Chapter 10


I shall start with the simplest spreads, which can be grouped together under the heading of linear spreads. They all consist of choosing a number of cards, which, either singly or in groups of three, are set down next to each other in a horizontal line. Each card, or group of three cards, is given a heading, and the Reader starts at the left, and works his way to the final card on the right. Later on, in chapter 18,1 shall go into much greater detail on the method of choosing cards, but at this stage it is sufficient to say that the pack (or parts of it) are shuffled by the Reader, after which the Querent selects the required number and hands them over to the Reader. The Reader then sets them out in the required pattern, and starts reading out whatever he sees in the cards.

First of all, let's take the very simplest sort of spread. I've decided to call it the three-card trick. We ask the Ouerent to choose three cards (obviously without looking at the face of the card) and hand them to us. The first card is put down on the table, face up, and this card tells us about an event that will happen to the Querent. We cannot say exactly when it will happen; all we know is that it will happen - it isn't something that has already happened. If the card should be the two of Cups, then we predict a marriage or, in this enlightened age, perhaps a love affair without holy sanction or even a municipal councillor's official blessing. If the card should be the Page of Cups, perhaps we can predict a happy event such as a baby, or the offer of a much-wanted job that starts a career. The three of Swords would mean a bitter quarrel, whereas the Lovers would mean a decision. Obviously, each of these cards has many meanings; it is up to you to select the one you feel is right.

At this stage many people look up with a hurt, betrayed feeling. 'How will I know which meaning is the right one?* they will wail. 'We have come here to learn how to choose the right one, and at this stage you abandon us, and tell us to choose, without telling us how/ Here I can only say that any choice you make is the right one. Just choose whichever you feel is right; the working of your subconscious will make sure it is the right one. As long as you don't defend your choice by using any form of logic, it will be all right. It is precisely the permission to make illogical choices in guessing truth that is the requisite 'power' of the Tarot.

When you have described what is going to happen (one sentence or even a phrase, is enough at this stage) you turn over the second card, face up, and put it to the right of the first. That card tells us what the Querent will feel about the event. If the first card is for instance the Page of Cups (and we guessed a baby is on the way) then should the next card be the ten of Rods which indicates the feeling of being burdened, then we can say that the lucky lady is perhaps ill-prepared, it being the first one of the family. Alternatively, it can be the ninth baby, in which case it will be a burden. If we take a totally different example where the first card is the three of Swords, indicating a violent quarrel, and the second card is the five of Cups, indicating a sense of loss over the spilling of the cups of happiness, again we have a predicted incident coupled to the Querent's feelings about that event.

Lastly, the third card is turned up, to show what the Querent will do about it. In the first example of the previous paragraph, the third card might be the Queen of Rods, who is a loving and warm woman; we can predict that the prospective mother will love the baby and look after it in the hope that it will grow into someone who will make it all worthwhile. In the second example, the third card might be Temperance, indicating the making of a compromise. Perhaps we can guess that the compromise is made because the friendship is more important than the quarrel.

Once we have laid down the third card, and talked about it, we are then free to try to see the three cards as a unity, and imagine a short story in which these three ideas take place and in which the Querent plays the hero(-ine). As we use this three-card trick more often, we shall make a habit of embroidering imaginary stories into our narrative. We don't say that the story is the truth, but explain that the story is the sort of thing that would happen to a person of the same age (or a little older) and the same sex. It is not a thing you have to believe, but if you don't take too much care in thinking it out, you'll be surprised how often it is or will be true. The diagram for a three-card trick looks like this:

Position 1: An event that will happen - future event

Position 2: What the Querent will feel about it-future reaction

Position 3: What the Querent will do about it - future action

Because there are only three cards, it is difficult to use one card to amplify another. Yet, to a certain extent, the cards can be 'adjacent'. The cards describing the Querent's future event and future reaction will illuminate each other; they are to a certain extent adjacent. The cards describing future reaction and future action will definitely be adjacent. If the first card shows for instance the eight of Swords (criticism) and the second one shows the Chariot (emotion/passion), then if the third card were to show the three of Swords we would see, by its association with a fight or quarrel, that the Chariot's emotion would be anger. If, on the other hand, the third card were to be the Moon, it would show alienation, and we could guess that the Chariot's emotion was one of hopelessness or despair.

