I’m more than a little bemused by people who say that using formal tarot spreads “inhibits their intuition.” Seems to me they’re too easily diverted from their goal by undue sensitivity to the mechanics of the art; a spread is nothing more than a convenient template that offers a reasonable place to start, like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. It gives form to its contents but is ideally neutral as far as forcing it into unnatural configurations. A skilled reader uses this tool but isn’t commanded by it any more than by the “book” meaning of the cards. Flexibility of choice should be inherent in any method of interpretation and, when intelligently constructed, spread positions can be considered scoping cues that aid in identifying the “what,” the “why,” the “how” and to a lesser extent the “who, where and when” of a situation without being overly prescriptive. While they don’t exactly liberate to the extent that self-styled “intuitive” readers see as vital, effective spreads also don’t “pinch” like a too-tight pair of shoes, they guide and motivate the imagination. Their perceived rigidity is just that: a false perception that is easily overcome by taking a broad view of their purpose.
I think of positional spreads as roadmaps that offer directional signposts for the journey. There is usually more than one way to get to the destination, and the reader can either choose the shortest distance between two points or take the “scenic route.” They provide definition for one’s observations, keeping them from wandering all over the landscape as stray epiphanies are wont to do. I develop them as “storyboards” on which to hang the cards in a way that creates a strong sense of narrative flow. They provide points of entry and exit for the reading, contributing to the efficiency and economy of the process. When working professionally, this level of organization is essential for keeping the session on track and within the allotted time-frame. In addition, “topical” spreads (those designed to address a specific area of life) furnish a tailored reading experience that can get right to the heart of the matter with a minimum of dithering over the applicability of the cards on the table. Frankly, I don’t like to work that hard, and spreads give me a head start on making sense of the querent’s underlying circumstances.
Personally, I use the modern tarot-reader’s form of intuitive conjecture sparingly in my reading, perhaps employing a little free-association from the images (unless, of course, I’m using the Tarot de Marseille). Instead, I prefer to approach a reading by tapping into the deeply-ingrained knowledge of the cards that I’ve accumulated over the last 48 years, through both study and experience. I see no reason to resort to mystical measures when I have a client sitting across the table who can immediately confirm or refute the observations arising from the spread. I’m not much into random guesswork when I have a knowledge-based library of meanings in my head that can be shaped to fit the context of the reading. This shaping may be informed by the storyteller’s reliable trio of imagination, inspiration and ingenuity, but it isn’t the product of divine, angelic or spiritual insight, it’s entirely pragmatic and grounded in the facts as my querents understand them within the scope of their circumstances at the time of the reading.
I’m perfectly happy saying to my clients “Here is what this card in this position typically means in a situation like yours” and have them tell me how it fits into their private vision of reality, since they know it in their hearts far better than I ever could. I’m not trying to convince anyone of my prescience, and my job isn’t to dazzle them with truths I couldn’t possibly know. The arrangement of the cards in just the right way to reveal the message they need to hear is a result of their tactile handling of the deck during the shuffle. This is why I never shuffle for my clients; it’s their reading and they have an obligation to perform the “rite of subconscious induction” that imparts their subliminal awareness of the likely future into the array of cards. A well-made spread gathers up and brings focus to this sometime vague mass of impressions by “slotting” them into a coherent order of progression that produces a credible story-line. The reader’s skill in clothing this skeletal framework with pertinent details that are both vivid and insightful is what produces a compelling experience for the sitter.