One of the most common Tarot configurations for middle- to advanced-level readers is the so-called “circle” spread, where the cards are dealt in a circular pattern. They can correspond to the signs and planetary “houses” of the Zodiac, to the months of the year, or to various personality traits of the querent. I’ve always thought that Tarot was much more effective as a psychoanalytical teaching tool than as a psychic “trigger mechanism” (though it can serve that function on occasion, too), so we’ll examine an example of the latter type of circle spread: The so-called “Life Reading ” spread proposed by Eden Gray in the 1970s.
In this layout, a Significator is selected from the deck to represent the querent. The twelve cards are dealt in a circle, counter-clockwise, from the left-hand side. Using myself as a psychological guinea pig, I used my own Significator (the King of Swords) and laid down 12 cards, again avoiding reversals for simplicity’s sake. Let’s have a look and see what we can learn today:
Reading counter-clockwise, starting from the far left, we see:
1. Six of Cups. This card signifies the querent’s individual outward personality—how he presents himself in public. (It also corresponds to the sign of Aries and to Trump IV, The Emperor, though there has been some spirited disagreement in the Tarot community on the latter assignation). Our querent is, apparently, a gentle and courteous person in public, willing to perform favors for others and generous with his time. (There are negative aspects to all of these virtues, as we will discuss later in the reading.) Of course, the cards also ask us if their qualities “strike a chord” with our inner selves. If not, then, the querent would be well advised to examine how he acts and behaves in front of others; if he has few trusted friends and often finds himself alone in the world, he may only need to look in the mirror to find the reason.
2. The Lovers. This card signifies financial matters—the querent’s financial state, the nature of his possessions and his level of attachment to them. (It also corresponds to Taurus and to Trump V, The High Priest.) In this position, the card reminds the querent that every day demands a choice from us—whether to serve God or mammon—and it reminds us of the psychic peril we face should we allow the pursuit of the latter to interfere with our relationship to the former. It could also suggest that the querent, like the figure of Eve, has spent too much time with his “head in the clouds” and should devote more of his time to mundane money matters.
3. Three of Swords. This card represents communications of all kinds, as well as to adaptation to routine, and to one’s siblings, if applicable. (It also corresponds to Gemini and to Trump VI, The Lovers.) This is your humble blogger’s astrological sign, and it could not be more appropriate since (a) I have worked my entire life in the field of communications, and (b) I’ve struggled financially for a great deal of my adult life, and that has left me feeling abandoned and without hope at times. This could also refer to my sibling—my younger sister, who has been battling two debilitating health problems for the past year. It has taken a toll on her psyche, and because of this, she often strikes me these days as needlessly whiny and self-absorbed. Perhaps I’d be well advised to put myself in her place, and ask if I could comport myself any better. (As a disclosure, I’m battling a nasty case of the stomach flu as I write this, so the card may only be speaking to my inconvenience today!)
4. Six of Swords. This card stands for our inner foundation: Our inner life, as well as our domestic life—our homes and families. (It also corresponds to Cancer and to Trump VII, The Chariot.) In this position, the Six represents a period of inner transition—in particular, from one stage of existence or awareness to another. This could speak to me about the transition I am still making from the corporate world to the freelance world, and the sometimes lonesome journey that entails. More relevantly, it reminds me of my mother, who at age 85 is still in reasonably good physical condition, but over the past few years I have noticed her mental state undergoing a slow metamorphosis, from reality to fantasy, as she prepares to “check out” of this world. Perhaps she is the cloaked adult figure in the boat, and I am the child keeping her company until she reaches the “other side.”
5. Four of Wands. This is the card of earthly love—of play, of creativity, and also about our children, if applicable. (It also corresponds to Leo, and to Trump VIII, Strength.) I don’t have any children of my own, so the Four, which generally stands for the perfection of a created work, speaks to a different kind of “fatherhood”—the mature masculine who can write a book about the Tarot (I’ve written two, one of which is being posted in installments on this site); who can compose an album of original music (contact me if interested); who has literally written thousands of articles and essays for numerous publications; and who “birthed” and “populated” a Website such as this. The card seems to suggest to all of us that this kind of work—done almost entirely for its own sake, sharing freely with others and asking little in return—is the most rewarding work we can perform in service to ourselves and to others. On the other hand, the card cautions us that, the work having been perfected, it may be time to “move on” and search for another career path.
6. Two of Wands. This card represents our physical and mental health in addition to our work, to service and to servants, if applicable. (It also corresponds to Virgo, and to Trump IX, The Hermit.) In this position, we assume a fairly robust state of physical health for the querent, with the caveat that he should not be distracted by the unreasonable demands of an unbalanced psyche. Our man of power in the card contemplates conquering the world, yet his very own kingdom has more than enough to satisfy his every need. If something seems lacking in our lives, let us be patient—everything we need will come with time. This card could also speak to yours truly about the need to continue reflecting on his accomplishments and weighing his career options before recklessly committing to a doomed campaign.
7. Eight of Wands. This card represents contracts of all kinds—marriage, business deals, partnerships and the like. (Not surprisingly, it also corresponds to Libra and to Trump XI, Justice.) The Eight of Wands being an obvious representation of motion and flight, this suggests that news of opportunity on the career front may be “on the wing” for the querent. Or, perhaps it is time for him to send out a few “feelers” to current and former colleagues. This is one of those cards in the deck that depend almost entirely on the cards surrounding it to divine its meaning in a reading, and having followed two cards from the same suit—and preceding the card of personal transformation, it almost surely means that some important news is one the way.
