads. I make my own most of the time. They help me interpret the card within a specific contest. I find gypsy reading overwhelming.
But, I could understand the benefits of more fluid readings.
Today I put your ideas to the test. I did a reading for my-self for the month of December. I found a compromise I could work with.
I chose five subjects (my-self, my work, family finances, in my home, unexpected). I used 3 cards for each theme, spreading the cards is 5 lines.
The big change for me is that I looked at each group of 3 cards not as a sequence of time, or advantages and challenges. I read them using the elemental dignities, central card as the outcome, and looking at the the other two to determine the strength, and the meaning.
It worked beautifully. I got repeating numbers on the side cards. I got evolutions. It made perfect sense. I was so surprised!
In the end, I even moved the order of the lines to better see the relations between cards. I put the line representing my-self over the line dealing with my family life, and below it the one for the unexpected. They all worked together to reaffirm each other and the main message of the reading.
Thank you. I will definitely keep experimenting.
Anna

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Douglas Gibb December 1, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Hi Anna,

Thanks for dropping by :D

I’m really glad that you’re finding some of the content on this blog useful.

Today I put your ideas to the test. I did a reading for my-self for the month of December. I found a compromise I could work with.
I chose five subjects (my-self, my work, family finances, in my home, unexpected). I used 3 cards for each theme, spreading the cards is 5 lines.
The big change for me is that I looked at each group of 3 cards not as a sequence of time, or advantages and challenges. I read them using the elemental dignities, central card as the outcome, and looking at the the other two to determine the strength, and the meaning.
It worked beautifully. I got repeating numbers on the side cards. I got evolutions. It made perfect sense. I was so surprised!

Awesome! This is a great example of how Elemental Dignities can add extra depth to your readings. It also highlights how a more fluid approach to a Tarot reading allows intuition to ‘talk’.

Experimentation is really the best approach to refine our Tarot understanding and skills. I’m really happy that you’ve got a lot out of some of the articles on this blog and I thank you for your kind words :D

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Colin M March 23, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Hi there Doug, I am new here looking and training myself in a way that I hope that I am learning. I have some books, the Tarot Bible, in itself is a good reference to all the meanings, and as I read I feel like yeah I am picking stuff up! I think you are right about the positional spreads. I have been looking at the elements in readings and can see the big impact that they have within the cards and how it affects a reading. I can see what you mean in the way that it affects an outcome. When I was first starting, not too long ago, I was always looking at the books and felt that this was getting me nowhere, but when you put things into the relationships of the elements, this has helped me. Anyway, there you are from an inspired beginner. Ah yes, I like the three card spread. I look at further cards that follow in the next three, then the next three, again following in a row similar to the Opening of the Key spread and just looking at relationships and what they might tell me. I also feel that this is a good way to learn the elements in similar sorts of rows, ah yes, I also love the site…

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Douglas Gibb March 25, 2010 at 12:48 am

Hi Colin,

Glad your enjoying Elemental Dignities and that it’s enriching your Tarot experience. It sounds to me like your confidence is increasing which is the first sign of becoming a proficient Tarot reader.

Glad you enjoyed the post :)

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Carole ( weave) June 8, 2010 at 6:13 am

Greetings, I have found your web site and have been fascinated in reading information re spreads etc etc. I am just a point where I will throw out the traditional spreads and I do feel very limited when one card is placed in eg. hopes and fears, I feel constrained, so it will be a great relief to build up maybe in smaller spreads this method. I’m feeling happier already…..Thanks for this information

Carole

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Douglas Gibb June 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Hi Carol,

Thanks for dropping by :)

I’m glad this post was useful to you and I wish you every success in discovering your preferred method of reading Tarot :D

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mzzlee July 14, 2010 at 2:39 am

fabulous, doug!
just this morning, i did a reading for myself. started with celtic cross and then decided to play a bit. moved stuff around, spread more cards, ditched positional meanings, went in a few layers.
whaddya know?! here i am reading this splendid post tonight. i am there! thank you as always! just great, inspiring stuff. fab!

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Douglas Gibb July 15, 2010 at 12:04 am

Hi Mzzlee,

Lol! Great to hear you’re ditching the positional spread. When I first did it, I was amazed at how much easier tarot reading became.

I’m glad you found this post at just the right time :)

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Paul Nagy October 23, 2010 at 2:44 am

hey Doug,

Nice articles. I especially liked this one as you have expressed what I have felt for years about spreads.
I’ve always felt that it is rather artificial to create spread for somebody. My preferred intuitive way is just to read the cards in the pattern that emerges. I like to read a 3×3, 9 card spread, reading it as a mandala without any serious designations of the meanings of the spaces or places. yes elemental dignities is one way to create a syntax between cards.
However I’m also still comfortable using various positional spreads when the mood takes me. I’m happy that the tarot is such a resilient and flexible tool that lets me tell myself the truth even when I’m bamboozling myself.
Wonderful website. I should get here more often and read what you have to say.

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nandarani December 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I just want to thank you for your encouragement. I thought that maybe I was the only one who felt this way and thought that maybe I was never going to reach that advanced level of tarot spreads. And would always be just
“Doing it my own way.” But not doing tarot spreads is the only way it works
for me. I am glad I came accross this site!
Thank you
Nandarani

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Dave February 6, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I just came across this. I was lookîng for a spread that like you say reflects life. I see things in 3D and thus I use 5 cards across then the next 5 below, Until I have 5 lines of cards. This box just flows for me. I can read line by line -> left to right Or column by column up and down. Sometimes I place values IE deep past, recent past, current events, what’s next and future outlook. The best part is the freedom to read up and down or left to right. I even had a couple and you could see his cards flows up and down, while her cards in the same spread flowed left and right and how they inter reacted.

Thanks for opening the door

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Chanah Liora February 7, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I am so glad you blogged about this. I rarely use a traditional spread. I do lay cards out in a linear fashion row by row until it feels the reading has come to completion. I find as the reading goes on things become revealed quite naturally. Patterns appear that are directly related to the clients life. If there is a past issue that interferes with their present it shows in systematic ways, creating pictures or visuals for him or her to see how what their patterns, when they are likely to appear, and how they can change that particular behavior to have longer periods go by before they fall back into and old pattern or to completely change a behavior permanently. In this way the reading becomes more productive for the client because they have a clear visual of their patterns of behavior. It also shows them exactly what needs to be changed or dealt with to move forward with the their desired outcome. It will also show clearly why something will not work or come to fruition. I rarely have such accuracy with following a traditional spread. When I sense we have laid enough cards down we review the reading and get verification by going over it reading the cards vertically and sometimes even diagonally.
Thanks again! Now I don’t feel so weird that I don’t usually do traditional spreads lol:)
Chanah Liora

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Little Red May 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I love this. As someone who’s (relatively) new to Tarot, it’s such a relief to read someone saying that it’s okay to ditch the spreads!! So often I’m secretly thinking ‘hmm, it would be better if that one was in that position and that one was over there…’ etc etc…
I still love spreads though – I love how creative people get with them, dealing the cards into shapes and pictures. But it’s so good to confirm that it’s okay to get away from all that when you want to :)
Thanks!!

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Jennifer March 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

I have spent hours browsing your blog!! One of the best tarot related blogs that I have come across.

I too have grown tired of positional spreads. The one I use is the Celtic Cross. I know it inside and out. But it has its limitations. I want more freedom. I just started researching the Opening of the Key.. that is how I came to your site. I am going to start experimenting tonight!! LOL

One thing that I have done in the past that is non- positional is 3 rows of 3 cards each (9 total). The only position I used was the very center is the “key” card or what the heart of the matter is. That has worked well. That is probably what I will go back to, using ED along with the card meanings. Then will branch into just a linear spread.

Keep up the good work..
Jennifer

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Douglas Gibb March 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Jennifer,

Sounds like a great method for easing yourself into reading non-positionally. Good luck! :)

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Jennifer March 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Thanks… I also just bought your book, “Beyond The Celtic Cross” the Kindle Version. Really has opened my eyes.. the only thing that I questioned was the counting. If you had say the 3 of Cups as your starting point… you would count 3 towards the right and then read the card you land on and the card on either side? Say it was the 2 of Pent. after you read the card and its two modifiers, you count again 2 cards and repeat until you land on the same card twice, then the counting stops? Just want to make sure I understand it correctly.

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Jennifer March 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm

oops… that was paul hughes that wrote the book.. but my question still stands on how the counting goes

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Douglas Gibb March 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm
Douglas Gibb March 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi Jennifer,

Card counting is a different technique to reading the elemental dignities of the cards. Pure card counting does not require you to interpret the surrounding cards because interpreting the surrounding cards is the seperate technique of Elemental Dignities. Card counting simply involves counting the cards and EDs simply involves interpreting the Elemental interactions.

If you can keep those two ideas seperate it might make learning them easier. In particular, if you can remember that the two techniques do not rely on each other in any way in order to be effecive then I think it will all start to make sense that much sooner.

However, to answer your question directly then yes, you count the cards until you land on the starting card for a second time. That is when you stop the count.

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Quianna March 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I have a question, why do some tarot readers indicate cups as being days, and some indicate cups as being months? I would like to ditch the traditional spreads because I agree, they can be a bit misleading and confusing. I have another question, what if I asked the tarot if I had to go back to an old way of life, what cards would indicate that I would not have to? Like If I asked the tarot if I had to go back to an old job, what cards would give me affirmation that I wouldn’t have to go back?

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Douglas Gibb March 31, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Hi Quianna,

The reason there is different opinions on timings is because there are different paradigms or frameworks in use. These differing paradigms lead to differing ideas on how much time the suit of cups represents. For some it is days and for others it is months. The best way to cut through this confusion is to settle on one that you like. Test it and see if it is accurate for you.

In answer to your second question, the Tarot can’t do that … not in the sense that you’re asking. It does not work by stating a negative. It works by stating a positive. So, if you asked a question, “will I have to go back to an old way of life”, then the Tarot answers in the positive – it says yes or it answers with something completley different. It can’t state a negative.

Therefore, when you ask a question like that you have to determine if it is saying yes. If you think there is an absence of affirmation (in the sense of affirming a yes to the question) then that is when you can predict a “no”.

To conclude, the steps are this:

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Determine if the answer is affirming yes.
  3. If it is then the answer is yes.
  4. If there is an absence of affirmation then it is a no. (Remember, the Tarot does not assert a negative based on your question, it can only assert a positive.)

I hope that helps.

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Dina bt August 2, 2013 at 3:25 pm

finaly! im not the only one tha dont like spreads!!! in my opinion speads are there Only to teatch you How to make a good question and how to Focus in every question! im realy happy to find you here! :)

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Michael A December 21, 2013 at 8:54 am

My position so far is that I agree and disagree. Spreads serve a divine purpose and have its usefulness, but abandoning them altogether seems counter intuitive. Spreads are definitely used to teach, and in my experience as a reader, how you shuffle has a lot to do with the reading and how you can extrapolate deep meaning through the positions of the cards. I think I a lot of people don’t understand the arcane system of tarot and oracle cards. I’ve created many spreads for the reasons this article is angry over. The spreads you use must be flexible. If you use a rigid spread of course your readings will be rigid.

Take for example this spread I created. It is as rigid and flexible as need be. Even many Lenormand spreads are highly flexible, set up in a 3×3 grid that has a past, present, and future layout of each of the columns, and even in the rows. The first row is past, and even the first column in past. The fifth card, being the absolute present, is where each of the cards surrounding it are even seen as outward future cards. In your spreads, you are as limited as your spread is. A simple 3 card spread of past to present to future is going to be rigid and produce terrible readings… it’s designed to be simplistic and offer completely basal archetypes of that situation. In my experience, the reader is only as limited as their imagination and intuition is. I think a great deal of imagination could take any reader very far… being able to make critical connections to those cards is key in producing a good reading.

The funny thing about the example given in the article is that it is so rigid, yet should have the same meaning no matter what spread you chose. Those three cards appeared for a reason and still carry the same meanings whether you gave a past/present/future assignment are not. How they got two different interpretations based on a spread or not is beyond me. It should be read the same way. The thing about Tarot as I discussed many times is that it has it’s own mind. You may choose a spread, but the cards will always trump that spread to show it’s message. I think people forget that Spirit guides these cards and what you get is what you got.

The article goes on further to suggest that the more cards you use, the more accurate the reading. That couldn’t be any more false. I’ve researched in the cards that using more than 21 cards in a spread can easily cloud the reading and take away from the glory of each card. Using more than 21 cards is excessive, and the cards which you use in a spread very easily could have been used for another element of the querent’s reading. No matter if you pull one card or twenty, the cards speak for themselves. I think the author of the article completely missed the point of Tarot– it’s a story and every card is an entire story of its own, offering literally hundreds of meanings. If you can’t extract deeper meanings from the basal representation of that card, its energy, its suit, its numerology, and its symbolism, then you lack imagination…

I always say, it’s not the tool, it’s the operator.

The author’s advice on intuitive readings is f’ing brilliant, however… but I disagree with their points which urge others to completely abandon spreads. Spreads are highly highly beneficial and serve to bring logic and structure to readings.. Intuitive is moon energy, or The Empress. Spreads are logical energy, sun readings, or The Emperor. I can’t believe somebody who has been reading for ten years completely forgot the lessons which The Emperor teaches– structure, logic, plans, diagrams, blueprints, and so forth.

http://31.media.tumblr.com/7516f37ec4426730cb9ddb19de621b4d/tumblr_mggs21Zjo31rwje1go1_r2_500.png

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novak January 26, 2014 at 12:48 pm

hahaaa look at me commenting 5 years late on this entry which i just came across.
this is a rad idea and i’ve sorta been doing it for a while now. one of the ways i do it is less a focused reading than it is an exercise in abstract thought and card interpretation. i shuffle, and then just draw card after card, forcing each to relate to the previous card, to create some kind of linear story out of them. i stop when i grow bored, distracted or feel like i’ve reached a natural end.
like i said, i’ve not found it to be so hot for actual readings, but i like to do it before i go to bed, sort of as a preparation for dreaming, or to just clean out my brain a bit before i lie down.

i’ve been wanting to be able to do readings where i just drop down a random number of cards in random places and then read them as you described, but for some unknown reason i was lacking something that i found in this entry, so thanks! i look forward to honing in on this skill if it does indeed work for me.

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sandra January 31, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I like the idea of being unfettered by positional readings. They work, but I’m a free soul and simply ask the Great Spirit for the answer to what I wish to know. I lay them in a straight line – and get the correct answer every time. The answers sit in front of me as clear as book. Very simple. I don’t question, I accept. Never failed for myself or others.

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john February 25, 2014 at 12:14 am

hello a great and brave article.actually before reading it i was considering not using positional layouts anylonger.just to share with you (and maybe make you think even more)have you noticed that tarot begginers mostly when they are learning tarot by themselves they tend not to use positional layouts?they just pick 3 or more cards that it.but when we get to intellectualize taro we star using layouts.well my friend sorry my bad english im writing you from chile.sincerely john.

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