Ways to lay out the cards are as varied as is human imagination. In fact, tools for divination can be, and historically have been, based on whatever’s at hand. Sticks, stones, and bones are the predecessors of our modern-day decks in a way, and each is rich with its own cultural history and legends.
Traditional layouts, such as the Celtic Cross and the Tree of Life, contain 10 cards, and an astrological layout has 12. Personally, I have an affinity for a modified Celtic Cross that contains an extra card and curves into the shape of a wheel, rather than a cross. These kinds of layouts offer multiple dimensions for interpretation, as well as significant relationships between cards. Contemplation of these and other forces in a reading is a metaphysical exercise and one of the best possible uses of the Tarot. I’ll often look at one of these readings for a week or longer, until I understand the message of the card in the position of the near future. In this way, my understanding of the cards has expanded from textbook definition to intimate, personal meaning.
Sometimes, though, you just want advice for the day, and a simpler reading is called for. There are loads of these. In our Tarot Meetup, people have recently demonstrated one, three, and five-card layouts. Mind, Body, and Spirit is a quick shuffle and three-card cut, as is Past, Present and Future. There are two five-card layouts as well: Self, Unexpected, Short-term, Long-term and Summary is the first of these. The other is Self, Health, Finances, Career, and Relationships, and in this layout, the cards should be re-shuffled for each position.
Experimenting with those has led me to this simple four-card spread, based on the forces expressed in the four suits. First, shuffle and cut the cards right to left, into two stacks. Next, cut each of the stacks again, so that you have four. Beginning with the card on the right, turn up the top card on each stack. Now consider the meaning of each suit, starting with Wands.
The first card is about what will motivate and/or inspire me today. Might also refer to intuition. (Wands)
The next card might address my emotional state, or a creative project in the planning stages. (Cups)
The third card has to do with thoughts and other mental processes, as well as communication. Could refer to a project that is nearing completion. (Swords)
The card on the far left is an indication of how my day will play out. (Pentacles)
Together, these cards tell a story about the best possibilities for my day. This morning, for instance, I turned up the three of Wands, Death, the six of Swords, and the two of Swords. The story I see goes like so: This is a good day to consider ideas that are already on the table and in motion. (The three of Wands.) The best direction for my creative and emotional energy today is to focus on the possibilities for positive transformation in the many changes that are going on in my life at the moment. (Death.) This story line leads to a woman who realizes suddenly that she isn’t afraid of the cards anymore, which makes her laugh out loud with surprise and relief. She remembers years when she didn’t look at the cards, out of fear of what might reflect back, and thinks about how these are much better times. There will be opportunities in this day for words to heal. (Six of Swords.) This is a day of waiting, before a major change is about to take place (new roommates moving in). Be calm. (Two of Swords.)