For those of us who believe that tarot divination is an effective tool for identifying future possibilities and tendencies in an individual’s personal reality, the question of “when” looms large on the predictive horizon. There is a divergence of professional opinion on the subject of how long a reading is “good for.” Some people say they have had a forecast come true years after the reading that produced it. In my personal experience, a life-reading with the Celtic Cross has a reliable duration of around three months, but may go out to six months if the context of the question supports it. (For example, inquiring in February about how entering college in September will turn out is a legitimate question, assuming acceptance has already been received.) To fill out the timeline, I treat the “recent past” and “near future” positions as a couple of weeks to a month in either direction. I sometimes think that proposing too short a span for advancement of a situation can come across as a “money grab” aimed at getting the sitter back in the door sooner rather than later for an update.
In most cases, asking about something that could take a year or more to mature is not a credible pursuit since too many variables can intervene over such a long range to throw the picture out of focus. I’ve done it from time-to-time, but I will concentrate more on the “tone” than the “substance” of the target period, and speak with more confidence about the near-future scenario that sets the stage for the eventual outcome. I usually describe the intervening cards as “signposts” along the road that point the way toward the final destination, showing the status of the situation as it unfolds and the stance the querent should take in navigating it. In that sense, “when” becomes more a question of progress toward the goal that can either accelerate or delay the result depending on how the querent chooses to engage with it. My own version of the Celtic Cross follows the old model of considering the “cross” section to involve the circumstances of the matter and its development (the “environment of the question”), and the “staff” section to show the querent’s response to those developments as they emerge; any “psychological” aspects of the reading appear in the “staff” because they qualify how the querent might react to the stimulus.
I’m not a fan of the shorter “Past/Present/Future” spread because it leaves too many gaps in the narrative that have to be filled with intuitive guess-work. As a story-teller I feel constrained by the narrow scope of such readings; they feel like they’re “on rails,” to use an old electronic gaming metaphor, with little opportunity for creative adaptation or adjustment in the rush to conclusion. We may tell our sitters that nothing about the situation is carved in stone, but if our tools are too rigid to support that perspective we aren’t truly delivering on our promise. I often feel like I’m wearing a too-tight pair of shoes, with no room to wiggle my toes. Larger spreads afford more breathing room to explore the querent’s options in matching speeds with the projected flow of events and handling the influence of evolving circumstances. My favorite analogy for how I work this angle is that of a sports broadcast: there is typically a play-by-play commentator who describes developments on the field in a matter-of-fact way, and a “color” commentator (usually an ex-jock) who provides anecdotal flourishes about the players and about the “old days” of the sport. The viewer gets a more well-rounded sense of the game than if they were just handed a stat sheet.