A large part of my Beginners Tarot Course concerns practice. I start each of my five sessions with tarot-theory and then ask my students to take what they have learned to the table. This is where they combine traditional meanings with their intuition and individual perception of the cards. In my opinion, this mix is where the real magic of tarot reading is born.
But good tarot reading is more than just a deck of tarot cards and a few intuitive hunches. It requires something to hold all of this together. I tell my students that the framework which is needed for good reading is the spread. When I walk amongst them and offer guidance, they will ask what a specific card might mean. My first question is usually which spread position is the card in?
A spread displays the intention of the reader. A position in a spread allows for a relationship between a card and that intention to develop. If the Queen of Wands sits in a position which represents ‘assistance’, it is likely that the reader will gain a different perspective than if she sits in a position which highlights ‘something (or someone) to avoid’. In each lesson I give, I hand out 3-card templates for my students to use as reading mats, showing a different spread each time. Those who have attended my course will tell you how niggled I get when they don’t use them. In my practice, the positions in a spread is as important as the cards which fall into them.
The designing of a spread is not easy. Sitting with a blank sheet of paper can be overwhelming and we are not always aware of what it is we really want to know from the tarot on the outset. Many readers fall into the trap of adding too many positions, which complicates a reading and only reduces its focus. This is usually because they don’t understand the real mechanics of a good spread, in the same way that some new authors cannot grasp the elements of a good story. I have tried to design spreads many times, but have lost momentum and returned to traditional layouts. Established spreads do not always answer the questions I have wanted them to.
Wouldn’t it be good if someone invented a practical system to help a tarotist develop a useful reading spread?
Well, they have.
Tierney Sadler is the creator of The Deck of 1000 Spreads, published by Llewellyn. The 65 card deck (including six blank cards) is a unique spread-crafting system, which addresses the problems many readers encounter when they either design a new spread or endeavour to use an established one.
The purpose of this deck is to lay the positional cards down prior to laying out your tarot cards. Each card represents a position which can be used in a spread and contains the position title, its description and is colour-coded. The different colours represent the different elements of a spread; there are five – green (topics), blue (influences), orange (characters), purple (timings) and red (outcomes). Even though we are encouraged to play and make our own spreads, these coloured sections provide a fool-proof system for creating a story-like structure, with its own beginning, middle and end.
I have exchanged a sentence or two with Tierney online a few times over the years and she has a very approachable and warm demeanor. This comes across in her accompanying book. Within the 137 page manual, she suggests a handful of ways in which we can benefit from her Deck of 1000 Spreads. I can already see the use in having spread titles on show when reading for someone else. In many professional readings, a client will not remember which position is which so being able to share the positions with them [as well as the actual tarot cards] will be a godsend and save a lot of time. There are positions for traditional spreads included in this deck, such as the Celtic Cross and Horseshoe. However, it is her method of re-tooling a spread which really got me excited.
Re-tooling enables a reader to change aspects of traditional spreads. I like this idea a lot, since I have never really appreciated every position in the Celtic Cross (which I use for nearly all of my professional readings). As an example, the Outcome position always seems so final and takes away the empowering aspect of my reading style. Flipping through the [red] Outcome cards in this set, I could easily re-tool my cross and add a card such as Advice or Lesson instead.
But re-tooling does not start and end there. Tierney’s deck also suggests ways in which we can personalise the subject of a spread like the Celtic Cross, shifting its focus to specific areas of a client’s life. At the flip of a few green position cards, the Cross becomes an in-depth template for a romantic reading. Simple? Yes. Had I considered doing this before? No.
I read Tierney’s book in a few hours, laying the cards out to match her diagrams. She has other ideas for using the deck which are just as interesting as re-tooling, such as picking from the different coloured piles randomly to create an ad hoc layout. This allows your unconscious to provide a frame for the potential reading, omitting conscious planning and the ego. The book provides much food for thought, but for the sake of balance in my review, I’d note that it can be repetitive at times – as an example, the definition of the decks colour-coding system is detailed almost identically in three different chapters. As much as this may be a useful way of drumming the deck’s structure into the less-experienced tarotist or spread-crafter, it does feel as though the publisher is trying to stretch out the small volume. To be honest, the book doesn’t really need stretching. Once Tierney goes over the structure and shares her methods of spread-crafting, you’re away! Her writing is warm, clear and concise.
I recently read a post on a friend’s blog about multiple-deck-purchasing. Some readers will buy a multitude of decks in a short period of time, hoping that each new set will help them to become a better reader. I’ve been there. I believe that our reading skills can be expanded by different visual representations of the same cards and alternative systems, but in my own experience, I have found that practice with just a few packs when learning is the best way to go. However, Tierney Sadler’s Deck of 1000 Spreads is a purchase which will assist tarot students and readers of all levels and is one I’d advise adding to your collection. As well as providing a tool which can be used as an accompaniment to any tarot deck, it has also brought out a childlike playfulness in me – something which can often get lost in study. I have only had this set for a matter of days, but it has already brought a stronger focus to the readings I’ve performed in conjunction with it and I can envision many other interesting ways of bringing it into my professional practice. I might add ten or so minutes to one of my sessions, allowing the client to become part of the spread construction process for their own reading.
In conclusion, this set is worth every penny and really is the gift that keeps on giving. The possibilities for its use are endless. Many tarot readers try to create their own spreads but often, the exercise can be over-thought. This set encourages us to experiment. We can move the cards about on the table, adding what we think is needed and taking away what is not … in just a matter of seconds. I like that it taps into a readers creativity and welcomes surprise and spontaneity.
I’d wholeheartedly recommend Tierney’s deck to all readers, beginners and seasoned tarot readers alike.
© Steven Bright Tiferet Tarot 2014
Images from The Deck of 1000 Spreads by Tierney Sadler (published by Llewellyn) and from The Spirit within the Shadows by Steven Bright.