Tarot Cards Layouts: Spreads and Methods of Reading the Tarot

Tarot cards layouts based on scientific methods deliver the most accurate, pragmatic readings you can get. Get to know your divination layouts here.

The following list represents is a set of general guidelines for you to get to know how to use the tarot spreads and layouts for the different oracles on this site. Please keep in mind that these descriptions were tailored for tarot spreads, which the oracle layouts are based upon. So where we refer to tarot cards, you can mentally substitute whatever is relevant to the oracle you intend to read with.

Simple SpreadsAdvanced Spreads
One Card Tarot ReadingLove Triangle
Draw ThreeDecision
Blind SpotPath
CrossGame Plan
Horse ShoeAstrological
AnkhSelf-Actualization Pyramids
Celtic CrossGolden Dawn
Secret of the High Priestess 
Comic Strip3 Bones
Relationship #1Reversed Compass
Relationship #23 Dragons


A tarot card spread is a template which a reader uses to physically lay out the cards. Each tarot card is then interpreted not only by its own meaning, but also by the perspective it fulfills in its position in the layout, which includes how the influence of this card may bleed into the meaning of each card around it.

Elemental Dignity vs Reversals

With tarot decks on this site that do not use reversals (most of them), you may use the traditional occult method of determining elemental dignity to tell whether each card is well-dignified or ill-dignified. The dignity of each tarot card is based upon how the adjacent cards relate to it. Each tarot card is interpreted one at a time to determine its dignity, meaning how it is effected by its neighbors. Adjacent cards of the same suit strengthen a card’s dignity, providing a sort of power boost to the appeal of the card. Tarot cards of directly opposite suits drain each other’s positive charge, causing ill-dignification. For example, if a Cups card had a Wands card next to it, this would rub the Cups card the wrong way and cause it to become ill-dignified. (Wands are opposite of Cups, and Swords are opposite of Pentacles.) Cards that are not of the opposite or the same suit are considered neutral, and have no effect (such as a Wand next to a Sword or a Sword next to a Cup). Major Arcana cards can often be disregarded as they don’t always correspond to a particular element (fire, water, air, earth) as Minor Arcana cards do. The Golden Dawn method is the spread that relies most heavily on elemental dignities.

Since Rider-Waite inspired decks generally use reversals, this makes it easy to interpret each card’s dignity, which is not effected by adjacent cards but by its own orientation, as in facing up or down. Traditionally, reversed card meanings were not used much in tarot reading until after the ground-breaking Rider-Waite deck incorporated them. Reversals were introduced by Etteilla, who published the first material on cartomancy reversals in 1770 – using a deck of 32 cards, perhaps influencing Madam Lenormand. Reversals are not an option with several decks on this site simply because the artist did not intend for their creation to be read using reversals, and that being the case, they did not write reversed meanings.

On the other hand, you may decide to disregard the elemental dignities if they give you too much trouble. Of course it is best to interpret the cards your own way, gaining understanding through your own personal methods. Suggestions on how to read tarot cards using elemental dignities and such as presented on this site should serve merely as a guideline, not as a rule. Each reader should come to understand tarot reading through diligent practice, weighing the interpretations by their own standards.

Simple Layouts

One Card Tarot Reading

Draw One

Difficulty: Easiest

The one card tarot reading is best for times when you really want to focus on just one thing without any potential complications. It can be used for just about any question you can ask, including to draw a card of the day, week, or even the card of your ultimate destiny. It can also be used repetitively in succession, as some readers like to pull one card at a time as a story unfolds. There are some readers who actually don’t like to use tarot spreads at all, relying on this method alone.

Past, Present, and Future Spread

Draw Three

Difficulty: Very easy

This simplistic chronological spread can be used to shed light on the influences that are now behind you, current influences, and what is approaching in the near future. Not much explanation is necessary on this simple tarot spread.

The Blind Spot

Blind Spot

Difficulty: Varies

This tarot spread is used to enhance self-awareness. Questions about learning something about yourself or things that are hidden work very well with this tarot spread, but no question is actually necessary.

