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Tarot Hermeneutics

Exploring How We Create Meaning with Tarot

Tarot Spreads

Tarot Spreads are important ways readers organize questioning and reading the cards. Layouts are when randomly drawn cards are included in the spread to demonstrate how the position affects the meaning of the cards

The spreads I suggest here are variants on traditional spreads as well as some innovative approaches to spread use.

The Dynamic Spread Deck

Stephen Schwartz is a financial and business consultant, a lifestyle coach and Tarot reader (www.WinningAwareness.com) in Texas. As part of his coaching practice he developed a form of cards, The Dynamic Spread Deck, that work well in his lifestyle coaching practice and also are useful as place naming spread patterns for tarot readings.

There are 80 cards in The Dynamic Spread Deck. the four suits correspond to the four elements used in tarot. The suits roughly correspond to the four levels or worlds of concealing light of creation (olam)in the Kabbalah. These suits are designed to be worked with alone or in conjunction with the other suits, both for deliberate selection of designated cards or for their random selection.  In Stephen Schwartz's coaching practice it appears he uses the cards to help clients to identify issues in their life that need help and further consideration. They are also quite useful for helping design custom spreads for tarot querents.

Intention Based Living Suit

The element for fire or wands is the symbols used in Intention Based Living suit of 18 cards. There are six cards, Setting an Intention set, based on the six chakras. For instance the root chakra is for physical identity is set off with a four levels of clarification: the level of identity and becoming, the level of significance of life, the level of how identity fits with your life, recognition that this provides clarity.

Also within of this suit are four sets of three identical cards each. Creating Objectives set complements the Developing Goals set. In Creating Objectives [I will] four clarifying levels are set out: how actions meet objectives, how to measure success, identifying the desired result, and when to stop and start.

As the Creating Objectives would recognize the level of will or intention suggested for a tarot card drawn for this place, the four levels of clarification challenges the reader to parse how the card may be suggesting specific ways and means to accomplish the task the desired. Contrasting with the Creative Objective set of three cards are the Developing Goals (I want) three cards set where the four levels of clarifying issues focus on more subjective processes.

The last pair of sets in the suit are the Celebrate Your Blessings and Empower Your Intentions sets of three cards each. Again each set has an objective and subjective orientation. Celebrate Your Blessings offers four clarifying levels to objectively assess one’s fortune, while Empower Your Intentions offers specific things to do to increase well-being, such as diet, exercise, and recreation. One can easily see how intentionality and the creative desire of wands feed into this suit.

If the questions a querent has are specifically oriented to desire and how it fits into self functioning, one could use the suit to help clarify these questions. The tarot cards that would fit into the places would then show a unique map of suggestions for someone to consider, as it suggests both blockages and perhaps unseen opportunities.

Inner Awareness Suit

The 24 cards in the Inner Awareness suit revisit the structure of the chakras and represent the element water, cups. There are six sets of four cards each: Physical Identity, Emotional Identity, Ego Identity, Social Identity, Creative Identity, and Perceptive Identity. For example, in the Physical Identity set each of the four cards offers a plus deficit polarity such as vitality-lethargy or stability-restlessness. This suit can easily suggest very focused ways of looking at areas in someone’s life that might not otherwise be addressed in a reading. Again I like the idea of having these place questions arise through a random drawing though I can also see that deliberate design with the querent could also be useful.  Schwartz insists that the Inner Awareness suit and the Environmental Awareness suit are complementary and for balance one should be used with the other suit.

Situational Awareness Suit

The Situational Awareness suit represents the element air, and the tarot, swords. There are 20 cards in the suit representing two cards each of the 10 card Celtic Cross Spread. They are, in order: the Heart of the Matter, [crossing over] Challenges and Obstacles, [below] Sustaining Influences, [right] Receding Influences, [above] Outlook and Expectations, [left] Future Considerations, [beginning commentary row, bottom upward:] Your Inner Awareness, Environmental Impacts, Guidance and Self Empowerment, [and lastly] Possible Outcomes.  

Each card has four discriminating orientations. For instance in the card, Heart of the Matter, the four levels identified are the core issue, key environmental issues, internal influences, primary considerations.

Another example, Your Inner Awareness approach solutions, personal strengths, idea of self, and self limitations. One thing nifty about the Situational Awareness suit is that it standardizes one’s approach to the ubiquitous and hydra-headed way the Celtic Cross has be dealt and identified. I also find that the four levels of discrimination on each card offers a honing of identification that I have not necessarily taken advantage of when using this popular 10 card spread.

