Fool’s Journey: Create Your Own Tarot Spread

You don’t have to be an experienced tarot reader to create your own spreads — in fact, I think it’s good to practice creating your own spreads right at the start of your tarot journey.

Crafting spreads builds confidence and helps you to remember that you’re learning tarot your way, nobody else’s. Plus it means you can always come up with your own special approach to all those crazy-ass questions your friends bring you.

It's cool - I got a spread for that] via laughingsquid.com

It’s cool – I got a spread for that
via laughingsquid.com

Okay. First, let’s break down a simple tarot spread to understand how it works.

Anatomy of a tarot spread

A tarot spread is simply a method for laying out reading tarot cards in specific positions, so as to interpret cards within contexts: firstly the position itself, and then in relation to the surrounding cards.

Where some readers might simply lay a number of cards and translate these into a message, for others this can feel totally bewildering…especially if you’re new to tarot. Using a spread helps to ‘frame’ each card, so it can be read more easily.

Take this simple three-card spread as a quick example:

1. Dusk / 2. Present / 3. Dawning.  Via littleredtarot.com

1. Dusk / 2. Present / 3. Dawning.
Via littleredtarot.com

First, we have the three specific positions, which instantly lend context to the cards:

1. Dusk – an energy which has been strong in your life, but is now passing away.

2. Present – where you’re at right now in the present moment.

3. Dawning – an energy which is now starting to flow into your life.

Additionally, you can interpret the cards in relation to one another. So in this example, which illustrates three steps in time, you have a sequence. Card 1 (the almost-past) fades into card 2 (the present), which in turn beckons in card 3 (the ‘becoming’ future.)

Symmetry plays a big role in this spread. The centre card becomes a pivot — a moment of change between one state in a person’s life (card 1) and the next (card 3), You can look for the common or opposing elements between 1 and 3 — are there symbols in common, are they of the same suit, do they feel like complete opposites, or more like a gentle transition?

And card 2 — the pivotal ‘right now’ moment — how does this feel when read it as a moment of change? What does it do to card 1 to turn it into card 3? How does it act as a bridge between them?

Cards are from the Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans

Cards are from the Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans

Here, can you see how the jerky, tetchy Five of Wands, with it’s lines veering off in all directions, gives way to the the Nine of Pentacles, rounded, secure and ‘whole-looking,’ via the Temperance card in the centre? Temperance brings a sense of calmness and balance, dealing with the ‘conflict’ energy of the Five of Wands. It’s as though this calm feeling that’s happening right now sees off that tetchiness and enables you to gather yourself, beckoning in the confidence and security of the Nine of Pentacles.

Try it out yourself!

Okay, so it’s time to create your own tarot spread!

First, create your DIY tarot spread kit

You will need: One or two pads of Post-it notes, a pen, and notebook or sketchpad. (Or, if you’re feeling fancy, get yourself a set of blank playing cards!)

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Start by looking at spreads you’ve already used (or Google ‘tarot spreads’, check your tarot books, or see the guide that might have come with your tarot deck.) Make a list of the positions in these spreads, and write each one on a separate card or Post-it.

If you need ’em, here are some ideas to get you started (click to enlarge)

Possible tarot spread positions copy

The list is endless, and you’ll also want to add plenty of your own. This is your personal, ever-growing DIY tarot spread kit. Each time you try out a new spread from a book or a blog, you can add new position ideas.

Armed with this kit, you're ready to find out ALL OF THE THINGS.

Armed with this kit, you’re ready to find out ALL OF THE THINGS.

Make your first spread

You’ve got out your cards because you have a burning issue you need to discuss pronto with the tarot. So grab your kit and let’s make a custom spread to tackle it!

As you work through this exercise and think about your own question, pull the corresponding Post-its/cards from your kit and stick them beside you (you can worry about the order/layout later on).

One thing to think about right now is how long you want your spread to be. Will it be a short, snappy little reading? Or do you want to spend all evening poring over a twelve-card spread?

