The next leg on the budding tarotists road to mastery usually starts with a line of three cards, often presented in a “past/present/future” array that is read from left to right. As a learning tool, this offers a logical progression that moves from Point A to Point C through the pivotal intercession of Point B, creating the opportunity to form a story with a traditional beginning, middle and end from the three cards. There are a number of ways to look at this arrangement: “where you’re coming from;” “where you are right now;” and “where you’re going” is the most common, although “what you bring to the table;” “what you can do with it;” and “what you take away from the experience” may be a more useful perspective. The reader’s goal at this point is to practice story-telling by judging the relative significance of each card in the series to the overall narrative: is the turning-point or major crisis in the situation locked in the past, ongoing in the present or likely to appear in the foreseeable future? The subject of the reading may be unable to let go of past “baggage,” may be currently immersed in the throes of a dilemma, or may be facing a rough patch as the tale unfolds. Alternatively, an improving trend may be signaled by more fortunate cards. The situational content and developmental outlook in each case would most likely be different.
Another way to read a line of three cards is with the center card as the focus card in the reading and the two flanking cards as modifiers. This gives a narrowly defined outlook rather than a moving timeline, with a single card as the answer and the subordinate cards elaborating on its testimony. A fanciful way to look at the two abutting cards is that they are “accomplices before and after the fact.” Another wrinkle is to select the most potent card of the set as the focus card, regardless of where it falls. In such cases a trump card would normally outrank a court or pip card, and a court card would outweigh a pip card. When there is more than one dominant card of the same type, the nature of the cards should be considered in relation to the context of the question before deciding which to use. Reversal may also sway the choice, where a weakened card of a higher denomination may defer to a powerful card of a lower rank. A third consideration – although its practice is usually relegated to the next degree of expertise – is to determine whether the elemental qualities of the three cards are mutually friendly or unfriendly, in one case increasing the potency of the focus card and in the other diminishing it.
At the “journeyman” level, larger spreads begin to make an appearance. The five-card line is another common layout; it has the advantage of all odd-numbered spreads in that there is a central card that can be considered the focus or pivot of the reading around which the rest of the cards revolve. The four-card spread that observes the Fire/Water/Air/Earth separation is also a popular option. Once again, I’m not the most reliable observer in this area since I started with the 10-card Celtic Cross and used it almost exclusively from 1972 to 2011. I only began working with smaller layouts when I began creating my own spreads. Large spreads challenge the reader’s ability to sift through the often conflicting testimony in the cards to find the most pertinent and effective interpretation.