Environmental Awareness Suit

The last suit is Environmental Awareness that corresponds to the element Earth and the tarot suit pentacles. There are 18 cards in the suit broken into nine sets or environmental domains of Body, Self, Spiritual, Relationship, Network, Financial, Physical, Nature, Mental.  Here follows a general breakdown of the meaning of these nine sets:

  • Body – physical body, health, energy level, vitality
  • Self – Personality, talents, gifts, strengths
  • Spiritual – Connection to source, love, purpose, value
  • Relationship – Family, friends, close colleagues, support personnel
  • Network – Community, strategic partners, customers
  • Financial – Money, investments, budgeting, insurance
  • Physical – Home, office, furnishings, equipment, technology, art, music
  • Nature – Outdoors, beauty, seasons, cycle of life
  • Mental – Beliefs, cultural norms, knowledge, ideas

This suit focuses attention on the many aspects demanded of us as we negotiate through the world. Again these issues I easily overlook and it is a good to have in the mix of spread placements reminders that I do not live by lofty ideals alone! Inner Awareness and Environmental Awareness suits complement each other as inner and outer. 

There is a precision and pragmatic, this-world orientation to the Dynamic Spread Deck that forces me to consider issues that I might not otherwise bring up with the client. As powerful as these 80 cards are they also do not address many issues for which tarot spreads are created.

This rough outline does not do full justice to the complexity, utility and versatility of these suits used as prompts for spreads or as a card prompt in itself. The use of these suits together and in combination to create spreads has great potential both in expanding common spread position meanings and in more tightly focusing card meaning and references in a particular reading.

I particularly find the randomizing possibilities of the various suits in the Dynamic Spread Deck to offer ways to focus readings toward issues. Either by the serendipity of a blind draw or by careful deliberation and selection by a client, these cards suggest a great versatility to how tarot card reading can be enhanced through the lenses of the spread placement.

Ways I Work with the Deck

Altogether this deck provides a way of randomizing the selection of spread place meanings. Usually after the predetermined number of random cards is drawn for place-holders in the spread, I discuss the meaning and significance of the cards with the client as we together create a mandala of the Spread. We then proceed to select regular tarot cards to individuate the reading.

One way that I have found useful is to hand the suits one at a time to the querent, suggesting they look through the cards and place each card in three piles: the ones they like, and the ones they dislike, and the ones they are indifferent to. Likewise I have some follow with the other three suits.

I then hand them the cards they selected and asked them to select five cards in particular that will represent the subject of inquiry. I then suggest that they select five cards they dislike which will represent blockages to their goals or hidden allies. Finally I suggest they picked three from the indifferent pile.

With these 13 cards of five inner ones become the issue of inquiry and the five outer ones become obstacles were allies, while the three cards are the links that whole or disconnect the obstacles of allies with the issue of inquiry.

Together I construct this mandala with the client. After which we shuffle the regular tarot cards for placement in alternating positions. Positive, negative, positive, neutral, negative, positive, neutral, negative, positive, neutral, negative, positive, negative.

The jury is still out on the general utility of this particular configuration.

In another spread I have used the cards shuffle randomly and then asked the client to draw three cards at random to represent the heart of their inquiry. I usually discuss the meaning of the card with the client and how they would interpret those kinds of themes in their life and if they wish to proceed with an inquiry using the tarot. I find the use of these The Dynamic Spread Deck cards to offer a useful precision in helping clients identify and clarify the issues they are consulting about.

Using Playing Cards, Oracle Cards or a Second Tarot Deck for Random Spread Creations

I am a fan of using tarot cards themselves as spread place indicators.

When I decide to do this I use a separate deck, usually a related but different style of tarot, sometimes a regular deck of playing cards, or a special oracle card deck, so there is less confusion. I then ask the client to select the cards at random, and we together discuss their meanings and put them in a pattern that becomes the spread.

Oracle Cards offer ways of focusing reading in spiritual and other ways depending upon the thematic array of the cards. Playing cards likewise are wonderful for thematic creations of readings. I usually give playing cards the same general meaning given pips and courts in the tarot.

I tell the client what each card means and I usually simplify or limit its meaning to represent a place in the spread.

When we add the random tarot card to inhabit the place, we have a natural dyad play off of as far as interpretation goes. Dyadic readings are particularly useful for exploring past and future complexities and influences in the querent’s life.

If one adds a third card so that there are three cards: one placement card and two oracle cards. It helps to identify the function(s) of the third card such as time, opportunity, helping or opposing forces, personnel (here I might use only the courts).

One can easily begin to divine future orientations both as opportunities and obstacles, depending upon the many facets of interacting archetypal numbers and elements as well as images. These hybrid readings are time consuming because of so many levels of complexity, contingency and timing.

The advantage using the random card selections for spread position naming is the way it adds spontaneity and oraclity to the selection of the spread. It helps the reader to become less part of pre-determining the way the reading will go. Likewise it also liberates the querent from presuming his/her question overdetermines the significance of the spread.