Begin with your question.

Mine is ‘How can I make Angel Haze fall madly in love with me?’ And I think I’m gonna aim for seven cards. Because seven is lucky.

Try to break your question down. Firstly, what is your ‘question word’ — your how, why or what? Try to work out the kind of information you’re ultimately after.

So if it’s ‘how’, then you’re probably looking for practical actions you can take. If it’s ‘why,’ maybe it’s more about the energy surrounding you, or patterns of behaviour you need to understand. ‘What’ offers you some specifics you can incorporate into your reading.

(If you’re not sure how to phrase your question, here are some hints for phrasing your question so you can create a more exploratory spread.)

Start pulling together the positions

So for me it’s a ‘how’. I want to end up with an actionable to-do list for enchanting Angel Haze into my waiting arms.

I get out my tarot kit and look for positions that can help with that. First off I’m gonna go with ‘one thing to do right now’, and also ‘an overall approach to adopt’ because, y’know, this won’t be like flicking a switch. It’s nice to have something immediate, but also a longer-term strategy.

Other ideas to consider…

  • What about the here and now? Try creating positions for where you’re at here in the moment so you have a point from which to move forwards. If your question is about something romantic, how about a position for ‘what my heart is saying.’ If it’s about something physical – moving house, a new job, making a million quid, you could ask about your physical strengths or limitations.
  • What do you need in order to move forwards from this point? Could it be that you need to let something go, or bring something in? Or are there lessons you need to learn? Resources you could gather?
  • Are there any barriers to what you’re looking to achieve? You might ask about what there barriers are. Or, if if you already know them, you could create a positions to help you overcome these.
  • Do you feel there is some piece of information you’re lacking? If so, create a position to find this out. You could ask simply ‘what does my heart need to hear?’, or ‘A message I need to hear’
  • Think about your strengths too! If appropriate to your question, make positions for ‘my biggest strength in regard to XXX’, or ‘the best thing about me is…’

I could go on and on but as you can see, this will be completely different for every querent and every question. The idea is to think through your dilemma and grab the Post-its you need to address it. You will almost certainly find that you need to make new positions too, as you start to tune up your spread.

Create order

Now arrange your Post-its into a logical order, so your spread progresses your understanding as you work through it. Those ‘what/how/why’ positions you looked at first will probably come last: my to-do list will be the final cards in my spread, read only once I’ve learned about my situation, my barriers, my strengths and so on.

You’ll probably find you have way too many positions at this point, so start pruning. You might have several which are essentially telling you the same thing. If you decided on a number of positions at the start, you’ll know how many you want to end up with. Otherwise, aim to get the info you need as concisely as you can, strip out anything that seems ‘fluffy’.

Think about layout

Remember how symmetry played a role in the example spread earlier? Perhaps you want to use symmetry in your spread too (particularly useful if you’re weighing up two options.)

Follow your journey. Will you want to go upwards, downwards, forwards, backwards? Or how about a circular spread? It can be nice to read the cards in a round and come full circle by the end. A friend of mine created a ‘Bridge’ spread, where cards went up one side, then there was a ‘view’ from the high-point card, then you came down and landed on the other side of a river.

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Bridge Spread

A cute idea is to physically represent an element of your spread – a crescent moon, a star, a heart.

Look! This person made a Dragon tarot spread!  Via spiritedenterprise.com

Look! This person made a Dragon tarot spread!
Via spiritedenterprise.com

Maybe number will play a role — if you’re looking to create structure, a four-card square might be appropriate. Or you might want twelve months, seven days, three options or four elements.

I’m gonna make mine arrow-shaped, so it’s like I’m shooting arrows of love to Angel’s heart. Aww.

Yep, this is *actually* how I will woo Angel Haze.

Yep, this is *actually* how I will woo Angel Haze.

Test drive

Okay, it’s time to try your spread out! Shuffle your cards, and lay one on top of each post it, and read them as you normally do. Write it up as you go, but pay special attention to the positions and how they feel.