8. Death. This card represents, yep, death—as well as inheritances, resurrections and our interest in occult and esoteric studies. (It also corresponds to Scorpio, and to Trump XIII, Death. Funny how this Tarot stuff works at times, now, isn’t it?) To call this the most significant card in this particular spread would be an understatement because it suggests, in no ambivalent terms, that the transformative change hinted by the three preceding Wands, is on the verge of being visited upon the querent. Whether this change is for good or for ill depends entirely on his receptivity to it, and of coming to grips with the reality that—as with physical death—there is nothing he can do to stop it. What kind of change will our querent see? Perhaps the following cards will provide a hint.
9. Eight of Pentacles. This card signifies our religious life—our faith, beliefs, and the spiritual journeys we undertake to achieve a greater sense of self-awareness and a closer relationship to the Divine. (It also corresponds to Sagittarius and to Trump XIV, Temperance.) This is the only Pentacle in the spread, so more than any other card here, this speaks most relevantly to the here-and-now of the querent’s waking life. Here, the theme is “work for its own sake”, which suggests that while he awaits the change promised by the preceding card, the querent should remain diligently at work on increasing the “spiritual wealth” of the world as the apprentice on the Eight increases its material wealth by minting gold coins. This can be done by meditation and prayer, by treating others with mercy and kindness, and by being willing to share your knowledge with others. It probably won’t make the querent rich, but he has already been instructed—as have we all—to lay up our treasures in heaven, where neither moths nor rust can consume or corrode.
10. The Moon. This card stands for our professional lives—our careers, our status and any honors or titles we have earned. (It also stands for Capricorn and—logically yet again—for Trump XV, The Devil.) Working as a writer, one has to be a bit inward-looking, relying on a great degree on intuition when crafting a narrative. Nobody has the time to rifle through the pages of a dictionary or a thesaurus every time he needs to find the “right” word, so he uses his years of experience and his faith in his instincts to choose the correct term—and not, as was once said, “its second cousin”—when formulating his prose. This skill has served the querent well in his professional life, but it has come with a price. Being an introvert by nature, he has no interest in pursuing titles or honors in the workplace, nor does he understand the ego-centered games of “office politics” that people play to acquire them. (He has probably lost a job or two in his life because of this.) In this position, The Moon reminds the querent that he may need at times to be a bit more gregarious and extroverted, even if he thinks it is not in his “nature.” One of. the key lessons the Tarot would have us learn is of the need to live a harmonious life by “balancing the opposites” that exist within our psyches.
11. The Emperor. This card represents our social life—our friends and colleagues, of our degree of socialization, and of our hopes for them and us. (It also corresponds to Aquarius, and to Trump XVII, The Star.) In this position, The Emperor reminds the querent that he can actually be of help in the wider world by summoning forth some measure of discipline, in himself and in others. Every now and then, his forgiving and generous nature—as personified in the Six of Cups—has given others less principled an opening to exploit and take advantage of his perceived “weakness,” not only in the workplace but in friendships and romance; this has damaged his professional reputation at times, and has caused him some measure of grief. The querent has also not always imposed sufficient discipline upon himself, either, and some unhealthy lifestyle choices he made in his past have now resurfaced as long-term health concerns. Too often, we associate the term “discipline” with “punishment”, but that is simply not the case. The querent may be a gentle soul, but he may need to summon a little spiritual “toughness” at times to achieve his goals.
12. Nine of Wands. This card represents our karmic state—our psychic ability, our ability to keep secrets, and also, Eden Gray notes, to our “confinement.” (It also corresponds to Pisces and to Trump XVIII, The Moon.) The Nine of Wands, along with the Eight of Swords, represents the concept of “confinement” more overtly than any other card in the deck, and it requires us to consider its most constructive and destructive aspects. The sentry of the Nine is safe and secure in his post, but his sorrowful facial expression and constricted body language suggest an inmate in a prison of his own making. He’s clearly good at keeping secrets, but at the cost of walling himself off from his brothers. In this cramped emotional state, he is unable to take advantage of his fullest potential—his considerable physical strength—and in a spread, it generally warns the querent against suspicion of, and defensiveness around, others. We can never fulfill our true psychic potential until we realize how fully interconnected all life is in our world, and it is one of our most important goals as spiritual beings.
Taking the big picture, we see in this spread a preponderance of Wands and Major Arcana—eight of the 12 cards in all. This would suggest that the archetypal forces likeliest to affect the querent’s life at the moment revolve around his creative pursuits—whether it is his blog, his writing, or his continuing quest for work that has meaning. This spread can also be read top to bottom and side to side to find additional meanings. See The Moon at the top of the spread, the Six of Swords at the bottom of it, and the querent between them. This could signify a “dark night of the soul” that he may need to endure in the near future. The Eight of Pentacles is directly atop the Four of Wands, possibly signifying the conclusion of one creative enterprise and the commencement of another. Death stands directly across the spread from the Nine of Wands, warning of of the split mind that can result when we resist the inevitable, and refuse to consider changing the way we look at the world. There are doubtless many other significances an adept reader can draw from this sequence of cards, and that’s one of the most liberating aspects of Tarot—that it’s altogether possible to deduce a limitless number of meanings in a spread, and this is what both challenges and delights us as readers.