Because of its simple lay-out, this spread is often used at fairs or other commercial fortune-telling booths, where either a quick, or a superficial (or both) reading is required. It is easily remembered by beginners, becomes little used by more advanced readers, and finally comes into favour again when intuition has been fully developed. In a way, it is rather like that child's musical instrument, the recorder, which is played at school because it is fairly easy to make simple music with it (and is cheap to buy). Later, if the child is really interested, he will graduate to a proper silver concert flute; perhaps later in life the musician will discover the virtuosity and power of the recorder once more, but this time will really use the full powers of the instrument.

To make full use of this spread means developing one's intuition which usually comes after several years of constant use of the Tarot. However, very good results can be obtained when the Reader is drunk, say after a party (not too drunk, please), or, dare I say it, under the influence of other illegal substances; you might also try it when you are very tired, such as at the end of a long day or journey. These are all circumstances when you are tired or careless, and things flop out. I generally use this spread at the end of parties or after a long session of reading cards.

It is also a very good spread to use if you want to answer specific questions about circumscribed areas of interest, such as money or marital happiness. Just use one suit of cards from the Minor Arcana, or use only the Minor Arcana. This spread is not really suitable if you are using only Major Arcana cards.

The second linear spread is again a very traditional one used at fortune-telling booths by gipsies and by smart people in boutiques in Oxford Street. It uses 21 cards, which is why I'll call it the Pontoon spread. The cards are selected and laid, face-up, in groups of three, in a line of seven. The diagram below shows how:

Position 1: The character of the Querent

Position 2: Nearest and Dearest

Position 3: Fears and Hopes

Position 4: What is expected (and might not happen)

Position 5: What is not expected (and might happen)

Position 6: The Immediate Future

Position 7: The Distant Future

The way this spread is normally and traditionally used is for the Reader to look at each little heap in turn and say something relevant about the subject. For instance, under the heading the Immediate Future it might have the six of Swords, the Knight of Cups and four of Rods, so the Reader will say that the Querent is going on a journey, will meet a dashing young man and probably marry him. End of chapter, and on to the next.

I usually start by looking at the 21 cards as a whole and simply counting the number of cards in the following categories:

1. The Major Arcana, of which there should be 6

2. Swords, of which there should be 4

3. Cups, of which there should be 4

4. Rods, of which there should be 4

5. Pentacles, of which there should be 4

Attentive readers will notice that the numbers add up to 22, when in fact there are only 21 cards. So sue me, Fm only giving round numbers, since I will not have the cards torn to satisfy sea-lawyers armed with pocket calculators.

A more discerning reader might ask where these numbers come from. Well, the total pack of the Tarot numbers 78, of which the Major Arcana accounts for 22. Those of you who know probability theory will understand, and the rest of you will need to simply accept, that if you choose a random 21 cards from 78, then you should expect 6 of them to be from the Major Arcana. Of the remaining 15 cards, you can expect there to be equal numbers from the four suits of the Minor Arcana.

Now in practice, the actual cards won't be anything like this in distribution terms. I asked my daughter of 11 to toss up a penny some weeks back in order to illustrate probability to her. The chart of throws looked like this:

The first twenty throws:                                         14 heads                   6 tails

The next ten throws:                                              6 heads                     4 tails

The next ten throws:                                              2 heads                     8 tails

The last ten throws:                                                4 heads                     6 tails

Total of fifty throws:                                              26 heads          24 tails

In fact, the more throws you make, the nearer the figure will get to evens. But in any given small number, the figures may be very out of balance. Mathematical probability looks at the likelihood of any card (or coin) coming up; it is now believed that in the long run the number of heads and tails would be equal. The mathematician is interested in the long run, although as the economist Keynes once remarked, in the long run we're all dead. The Tarotmancer is interested in the short run, and so we are more interested in the way the cards deviate from the probability.

If the spread of 21 cards contains more than 7, or fewer than 5, Major Arcana cards, the Querent is in some sort of trouble. Too many cards indicate either a lot of deep problems, or the feeling of deep problems overwhelming the person. Too few cards usually indicate someone who has problems, but won't look at them, or tries to hide them. The first type, with too many Major Arcana cards, will tend towards depression or even suicide if things are left too long; the second type, with too few, is typically someone who is cheerful in the face of troubles, helps out other people for many years, and suddenly runs amok at the age of forty. If you see more than 8, or fewer than 4, Major Arcana cards, try to talk with the Querent about their problems, explaining to them the reason why you feel that they do have problems to discuss.

