Alright guys. Let’s talk about creating spreads!
(And I mean talk…there will be a quick tl;dr recap at the bottom if you want to skip to it!)
While books like Tarot Spreads by Barbara Moore and tools like the Deck of 1000 Spreads are great to have and definitely useful, they’re not necessary.
The only things you really need are A) a way to organize your thoughts — paper and pencil, a text file, photoshop…whatever works for you! and 2) a deck of cards to read with is helpful, but I’m sure you could work your way around that. Other than that, it’s all just process.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions in the past few weeks about getting started creating spreads and how I go about the process and such. The truth is that it’s a little different each time, depending on why I’m creating the spread, but I’m going to present a single method here (with a few variations toward the end). It’s the only way. It’s not even my only way. But it is, in my opinion, a pretty great way to create spreads!
I feel that in order to really create a good spread, you should understand what a spread is. You should understand how it works, and why. Don’t worry though, this won’t take that long. (Although if you feel like extra reading, you can get some insight into the way I view spreads on this post and this one).
Maybe spreads are different for everybody. To me though, a spread is a tool. It’s a framework to help you define the cards you lay out. I called it “a common language” once. It’s a filter. A story. Spreads are tools to help answer questions.
That’s the most important thing to keep in mind. Whenever you’re stuck in creating a tarot spread, remember that. When you start off the process, that should be what’s guiding you. Questions and answers.
The single most important thing I can tell you about creating a spread is this: the spread should answer the question.
I know you may think that’s obvious, but a lot of people start off their spreads feeling clueless. “How many cards should I have?” “What shape should it be?” In my opinion, those aren’t the questions you need to be asking right now.
If you’re not sure how to come up with positions in the first place, which is a common issue I’ve seen, then you should be thinking about the question, and the answer.
Sometimes you need to break the question down a bit.
"What can you tell me about my love life?"
Well, elaborate. Current love life? Upcoming relationship? The one that got away? If you take someone who wants to know more about their next relationship, then the positions should answer the questions they may have in regards to that: where they’ll meet, who that person will be, what they’ll look like, how they’ll get along, et cetera.
Make a note of each one of those questions. When you begin testing the spread, they’ll each become positions that you’ll pull a card for.
Another option is to look at things that may help you answer the question, even if they’re not the real questions themselves. For example, in my Deity Identification Spread, the real question is “Who is this deity?” and the way it is asked are through questions that, when combined, paint a portrait of the answer.
Yet another approach at this stage is to write out the answer you’d hope to receive. And while you’re more than free to make the answer as wish-fulfilling as you like, this isn’t about the content of the answer, but rather the format.
Think about the type of information you want. Think about the order that you want it told to you in. The details that you’re looking for. Going back to my upcoming relationship example, your answer may look like this:
"Your next relationship will start in the Summer, at work. You’ll meet an intern with red hair and blue eyes who likes video games and is a shy, reserved person."
Now, you may want to know more than that, but it’s enough to illustrate the example. What you’ll do now is basically turn that into a sort of tarot mad lib and you’ll end up with:
"Your next relationship will start [period of time], [where you’ll meet]. [Their job], [looks], [hobbies], [personality]."
So, these might the questions that you decide need answering:
- When does the relationship start?
- Where will we meet?
- What will they do for a living?
- What will they look like?
- What kind of hobbies do they have?
- What kind of a person are they?
You see how that works? Pretty much all of my spreads begin with a list of questions like that. Maybe not those specific questions — for example, I rarely address timing in my spreads, but if you did then you would throw that in there. Since I don’t do timing, I might ask instead, “What will cause the relationship to begin?” or something like that.
At this point, I do a reading.
Even without a spread layout, I have the positions. I will usually deal the cards into a pile or in a row. I STRONGLY suggest writing down the cards you got for each position next to the questions, because the next step is to move the cards around.
I usually start with the first piece of information I want to know, which varies depending on the spread. Often I like to skip right to the point, and then elaborate on it. You can see that in the Thanks for Nothing Spread, I think. If I have a position for the current situation, or a card that represents me in that situation, I’ll usually put them first.
As I’m moving the cards into a specific order of information to be presented, I’m also looking at how the cards relate to each other. Sometimes you can tell this just by the questions they’re answering. If you’re trying to forecast a situation and you’ve created a position for as of yet unforeseen problems, then it makes narrative sense to have them between the card representing your goal or outcome and the card representing you.
And keep in mind that you can have the cards right next to each other, above, below, at an angle…it doesn’t especially matter, although you can use the position to your advantage — a card next to another card might be seen as a progression from one to the next. A card underneath another card might be seen as the root cause of the one above it. But that’s not the rule and you can ignore that if you like.
As you’re rearranging your cards, you may see a shape start to suggest itself. “If I had one more card, this would be a skull shape!” or something like that.
Even at this point, the spread should still answer the question. So as you’re trying to think of a position you can add, look at the answer you’ve received. Is there a piece of information missing? Sometimes I’ll do a reading and I just don’t feel satisfied with what I was told. Not because I didn’t like the outcome, but because I felt like it was lacking something.
Maybe there’s an area that you think could do with some elaboration, or it could be looked at from a different angle in another card.
