How to read without spreads?

I talked before about how I don’t read with spreads and gave some suggestions about reading sans-spreads. But I wanted to talk some more about it. I think readings without a spread are a great way to push yourself and to really see how you can weave the story. This is going to be a bit of a longer post, but I tried to drill it down to the essentials.

The prep:

  • Figure out how many cards you want out there. You can have anywhere from two to seventy-eight (I wouldn’t recommend more than 12). I like nine; there really wasn’t a particular reason when I started. But nine relates to the Tarot card The Hermit, the care of inner knowing, searching for answers within yourself.
  • Figure out how you want to arrange the cards. I like the symmetry and simplicity of three rows of three; again there was no meaning when I did it to begin with. Whatever works for you is what matters. Experiment with different layouts.

The doing:

  • After you have shuffled and laid the cards out, stop & breathe. Before you jump right into talking, take a moment and relax. If you are tense, you’re reading isn’t going to flow. It’s going to be forced.
  • Look at each of the cards. Take the whole spread in. See what cards are there, let them register and then move to the next one.
  • Ask yourself:
    • Is there more of one suit?
    • Who (the courts) is in the reading?
    • What direction are the cards facing? Forward? Backward?
    • Are the cards active (moving) or passive (stationery)?
  • Start with the first card that caught your eye. This is the card to start with. What caught your eye about it?
  • Just start talking (or writing if you are doing this for yourself). Your mind is going to piece the story together but you have to let it. Don’t be afraid of being wrong, just talk. The mind is a powerful tool that likes to find patterns and it will find the story in the cards.
  • After you have said everything that comes to mind. What card didn’t you focus on? Why wasn’t this card prominent; taking what you just said how would this card fit in? Reading sans-spreads, you leave no stone unturned. How would this neglected card(s) fit into the story. What does it have to say? Then, say it.


  • If you are reading for others, ask them what didn’t make sense. If you are reading for yourself, what wasn’t clear. Go back see what cards told that part of the story and see why it didn’t make sense. Try to get clarity.
    • If things still don’t make sense, you can add another card or two (don’t add a whole other spread; just a card or two). And see if there is clarity there. You can do this for the neglected cards too.
  • Let the questioner ask questions. This is their reading as much as yours. If they walk away wondering about something, you didn’t accomplish the objective.
  • Take some notes on how it was for you to read without a spread. How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Dislike it? Why? What would you change if you tried this again?

Whether you want to use spreads or not, give both methods a try. See which feels better and then use that. As you read for yourself and others, you will develop your style. Your style is what makes you unique as a reader.



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