5 Popular Tarot Card Spreads

Posted on December 01, 2016

To conduct a tarot card reading, you must have an understanding of the most popular spreads. All tarot card readings start with a tarot card spread (or layout). These layouts aren′t random patterns, every position has a particular meaning. It examines a certain aspect of the question being asked. It′s the marriage between the placement and the meaning of the cards which allows the reader to interpret the information and insights the cards disclose.

There are hundreds of tarot card spreads to choose from: they range from a single card draw to a complicated layout which provides more detail about the question or purpose of the reading. Many experienced or professional readers even create their own personal designs, unique to them. Let′s discuss some of the most popular tarot card spreads that are used by tarot card readers so you can begin using them too.

Related Article: How to Do Your Own 3-Card Tarot Reading

One-Card Layout

One card is selected from the tarot deck. It is intended to provide a quick snapshot of wisdom on a particular situation. It′s very helpful for when you′re looking to focus on only one aspect and you want clarity and a no-frills answer. The one-card layout - sometimes called a one-card draw - is also frequently used in succession. First, one card is examined, then another, and another; much like chapters in an unfolding story.

Two-Card Layout

A spread that′s useful to provide a snapshot of wisdom on a particular situation. Ask it ‘either / or′ questions. Let one card represent one option and the second card refer to the alternate choice. It shows you what your options are when there′s a decision to be made. It can also be used for ‘yes or no′ questions, Also, use a two-card spread if you′re trying to determine the best timing for something to happen in your life.

Three-Card Layout

An extremely popular spread, the three positions have the potential to refer to many different options. The past, present, and future is the most common; but not the only interpretation. It can be used to represent and clarify a problem and its influences, solutions, or adversaries. It can give a glimpse into last week, this week, and the following week - or last month, this month, and the next. There′s really no limit as to how this spread might be interpreted, but you must determine what the positions mean before the cards are placed in them.

Five-Card Layout

A more detailed spread that has the potential to provide a lot of insight about someone′s health and well-being. Each of the five cards is attributed to one of the five elements: air, earth, water, fire, or spirit. Examination of the cards that fall within that element helps to understand what areas of a person′s life need focus. These positions could also vary by reading. They could represent mental, physical, emotional, temperament, and spirit. It can also provide insight over the next five days, or five weeks, or five months.

Celtic Cross

One of the most fashionable spreads ever used. There′s a lot of mythology wrapped around it, but the Celtic Cross is not particularly mystic or ancient. The different positions refer to different aspects of the questioner′s life: their current situation; assets and strengths; obstacles and challenges; as well as past and present influences. The spread will give you insight into what to focus on; how to approach a situation; what the questioner hopes will happen; and the potential outcome. You can see that it provides a lot of information, simply and concisely (which is probably why it′s used so frequently).

Related Article: How to Read Tarot Reversals

There are as many different patterns and ways of interpreting the archetypal images of the tarot as there are tarot decks and readers who use them. The key to getting the most out of your reading is quite simple: you must choose someone with whom you connect. A person you like, and who uses their cards with confidence, compassion, and sincerity. If you′re a reader, find a deck with which speaks to you and a spread that is easy to use, yet provides you with a lot of insight.

At the end of the day, there′s no right or wrong template for laying out the cards. The spreads we explored together here are by no means all of the layouts that are used by readers. Experimenting with some of the more popular tarot card spreads is the best way to learn how to get the most from the cards.

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Charla Stone

Hi! I’m Charla Stone and I learned astrology and mysticism way back in the 1970s. I've spent the last four decades using the stars, tarot, runes, crystals, totems, and more to bring light and guidance to others. I’m just an old hippie at heart who has traveled the world to learn of its cultures. I’ve been published online and in print—which still rather surprises me, as this isn’t something I do, it’s just who I am! When I’m not writing or doing readings, I’m spending time in my garden or the art studio, or with my beloved dogs. Read More by Charla Stone

Tarot Cards & Their Meanings

The tarot is a series of 78 tarot cards used in fortune telling, psychic readings, and insight into past, present, and future events. These tarot card definitions help you understand how to interpret your tarot reading. Tarot cards are divided into 2 main sections—the major arcana and minor arcana—and further into 4 suits:

Before a tarot reading, the cards are usually arranged in a spread. A tarot spread is the pattern in which the cards are placed on the table to be interpreted by a tarot card reader. There are many different types of tarot spreads—entire books have even been written on the subject. Spreads can be as simple as a 1-card draw, or complex enough to use all 78 cards.

One of the most popular spreads is called the 3-card spread, which gives you answers to immediate questions about your relationships, career, and life in general.

A Brief History of The Tarot

No one knows for certain where or when the cards originated—some say the practice goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. What we do know is that reading the tarot cards gained notoriety sometime around the 18th century.

The tarot can be used for many different purposes. The archetypal images reflect your story back to you, and bring you insights on situations in the lives of those around you. Those same images make good meditation companions or provide you with a ‘thought for the day.’ You might even use the tarot as a writing prompt in a blog, or as inspiration in artwork. There is no limit to how these images can be used, you just need to decide what works for you and go for it.

Modern technology made it even easier to get daily readings, peruse different interpretations of the classical images, and connect with others who share your interest in the cards. Of course, before you can get really immersed in understanding the tarot, you have to know a few basics. They’re not difficult, and once you recognize them you can master the mysteries of the tarot.

The Major Arcana (Tarot Trump Cards)

The major arcana (trump cards) represent your journey through life, starting out as the innocent and carefree card representing The Fool (at number 0), and going through all your stages of life until you get to The World (at number 21). Each of the trump cards represents an important issue in your life and asks that you pay particular attention to this situation. As you get to know the Major Arcana, you’ll see that the first 11 cards represent your journey out into the world while the last 11 represent your journey into your own awareness.

The Minor Arcana

The minor arcana is a grouping of 56 tarot cards that acts as a support system for the major arcana. It's divided into 4 suits, much like playing cards, and each suit has 10 numbered cards and 4 court cards. Traditionally, these court cards are called page, knight, queen, and king.

Some decks may use different titles for these figures but their meanings and their positions in the hierarchy of the court cards remain the same. Each suit of the minor arcana corresponds with a specific area of life, and each card has a meaning within that area. The number 1 is the first in a sequence (representing beginnings).

The numbered minor cards may have images on them, or they may just have ‘pips’ on them like playing cards, depending on the deck you're using.

Each suit of the minor arcana is also associated with specific signs of the zodiac.


Wands (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius)


Pentacles (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn)

Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

Cups (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces)

Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Swords (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius)

Gemini, Libra, Aquarius

The tarot provides guidance that has stood the test of time. And as with any tool, the tarot needs to be used responsibly. The cards themselves are not good or evil—it’s how you use them that creates them a positive or a negative experience. After all, the tarot is just a collection of images and have no power on their own—it’s their mystery that allows them to endure. What wisdom do those images want to share with you today?