The Celtic Cross Tarot Spread, sometimes referred to as the ‘Ancient Celtic Cross’ is neither ancient, nor particularly Celtic in origins. It was first published in A.E. Waite‘s A Pictorial Key to the Tarot and has remained with us as a staple Tarot spread ever since, which is not strange considering the popularity of the Waite Smith Tarot as well as A.E. Waite’s influence back in the day. According to Waite, this spread is best used to generate an answer to a specific question and I completely agree… This is possibly the worst spread ever to use for a general reading. For a general reading, I suggest another traditional staple spread, the 12 Houses Zodiac Tarot Spread.
While the Celtic Cross is not one of my favourite Tarot spreads, I do find that it is one I fall back on when I need a full overview what is going on for a more complex issue. I sometimes use only the cross part (first six cards) for this. When I do use the ‘ladder,’ it is with a slight modification to position 9 which is traditionally referred to as ‘Hopes and Fears.’ My reason for this is that the other cards (3+5+7) usually allow hopes and fears to shine through anyway and we are better served by some direct guidance in the form of action advice.
Hence the 10th card is also slightly modified as the outcome will depend on the advice taken on board. It is up to you if you choose to work with the Celtic Cross with the traditional meaning for the 9th card or use this modification. Regardless, the advice below will help you to quickly and efficiently decipher a Tarot spread which often causes the beginner reader to go into overwhelm.
While this is known as a 10-card spread, Waite actually never used it without first choosing a significator card, which you may also wish to do. In case you do you can go by which card best matches the Seeker by looks, age and gender or by astrological correspondence. Waite also suggest using Trumps as significators for well-defined issues such as Justice for a potential law suit etc.
Right… so on to how to decipher the Celtic Cross Tarot spread…
How to Smash the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread in 10 Simple Steps
- Spend some time formulating a suitable question for this spread format and set a time frame. 6-8 weeks is the standard time frame I like to work with for the Celtic Cross. I recommend keeping it to a maximum of six months since two of the spread positions (5+6) deal with events that are near the present moment in time.
- Get the bird’s eye view. Take the whole spread in at a glance and simply observe your initial emotional response to the cards before you start the actual reading. This will only take seconds and you can easily allow yourself this luxury in a centering breath or two.
- Focus on the Heart of the spread. Switch gears and go myopic. It is in the tension between the current situation and the challenge (cards 1+2) presented that you will find the most ‘juice’ for the reading. Majors here tell of fated events in which case the action advice could be more about how to accept/adapt than change the trajectory of events. Most importantly you need to learn to feel the flow and/or grit present between these two cards. Do they get on or will it take a lot to overcome the challenge?
- Get a feel for the Suit Elements at play. Next, it’s back to taking a bird’s eye view of all ten cards to decide which suit dominates. While many people don’t like seeing a predominance of Swords (problem-solving), I usually take it as a positive sign that the issue at hand can be solved much like any other puzzle. If you are asking about love (Cups) and a Pentacles (work/money) card shows up in position 1 or 2, this could show that how events unfold depends on more than the emotions of both parties involved. Again, an abundance of Majors may speak of outside influences being difficult or impossible to control. The focus then needs to shift to the spiritual lesson at hand.
- Are numbers repeating? Repeating numbers can be read in one of two ways: in relation to the overarching lesson presented to the Major Arcana card to which they belong (III The Empress for 3’s, for example) OR they can be read in a more fortune-telling way, where repeated number groups and pairings have their own unique message. If you are new to the Celtic Cross and/or reading the cards, I suggest you stick with the first method.
- Find the people card. A predominance of Court Cards is a tell-tale sign that the Seeker is allowing others to wield too big an influence in the decisions he now has to make. A court card in the final position means that the outcome is in the hands of another. Waite suggests reshuffling and doing another reading centred around what influence this person is having in the Seeker’s life. The Court Card found in the outcome position would then take the place of the significator card. Is this a form of psychic spying though? I’ll let you be the judge of that for your own readings. Besides being ethically questionable, I don’t believe third-party readings are particularly useful. A better way forward might be to look the underlying dynamic the Seeker has with this other person and how to improve it by changing what can be changed.
- Get a fix on the Seeker. Now look at how the Seeker is dealing with all of the influences discussed above in the central column of the cross (3+5). The top card shows you what he is already aware of and beliefs with regards to the issue at hand and the bottom card can refer to either a distant past event that influences the current situation OR to an underlying attitude or belief that is filed in the unconscious mind of the Seeker. Look at these two cards is like looking at the person before you through the lens of the Tarot. Add card 7 into this equation and you are pretty much inside the mind of the Seeker as this shows you his confidence levels and what he beliefs himself capable of (or not).
- Get a fix on the flow of events. Cards 5+1+6 show you recent past, present and future. Try seeing these cards as a film in your mind’s eye for an organic reading, rather than relying on fixed, traditional card meanings. NOT using reversals really helps. There is no reason whatsoever to use reversals with the Celtic Cross (even though Waite did) if you are able to dig a bit deeper and tune into the dynamics and the interplay between the cards.
- Get a fix on the best way forward. Now that you know the story line for the client based on near past, present and near future, you can look at cards 8+9 for the best possible action advice. If a Court Card shows up in position 9, it is always to show which characteristics to harness in order to move forward and not another person. A Court Card in position 8 is usually someone close to the Seeker, such as a family member, lover, colleague or well-known rival/enemy. The Hanged Man in the 9th position shows that there is no active way forward but the Seeker must adapt and wait.
- Gently reveal the expected outcome. The outcome is not fixed in stone but if you keep the time-frame to about 6-8 weeks, I find that it is often more accurate than the BBC weather forecast. The reason for this is that a chain of cause and effect events has already been set in motion and to change the trajectory completely for all of it usually takes more energy than most individuals are willing (or capable) of mustering.