Tarot Tutorial: Reading Without a Spread
Firstly, I love single-card readings. You ask a question, draw a card, tarot provides an answer. I don’t feel the need to assign a card position because it’s inherent in the question. From there it’s simple to draw two cards instead of one, and interpret them together as an answer (with no card positions). It’s another relatively easy step to expand to 3 cards. And I think that’s as many as I’ve gone with.
Here’s an example for a daily draw using the question, “What’s my lesson from today?” using the Light Seer’s tarot (by Chris-Anne and published by Hay House, reviewed here). The single card is the 8 of Swords: I’m in a prison of my own making, choosing to gaze upon the bondage. I can escape if I want to, or just not look. How odd to be looking in a mirror to see a blindfolded version of yourself that can’t gaze back.
The second card in this reading is the Hermit, taking time out to think it through. We’ve moved on from gazing down into the mirror to gazing outwards, from restraint to freedom. This reading is still all about the thinking, but the tone of it has changed. The second card has enriched the message and made it more empowering. The Hermit is one of my favourite cards in this deck, she seems content up there.
Adding a third card gives us Judgement, which in this deck I see as release. This card gives us a finale if you like, a strong conclusion – changing the narrative from being imprisoned by my thoughts through quiet contemplation to ultimately reaching my full potential.
These cards go well together and this is also reflected in the colour scheme. The woman in all 3 cards is looking to the right, to the future, to the next card. The 3 cards together give a more rounded reading than just the first card.
There are already so many choices when doing a reading:
- Which deck to use (now that I have several)?
- How to phrase the question…
- Is choosing a spread just a decision too many?
I was wondering if the word I associate with no spread is “laziness” (but you still need to decide the number of cards, so no real gain in decision making). Instead, I have settled on “freedom.” Without a spread, there’s the freedom to ask further questions without being constrained by the positions in the spread, so it’s more interactive/responsive. The reading can thus be thought of as a series of one-card readings strung together like a conversation or interview. I think I started doing this because it feels more natural than using a spread. When I’ve been interviewing (people for jobs) I’m always wanting to explore some of the candidate’s answers rather than merely move on to the next set question. There’s a certain stress involved in choosing a spread that just doesn’t exist without one. I like the flexibility of the no-spread reading.
The best way to illustrate this conversational approach is with an example, and so here’s my reading for the question “I’m extremely worried for a friend, they seem to be going down an extremely dark path. Can the cards advise me how I can help?” from the February 2020 thread in the monthly tarot practice section of the TABI forum. I simply asked, “How can they help their friend?” and used the Steampunk Tarot by John & Caitlin Matthews, with illustrations by Wil Kinghan and published by Tuttle.
I drew the Navigator of Airships (Swords) in reply. The navigator is the one who sets the direction, choosing the way. This person can help steer their friend on a steady course. Since the airships relate to the element of air, of thoughts and communication, this card can be further interpreted as advising the querent they can help their friend by stating their concerns about the dark path they see the friend going down.
Now that’s a straightforward comprehensive answer. To extend it, I asked the deck if there was anything else, and drew the 5 of Leviathans (Pentacles). This card is about anxiety and worry, loss of security, and a reminder of how quickly we can lose everything. It adds context to why the querent is worried about their friend and shows the consequences of the dark path perhaps.
Our querent is extremely worried and it’s in my nature to reassure people, so the next question to ask my deck is, “What can the querent do for themselves?” The answer is the 6 of Engines (the 6 of Wands, the “Victory” card). The querent is reminded of what’s going well for them, and to take pride in their accomplishments; a little confidence boost in their time of worry. Maybe it would help the conversation with the friend to include their accomplishments too. The overview of the reading becomes, “Speak to your friend, tell them you’re concerned about the dark path they’re on. Point out what they are risking, what the consequences of their actions might be.”
As with a spread, there’s the option to pull a clarifying card at any point, although I tend not to do this, I would ask another question if needed. This “conversation” can be as long as desired and doesn’t need to be decided in advance. There’s some security in having a spread, like there is in having a plan, but that’s not who I am. I’d rather jump straight into pulling cards and then figure out where I’m going along the way. 😉
Pyronik has been a TABI member since November 2018 and has recently been endorsed as a TABI free reader. You may have seen some of her reviews here on the TABI blog (she was on a roll between April & August last year).