So! Did it work out? Do you want to tweak it? Did it give you what you needed, or was something missing? You might spend a lot of time fiddling with your spread positions before you feel you’ve got it right – that’s completely fine.

Mine didn’t seem quite right when I took it for a spin, but I switched a few things round and I’ve now got a sassy little spread all ready to go. Check it out here!

When you think you’ve got something you’re happy with, give it a name! I’m gonna call mine the Go Get Her spread – punchy and direct, like the spread itself.

Share it!

Lastly, don’t keep that brand new spread a secret – share it in the comments so we can all give it a go! (Check Ali’s post here about how to post photos in the comments, or link us up to your blog.)

Happy spread crafting!

PS Want to cheat? Check out The Deck of 1000 Spreads!

Beth Maiden is a tarot reader and writer based in Machynlleth, mid-Wales. She has two cats, a hot builder girlfriend, far too many tarot decks and not enough coffee cups. She's really into bread, the colour red, camping and brand new notebooks. She'd love to cut your hair, read your cards or hang out with you on her blog, Little Red Tarot!

Beth has written 111 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. I love this! So, I will freely admit I have no idea what I’m doing, but I was inspired a short while ago to create a spread that I’d love to share. It’s kind of wacky, and there is backstory required. But if anyone’s willing to slog through that, I’d love feedback.

    I work as a therapist, and I use this metaphor a lot for both clients and myself (and here, let’s hope I learned something from those lovely HTML lesson posts…):

    Suppose there is a bus and you’re the driver. On this bus we’ve got a bunch of passengers. The passengers are thoughts, feelings… Some of them are scary. What happens is that you’re driving along and the passengers start threatening you, telling you what you have to do, where you have to go… The threat they have over you is that if you don’t do what they say, they’re going to come up front from the back of the bus… That’s it. — The Passengers on the Bus Metaphor

    And the metaphor goes on from there – the moral of the story being that you can’t really kick the passengers off the bus, and it doesn’t do you any service to make deals for them to be quiet as long as you go where they tell you (because then you never get to the cool places in life), and so maybe the thing to do is to make space for them to be there without allowing them to boss you around (I know, I know, easier said than done, but whatever – for my purposes here this is all just lead-up to a tarot spread. The other work gets done elsewhere.). There is also an animation for the metaphor here if you prefer to watch your metaphors unfold via clever, silly, British videos.

    I love this metaphor, and I use it a lot in my own daily life. And so, one day when I was feeling playful, I turned it into a spread:
    ”Picture
    1: Driver – key issue or choice point. What do I need to know/do/face to handle my role in the driver’s seat?
    2: Destination – opportunity. What valued direction might I go in? What cool things might happen if I choose where to drive?
    3: Off Course – danger. Where might I veer off to if I get locked in a struggle with my passengers?
    4 & 5: Wheels – helpful actions/attitudes. What strengths or resources can help take me where I want to go?
    6, 7, & 8 (or more, or less, depending on what you’re feeling): Passengers – stuff to make space for along the ride. What should I be willing to face (without letting it control me)? Any helpful passengers in the mix too that can offer encouragement or wisdom?

    So, there it is. My passengers are telling me it’s absolutely nuts, but what are you gonna do, right? 🙂 I’ve been pretty into it, and I love how customized it is to what I’m sometimes looking for in a reading.

    • Jane, I absolutely love this! I am really interested in using Tarot for therapeutic purposes. I hope you share any other insights or experience you have doing so. I’m definitely going to try this spread. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, guys! I’m so encouraged to hear the positive feedback. I am really, really digging tarot for enhancing my own personal growth/therapy work. I actually did a reading with this spread after commenting here yesterday, and it was such a boon – I was going off to a big meet & greet at a conference (which is basically the most terrifying situation imaginable for me – but quite important for my career), and I actually brought my passenger cards along in my purse to help me remember to carry them lightly. It was amazing!

