The real estate agent’s mantra is “Location, location, location.” It refers to the fact that the location of a house is frequently more important to a prospective home buyer than the features or condition of the building itself. There is an analogous situation in the landscape of a tarot spread: the position of a particular card in the layout can either increase or decrease its importance to the reading. In past/present/ future spreads, the card in the “past” position is often (but not always, and especially not in “psychological” readings) less meaningful for present or future circumstances in the querent’s life. In those spreads with an “outcome” position, that is usually the card toward which the reader steers the entire narrative. The practice of Elemental Dignities places special emphasis on a card’s relationship to the two cards on either side; the middle card becomes the “principal” or focus when reading the array. In many other spreads, the cards “in the middle” provide transitional links that function as “signposts” along the road from the known point of origin to the unknown destination.
I admit that I’m a fan of positional spreads. In the art of creating a compelling story from a random series of cards, the structure offered by a coherent framework of established positions serves much the same purpose as the house-and-sign combinations in an astrological chart. The cards, similar to the astrological planets, show “what” will happen, while the positions show “how” (and sometimes “where” and “when”) it will occur. When I create a tarot spread, I use positional meanings to sketch the basic parameters of what I want the layout to tell me. The positions of a relationship spread will have a different slant than those of a work-related spread, and the positions of both will vary from the aim of a health-themed layout. I think of it as a story-teller’s “coloring book;” the positions provide the outlines and the cards fill them with color.
“Positionless” spreads don’t do much for me since they require too much intuitive guesswork (not to mention time) to piece everything together during the interpretation. The effort expended to create order from chaos, while it can produce inspired leaps of imagination, doesn’t always work to the advantage of a reading that has specific pragmatic goals, such as answering “Will I get the job?” A carefully-designed spread that is created for a specific purpose acts like a launch-pad from which the trajectory of a reading can be at least loosely mapped in advance. Part of my aversion to unstructured layouts may be due to the fact that, as a spread designer, I’m a story-teller first but also a graphic artist, an engineer and an analyst. “Throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks” doesn’t sit well with me.” It reminds me too much of a Jackson Pollock painting.
You can see numerous examples of my approach here: