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Choosing a Tarot Spread for Beginners

Three classic Tarot Card spreads for beginners and advanced readers that suit every occasion.

If you are new to reading Tarot cards, chances are you are curious about spreads. I answer questions about spreads more than other topics when I teach new readers. There is something truly magickal about using these layouts to read Tarot cards. In this post I'll tell you about three of the most popular spreads available and when to use them.

How to choose a Tarot Spread for your reading

Truthfully, you can use whichever spread you are most comfortable with for any reading. The most important thing is that it makes sense to you. You may feel compelled to alter the meanings of the placements in a particular reading based on what you see, I encourage you to go with your gut. Reading Tarot is all about listening to your own intuition to find clarity in the cards.

At the same time, if you are new to mindfulness practices (like meditation and reading Tarot), you may wish to "stick to the rules" a bit more. Reading spreads by the book will help you learn the spreads better, as well as avoid your ego. New readers and new meditators both must learn to recognize their egos in order to find clarity and grounding. When you are in a state of true presence without ego, your natural instincts will guide you correctly.

If you are a beginner and want more firm guidelines, here's my advice. Three card spreads are always a great idea. They keep things simple without too many cards to decipher. A three card reading is short, so you may wish to ask a series of questions and do several three card spreads to paint a larger picture of the moment. When you are ready to begin looking at more cards, use the Celtic Cross for more general readings and specific situations. You can use the Thoth spread for situations where you need to choose between two paths, or when you'd like to look at two possible outcomes.

Three Card Tarot Spread

The Three Card spread is incredibly versatile and useful. The most classic way to read this spread is "past, present, future" however; you can also read the three cards in other ways. You can read the three cards as "current situation, option 1, option 2" or, "problem, internal influence, external influence." The choices are endless, just be sure to choose the meaning of each card before you begin your reading.

An illustration of a three card spread, the first card is the middle, the second is on the left and the third is on the right.
Card 1: Present, Card 2: Past, Card 3: Future

I recommend three card spreads for beginning readers. You can begin looking at connections between cards with this spread. For example, what suits/elements are represented, what is the overall energy of the reading, and what patterns do you see? At the same time, three cards are not so many that you'll be overwhelmed. Even if you are a seasoned reader, this very versatile spread comes in handy for quick answers.

Celtic Cross Tarot Spread

The Celtic Cross may be the most commonly used Tarot spread of all time, it first appeared around 1910 (find more about the history of the spread here). Since then, the Celtic Cross has appeared in movies, television, magazines and social media accounts innumerable times. It's a great spread to learn when you feel ready to start reading multiple cards together. I do think brand new readers may feel overwhelmed, but with some practice you will find yourself using this spread for many purposes.

Ten Tarot cards are arranged in the Celtic Cross Spread. Two cards are crossed in the center, there are four cards surrounding this cross. An additional 4 cards form a vertical line to the right.
Card 1: Present, Card 2: Problem, Card 3: Your subconscious feelings, Card 4: Your conscious feelings, Card 5: Past, Card 6: Immediate future, Card 7: Advice, Card 8: External factors, Card 9: Hopes/Fears, Card 10: Final outcome

Just as when you read three cards, when you're first looking at a ten card spread look for patterns. See what's present and what's missing. Are any Major Arcana in the reading? Are there a lot of reversals? Which of the Minor Arcana suits are here and which are not? These patterns can tell you a lot about the reading before you look at the individual card meanings.

Once you are ready to look at the individual cards, it is helpful to write down each card, what the placement means, and what the card means. Then you can reflect on how the placement and the card meaning relate to find clarity in the reading. I find the Celtic Cross spread is wonderful for looking at specific questions or circumstances, and it also works very well for readings when the querent has no specific question.

Thoth Tarot Spread

Finally, the Thoth Tarot spread is another classic spread with many cards, fifteen in this case. Made famous by the controversial dark practitioner Aleister Crowley, use this spread with positive intention and a strong presence to claim its power for yourself. I like to use this spread when I'm making a choice, doing a reading with two clear outcomes, or when exploring two options makes sense.

An illustration of 15 cards laid out in 5 groups of the three. One group is in the center and the other four are each in one corner of the spread. The cards around the center have been dealt one to each corner moving counterclockwise from the top right.
Cards 1-3: Your present state, Cards 4, 8, 12: One possible outcome, Cards 5, 9, 13: The other possible outcome, Cards 6, 10, 14: Influences you can control, Cards 7, 11, 15: Influences you cannot control

This spread offers you a chance to look at different options, also at different influences. When you can recognize where you're in control, you can create change. While the Thoth spread may not have as many applications as the Celtic Cross, and it is certainly not as widely known, it is a great spread to have in your repertoire.

Remember, in the end whatever works best for you is what's best!

You can use any of these spreads, another you find through research, or one you totally make up yourself. There are as many right ways to read Tarot cards as there are Tarot readers. While I believe in learning the basics to create your foundation, I also recognize that many readers out there are completely intuitive and have never done a reading "by the book." If you're not sure where to start, play with some three card spreads and see what happens!

Want extra help? Check out my Tarot readings and mentoring options on the Services page, or reach out with your questions in the comments section below!

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