A tarot spread is a layout of the reading you’re going to perform, whether for yourself or a querent (the person seeking the reading). There are hundreds and hundreds of tarot spreads. Some tarot spreads encompass only one card and some can contain 78 or even more cards if, for example, you use two tarot decks.
The more cards you use in a spread, the more detailed the reading will be but, also, the more complicated.
A one-card spread is useful for a card of the day.
I find that the quickest, but most useful spread is the three card spread
A three-card spread can feature a reading about the past, present, future. Mind, body and soul. Option 1, Option 2, Option 3.
A spread is also like a lens. When you’re using the tarot, you have 78 cards and each of those cards can have dozens and dozens of meanings. Plus, what you’re using the tarot for will have an impact on how the cards are read.
The more you can focus your reading of the cards, the more helpful they will be.
When I use tarot for writing, I always use spreads. In Tarot for Writing, Corrine Kenner has a number of different spreads that are specifically for writers.
One of those spreads is called the Five Senses Spread, which you can find at Corrine Kenner’s Creative Guidance website
You lay out five cards in a row. You then allow yourself to focus on one of the five senses for each card. This is the sample from Kenner’s website.
Sight — Knight of Swords. Clouds race across the sky, and trees bend in the wind.
Sound — Queen of Wands. A cat meows.
Smell — The Sun. The air smells hot, with a hint of dry, black dirt on the breeze.
Taste — Seven of Pentacles. The flavor of fresh tomatoes.
Touch — The Page of Wands. The ground is hard underfoot.
See how that works. You can use the Five Senses Spread as a creative writing exercise or to help you write a description for your scene.
I’ll talk more about spreads and how to use them for your fiction in later posts.
I will, however, share a spread I created and use in my tarot and writing workshops. It’s called the Three Dimensions of Character spread. You can download a pdf of it here.
It’s based on Larry Brooks’ book Story Engineering. In his book Brooks says there are three dimensions to a character.
The First Dimension is the surface layer, the persona or the mask. What the character presents to the world. Who they pretend to be or must be in order to fulfill a certain function. We all wear our own kinds of masks or personas, and we usually wear more than one. We can be Daughter or Son, Father or Mother, Employee or Employer, Brother or Sister, Lover or Friend. These may be masks that actually reflect who we truly are or are worn in order to help us fit in.
The Second Dimension is our backstory and or inner demons. This dimension lies under the first one, and is often the reasons why we feel we must put on certain masks. It’s what happened to us in the past that makes us afraid to show our true selves. It’s what’s driving us to do the things we do or, in the case of your fiction, what your characters are driven to do.
The Third Dimension is our actions and decisions. When you’re writing your story, your characters must act from their true selves. Who they are deep inside. You don’t want to lie to the reader. If, on the surface, your character acts like a coward because he or she was bullied as child, but deep inside he or she is actually heroic, then that is what they should and must be. Heroic. And they must demonstrate this heroism by their decisions and, subsequently, their actions.
So, using The Three Dimensions of Character spread and my handy tarot app, I’m going to lay out a quick demonstration of how to use the spread. I’m also going to use another app I have for character prompts. Let’s see what I come up with.
Character’s name is Deon Carlisle, he’s 58 years old and he’s a claim investigator. He’s 5 feet 10 inches tall with dark gray hair and light hazel eyes. He has a round face and he uses a cane. I got all that from my character generator app.
I like to select a genre before I do any brainstorming with the tarot as I think it helps to focus my reading. Let’s see. How about a thriller? The reason I like to know what my genre is because when I look at the cards, I’ll focus on what traits or situations or plot ideas would be conducive to a thriller.
Now for the card selections to determine what are the three dimensions of Mr. Carlisle.
I selected the three card spread on my app and these cards came up.
Eight of Swords for the First Dimension of Character – My app tells me that the Eight of Swords stands for helpless thoughts, limited options, restricting beliefs, excuses and victim mentality. So I’m thinking that Deon feels victimized. Maybe he feels like he’s being pass over for promotion after promotion at his job. He’s been a claims investigator for 20 years. He tends to blame others for his lack of movement at his job. He tends to think that others have it better than he does.
Knight of Wands for the Second Dimension of Character – The Knight of Wands represents someone who’s forward-thinking, adventurous, exciting and passionate. The Second Dimension is the character’s backstory and/or inner demons. Perhaps this is who Deon used to be when he was a younger man. Perhaps he’d been full of fire and fury, willing to take on those who wronged the innocent. Or he’d been more of a go-getter, hoping to set the world on fire with his ambitions and dreams.
I also like to look at the reverse interpretations for a card, even if that card didn’t come up reversed in the spread.
The reverse keywords for the Knight of Wands are lack of inspiration, no energy, fear of failure, reckless. It’s possible that when Deon was younger he might have been so afraid of success that he gave up before he had a chance to make it big. Or maybe he did something reckless in his youth that hurt those he cared for. I’m just brainstorming here, so I may or may not use of any of this. I’m just trying to get the creative juices flowing. But I’m already finding out more about Mr. Carlisle than I knew before. I’m even imagining that he was some kind of athlete when he was younger, but now he’s grown not only older but heavier, and the fact that he has to use a cane galls him to no end.
Seven of Pentacles for the Third Dimension of Character – The Seven of Pentacles usually stands for competence, patience, having planted the seeds for some venture or project and waiting to receive the awards. The Third Dimension of Character is who the character truly is, and their actions and decisions in the story itself. Maybe Deon has been carefully, discreetly and patiently investing his money all those years he was a claims investigator. He’s actually got quite a bit of money put away. He’s set for life.
But he doesn’t want to just fade away. He wants to do something exciting. So, since this is a thriller, maybe Deon takes his money and invests it in some business that turns out to be rather shady and the next thing he knows he’s being shot at and hunted by a mysterious woman!
Again, all of this is just to get me started. There’s a lot more work ahead of me if I want to find out what happens to Deon Carlisle. But I know more about him than I did before I laid out that spread that’s for sure!
If you have any questions about any of my blog posts about the tarot and writing, feel free to ask them in the comments section.