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The Cards Ask the Questions This Time

July 26, 2010

There is a way to use cards from one deck to suggest positional meanings for a spread, then use cards from another deck to do the reading using that just-created spread.  But that’s a tangential topic, so I’ll save it for a future blog post.

It was over a month ago that I wrote those words in a footnote to a blog post, called “Reading with multiple decks” … and finally I’m getting around to it!

Note: The following material is adapted from a chapter in Tarot: Get the Whole Story called “Dealing Cards for Questions.”

One way that you can create a spread based on a given shape is to deal cards into the chosen pattern and define the positions based on your interpretation of those cards.[1] In this case, an abstract shape works well if it implies a meaning that is relevant to the intent of the spread.  That intent also sets the tone for the process of defining the positional meanings based on the cards dealt.  Once the cards from Deck 1 have been laid out and the positional definitions have been set based on them, get your second deck ready.  Shuffle it and deal cards that you will place over the cards from Deck 1 and now do the reading. It is important to reiterate that the cards from Deck 1 were used for defining the layout positions only.  It is the cards from Deck 2 that you will use for the actual reading.

To illustrate this technique, I showed how I once used it to create a spread for a client with marital problems. (If you want to see the details of this, you’ll have to get the book. 😀 )

Briefly, here are the cards I dealt and the positional meanings that they suggested:


My recoloring of the RWS Ace of WandsAce of Wands — How can you be more creative in your relationship?

Temperance — Where does your relationship need more balance or moderation?

Ten of Wands — In what ways do you feel burdened by your marriage?

Hanged Man — What aspect of your marriage do you need to see from a different point of view?

Three of Wands — What is your vision for your marriage?  In other words, where do you see it going from here?My re-coloring of the RWS Judgement Card

Page of Swords — What new and unexpected things are you just now learning about your spouse and about your marriage itself?

Judgement — How can you rejuvenate and revitalize your marriage?


I haven’t used this often, but it always works nicely.  I think the cards are happy to have the chance to ask questions instead of answer them for a change.

[1] This technique was inspired by an exercise in a workshop taught by Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack in which we drew several Major Arcana cards to pose questions, then dealt cards to answer those questions.

  1. Davina permalink

    nice idea again. 🙂 I think I can give this a go sometime. Maybe for those times I have a question posed, and don’t have it at the forefront of my mind how I would phrase the questions within the main question (if that makes sense). Also shows further trust in the cards. If we trust them to come up with the right interpretation, why not trust them to come up with the most appropriate questions?

    So much food for thought.

    (I might even take it one step further. the first numbered card may give an idea of how many positions I should perhaps consider….. just a quick thought there. Might not work but as it popped in thought I should get it out…lol)

    • Interesting addition to use a numbered card to see how many card positions to create. I generally have the spread layout in my mind at the beginning, but that’s just how my mind works, probably. 😀

  2. I really do like this idea James – thanks for sharing.

  3. I have often used the random draw of cards to suggest questions to clients who are unforthcoming with a question. Sometimes they become elements for a spread.
    Stephen L. Schwartz of Plano Texas (Currently no web presence) created a deck of cards just for the deliberate or random creation of spreads. Dynamic Spread Deck is 80 cards in 4 suits to represent spread positions. The suits roughly correspond to the four levels or worlds of concealing light of creation (olam)in the Kabalah.
    Inner Awareness suit- understanding inner conflicts and potential (24 cards in 6 sets of 4 each as opportunity- challenge pairs) Correspondence: earth, pentacle, Color: Gold, World: assiah- active olam; position number on the Celtic Cross: 7.

    Environmental Awareness- understanding important external environment influences (9 or is it 18 ?cards representing mind, body, personality, love, family, community, finance, home, nature) Correspondence: air, swords, Color: Blue, World: yetzirah- formative olam; position number on the Celtic Cross: 2, 8.

    IA and EA suits complement each other as inner and outer.

    Situational Awareness suit- to make appropriate decisions based analysis of complex situations (20 cards that represent 2 each of the Celtic Cross 10 card spread: following the order meaning but refined with four levels of inquiry on each card. Correspondence: Water, Cups, Color: white, World: briah- creative olam; position number on the Celtic Cross: 9.

    Intention Based Living suit- the effective use of the power of intention in your life ( #18? of cards? includes charka and intentional affirmations to become a creator of own life). Correspondence: Fire, Wands, Color: Red, World: atziluth- archetypal olam; position number on the Celtic Cross: 10.

    This rough outline does not do full justice to the complexity, utility and versatility of these suits. I hope that Stephen makes his aid more readily available to the tarot community.

    • Hi Paul,
      Thanks for the detailed explanation of this Spreads Deck. Sounds like an interesting alternative. Please let us know when Stephen makes this more available. In the meantime, perhaps we can dabble with the concept and make a deck like this ourselves using index cards or something.
      PS: I can’t believe there’s still someone in America with no web presence!

  4. David permalink

    Thanks for this, James. It will provide an interesting discussion in my next Tarot class. BTW, I again used your Contra-positive approach in a class last night and all the students were excited and involved, immediately. Also, we used your deck, TofM, doing several spreads several of which were deep personal readings. The cards were amazing, very evocative and, in conjunction with your book, added great wisdom and insight to the querents understanding of their dilemma. I directed my class to your blog and to your books and website. Hopefully, you’ll be getting some hits.

  5. shadowmeteresa permalink

    I use a similar technique often for public reading environments where people often sit down and have no idea what they want to ask. It seems to work well if you tell them that you will draw a tarot card for what the universe believes it is most important for them to know about at this time. I use that one card to define the question or the area that the reading will be about, then one of a number of standard public reading spreads (that I know will fit into the time allotted as well as thoroughly cover the question) to do the reading. A little different use, but the same idea. It’s also nice because what the person may think they want to know about isn’t always really the most important thing they should know about.

    • Hi Teresa,
      Oh yes, THAT I do a lot for readings at parties and such. Definitely useful in those situations since a large portion of the people don’t have a specific question in mind.

  6. Davina permalink

    I have been tempted to draw up a template, where I can have some suggested questions for every card in the deck. I appreciate these will not be definitiv, but many could be generically applied to any situation, as you showed in your examples. e.g. replacing the word relationship or marriage with another scenario, yet it would still be appropriate.

    so, High Priestess could be: “If you could listen to your instincts about (name the scenario), what would they be saying to you?”

    Will be going back to my questioning days as a police woman and using the 5WH approach (why, what, who, when, where, how). It will not be definitive I know, but typing it out just helps my brain to get into the easy flow of thinking of a question for that card. It is probable I won’t use it when doing a reading, aa I said -thinking about it now and typing it out is helping me train my brain to be creative and instinctive with this method.
    Out of curiosity, has anyone done this already?


    • I haven’t done this as rigorously as you’re talking about here, but it’s a similar thinking process to what I’ve used. However, as I recall, the Yahoo group, Comparative Tarot, has done something similar.

      By the way, this is a great way to explore the cards as well as create your own way to create spreads dynamically.

      PS: I’m glad this article has got you thinking about this! 😀

  7. Davina permalink

    apologies for the typos of the previous posting… my fingers have had a mind of their own today 😀

  8. Will have to try this concept… hadn’t occured to me to allow the cards to ask the questions before. Seems rather obvious now that your bring it to the forefront.

    Thanks so much for sharing this insight…

  9. I love the idea of letting the cards determine the questions and positions for the spread Thank you for sharing this.

  10. Shale and Maria —
    You’re very welcome.
    Let me know how this works out for you!

  11. This is an interesting idea. I’ll have to give it a try.

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