  1. This tarot card displays the obvious identity, the part of your self that you are consciously aware of and project to others.
  2. This card indicates unconscious driving forces that neither you nor others are aware of about you. This is the Great Unknown. Nobody knows what this tarot card means, at least not yet…
  3. The part of yourself that you conceal, that you don’t want others to know about is apparent in this tarot card.
  4. This is your Blind Spot. This is what you asked about which you should be made aware of by this reading. You may wish to pay close attention to these mannerisms.

The Cross


Difficulty: Easy

The Cross Spread is good for questions asking for advice. It can also be used to determine the meaning of a confusing card from a previous reading, or for that matter, to shed light on other points of confusion as well.

In questions asking advice, this tarot spread is self-explanatory. The main thing is to determine the difference between cards #2 and #3. #1 is the topic and #4 is the result.

In questions regarding confusion, such as: “What was the meaning of Card (X) in the last spread?” the main thing is also to determine the difference between cards #2 and #3. In this case, Card #2 will show what the card was not referring to, and Card #3 will show what was really meant. #1 is the topic and #4 represents the purpose it serves.

The Horse Shoe

Horse Shoe

Difficulty: Easy

The Horse Shoe is a classic tarot spread. It is more advanced than the 3-card reading, yet simpler than most other spreads. It is a versatile method that can be used for most queries, though there are other spreads which would go into more depth. Like the simple Past, Present, and Future spread, it contains these cards in positions 1, 2, and 7, but also has 4 other tarot cards that help the reader understand how to deal with the Future better. The cards are to be read as follows:

  1. The Past: This card represents past events that are affecting the question.
  2. The Present: This card represents the current state or immediately approaching influence.
  3. Hidden Influences: Things that you may not be aware of, or barely be aware of.
  4. Obstacles: This is the challenge. Obstacles might be avoided, or you may have to deal with them.
  5. External Influences: Attitudes and thoughts about this situation from people around the querent.
  6. Suggestions: Recommended course of action.
  7. The Final Outcome: This card represents what would happen if the suggestion is followed.

The Ankh Spread


Difficulty: Kind of tough

The Ankh Spread is for deeper questions about the causes behind trends. It is similar to the Celtic Cross and Secret of the High Priestess spreads, but it covers the reasons behind the circumstances in question differently, perhaps giving a better explanation of why things are the way they are.

The loop of the upper section of the ankh reveals the deeper spiritual background and causes of the situation, while the stem of the base focuses on your prospects for the outcome.

The first 2 tarot cards represent the 2 parent causes of the situation. They will either compliment each other or show 2 opposing sides of a conflict, depending on how they relate. These are the significator cards of the Ankh spread.

3. This tarot card shines light upon the early causes of the trend in question.

4. Pinpoints the causes that triggered the current situation.

5. Reveals the spiritual perspective of the subject at hand.

6. This card examines the reasons why the spirit demanded this course of action to unfold, in that it was a means to this end. This can not be avoided.

At this point, you want to pause to soak in the meaning of the first 6 cards before moving forward to the last 3 cards. The last 3 will show your prospects for the future.

7. The Next Step gives clues about the immediate future.

8. Surprising Experiences encountered en route to the end result.

9. This represents the end result.

The Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross

Difficulty: Average

This is probably the most well-known tarot spread. A good basic spread for beginners to use for practice, the Celtic Cross is useful for questions of all types. In this spread it can be helpful to notice the relationships between the pairings of cards #5 & #9, #1 & #2, #3 & #4, and #6 & #10.

  1. The significator epitomizes what the reading deals with, the initial situation.
  2. An added impulse that compounds the significator, which may be either complimentary or contradictory.
  3. This is what you are consciously aware of (thoughts).
  4. Unconscious driving forces you may not be aware of (emotions).
  5. The immediate past regarding the current situation.
  6. The first future card indicates the immediate future.
  7. This card represents you and your attitude towards cards #1 and #2.
  8. The external influences, the places and people which influence the topic.
  9. This tarot card suggests your expectations; what is secretly hoped for or feared.
  10. The second future card reveals the longer-term outcome.

The Secret of the High Priestess

Secret of the High Priestess

Difficulty: Average

This spread makes a nice alternative to the Celtic Cross, which covers basically the same ground. It is useful when a question doesn’t quite call for the Ankh spread. This tarot spread is helpful when you are looking into a current trend. The High Priestess may or may not present a mysterious secret to be analyzed after the rest of the spread.

