The “Alternate Reality” Timeline Spread

I don’t use the 3-card “past/present/future” spread very much because I find it lacking in detail. Trying to stuff all of the relevant nuances of a moment in time into the narrow confines of a single card is like omitting the yeast when baking bread; it can be done but the results are usually quite thin. Circumstances – external or otherwise – often intervene to change the complexion of that moment, such that a linear reading of a situation can be unreliable. The challenge is to create a spread that expands the reader’s interpretive palette in a more three-dimensional way without winding up with a sprawling, meandering mess. The need for amplification vies with the equally compelling need for economy of expression. For the record, I have a few exceptionally large spreads (20+ cards) that I seldom use either; they seemed like a good idea at the time but are exhausting to decipher in useful terms. Anyone who has tried to work through all five operations of the Golden Dawn’s “Opening of the Key” method will know what I’m talking about. The common solution to a lack of depth or clarity in a card’s testimony is to simply pull more cards, optimistically called “clarifiers” but just as often acting as “confusers.” I wouldn’t consider myself much of a reader if I couldn’t bear down and unravel the mystery of what a puzzling card is trying to tell me without resorting to such embellishments.

That said, there are occasions when a simple timeline is the best tool for the job, as long as a way can be found to introduce some elasticity into the focus of the card in each position of the spread. Cards do have multiple layers of meaning that can be explored (typical sub-sets are practical, psychological and spiritual/philosophical), and techniques like reversal, dignity (emphasizing cards of a complementary nature) and facing (right-facing figures impel the matter forward, left-facing figures resist progress, in-or-out-facing figures are neutral) can be applied to good effect as well. But sometimes there is such a wide gulf between the customary interpretation of a card and the context of the situation that the reader draws a total blank, one that redoubled concentration won’t dispel. A better option is to build “windows” into each position offering a glimpse of parallel influences that may be at work in the matter. Such revelations can serve to redraw the dimensions of the querent’s reality and  alter the relative importance of each “time capsule” in the overall outlook. For example, something in the past that may have been dismissed out-of-hand at the time could take on dramatic significance when more subtle aspects are brought to light.

This spread provides a series of such windows, hidden or “shuttered” until thrown open by the exigencies of the reading. I have used the upright or reversed orientation of the cards in the middle row (the “principal” cards) as a pointer to activate one or the other of the modifying cards (the “satellite” outliers). The cards are then read in pairs, with each principal card either reinforced or impaired by the nature of its modifier. The adjusted potency of the principal cards is then factored into the reading of the line, creating a staggered 10-card narrative which admits alternate impressions into the story-line. Although I don’t use “shadow” cards, the structure of the spread supports treating the other hidden cards as background information of tertiary importance (this might be particularly useful when the principal card is reversed). The two “book-end” cards (the Origin and Outcome) operate like the “foundation” (root of the matter) and “outcome” cards of the Celtic Cross spread, while the cards between them show the development of the situation over time.

Alternate Reality Spread.JPG

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