      • I also really love this idea. I’m kind of curious if tarot or other “mystical” self-exploration tools ever come up in your professional life… not sure if you can really talk about that, but sometimes I wonder what things are considered kosher to discuss with clients in that kind of setting. The times I’ve worked with a therapist, it never occurred to me to mention that I read tarot, but it might have been a useful outlet for me to process stuff from sessions at the time.

        • Yeah, I can talk about it as long as it’s not specific or identifying to any clients! I love talking about this stuff. Tarot and similar tools haven’t come up with my clients, but that’s probably at least partially due to the populations I work with (for instance, right now I’m at a veteran’s hospital, mostly seeing lots of Vietnam vets). If a client did bring it up, personally I’d be totally open to talking about it and even bringing it into our work to some degree. I’ve actually been considering bringing up tarot with my own therapist – sometimes it feels like it would get so much more to the point to just, for instance, hand him the Judgment card from the Mary-El Tarot and be like, “this is how that is right now.”

        • The grief counselor I worked with in high school and early university did reiki/energy work with me and I have yet to find another therapist who I feel comfortable enough to tell all my secrets, because no one else I’ve ever seen has healing crystals and mini zen gardens and dream catchers.

          So I guess for some therapists, it not only comes up, it’s actually part of their practice. We didn’t do tarot, but she incorporated other New Age-y spiritual stuff into more traditional talk therapy and I really wish that more people did that.

  2. I’ve been feeling quite anxious lately about all kinds of things, and the more I’ve been using tarot the more I realize it’s because I’m uncomfortable letting go of control.

    So, I riffed off of a “Release and Let Go” spread from Biddy Tarot to tailor it for myself.

    Here is the layout I made for my “Letting Go Spread” :

    1—5
    -2-4-
    –3–

    1. What am I feeling? What is the issue?

    2. Why is it weighing me down?

    3. How can I release this feeling?

    4. What do I need to be lighter?

    5. How do I call this lightness everyday?

    Here’s how I used it today:
    I’m in a long-distance relationship and I’ve been feeling super anxious and powerless lately. Like, spending everyday feeling like my partner is going to lose interest, get mad at me for something I can’t foresee, go out and get drunk and hook up with someone else etc. Here’s what I got:

    1. Lovers – Wow, yep, this feeling is about how to be okay with not being in control in a relationship

    2. Eight of Coins – Trying to make sure everything is right – that I always do the right thing. Obsessing over small things like tone of voice, or how long my partner takes to respond to text messages ( yes I am that neurotic)

    3. The Moon – Don’t hide from anxieties with alcohol, food, etc. Face them for what they are: feelings, not facts. Then they won’t control me.

    4. The World – Don’t think of myself solely. Focus on the world, the relationship as a whole. Focus on the good that I can give, instead of being self-centered.

    5. Queen of Coins – Don’t be selfish with love. Give my partner room to be themselves, to be happy. Don’t hold love ransom or captive, it exists beyond myself and I can’t control it. Be generous!

  3. This was a fun article to read! I’m just getting started reading cards but I’ve been researching as I’m creating my own deck for my Master’s of Fine Art thesis.

    Sadly, one of my friends brought me a difficult question/situation to address. We read a few individual cards and then I decided I wanted/needed more information so I decided to try making my own spread after I was unable to find one to use. (Glad you’ve given me permission to have done so)…. My friend’s friend is missing and she wanted to know if he was still alive. Heavy, and possibly too heavy for a new reader. But I created the Missing Persons spread. It’s a 6 card spread in the shape of a body (two arms, two legs, a body and a head) and I call that shape the balanced body and this spread the Missing Persons. Questions regarding: what caused this person to go missing, how are they now, what can be done to locate them, was someone involved in their disappearance/do they want to be found, where should we look for them, what is this missing person thinking right now/what is their chief concern?

    I read the cards and it was my conclusion from them that this case will have a happy ending – this person is missing of his own free will, making some foolish choices, relationships clouding his judgment and he does not want to be found so don’t invest too much in searching. Here’s hoping it was true!

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