1. and 2. Main impulses that represent the topic at hand. They may compliment or oppose one another.

3. This is the current influence at this time.

5. The Waning Moon is the influence that you are putting behind you, what is moving into the past.

4. The Waxing Moon indicates what is on the horizon, or the approaching influence. This is the immediate future.

7. The Light is what is clearly recognized, what is conscious.

6. The Dark indicates what is there but not fully perceived, though noticed on a deeper level of consciousness.

8. The Next Step is the near future, where this journey will take you.

9. The final tarot card, only if it happens to be of the Major Arcana, reveals the Secret of the High Priestess. This is a special message that you should pay extra special attention to.

Comic Strip Spread

Comic Strip

Difficulty: Easy

Note: This spread works best with decks like the Diary of a Broken Soul or Surrealist Tarot because they display scenes rather than pips and do not use reversals.

The Comic Strip Spread is an extremely simple 9-card chronological spread that looks like a page of a comic book. This method should be used to get a glimpse of the future as it would pan out naturally. You may also want to check your biorythms. The spread is easy to read as a story, just like a comic strip.

The main subject is apparent in the first card, while the story plays out through the following tarot cards.

Pay particular attention to the cards and the relationships to their neighbors. Notice which directions the cards are facing, and how they interact.

Relationship Spread #1

Relationship Spread #1

Difficulty: Easy

This tarot spread is easy to read, like a convenient chart. In this spread, court cards generally indicate actual people with the same characteristics. Knights (or corresponding Princes, but not Kings) and Queens are meant to represent actual men and women in this tarot spread. Look for patterns in the cards as always.

Card #1 is the overall significator of the relationship. The 2 columns on either side of the significator characterize each individual’s role in the relationship. The relationship does not have to be romantic. In fact it could be a relationship between a person and a group, or even how 2 groups relate.

The top row, cards #7 & 2, is about the conscious thoughts of each person, or what they think about the relationship and likewise how they view their partner.

The middle row, cards #6 & 3, reveals the way each individual feels about the other. Emotional awareness corresponds to a person’s unconscious thoughts that run deep, effecting a person in ways he or she is not fully aware of.

The bottom row, cards #5 & 4, represents the way each person behaves, in other words the stance taken regarding the relationship. The way a person acts may be genuine, but sometimes people are phony and manipulative, so it is best to weigh this card against your partner’s other cards to determine if they match up.

Relationship Spread #2

Relationship Spread #2

Difficulty: Easy

This relationship spread focuses more on the common ground of the relationship, with 3 cards in the middle column showing the common ground. The middle column essentially displays the past, present, and future of the relationship.

Card #4 stands for the common base of the relationship, which may be thought of as the past events which have shaped their characters, bringing them together. Card #3 represents the current connection that binds them together, the values they share. Card #7 implies the common goals that would keep them together moving into the future.

The columns on either side show what each partner brings to the table. Remember, relationships need not be romantic, and they partners could even be groups rather than individuals, whatever you choose. In this layout, the other person is on the left hand side and you on the right.

Cards #1 & 2 indicate the separate personalities of each member of the relationship. These cards form a sort of bridge with the cards beneath them, #5 & 6, which show the qualities that each partner offers the other person, and thus to the relationship as a whole.

Advanced Layouts

The Love Triangle

Love Triangle

Difficulty: Complicated

Casually referred to as the Love Triangle, this spread can be used to determine the dynamics of the relationship between 3 people, whether or not romance is involved. This spread is drawn in the form of a hexagram, consisting of several large and small triangles. This tarot spread may seem somewhat complicated, but it is not entirely that difficult.

The first step is to interpret the card for each individual position in the spread. Generally you might ask about a relationship that you are involved in, but this does not have to be the case. Ordinarily your representative card is #1, your main person of interest is #2, and the other person would be #3.

The second step fills in the downward triangle and involves further examination of the individuals through their views of the other people. Each person has 2 more cards showing the way they see and relate to the other members of the triangle. For example, Card #6 indicates how Person #3 relates to Person #1, while Card #9 stands for Person #1’s attitude toward Person #3.

