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Tarot Basics Part 2: Layouts

Updated on May 4, 2007

Now that you have a pretty basic idea of what the individual cards mean right side up, upside down, or sideways, it's time to learn how to use them!

In most tarot instruction books or booklets that come with the cards, there is a layout or a "spread" referred to as the Celtic Cross. It involves ten (or more) cards with the first six or seven cards laid out in a plus-sign pattern and the last four lined up one above the other to the right of the plus-sign. If there was ever a tarot card layout designed to intimidate or overwhelm the beginning reader, it is definitely the Celtic Cross!

But I just know you threw out that little booklet like I advised in Tarot Basics Part 1 (didn't you?), so don't worry about the Celtic Cross just now.

So let's start with something a lot easier. Let's start with one card. One card is all you need to answer a simple yes or no question. So what cards mean yes and what cards mean no? That's up to you and your tarot deck. For instance, you might decide that if you pull a card from the middle of the deck and it's upright, that's a yes, and any reversed card is a no. Or you might decide that the major arcana card are yeses and minor arcane cards are nos. I don't recommend this, as the odds of you getting a no answer are much higher! Or maybe "good news" cards like the three of wands can mean yes and "bad news" cards like the ten of swords mean no.

Now let's add a couple of cards, so you have three cards lined up on the table in front of you. You can still answer yes/no questions this way: three uprights can mean yes, three reversed can mean no, two uprights can mean probably and two reversed can mean probably not.

But you can also start answering questions from querents (remember: querents are people that come to you wanting your services as a tarot reader). The card on your left is the past or roots of the situation, the center card is the current state of the situation, and the card on the right is the future pertaining to the situation. See how easy this is?

Note: cards can, and usually do, change meaning slightly depending on what position they're in in a spread. For instance: the Fool card in the "past" position in a 3-card layout could mean, "You've recently started something new." But in the "present" position it's more likely to mean, "The situation is this: you're being an idiot!" or "You're just not seeing something important, like the BIG CLIFF YOU'RE ABOUT TO WALK OFF OF!"

Now here's a really cool secret: You can make up your own layout! If it makes sense to you, if it answers the question, then it's "right." Any spread that works is not "wrong," so don't let the tarot purists try to convince you otherwise!

Of course, with any card reading, you can lay down more cards, called "clarifying cards" to give more information or, well, clarify, any given card in any given position. However, 90% of the time, the decision to use a clarifying card isn't yours to make - it's your querent's. If I get stuck while giving a reading, I usually say "we can come back to that later." And at the end, I ask, "Is there anything you want clarified?" Nine times out of ten the querent will point to either the card I got stuck on during the reading or some other card that he or she wants more information about. So I lay down another card next to the original one. Usually that gives me (and the querent) enough information. If it doesn't, I add another clarifying card. If I don't get the information after three clarifying cards, I generally give up.

So that's it. All you have left to do is practice, practice, practice. You know what the cards mean, you know how the meanings change (layout position, upright or reversed) and you know how to answer a question with your cards. Getting good is now entirely up to you. I hope to have some advice on how honest to be with your querents soon.

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