DESIGNING NEW SPREADS
If you diligently visit the library and borrow books on the Tarot, if you rush into every occult shop and examine what stock they have, and if you dip into the books belonging to your friends, you will eventually gather many dozens of different spreads. In the little notebooks I keep on me to record such finds I have in the order of fifty spreads.
Many of these use the same pattern of laying out the cards, but give the chapters different names. Others use the same names but lay them out in a different pattern. I have shown you the chief types in the last three chapters; I think you will find all traditional spreads to be variations on these basic types.
So, with all these spreads available, why do we need to design new spreads? Couldn't we find an existing one somewhere to suit our needs? Well, the answer is rather like shopping for bread. If you go into the average, medium-sized super-market, you will find perhaps five different brands of sliced, white bread, two brands of sliced, brown and an unsliced, white French loaf. The baker round the corner has more loaves of unsliced bread in various shapes and sizes, as well as sliced white. So far you have a choice between about twenty different loaves; but none of them are wholemeal brown bread. Aha! you can go to a little shop down the road which sells health-food and really healthy bread. When you've bought the bread, and tried it out, you will find out that they make their bread without enough salt.
I like bread made with wholemeal flour and plenty of salt. So I make it myself, despite the fact that I can buy anything like thirty or forty different types of bread within the town I live in. That is how it is with Tarot spreads. Most situations only need a standard spread, just like most people only need white, sliced bread. A few people need a little used spread, just as only a few people insist on wholemeal bread. And just on the odd occasion you will need to make your own bread, or spread.
A second reason for designing new spreads is the change in attitudes to Tarot and to the human psyche. We change our attitude, and instead of using the Tarot as a fortune-telling device, we begin to discover new uses to which we can put the system. And as we change from considering the fate of the Querent as fixed and immutable to considering it merely very difficult but not impossible to change, we need to use new spreads.
The first type of new spread was designed in response to a need to discover something about the health of the Querent. It arose out of a weekend class I conducted some years ago; the class was held in London and drew a mixed crowd, interested in many other things beside Tarot, such as astrology, alternative medicine, alternative types of psychotherapy and numerology. I decided to give an exercise to the class, namely to ask them to design a new spread as a group exercise. The eventual result used some of the specialized interests of all the members of the group.
We first of all decided the need for knowing something about the Querent's past medical history, a diagnosis of present difficulties and a prognosis of the future development. Just like in conventional medicine, it corresponds in the traditional Tarot to the Past, the Present and the Future. The numerologist considered three a good number.
We now discussed matters, and eventually we decided to divide the body into six different areas, as follows:
1. The psyche
2. The nervous system, including the five senses
3. The mechanical system, specifically bones and muscles
4. Lungs and heart
5. The food-processing system, including liver, kidneys
6. The reproductive system
By laying cards for each different area, it should be possible to build up a picture of the Querent's health. The numerologist felt it needed a seventh card, and the alternative medicine fanatic felt that the person as a whole had to be considered. So we added a seventh card:
7. The health of the Querent as a whole.
Each of these areas, seven in all, was to be considered in the Past, the Present and the Future. This seemed to satisfy all the members; Teacher gave them a pat on the back, and has used the spread ever since, with very good results. The official pattern of the spread is shown below:
Obviously, we use the whole 78 card Tarot deck, and we analyse the way Major Arcana, Rods, Cups, Swords and Pentacles are distributed (Major Arcana should be 6) in order to give us some idea of the Querent's character.
At this point, I must confess that the second spread in the previous chapter was another 'designed* spread, which came into being after I started becoming interested in Transactional Analysis. I use it for amateur psychotherapy, and it seems to work. It is a good example of a spread designed in response to changing attitudes towards the human psyche.
I would like to finish this section of the book by discussing the subject matter of spreads. The Querent comes to us with a question, or several questions, to which he seeks an answer; often I try to redirect the question to a more fundamental problem in the Querent's psyche. But every now and then, a question comes up which cannot easily be dealt with. The temptation is then to design a new spread to answer the question. Before doing so, it is well to consider some types of question for which the Tarot is not suitable.
The first one is time. The Tarot mainly analyses people as different types, and produces answers in terms of: 'When this happens to the Querent, he will react with that.' Other possible answers are: This is the sort of thing that is likely to happen to the Querent, because that is the sort of man he is.' But the timing of the stimuli, or events, in the life of the Querent is not subject to the Querent's character, other than that, 'This type of event is something that is more likely to happen when you're turning forty.'
There are spreads specifically designed to tell us when something is supposed to happen. We can lay out twelve cards in the shape of a circle, designate the first one as January and so on, to tell an event that will befall in each month of the coming year. This is mere fortune-telling, and there is no particular reason why it should come true.
I feel very strongly that the art of astrology is far more useful in predicting when the crises will occur, when the good sides of the Querent's nature will be uppermost. The use of bio-rhythm is another method of predicting node-points, critical times and periods when either the good or the bad parts of one's psyche will prevail. With the coming use of the computer, it should be possible in the not too distant future to programme a computer to chart crises points for several years ahead. At present it takes about half-an-hour to work out, using tables, a chart for a single point in time (usually at the point of birth); the idea of a continuous chart showing all future conjunctions, oppositions etc. would require a small computer. Such small computers are almost on the market, and I look forward to combining the Tarot predictions of what will happen with the astrological chart of when it will happen.
The other major area inaccessible to the Tarot is the analysis of the Reader by him or herself. In my classes I use an analogy and say that it is not possible to see objectively one's face. We use the mirror every day, sometimes many times, so we all think we know what we look like. Yet very few people can look at a photograph of themselves and instantly agree that it is a good likeness. To drive the point home, I then take a photograph of a person in the class, taken en face. The photograph is then enlarged to plate size (6.5" x 8.5" or 16.5 x 21.5 cm). At the same time I turn the negative over in the enlarger and print a reverse copy, also plate sized. I then cut both photographs very carefully in half, down the centre of the face. I then take the left half of the photograph that is printed properly with the right half of the reverse printed copy, and stick them down on some card to produce a face; similarly the right half of the proper photograph with the left half of the reverse print. The end result is two faces which are completely symmetrical, but which don't look as if they are of the same person.
An artist will notice that every feature on a person's head is skew. One eye or ear is bigger than the other, and sits slightly higher. The slant of the mouth is hardly ever horizontal. It is usually possible to tell identical twins apart by looking at their faces, and drawing an imaginary line through their eyes and an imaginary line through their mouth. If these lines are made longer and longer, eventually they meet, either to the left or to the right. One twin will have lines meeting to the left, the other to the right.
But very few people can see their own malformations, unless they are very gross. Similarly, people cannot see their own psyche, because when they are watching themselves to see what sort of psyche they have, all they will see is an unnatural 'posed' idea based on the latent preconceptions they have of themselves.
It is possible to read the cards on the relationship between the Reader and another person, because we are looking at the relationship, or at the other person.
Other than the subjects of time, and of self, I see no restrictions on the subject matter of the Tarot spread. I will go into the type of questions most often asked, and how best to phrase them, in a later chapter called Archetypal Questions.