The next step completes the upward triangle and the hexagram, focusing on cards 10-13. It also completes the many smaller triangles and hints at the potential for each relationship. The final card, #13 can be considered the significator of the reading, which suggests the overall potential for this 3-way relationship.

The Decision


Difficulty: Easy

This simple but highly useful spread calls for a question to be asked in this format:

What happens if I do (X), and what happens if I do not do (X)?

Please note that it should not be viewed as a decision between 2 different options, but about whether or not a single option should be exercised. A second option would call for a separate reading.

Card #7 is the significator, the overall theme of the query.

Cards #3, #1, & #5 represent the chronological sequence of events that occurs if you choose to do (X).

Cards #4, #2, & #6 represent the chronological sequence of events that unfolds if you choose NOT to do (X).

The Path Spread


Difficulty: Easy

For the Path, you ask for suggestions on how to behave properly in order to achieve a desired result. The Current column represents how you have been acting, and the Suggested column suggests how you should act in order to achieve a certain goal. The chart-like spread uses the standard 3 levels: Rational, Emotional, and External Stance (how one projects one’s self outwardly). When comparing the Current to Suggested cards, the most important thing is to notice the differences between the 2 cards. It is these differences which hint at the behaviors that you should think about changing.

Card #1 is the significator, the card which should reflect the nature of the query and/or the desired outcome.

Card #2 shows the way you are and have been thinking. Card #7 suggests how you need to change the way you think in order to serve yourself better.

Card #3 tells you about your emotional attitude. Though it may seem difficult to manipulate one’s own emotions, it can be done if you put your mind to it. For example, acting a certain way such as smiling intently for a few minutes will lead the emotions to follow. If you try this, as silly as the exercise seems, you will find that this evokes the emotion of happiness. For this reading, you should try to make yourself feel the way that Card #6 tells you.

External Stance means how you act outwardly, how you hope others see you. Card #4 tells you how you were acting, while #5 indicates how you should act outwardly, for other people’s sake. It is the differences between these cards that hint at what behavior patterns should be altered.

The Game Plan

Game Plan

Difficulty: Easy

When you have a certain plan in mind, this simple 5-card spread presents a choice, hinting at what action or attitude should be taken for your plan to succeed, and what should be avoided in order to help your plan work out for the best.

The initial card is laid in the center of the layout, the significator. The following 4 cards are laid out clockwise around the significator.

In this spread, the second card is about what drives you, but also says you are not fully conscious of this, perhaps even completely unaware of it. It gives you a hint as to the reason that you strive for your goal.

The third card uncovers what others think of you and your goals. You may or may not be aware of this. Sometimes other people factor into your plans, and sometimes they don’t.

The fourth card suggests what you should not do. If things are permitted to go down this path, your plan will collapse.

The fifth card is a hint as to how to make your plan work out favorably. The idea that this card presents should be followed in order to make your plan a success. It is the differences between Cards #4 and #5 that should be noted, as the differences provide the clues you need.

The Astrological Spread

Astrological Reading

Difficulty: Complicated

The Astrological Tarot Spread is based upon houses of astrology. This complicated spread takes several steps to understand.

The first step is to interpret the tarot card for each individual position in the spread.

The second step involves further examination of the main axes. Positions 1 & 7 show the relationship theme, #1 representing you, #7 your partner. Positions 4 & 10 indicate motion. #4 indicates where you are, and #10 suggests what you are moving towards.

The third step involves breaking down the chart into triads according to their house elements.

Positions 1, 5, & 9 represent the Fire triad, which symbolize temperament and personal development.

Positions 2, 6, & 10 represent the Earth triad, which is concerned with materialism, money, and work.

Positions 3, 7, & 11 represent the Air triad, which has to do with thoughts, ideas, and connections with other people.

Positions 4, 8, & 12 represent the Water triad, which is the realm of emotions, moods, intuition, and yearnings.

Further, you may connect other patterns and correlations between certain numbers. Certain numbers such as the set of 5, 7, & 8 often speak about a particular theme.

The Self-Actualization Pyramids

Self-Actualization Pyramids

Difficulty: Complicated

Basically there is the main pyramid in the center, and two smaller pyramids on each side. One is inverted.