If the spread has a large number of Major Arcana cards, have a look at where they are. A spread with nine Major Arcana cards, six of which are Character and Hopes and Fears, should lead you to feel you are dealing with someone with deep personality problems. If most of the cards are in Expectations and Not Expected, then perhaps the Querent has a too rigid attitude; too many cards in the Nearest and Dearest might indicate either that their friends are in trouble, or more likely, that the Querent tends to pick friends who are likely to get in trouble. Many people like 'rescuing' or 'helping' other people in order to boost their own self-regard - this applies to social workers to an alarming degree.

Some years ago I was asked by a mutual friend to give some advice and help to a young lady who was setting up a hostel for run-away teenagers who came to London thinking to make their fortunes. The young lady in question had no qualifications except boundless energy and enthusiasm; she had worked in a similar hostel for some years as a voluntary part-time worker, and realized the need for more hostels. The authorities gave her money to do up an old house which was scheduled to be taken down in three years but would do in the meantime, and also would pay for the salaries of the three qualified social workers needed to run the place. I gave advice on the design of the letterheads and the toilets, the heating and the kitchen; lastly I was asked to choose the colour-scheme. I thanked her, and said that as she was going to live in the place, she should choose, but could she please paint a large notice over the staircase:


She got the point immediately, but the qualified social workers didn't like it one bit; one of them got very angry after it was explained. As the house was run on a democratic basis, the notice was never put up.

Having looked at the incidence of Major Arcana cards, we now look at the way the Minor Arcana is distributed. First of all, we count the Major Arcana cards, and take the number away from 21; the remainder is divided by 4. If there are eight Major Arcana cards, then take 8 from 21 to give 13, which if divided by 4 yields three sets of 3 and one of 4. Three Major Arcana cards should yield two sets of 4 and two sets of 5, and so on.

If one suit has far too few, and the other three sets about the same number, then we diagnose a situation where the Querent either is deficient in that particular attribute, or where they have tried to suppress or hide the attribute. Two Swords, and four each of Cups, Rods and Pentacles, might indicate either a stupid or non-intellectual person, or someone who has tried to hide their intelligence. Many people, such as teenage girls, try to hide their cleverness for various reasons. The teenage girls, for instance, often hide it so as not to frighten off prospective husbands. The trouble is, by the time they are married they are so adept at hiding that they cannot use it any more. Another frequently encountered suppression is that of artistic talent. Small children are either told they can't paint well enough (for the Art teacher, that is), or they are discouraged by the parent's attitude to art.

I have, on my desk, a permanent reminder of this. Some ten years ago I was asked to do some work for a school in South London. I had to meet the Headmistress about once a month for some six months; on the first occasion I noticed that her whole study was full of the work of her pupils, and I was particularly enchanted by a pottery elephant. It was crude, and didn't look very realistic or elegant, but was beautifully glazed and decorated. It was lovely, and I said so. The Headmistress immediately offered it to me, on condition that I would wait four months before collecting it.

The child who had made it turned out to be West Indian. Her parents could not understand the beauty of naïf art, it reminded them too much of native African art, whereas they were striving to the glossy perfectionism of those Woolworth reproductions of little boys crying, or the full-bosomed Spanish beauty. The Headmistress assured me that the girl would not take the elephant home, since the parents would simply break it and throw the pieces away. The girl was leaving school in four months, and until then she had the legal and moral right to take possession of her artwork - she never did. Back to our card-counting. If two suits have most of the cards, and the other two only a few between them, then this gives us a feeling as to the strengths and weaknesses of the Querent. The strengths and weaknesses will be the combination of the attributes of the suits involved (remember our 'emotional + angry' man of chapter 9?). By now we should have a fairly interesting outline picture of the type of person our Querent is. The information forms a background to anything we see in the individual cards, and in a sense, the background has an 'adjacency' to all the other cards taken in turn. You should now start looking at the individual positions. Each chapter has three cards, and each card has many possible, different meanings. Sounds rather like the man we met on our way to St. Ives:
As I was going to St. Ives

I met a man with seven wives.

Each wife had seven cats;

Each cat had seven kittens;

Man, kittens, cats and wives,

How many were going to St. Ives?

