How Tarot Cards Work

The Tarot Spread

The Celtic Cross Tarot spread
The Celtic Cross Tarot spread. Photo courtesy Angel Paths

Before a reading occurs, the person receiving the reading shuffles the cards. Some say this transfers that person's energy to the deck. The person receiving the reading also should be concentrating on the question or area for which they want guidance while he or she shuffles the deck. In some more traditional circles, a more elaborate sorting and separation of the cards is performed.

Once the cards are shuffled and the deck has been cut, the reader lays out the cards in a pattern called the spread. Each position in the spread has a meaning, and there are many different types of spreads, ranging from those that incorporate a single card to spreads that include all 78 cards of the deck. Which spread is used is up to the reader and the specific type of question or reading. Some spreads focus more on a specific type of information. For example, one spread might concentrate more on emotional matters, while another might bring in more information about the influences of others. One of the most common spreads is the Celtic Cross. However, there are many more spreads for Tarot card reading, and readers can even make up their own.

Below, using the Celtic Cross spread as an example, you can see that there is an order in which the cards are laid down for the spread and that each card position within the spread has a meaning. There are many different meanings that each position can have — it depends on who you ask. This set of meanings comes from the Angel Paths Tarot and Healing website. The card meanings (see Individual Tarot Cards and the next section) are combined with the position meanings. In addition, combinations of cards or card pairings also affect meanings.

Celtis Cross Tarot spread Celtis Cross Tarot spread
Tarot spreads vary, but one of the most common is the Celtic Cross. Learn how tarot spreads differ and the meaning of each position in a tarot spread.
Photo courtesy Angel Paths

In the next section, we'll step through a reading to show how the card meanings can be combined with positions and pairings to reach an interpretation.