Spread of The Week: Three-Row “Past-Present-Future” Spread

This is a simple 10-card layout that can be used to answer a specific question, or that can be used as a teaching tool to help improve our focus on one element of our psyche that may be in need of development, or to call attention to a specific event or occurrence that may be influential—for good or ill—at this point in our lives.

For this spread, a Significator is used to represent the querent, and nine cards are removed from the deck and dealt in three rows of three; the cards can be dealt sequentially from the top of the deck, or selected from anywhere within the deck at random. The three rows signify, top to bottom, Past, Present, and Future, with the central card denoting the situation at hand. Cards in the left-hand column signify influences that are hindering the querent, while the cards in the right-hand column represent complimentary forces in the querent’s life. There is no “final outcome” card in this spread per se;  all of the cards will need to be interpreted in context of the other cards in the spread. Further clarification can be obtained by reordering the cards to mimic a Tree of Life or Celtic Cross spread, and applying the attributions attendant thereto.

For the sake of exercise, I laid down a Three-Row spread for myself today, with no particular question in mind beyond a wish for some bit of wisdom, or a lesson I could carry with me during the day. Here’s what turned up (in sequence from the top of the deck):

Screen shot 2015-05-02 at 12.44.55 PMLawdy, lawdy, this is one of those spreads that scares people away from the Tarot—even experienced readers might hesitate to work with this combination; there’s bad feng shui all over the place!—and while the cards could simply be having a morbid little joke on me today as a way of warning me against “entering the temple” in a less-than-reverent manner, if we look at the cards closely, we may stumble across something of value that can enhance our self-awareness, even amidst the bleakest symbolic landscape.

First, my Significator is the King of Swords, so perhaps it should not be such a surprise that using this spread (i.e., with a Significator, which I typically do not use) would attract like elements, that is, more swords. Also, regular visitors to this site know that the dreaded 10 of Swords—the quote-unquote “worst” card in the deck—happens to be the card that governs my birthday on the zodiacal wheel, so my perception of the card is not quite so problematic. (As an aside, to find your own tarot “birthday card,” as well as your Significator, consult the graph below. Hopefully your “birth card” is luckier than mine.)


Back to the reading, from top to bottom:

Past: The Tower, flanked by the Seven of Pentacles reversed and the Five of Wands. This spoke to me at once about a time in my past—oh, about 15 years ago—when I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly out of work (Tower, expectations upended) and, not knowing how to cope with the prospect of bankruptcy, I fell into a state of emotional paralysis (Seven of Wands reversed, work interrupted), which in turn filled me with an even greater dread and apprehension (Five of Wands, internal strife)—and sure enough, my fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I ended up in bankruptcy court, having maxed out all my credit cards and having run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. It was a humbling experience, but in retrospect, one I that had to go through, if for no other reason to learn to be more responsible with money and more pro-active on material matters in general. Whatever the source, all of us have likely succumbed to paralyzing fear of some sort in our lives, and this row shows us the devastation it can wreak on our psyches if we give it free rein.

Present: Five of Swords reversed, flanked by the King of Cups and the Ten of Swords. This can be read a few different ways, but as things stand now, I find myself 15 years later in a similar situation as I did in the “Past”: No work prospects on the horizon, dwindling finances, and no small amount of uncertainty about the future. Two big differences between then and now are (a) materially, I have no debts whatsoever, and (b) emotionally, I have somehow willed myself—through prayer and meditation, mostly—to refuse to be upset at this and to simply get on with my life, as much as humanly possible, with a cool and level head (Five of Swords reversed, inner peace restored). The King of Cups is the grande artiste of the Tarot court cards, and as such, he serves as a warning against creativity adrift, while the 10 of Swords, by contrast, suggests laying down markers or admitting failure and starting over from scratch. This is one of the hardest things that any of us can do, but sometimes we need to accept the fact that our waking existence as we have perceived it up to now has been riddled with error, and that a drastic change of outlook is needed from us if we are ever to live satisfying and fully individuated lives.

Future: Nine of Swords reversed, flanked by the Four of Pentacles reversed and the Ace of Swords. One thing of interest a this point: if we examine the cards on the right-hand column—the Five of Wands, the 10 of Swords, and now the Ace of Swords—we would have a difficult time, or so it would appear, ascribing “positive” or “helpful” attributions to them. Taken in the aggregate, though, they suggest—particularly through the power of the Ace—that a certain ruthlessness may be needed for me down the road to achieve my objectives—a form of ruthlessness that is not necessarily destructive but determined. It’s a warning against lapsing into the kind of passivity that worked to my detriment in the past, and the presence of the Ace as the last card in the spread suggests an idea, a suggestion, or an opportunity that, if offered,  should be grasped like a saber and wielded for right. As peaceful warriors, assertive alpha-male behavior may not come naturally to us, but sometimes it’s necessary to achieve the goals we desire—or simply to pay the bills.

At the same time, while exercising frugality I’m probably better off not being stingy with my money (Four of Pentacles reversed, charity) while keeping a stoic emotional nature in sometimes challenging and even painful conditions (Nine of Wands reversed, which can be read as either sorrows released or, less charitably, emotions suppressed).

In any event, this spread illustrates yet again that in Tarot, there is no such thing as an intrinsically “bad” card or a preternaturally “bad” reading,  no matter how a spread appears on its surface. What we take away from a session with the cards depends entirely on how much we are willing to open up our minds and learn from them, and to do that, we have to be willing to examine in depth our personal vices as well as our virtues as dispassionately and honestly as we can. If we do this without reservation, chances are that the cards will impart many valuable lessons upon us. If not, why consult the cards in the first place?

Dante DiMatteo

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