In any exploration of the Tarot, one cannot overlook what is possibly the most popular method of “reading the cards” in the Tarot canon: The 10-card “Celtic Cross”, so called since the first six cards in the spread mimic the shape of the medieval cross with four equal sides that is found throughout Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This spread, which reputedly dates from the 1600s, is the first spread I used when getting familiar with the cards as a teenager, and it is easy to see why it is so popular among entry-level students—because it is simple in structure, and its concepts are easy to grasp, cognitively and psychologically, even for the beginner; yet because it uses 10 cards, it also provides plenty of analytical material for the more advanced reader.
The significances of the ten cards, in order of layout, are roughly:
1. The querent herself, and her current circumstances;
2. Circumstances at odds with the querent;
3. The querent’s highest aspirations and goals;
4. The root of the question or circumstance;
5. The querent’s recent past;
6. The querent’s near future;
7. The querent’s question answered;
8. Circumstances that can provide assistance to the querent;
9. The querent’s inner life: intellect, emotion, hopes and fears;
10. The matter concluded.
This sample reading shows the pattern in which the cards are laid out. We will review the cards one by one:
In this case, the querent was your humble blogger, and he laid out this spread several months ago with a question that he posed at the time: “Does my Tarot book have a chance of getting published, or have I been wasting my time? Am I going about this the right way, or have I seriously misjudged my abilities?” As a significator, I chose the King of Swords, the court card traditionally assigned to my astrological sign of Gemini. You can see it in the second row (from the left) of cards, with two other cards on top of it. We’ll review my interpretation of the cards as they manifested themselves at the time, with updates in parentheses at the end.
The order of placement is:
1. Justice. This is said to “cover” me, or to describe my current situation. In this case, the card explains my desire to reap a just reward for writing a Tarot book, though whether that reward will be monetary, we cannot say. Perhaps the reward has already come from simply writing it! (Or by sharing it on the ‘Net with fellow seekers, as I finally decided to do)
2. Three of Swords, placed sideways. This is said to “cross” me, or to describe things that are preventing me from achieving my goals. What’s holding me back? Fear of rejection and disappointment, perhaps? I’ve known that fear before! (Well, I managed to complete the book, and shopped it around to several publishers and agents. I’ll admit to feeling disappointed at being rejected, but it obviously didn’t stop me from proceeding down another avenue with the work.)
3. Nine of Pentacles. This is said to “crown” me, to represent my loftiest goals and dreams; in this case, to live a life of material abundance. (Then as now.)
4. Eight of Swords. This is said to be “beneath” me and represents the actual question. This is altogether appropriate because one of the reasons why I started to write the book is because I’ve been stuck in a kind of personal “career crisis” for the last couple of years, and have felt trapped at times trying to figure out the next step I should take. As it turned out, it was writing a metaphysical book. Whether or not this is the project that “opens my eyes” to future career opportunities, it is probably too early yet to know. (Obviously, months later, my “eyes were opened” after a fashion when I opted to “walk out of the wilderness” and share my meager knowledge of the cards for free.)
5. Five of Wands, reversed. This is said to be “behind” me, and it represents my recent past. Here, the upside-down Five represents creativity misapplied, suggesting that my “midlife crisis” needed to happen because, on some level, I’ve known for quite some time that there were far more productive uses of my talent than what my career demanded from me up to now; but, as with many other people, it was so much easier to just keeping showing up at the office and collecting a paycheck, year after year. Problem is, you wake up one day and find yourself unhappy in your work. So it was for me. (And I arguably took more personal pleasure writing the book, even though I made no money at it, than I did in the last few years of working in the corporate world.)
6. The Emperor. This is said to be “before” me, or my near future. This is fairly unambiguous, and it simply reminds me that I have total and complete control over this book and my career, wherever it leads, and that I should trust myself to make the right decisions.
7. Ten of Pentacles. This is said to “answer” me, which answers the question posed by card 4 in this sequence. In this case, great success is indicated, though along with that success may come the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of another, and all the uncertainty implied therein. (The “success” represented by the Ten comes in many forms, and can simply refer to the “reward” we earn for living a moral life, showing kindness to others and so forth. This should mean as much to us as making a lot of money!)
8. Ace of Wands, reversed. This is said to “strengthen” me, and it represents energies and life-forces—and perhaps even people—that can provide support to me in my quest. This represents the source of my creative energies, and the fact that it is reversed would indicate that they will be of most help to me if I apply them in a different direction than I have up to now. (In hindsight this could also have meant “opportunity delayed or deferred.”)
9. The Chariot, reversed. This is said to “define” me, to be the sum of my intellect and emotions, my conscious and unconscious minds, and my hopes and fears and dreams. In this case, I think this reflects my often pessimistic outlook on life in this plane of existence, with its endless wars and conflicts. It certainly is easy to conclude that our entire civilization is spiraling our of control! However, this could also mean that I shouldn’t allow the woes of the world to distract me from working on resolving my own inner conflicts. (Or that I shouldn’t let my psyche get “turned upside down” if the book doesn’t see publication.)
10. Four of Cups, reversed. This is said to “end” the matter, which is the outcome suggested by all of the cards that precede it. Here, the final verdict would appear to be something like “suffering overcome” or “inhibitions released.” (Or, just as easily, “frustration in the matter”.)
In any event, what this spread reminds us is that creativity applied for solely material means is a spiritual dead-end; that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to figuring out who’s been “holding us back” from fulfilling our dreams; that we earn a “just reward” simply for undertaking spiritual path-work such as Tarot study; and if we are fortunate enough to receive any added material comforts as a consequence, it is icing on the cake.
I suppose at this point that I should address the inevitable reaction likely to come from some members of the Tarot community: The notion, sacrosanct in some quarters, that Tarot readers rarely, if ever, deign to read their own cards because their judgment—or lack of same—can interfere with their ability to render a truly objective analysis. My reply to this is simple: if you can’t trust your own judgment when analyzing yourself, why should others trust you to analyze them?