In our case, we have to learn to combine and choose. You can pick, using your intuition, any attribute of the top card in each pile; the second card is used to tell something else on the subject which might make us look at the first attribute in a different way, and this applies even more so to the third card. I think it is easier if I use an imaginary example:

The Querent has eight Major Arcana cards, three Rods, three Pentacles, two Cups and five Swords. I diagnose someone who has problems, is logical, reasonable, and perhaps an intellectual but has difficulty with his feelings and expressing emotions. If we now look at the chapter headed Hopes and Fears, we find the eight of Swords, the three of Cups and the World. I feel that the Querent is unsure of himself, and looks for criticism (eight of Swords) so as to become better; at the same time he is afraid of criticism because it will indicate disapproval. The three of Cups indicates that he likes to join groups or clubs in which he will find people who will criticize him, but that at the same time he only joins clubs where the criticism will be about his ideas, and not his feelings (remember he has too many swords). The World shows that he looks for approval from other people, or success in the eyes of the world. The combination of the three cards, plus the distribution of the twenty-one cards, tells me that I am dealing with someone who cleverly tries to join groups and make friends with people who are mainly interested in intellectual pursuits. These are places where his lack of emotional understanding can be successfully hidden from others, and from himself. This works extremely well until he meets someone who wants some sort of emotional tie, such as being his wife. And we can guess that the sort of deeper trouble he is in at the moment comes because his wife, girlfriend or friend is making emotional demands upon him, the sort of demands he has avoided until now.

In each group of three cards, we try to see what they have in common, or in what way one card gives greater insight into another. We can definitely say that each of the cards in any one chapter is adjacent to the others in that group. Again, try to tell an imaginary story about the sort of person to whom such a combination of attributes would apply, not bothering to try to make it true to the Querent but merely true to itself.

The example I gave just now, of the man with the emotional blockage, ended with the idea that one group of cards can make you suspect what is happening, and that you must look in another group to confirm your suspicions. That idea forms one of the most interesting and powerful methods of reading cards, and I think a little more discussion would be useful.

When we look at the cards under Character of our man, we see the Knight of Cups, the four of Swords and the Devil. The Knight loves them and leaves them, he's on the go and wants to get places and doesn't care about the consequences of his action; you might say the end justifies the means. The four of Swords indicates the search for rest after the battle is over; perhaps the Querent is rushing on so as to get the disagreeable messy business of life over and done with. Lastly the Devil indicates that the Querent is locked into all sorts of preconceptions and is unable to be free. I get here a picture of someone who is impatient with all the little illogical things in life, but just wants to earn for himself a quiet place where he can sit and think out intellectual problems which he feels are the real and important things of life.

If we couple our impressions of the man with regard to Hopes and Fears and Character, the composite picture emerges of a person who is impatient, energetic, intellectual, eager to win fame in some intellectual pursuit; his problems arise because he cannot see that the emotional side to Man is just as important, that cutting off emotions and feelings diminishes the person. Such a person is all right as long as they have no emotional ties with friends, family or wives and sweethearts.

So now I look at the Nearest and Dearest chapter. And sure enough, there it is. The Queen of Swords, the High Priestess and the Queen of Rods. Near him are one or more women who want to love him, give him support but who feel widowed. These may be his mother, his wife, his sister, his girlfriend; at different times they want to love this little boy who is so intelligent and loveable but cannot feel their love. It is in fact his inability to feel this love from people that has caused him to look for intellectual approval. But it will never give him the security that comes from feeling that people love him.

We see here the way that while one is examining one group one is stimulated into looking at another group. Generally speaking, in this lay-out, there are groups which are more often than not 'adjacent'. Character is adjacent to Hopes and Fears; Expected is adjacent to Not Expected. The combination of Character and Hopes and Fears with Expectations and Not Expected will help enormously in seeing what the immediate future has in store for him; the combination of Character, Nearest and Dearest and Hopes and Fears will tell us about his Distant Future. Perhaps the diagram below is easier to follow:

Each Querent will choose his or her own set of cards, and raise individual problems. The patterns of adjacency discussed above are only the likely ones to look for; there are many other possibles.

In linking 'adjacent' cards or chapters, you will often find that there seems no obvious connection. Try to think of all the different possible meanings of each card. For instance, in the chapter on Character we may find Justice, the Empress and the Queen of Swords. The three cards have in common that they all have a feminine figure on them, but in other ways they are quite different. For instance, the Empress is the card of fruitfulness, abundance and fertility, whereas the Queen of Swords has the idea of widowhood, barrenness, retentiveness. Justice carries the idea of responsibility, fairness and perhaps a little guilt; the Empress doesn't care very much how she gets what she wants, as long as she gets it. How do we combine the three ladies?

