As a creator of numerous tarot spreads, I find that I must walk a fine line between pursuing too much information and seeking insufficient detail in the structure of a layout. Trying to parse a reading into narrative bits that are too fine-grained risks putting too much insignificant “ground clutter” on the reader’s radar screen, while attempting to encompass too much interpretive real estate in too few cards can produce monolithic, indigestible chunks of data that don’t shed much light on the subject of the reading. In either case, the reader is challenged to find a meaningful story-telling thread in the series of cards instead of being encouraged to focus primarily on the subtleties of their interaction. The spread crafter’s dilemma is to avoid redundant statements in the positional blueprint while making sure to touch all of the essential bases.
Spreads that are too small for the purpose can be especially impenetrable. I’ve had the most trouble as a reader with three-card lines that contain all trump cards; it’s like three titans fighting one another to a draw. Any sense of movement in the reading can be stymied by a frustrating sense of grid-lock. These spreads do eventually yield to intense deliberation, but the effort can be as herculean as the card energies themselves, and may still elicit overly vague, “archetypal” observations. It reminds me of the Monty Python “Argument Clinic” sketch and its “being hit on the head” lesson. Running head-on into a brick wall is not my idea of fun.
On the other hand, a spread that meanders all over the landscape invites wasting too much time on petty aspects of the story. I try to generate layouts with positions that serve as crucial “way-points” on the narrative journey, nudging the reading along its intended path while still permitting the reader sufficient leeway to take interesting side trips of a less scripted, more inspired and intuitive nature. This is one reason why I typically recognize reversals in my spreads: they can provide sign-posts pointing down interesting byways that may otherwise be neglected, and can also indicate “potholes” in the road, unavoidable detours or “dead ends.” The Celtic Cross – at least as I’ve tweaked it over time to meet my own unique vision – is an excellent example of a spread that has just enough of everything – adequate back-story, dynamic situational flow and solid developmental infrastructure. I’ve been working with it for decades and see it as a kind of “gold standard” of effective spread design.
As a lover of large spreads that allow plenty of room to stretch out as a story-teller, my personal ambition is to design more economical layouts that rival the simplicity of a three-card or five-card line while still offering substantial heft to carry a more intricate and fleshed-out accounting.