78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal

We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Spread or No Spread?

The decision to use spreads in tarot reading is a personal preference.  All introductory tarot books I've read and many booklets that come with decks have spreads included.  In fact, there are entire books of nothing but tarot spreads. Usually, the way a beginner reader starts reading is with a simple three-card, Past/Present/Future layout.  But there are many readers who don't use spreads at all.  When I first heard this, I was dumbfounded.  How do you know what the cards are addressing?  How do you know what specific area that card applies to?  Spreads give the reading structure and storyline.  How do you read coherently without one?

I learned very quickly how this is done during my time reading for an online reading service.  Those services, whether they are online or on the phone, charge clients by the minute and the pressure to be quick and efficient is high.  The service I worked with had a free chat at the beginning of each session where the reader and client could talk briefly so the reader could understand what the client was seeking and then shuffle and lay out the cards for the reading. Once the reading began, the meter was running.  Often, the client would ask a question that was outside the scope of the neatly arranged spread before me, so I would draw another card.  Another question, another card.  Soon, my table was crowded with cards and I had to pull them all in and shuffle again and draw some more.  It was in this venue that I understood that the spread not only didn't matter, it didn't serve the needs of my clients.

Don't get me wrong, I  like spreads.  I have some favorites and some that I've tweaked to better suit mine and my clients' needs.  I've created some of my own, customized for one reading but then found they were useful for others.  I like them when reading for myself because the position meanings limit where my wild thoughts can go.  Position meanings are also helpful when trying to figure out what a particular card is getting at.  For example, when the position meaning is something like, "A positive thing that I can do to reach my goal" and the card is the 9 of Swords, I wouldn't interpret it to mean they should spend endless nights worrying and obsessing.  Gee, that's productive.  Instead I might say to break out of that habit or look for ways to sleep better at night or even fully think through a dilemma, but not at the cost of one's sleep or health.  With the positional meaning in place, there are still a lot of possible interpretations.  Without the positional meaning, that card has a much broader range of possibilities. To some, those positional meanings and their limits are the problem.

One way to expand the practice of reading without spreads is to do one-card readings.  Many readers will pull a Card of the Day.  Talk about open-ended!  That card could be representing literally anything that is to occur on any level that day.  This is why I don't draw a Card of the Day.  It's way too open and easily interpreted to be whatever.  But maybe that is the whole point of it.  I've heard very interesting stories of synchronicity and Card of the Day, but I'm far too specific in my desire for outcomes and the ability to see the connections.  And I don't want to draw the Tower and sit on pins and needles all day only to find it represented a minor inconvenience.  I freak out in advance far too easily for that.

I do one card readings a lot.  I often use a free tarot application on my smart phone called TarotBot for Android (available at GooglePlay).  While the app has a few pre-loaded spreads, I find my most used feature is the "Draw a Card."  Just one card displays on my phone screen in answer to my question.  It's quick, easy, and convenient.  But what can just one card tell me?

One of the daunting things about learning to read tarot is the vast selection of meanings for each card.  Even if one limits oneself to traditional meanings, there are many to choose from.  Venture into intuitive interpretations and the universe is the limit.  It is a fine day in a new tarot reader's life when the idea that there is no predetermined, correct meaning to each card is viewed not as overwhelming but liberating.  It's like someone left the gate open.  Run free!

One card, just one card.  Ask a question and pull one.  The first thing that usually comes to me is the long-held meaning I have associated with that card.  It's habit, I can't help it.  Sometimes that meaning has very little connection to what I asked.  Or at least that's what I think at first.  So, then I need to slow down, take a closer look.  When we work with a particular deck extensively for years, we can forget to note the details.  We already know them, we've seen them before.  But wait.  Slow down.  Look.  Notice the colors.  What symbolic elements are shown? What direction is the figure facing? What is the expression on their face? What are they wearing? Which deck are you using?  Does it have any particular thematic significance?  What number is the card?  Is it a Major or a Minor?

As an example for you, I asked the question: What is one thing I can do today to deepen my relationship with my significant other.  I drew, from the Hudes deck, the 6 of Swords.
By Susan Hudes
Published by US Games 2002

The first thing that popped into my head was, "Avoid sharp words" or "Work around his emotionally based logic."   That's not usually an issue between us, but I will keep it in mind. So I looked deeper.  Blue, which symbolizes peace, is the dominant color on this card and the Swords are not being wielded by anyone.  They're pretty harmless just floating around in the water like that.  Hmmm, the Swords are in the water and water is symbolic for emotions.  It looks like a fairly easy pass across the water.  Could it mean travel?  That we should go somewhere today that will enable us to talk easily, feel peaceful, move our thoughts out of the way and just ride on our emotions?  There is effort involved on the man's part.  One cool thing about the Hudes deck is how the artist assigned different patterns to each suit.  They are actually marbled book end paper patterns and here we see the pattern covering the man's arms.  Arms are used for support, strength, to hold, to hug, to row a boat.  His torso is clothed in a red tunic.  Red is a color of passion and strength.  The number is Six, which symbolically means "blessing." In numerology, the energy of number six exudes the qualities of nurturing and caring. It is unselfish, philanthropic, compassionate, and kind. It is intimately associated with the concept of family, and as such values balance and even-handedness. It offers sympathy, advice, understanding, and plays the sounding board for commiseration when needed.    So, I think I should be supportive and facilitate peaceful passage today, and maybe even take a short trip with my sweetie that will also support and encourage deep bonding and easy communication of thoughts and emotions.

There is more in this one card that I didn't touch on: the boat, the symbolism of boats, the direction the boat is headed, the vantage point we are seeing the card from, and more.  I also didn't go into the random intuitive flashes I had, mainly because they would be completely different from person to person and reading to reading.  But if you get one, pay attention to it.  With just this one card, I was able to get a pretty full reading and I only touched the surface.  It's up to you how deeply you want to delve into any individual card.  Given these possibilities in each tarot card, the idea of doing a spread with 10 or 12 cards (or more) now seems daunting! 

If you are a spreadaholic, try freestyling. You'll find it challenging at first, but incredibly freeing when you get the hang of it.  Once you get one card readings down, you can add a few cards and see how they interact without the framework of a spread.  I'll share how I do that in another post.  Meanwhile, I'll be happy to post some one card readings.  If you would like one, send me an email with the subject "One Card Reading."  The first five responses will have their readings posted on the blog.