In a way, Justice is an abstract principle; we can say that Justice is above man. The Empress doesn't serve or support any man; men serve and support her. The Queen of Swords is a widow or a maiden aunt, without a man. We can now see that the essence of this character is the idea of independence from men - here is the 'cat that walks alone'. It applies whether the Querent is male or female. The connection between adjacent cards may be difficult to see, but it does force the Reader to associate freely and achieve insight.

The third linear spread I'm going to discuss is a purely intuitive one. After shuffling the full pack, the Querent is asked to choose a single card. This is turned face up and the Reader interprets the meaning or the attributes of the card as an event, just like in the three-card trick. The Querent then, and only then, picks a second card, which is turned face up to the right of the first. The Reader interprets this as a second event which will follow on the first. Every time a card has been interpreted, the next card is chosen, turned face up and put to the right of the previous. Series of between six and ten cards are all possible; there is no set limit.

From one point of view, this is one of the easiest spreads to lay and read. It is, however, totally dependent on the Reader's intuition. I find it best to try to get into the first stages of meditation before attempting this spread. Since you may either know nothing about it, or perhaps just as likely, you have a different system, I will describe what I mean by 'the first stages'.

Seat yourself comfortably, either upright in a chair, or on the floor, cross-legged with a small cushion under your bottom. Sit quietly for a few minutes and try to relax all your muscles. It helps if you tense them first, so that you can be aware of relaxing them. When you are quiet and reasonably relaxed, take a fairly deep breath, and release it slowly and steadily for a slow count of seven. Then breathe in again for seven counts, and continue breathing slowly and rhythmically for three or four minutes. You don't need to count after the first few breaths, but concentrate on making the breathing a smooth and even rhythm.

This is not meditation, but just an exercise leading up to it. After the breathing exercise, you are ready to try the spread. As each card comes up, handle it smoothly, and just say the first thing that comes in your head. Try to make the series of cards a continuing story about the Querent. It will generally help if you have used another spread, such as the Pontoon or the Celtic Cross (see next chapter), before using this one, so as to gain some general insight into the Querent.

I will give you an example of such a sequence. The cards will be the seven of Rods, the five of Cups, the King of Rods, the two of Rods, the eight of Swords and finally the Sun. If you have a pack ready, lay them out and refer to the cards before you as you read on.

The Querent will have to face a struggle if he wishes to develop his career (the Querent was especially interested in his career prospects) which he can overcome by standing up for himself. In the process he will achieve some happiness, but will regret the costs in terms of lost friendship and loss of personal innocence. He will meet and get to know a progressive businessman who will actively help him in his career. At this stage he will feel he has achieved almost all he wanted, but something is lacking; perhaps he feels that without help from the King of Rods he couldn't have made it on his own. His lack of self-confidence, and his dependence on the King of Rods, allow him to be exposed to and be sensitive to a lot of criticism; he feels helpless to defend himself. The last card, the Sun, is about personal happiness, so we can guess he learns to come to terms with himself and reject the criticism.

The spread described above has no 'adjacent' cards to the right or future side of the sequence. All the cards to the left or past are adjacent. Generally speaking, the series is ended when some card indicates 'the end' of the question in the sense that the marriage of the prince and the princess ends a fairy story. We sophisticated people know that a marriage is only the beginning of another story. Yet that doesn't stop our enjoyment of a fairy story. Similarly, here we must stop our tale of the young man's business prospects.

The three spreads are called linear because they are all laid out in a line, and because in reading them we start at the left and move to the right, in a sequence just as in a book. Certain cards and groups of cards are adjacent, but there is always a starting point to the sequence, a mid-story and an end. All linear sequences are at the same time very simple, and yet are the spreads needing and being able to absorb the greatest amount of intuition.

Finally, before I go on to the next chapter, with totally different spreads, I must tell you that there are many more linear spreads in existence. You can look them up in the many books on the Tarot; this book is not intended as a reference book. You will also find the same spreads shown above, but with the 'chapters' given different headings. Don't worry, there really isn't an authoritative, 'proper' way of laying out a spread. The important thing is not how you lay the cards, or what each card stands for, but how you link them.
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