Tarot Layouts or Spreads
Tarot readings involve "layouts" or "spreads," namely the placement of Tarot cards on a table in a pattern. In most readings, the position of each card within the layout's pattern has meaning.
The most common layout is the Celtic Cross (covered below), a 10-card spread, but there are many Tarot spread patterns based on months of the year, all matters past-present-future, vocation vs. romance vs. financies, and countless others. Most books on Tarot explain several possible layouts, and some books are dedicated entirely to layouts. In addition to structured layouts like the Celtic Cross, layouts can also be invented by a reader. If a reader concentrates on the layout used while shuffling the deck and selecting cards, the layout should work whether it comes from tradition or invention. However, some claim that the number of people using and meditating on common layouts like the Celtic Cross give those particular layouts more power or clarity than layouts used less frequently.
There are many recommendations from many experienced readers on how to perform good layouts. Some claim that readings should always be done on a wooden table because wood reflects vibrational energy well. A quiet room is preferred to a noisy locale, meditation is recommended prior to each reading, cards should be kept in a bag or wooden box with citrine and other crystals to keep their energy clean, and so on. While each reader should try techniques and evaluate how well they work, Tarot can be read almost anywhere, with remarkably good results. I've closed my laptop at times and read on the lid, with impressive results. In my experience, the most important skill for a good reading is the concentration of the reader on the intuition received.
The "reader" is the person performing the reading, while the "seeker" or "querent" is the person receiving the reading. A "reading" is both the layout of cards and interpretation of their meanings with any insight or intuition added as an additional layer to those meanings. As the deck is shuffled, a good reader will concentrate on the question the querent has posed. For privacy, if a querent doesn't want to verbalize the question, the reader can simply concentrate on answering the querent's question while the querent concentrates on the question. Sometimes the cards don't answer the question posed, but rather show something the querent needs to know, perhaps what the "spirit guides" feel ist best. For general readings (readings without a question in particular), the reader simply concentrates on the best reading for the seeker, what the querent needs to know at the time of the reading.
The most important thing to remember while shuffling is to concentrate only on the seeker's question, or on giving the seeker a reading that he or she needs & wants.
Different sources recommend different methods, for example some advise letting the seeker shuffle the deck, or to turn some cards upside down while shuffling. I never have the seeker do the actual shuffling, although I've found that the seeker always does a good job of choosing the correct pile in a cut deck.
I also don't deliberately turn cards upside down while shuffling, as the cards offer enough meanings to get their message across without it.
Personally, I've found that the following method for shuffling works very well:
1.) Concentrating only on the seeker and his/her question, shuffle the deck
while trying to follow your intuition on how to shuffle. For example, if you
feel you should only drop a few cards on one side of the deck, then put the
remainder on the other side before continuing the shuffle, do that. If you
feel that a few cards should be pulled out and re-positioned, follow that
intuition. Shuffling correctly using intuition is one of the most important
techniques of giving a good reading. In fact, if the reader concentrates and
uses intuition well during the shuffle, usually the standard card meanings
combined with their positions will work well without much added intuition or
psychic insight during the cards' interpretations.
2.) Decide whether the seeker should cut the cards, or if you want to cut the
cards. If you allow the seeker to cut the cards, explain that he or she should
cut the deck into 3 piles, breaking the deck where it "feels right" for them.
I usually avoid the term "intuition" when giving instructions to seekers, as some
seekers might not understand the term, or may have come to the reading in an
emotional state where using intuition seems like an intimidating responsibility.
The term "feels right" makes the task seem easy, as it should be.
3.) If you decide to cut the deck as a reader, cut it into three piles, again
dividing it in places that seem like the right spots to break the deck for this
particular seeker. I usually prefer to break the deck myself, but rely on my
intuition to make that decision.
4.) Ask the seeker to choose which of the 3 piles feels right to him or her, to
start the reading. You as the reader can also choose which pile, if desired.
Trust your intuition on what to do for the best result. If you allow the
seeker to choose, but have a strong feeling that the seeker chose the wrong pile,
set the pile you would have picked aside. Later, if the reader doesn't seem
satisfied with the reading, take the pile you would have chosen and say "maybe
this pile would have been better", and do the layout again using the pile you
wanted. After you've done a number of readings for different seekers, you'll
develop a preference for who cuts and who chooses during your readings.
5.) Starting from the top of the chosen pile, lay the cards out in order of the
layout used (see below for some basic Layouts). Some readers prefer to lay
the cards out face-down, then turn them over one at a time during the reading.