Positions 1 & 3 represent where you have come from, or what has made you/shaped you on the various levels. Can be from environment, upbringing, schooling etc. A look at the past, but with more objectivity than is usually given when using tarot cards.

Positions 4 & 5 represent who you are now.? May or may not make pleasant reading but hey, this is what this is about right?

Position 6 represents who you could be. Again it might or might not look good, but you can learn from that and change who you are now accordingly. (This is a bit like how Scrooge did things in “A Christmas Carol”)

Positions 7-8 are your strengths. The light you have which can be bought to the forefront. What carries you and should not be hidden or unacknowledged.

Position 9 represents what you should be giving to yourself or creating within.

Position 10 & 11 represent personal areas for development or weaknesses. Again might not make good reading but if you look at your strengths first you will be able to see a balance is there and you can choose to focus on one side or the other. This is where you could really see how your shadow side comes into play.

Position 12 represents what you should be offering externally, or what you can bring to your world or others who inhabit that world.

The Golden Dawn Spread

Golden Dawn

Difficulty: Complicated

Note: Tarot decks that use reversed cards such as the Rider-Waite do not work well with this spread, which was designed to be read using elemental dignities.

The Golden Dawn spread is best suited for use with the bifrost Tarot and especially the Book of Thoth, as these decks are meant to be read a certain way with the Court cards. Princes and Queens represent actual men and women connected with the matter, while Princesses generally represent ideas; thoughts or opinions, and Knights represent arrival or departure of a matter depending on the direction faced.

In this tarot spread, particular attention should be payed to a card’s exact position in relation to its neighbors. Whether the neighbor cards bear the same energy (suit) determines whether a card is considered well- or ill-dignified. Opposite suits ill-dignify each other, while other suits are considered friendly. Tarot cards of the same suit or element strengthen each other.

As with other tarot spreads, it is important to count the cards’ tendencies, such as whether there is a lot of one particular suit or number pattern. The patterns will reveal special messages. Lots of Majors indicates higher forces at work, lots of cups suggest strong emotions, etc.

Card #1 represents the querent (you) and the nature of the topic at hand.

Cards #2 & #3 are used in conjunction with #1 to further comprehend the nature of the topic.

The 2 sets of 3 tarot cards at the top of the spread represent chronological sets of events. Your current path as it would unfold naturally is represented by cards #4, #8, & #12. The alternate path that you could take is represented by cards #13, #9, & #5. However, if you get the feeling these cards are telling you that they go together, then the alternate path is to be considered an extension of your current path, and to be read chronologically in this order: #4, #8, #12, #13, #9, #5. But keep in mind: this is only if the two paths seem particularly similar.

Cards #14, #10, & #6 shed light upon the psychological undertones of the current issue.

Cards #7, #11, & #15 represent the influences of karma and destiny that are beyond your control. These cards suggest adapting to this fate.

The layouts below are for use with Mahjong divination.

3 Bones

Three Bones

Difficulty: Easy

This layout is used only for mahjong tiles and dominoes, drawing 3 tiles. They are flipped to answer the question in chronological order. There are 2 methods that can be used, either proceeding with the reading as normal, or placing each tile back in the pile so that it could possibly come up more than once. In case tiles repeat, it would indicate a faster or more potent outcome.

The Reversed Compass Layout

Reversed Compass

Difficulty: Hard

This reading sets the tiles in the celestial form instead of the terrestrial format that is used in navigational compasses. This is done to follow the traditions inherent in Chinese Philosophy. This complex reading is very flexible in that you may focus on a specific or general question, or no question at all when using it.

In the Reversed Compass Reading, each of the sets of tiles have an influence on the issue represented by The Nucleus. To interpret this reading properly you must relate all the tile sets to The Nucleus.

The 3 Dragons

Three Dragons

Difficulty: Moderate

In Chinese culture the Dragon is generally considered a sign of great luck and power. However in mahjong, the red, green, and white dragons represent three distinct influences that can affect your life. The Dragon Reading creates a relationship between sets of tiles to each Dragon, to explore how the 3 Dragons will influence you now and in the near future.

Secret of the High Priestess spread designed by Hajo Banzhaf
Love Triangle spread designed by Jeremy Lampkin
Self-Actualization Pyramids spread designed by Davina Powell





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