Whenever I despair of coming up with fresh ideas for tarot spreads, I go deep for inspiration. I’m not a fan of spreads that fail to provide specific meanings for each card (also known as non-positional spreads). Speaking strictly for myself, I think they often leave the reader groping for relevance and can take far too long to come to closure on the verdict if the goal is to be diligent about providing value to the querent. But I do think there is a place for them as long as there are broad boundaries to work within and landmarks to steer by.
If I may say so, this one could be a winner despite the equivocal qualities I try to discourage in spread development: it’s free-form and completely unstructured; it’s nuclear rather than linear, resembling a “vortex” similar to the centripetal flow of the Lenormand Grand Tableau; and it has no beginning or end except as decided by the reader, and thus no single outcome card. The result reminds me of a Rorschach ink-blot test without the Freudian implications in that reading it can benefit from squinting a bit to identify patterns that are otherwise difficult to see.
Some readers shun positional layouts and just keep laying down cards until they feel like stopping. This seems too mystically “19th Century” to me so I sought to rev it up a little with this innovation. Rather than laying cards down in an orderly sequence, I decided to throw them up in the air and see how they land, similar to the way one would cast and then read stones, sorts or lots in lithomancy. (This is also the perfect come-back for those intuition-besotted purists who loudly pan positional spreads since it ups the ante at their own game.)
I begin by randomly grabbing a chunk of cards out of a shuffled deck (only a modest number so I get a fairly concise and thus coherent result), then toss them in an arbitrary manner onto a table, floor, bed or other large surface and look at their arrangement. I either sling them underhand the way one chucks a Frisbee so they spin around a bit, or just flip them loosely up in the air and let them drop. Some will obviously land face-up and others face-down, but this doesn’t matter; their orientation and spatial relation to one another are the important factors. The higher you throw them, the more desirable “scatter” and less uniform “clumping” you’re likely to get. You could even create a formal “casting circle” as is done in lithomancy, with any cards falling outside its borders to be disregarded in the reading.
Cards that land in a small sub-group are considered more significant, while those that fall singly as outliers or “satellites” will provide additional information to the main narrative. If there is more than one central cluster, there could be competing agendas (or parties) at odds in the matter. For example, two discrete clusters could show a one-on-one relationship conflict, three a “love triangle” and four or more an organizational face-off. Cards that land on top of one another could be treated as a two-tiered (or more) combination, perhaps with the bottom one to be read as a “base” card and the other(s) as offering three-dimensional nuance to the story. There will typically be no easily-discernible organization in these patterns so you will have to envision your own structural alignment, but it’s unlikely to show a linear, left-to-right progression unless you force it to.
I read the patterns using the Lenormand “near/far” method, in which single cards lying close to the core array(s) are more influential, while those farther away are less potent. If all of the cards are singletons, “connect the dots” in any way you choose and read them in a web, a spiral, a maze or any sequence of cards that strikes your fancy. Judgment may also be used to determine whether intervening satellite cards are shared by more than one situational “hub,” complicating their testimony.
Cards that land upright are considered “normal” for interpretation and those that land reversed represent something unique affecting the situation, while those that land sideways at any off-axis angle are ambiguous in their impact, in which case other factors regarding their meaning are more important. It’s up to you how much rotational “slop” to allow in assigning orientation to the cards.
I’ve had some fun with this one (although it’s doubtful I would ever spring it on a paying sitter), and have included a “test throw” to give you an idea how it works (followed by an interpretation in the example reading below). I randomly pulled a segment of 20 cards after shuffling my RWS Centennial pocket edition (I would recommend staying with such smaller cards for this). I used my plastic chair pad as a casting surface with its four edges as the “out-of-bounds” lines. I held the cards in a wide fan to ensure “mixing” in flight and then flipped them into the air from about four feet up.
Five of the cards fell completely off the pad so I ignored them and nine cards landed entirely within bounds; interestingly, three linked pairs dropped with one of the two cards in-bounds and the other one out, so I decided to keep them all in the reading for a total of fifteen to be interpreted. For the purpose of these photos, I tightened up the layout while keeping the spatial relationships and orientation unaltered. The first picture shows the cards “as-cast,” while in the second one they’re ready for reading.
Clearly, the central five-card cluster provides the main thrust of the reading, while the rest of the cards have arranged themselves into pairs suggesting eight co-conspirators who are more-or-less on the fringes of the situation, with two additional singletons more casually aligned. Alternatively, the bottom card in each pair can be interpreted as the “shadow side” of the behaviors and attitudes exhibited by four individuals connected to the matter. I will read the cluster first, then the closer pair on the right, the pair above, the upper pair on the left, the two singletons at the lower right, and finally the bottom pair on the left, with the increasing separation of the satellite cards showing a progressive reduction in ability or opportunity to influence the situation.
This “test throw” was in fact based on a legitimate question so I decided to use it to illustrate this method of reading. The situation centers on an upcoming holiday gathering of a large group of people at the home of one of the parties (a tradition that has been going on for decades), and the question involves how that will work out given the range of opinions on the choice that was made. The resulting cards appear to reveal more about the social dynamics at work in the matter than the actual outcome, although that can be inferred. I dismantled the “unreconstructed” layout and lined up the cards in their to-be-read sequence. The deck is the RWS Centennial Edition, with reversals. (Note that this reading was performed a couple of months before the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, and the event in question has already happened.)
The main theme of this reading is provided by the five-card cluster at the center. The matter revolves around the “happy home” card (10 of Cups) at the base of the cluster. The stack is topped by the Hierophant, suggesting that the individual acting as “prime mover” is intent on maintaining tradition. The King of Wands is the homeowner (lord of his castle), the 4 of Swords reversed implies that he feels a bit “skewered” by the whole thing, and Strength shows that “persuasion” may have been applied to bring him into line. All of the cards except the reversed 4 of Swords in the middle of the line were neutral in orientation, indicating that only the homeowner’s resistance was a “sticking point” in the situation, but he is now resigned to it.
The rest of the cards identify other parties privy to the affair, in descending order of their degree of interest in, and influence on, its development.
The next most-engaged participant is shown by the Queen of Wands/7 of Cups pair, with the 7 of Cups reversed. The Queen believes that the Hierophant’s mission is an honorable one and wants to keep any drama in the background.
The third party is identified by the Judgement/4 of Cups duo. This participant is taking a critical stance but is reserving judgment on the advisability of the undertaking.
The fourth party is represented by the Empress and Justice, both reversed; this participant has effectively “washed her hands” of the controversy and is more concerned about overall fairness and harmony than tradition.
The fifth and sixth parties are reflected in the two “singletons,” shown paired here but actually separated in the original “drop.” One (7 of Swords) really wants no part of any involvement, while the other (4 of Pentacles) supports the Hierophant’s goals.
Participant #7, who was furthest from the center group among those who made it onto the map, is shown by the Fool and the Tower reversed. This remote party doesn’t really have “an oar in the water” and will go with whatever transpires, if at all. There are two more parties who didn’t figure into the reading due, in one case, to physical distance from the “action” and, in the other, to historical indifference over similar past situations). Both parties’ cards fell beyond the borders of the reading surface.
The inference from all of this is that the Hierophant will emerge triumphant and “the show will go on” as planned this time around (which in fact it did, without a hitch).