I prefer to deal them face-up always. When finished with the layout, set the
pile of remaining cards to the side of the layout.
6.) You're ready to start the reading!
The Celtic Cross Layout
Some claim the Celtic Cross is the most powerful spread used in Tarot, because
it's the one used most often, and its frequent use generates some sort of
collective energy around it. Some readers don't vary from the Celtic Cross,
thinking that other spreads won't produce a reading quite as accurate. My
experience is that many other layouts work well, each serving its own purpose.
The Celtic Cross has a few different variations, most centered around how the
cards are dealt around the first card. All variations work well, as long as the
reader remembers which varation was used and what the card positions mean. In the
diagram to the right, the card over the central cross is the third card, and so on. The second card is also laid over the top of the first card, instead of the middle or bottom. The Celtic Cross is best suited for answering questions, as the final card, #10, is the outcome. However it can also be used for general readings, showing the general direction of the seeker's life, or trusting the divination to find an important issue that the seeker will understand.
Like the Celtic Cross' card order, card position meanings also vary. For the
variation shown here, card meanings are often as follows:
1.) The first card laid on the table represents the seeker, the starting point,
or the immediate circumstances of the seeker. Sometimes this card is deliberately
pulled from the deck by the reader or seeker, called the Significator card. The
reader may chat with the seeker about a few of his or her personal traits, then
choose a card which seems the closest to the seeker's personality. Or the reader
could pull out a few cards which may represent the seeker, such as the four queens
for a woman or the four knights for a younger man, and ask the seeker to choose the
first card. (The cards could be face up or face down during this process.)
Personally, I prefer to let the cards do the talking, and just deal the first card
after the seeker has selected which pile from the cut deck he or she wants. I find
that allowing the divination to speak for itself will bring up points that help the
reader understand the issue at hand. The first card may only deal with part of his
or her personality, or perhaps signify a different person entirely -- someone
important in the seeker's life, or someone they're acquainted with recently.
2.) The second card is laid over the first card because it represents the immediate
influences over the seeker (or whatever the first card represents). It could also
mean obstacles the seeker must overcome.
3.) This card is placed above the central cross in the reading, because it
represents that which the seeker is reaching for. It could represent the goals
of the seeker, or what is best for the seeker.
4.) This card is placed below the central cross because it represents the roots
or foundation of the seeker. It could be the influence of past events on the
present, or something the seeker already has available to use.
5.) This is placed to the left of the central cross because it is behind the
seeker. It represents the past and its effects on the current situation or
question. NOTE: Some sources recommend that if the main face on the first card
is looking to the left or right, the fifth card should be placed on the side that
the face is looking away from. This is to represent something behind the seeker.
Other sources simply place the 5th card on the left, using a left-to-right motion
to indicate direction as seen in Western languages.
6.) What lies ahead of the seeker, or something in the future. Again, some sources say that if the first card's face is looking in a certain direction, the 6th card should be on the side that the face is pointed toward. This is to indicate something that the seeker is moving toward.
7.) This represents the seeker's inner attitude and disposition, and perhaps his or her relation to the issue at hand.
8.) This could represent the seeker's influence on others and position in life; it could also be immediate influences over the seeker, such as people, events, surroundings, and the general environment of the seeker.
9.) This could represent the hopes and fears of the seeker, or outside influences and the seeker's outer image.
10.) This is the outcome card.
The European Layout
My personal preference is to begin readings with a European spread. It's a good introduction to the seeker. As shown here, 9 cards are laid in a row, in groups of three. The first group (cards 1-3) represent the seeker's past, the 2nd group the present, and the 3rd group the future. Supposedly, the entire timeline goes from the most distant past to the most distant future, so card 1 would be the oldest experience in the seeker's life, card 9 the most distant future.
However, as with most divinations, the cards will tell their own story. I've found that sometimes cards are grouped to complement each other, for example one seeker's past grouping contained a card showing a hard life (verified by the reader) grouped with the apprenticeship card, probably to indicate that past hard times were part of his education and conditioning, or perhaps that his training was able to save him from that hard life.
I've found that seekers always understand the message as the card meanings and positions are explained. They'll recognize significant information as it is presented, and divination will find its own techniques to get the message across.
There are many, many other Tarot layouts; entire books have been written on the subject. The above layouts are just a starting point. Many different layouts can be selected and tried by the reader over time, and layouts with the best results can be incorporated into regular readings.