The point is, start by looking at the answer you already have and seeing what makes sense to add to it.
In the earlier example I gave, with the card representing an unforeseen problem, perhaps you may want to add a question/position in about a possible resource that will allow you to solve the problem?
I would look toward this kind of addition rather than adding generic tarot positions that may not advance the narrative of the spread, such as a “past” card or something like that.
And note, you may decide that you’ve included too many cards and you don’t need all of the information you thought you did — this often happens when you realize you’ve asked the same question in three different ways. You can remove irrelevant and redundant information as well.
Once you’re happy with your positions and the way the spread reads, you can either stop there or you can test it. I’d definitely suggest testing it out at least a couple more times, especially if you want to share it.
Testing the spread allows you to look at how it operates in different situations. Each person’s circumstances are different, and you can’t always make a spread that will work every time. At least not in the same way. But my goal is consistency in terms of coherency. If I can get a spread to give me an answer that makes sense to me for multiple people and multiple situations, then I’m happy with it.
Sometimes you’ll notice things fall apart though. Maybe a connection you saw between the cards and found was important turns out to only apply to your situation. When reading for others, you may realize you DO need more information, because you’re not as familiar with their lives.
And there are practical concerns too, like you might realize you’ve created a spread too big to ever use. The more you go on with this process the more we’ll be covering what I’ve already written about in my post on altering spreads, so I’ll give it a rest now and move onto the special conditions.
If you’re working within the confines of a theme — say, a pokeball, or a catchy song, I’m going to go ahead and say you STILL shouldn’t really be thinking about the shape or anything like that just yet. You may not immediately have a question at this point, so the first step is to think about how the theme could apply to someone’s real life.
The Fresh Prince Spread was easy enough — the words spell out a story and the story can tell you how you got to where you’re at now, and what you can do to move on.
With the Pokeball Spread I looked at how the pieces of the pokeball worked and what a pokeball does to create a spread to help you unleash what you need to help you (or, possibly capture it).
I’m going to talk about my Tag & Crest Spread for a bit, to show my thought process a little more.
I knew I wanted to do a spread inspired by the crests from Digimon. But I didn’t think about how many cards I’d use, or the shape I would let it take or anything like that.
Rather than trying to recreate the image of the Crest of Sincerity/Purity (my favourite crest, from my favourite character) and ended up with a very big spread where I would have been trying to force cards into a position without any idea of why they were there…
Instead I thought about what crests meant. Quote:
"Each child received a Crest that reflected some inner trait or virtue of theirs. The one shown in the spread image is the Crest of Sincerity/Purity, given to my favourite character, Mimi. Others included such things as Love, Friendship, Courage, and Reliability.
Exhibiting these traits are what allowed the children to achieve the higher level digivolutions (among other more mysterious traits the Crests possessed), which led to a lot of self-reflection and soul-searching for some of the children, often as a result of feeling they had been mismatched somehow (see: Sora and her Crest of Love, and Matt/Yamato with the Crest of Friendship).”
I thought about how when these kids were at their most desperate, it was the trait that was represented by their crest that made them stronger. It’s these traits that save them, and each other. And while every one of the kids had courage, love, reliability/honesty, friendship, sincerity/purity, knowledge, light and hope, each one was the embodiment of their particular crest. It was their greatest strength.
I’d like to believe that we all have a strength like that inside of us. Even when we think it makes us weak, if we can learn to understand it and embrace it, then no one can stop us. A spread to help figure out what that is became a no-brainer.
So there’s my question: “What is my greatest strength and what will help me unlock that within myself?”
(And it would also answer the burning question inside of me for more than half my life — what would my crest have been? Death, apparently, haha.)
This allowed me to not only have a short and simple spread that was defined entirely by the function of the initial inspirations for it — the tags and crests — but it also allowed me to keep the theme very strong in my spread by taking a concept from the show and applying it directly to my life in a way that makes sense to me, and not just playing with the shape so that I can say I made a Digimon spread.
When it comes to shaping a themed spread, you may be able to play off of the features of what you’re working with (see my tower-themed spread with the tower, the people standing outside and the lightning or attack being thrown at it) or simply put the image in the background and create a connect-the-dots or constellation with your spread, putting a cards over the important elements of the image.
But there’s nothing wrong with having a shape that doesn’t relate to the theme at all, and simply having a meaningful or relevant image to go with it if you want to remind people where the idea came from. For example, while the new version of the Sorting Hat Spread plays off of Hogwarts’s crest, the original version of the spread makes use of the crest as a background image, Harry Potter fonts and house-themed colouring to portray the idea of the theme and for me it worked just as well (note though that in the new version, the decision is in the middle, allowing you to easily check it against each of the houses! That’s a really good design choice and it helped shape the spread to the theme more).
- The positions of the spread should be designed to answer the questions being asked and the answers that are desired. Lay the framework down for the tarot to give you what you want to know. Spread positions are basically just smaller questions coming together to tell a story that answers a larger question.
- After you have the positions picked out, move them around in a way that makes sense to you.
- Add or subtract cards as necessary in order to have enough relevant and coherent information to answer the question.
- Test the spread until you’re happy with its consistent and repeated success.