The Virtue of Simplicity: Redrawing the Celtic Cross

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I updated the text and graphic to clarify a couple of things. (I knew what I wanted to say but didn’t quite say it.)

The Celtic Cross spread is an entrenched tradition among tarot readers, but it is one many people (especially younger enthusiasts) “love to hate” due to its ungainly complexity (too many moving parts and not enough internal lubrication in the form of “bridging” principles between many of the cards). I’ve been reading a thought-provoking book titled The Tao of Thoth that proposes infusing the simplicity of Taoism into the practice of the Hermetic arts, and have found much to like in it. So I thought I would bring my newfound wisdom to another critical deconstruction and simplification of the Celtic Cross, after which I will try to render it into its essence with alchemical flair rather than merely stripping it down to bare bones.

First off, we must have some kind of “core” that provides a catalyst for development of the matter. (We will dispense with the traditional Significator card as irrelevant.) This implies the need for a central two-card cross to symbolize the Self and those elements of “not-Self” that try to nudge it from its static perch. Think of it as “the Immovable Object meets the Irresistible Force,” or in less exalted language, the “boulder” and the “wedge.” Something’s gotta give to break the impasse and get things moving.

The single vertical card previously called the “covering” card will be kept to symbolize the subject of the reading in its nascent form: the “heart of the matter” or “situation as it stands” before any external influences are brought to bear. This will show the current state of affairs for both the matter at hand and the querent’s initial place in it.

Next, the original “crossing” card will be retained, but not strictly as an obstacle to growth in the matter. I prefer to think of it as describing “major motivators” that won’t permit lingering in the status quo. It will therefore represent both challenges that are immediately pressing and any opportunities that may coexist with them or follow in their wake. This neatly sidesteps the “good card in a bad position” conundrum by letting us focus on any encouraging implications shown by the card. However, they will always be of a “triggering” nature and will not simply reflect a pleasant but stultifying inertia. There is no “should I stay or should I go” dilemma here.

Third in importance, we will require some kind of “Unresolved Past” marker since old problems that have been completely suppressed or only partially confronted can often bleed over into present circumstances, bringing the kind of nagging doubts that just won’t go away. One goal of the reading will be to identify them and put them to bed once-and-for-all. However, we don’t need two of them. Since I use Eden Gray’s clockwise rotation for the “cross” section rather than Waite’s counterclockwise flow, we will place this card to the left of the central array.

Therefore, we have no use for the “Distant Past” card at the bottom (and even less use for its modern psychological interpretation as the Unconscious since that will be addressed in the truncated “staff” section), nor for the “crowning” card since all developmental potential is contained in the “heart of the matter” card and its motivational complement.

Moving on, the “Near Future” card continues to be useful as a “stepping-stone, precursor or stage-setter” for the final result or “End of the Matter.” I consider it to be a “way-shower” suggesting how the subject can be moved along the path to closure; it can indicate the most compelling “next step” for the querent in the situation. This card will be placed to the right of the central pair; it represents a distillation or crystallization of the early going in the matter that serves as a prompt for the “run-up to closure.” The querent may still push back against it, which is one possible expression of Card #6. My feeling with the Near Future card has always been that querents are still sorting themselves out at that point so they’re up-in-the-air about a definitive outcome (or even what one might look like). It’s not so much “turning the page” on a chapter as segueing gradually between scenes.

There is an obvious shift in the action coming here. Up to and including Card #4, things have been pretty much on auto-pilot as the situation unrolls in a linear fashion according to script. When circumstances progress to Card #5 – if we as readers do our job right – querents should begin to get their legs under them, have their mental/emotional response mechanisms cranked up to “11” and be ready to grab the helm and steer the ship toward port. (I’ve introduced the idea of a “vertical slice” of the querent’s personality and state of readiness.) This is where “empowerment” should be in full swing even if the Near Future card was less than encouraging.

The fifth card comes from the original “Querent’s Environment and Influence of Other People” position. I envision it as showing the “climate for change” at work on the querent and his or her need to adapt in order to successfully come to grips with the projected conclusion of the matter. It is relabeled as the “Querent’s Status & Potential” and portrays the querent’s degree of focus, steadiness, agility and momentum as he or she closes on the target. Ideally, this will be an “empowering” card but it could just as easily show a lack of readiness to deal with the consequences, making it ripe for any timely coping measures suggested by the foregoing cards. As I see it, this position conveys the “crux” or critical turning-point of the matter, showing “where the rubber meets to road” in that it should be read as an incentive to apply “traction” (constructive purpose and direction) to the querent’s forward progress toward closure. I view it as the most important card in the reading from the standpoint of successful navigation of the road ahead. We will place it to the immediate right of the “Near Future” card.

Now we come to the psychological implications of the querent’s impending “rendezvous with destiny.” I don’t use the “Conscious/Unconscious” paradigm here because I think everything is on the table at this point and there are no hidden aspects to “blindside” the querent (although without the help of the reading they may certainly be overlooked or denied as to their significance). For this purpose I will keep Eden Gray’s restructuring of Waite’s “Hopes and Fears” composite position, which she split into two separate components; but I will relabel them according to my own assumptions. Both of these card should be factored into the querent’s proactive efforts to arrive at a state of equanimity as the “end of the matter” looms.

The first one we will place below the previous card and label it the “Seat of Limitation,” showing all manner of self-defeating attitudes and behaviors that work against the querent’s best interests in the matter; I think of it as the “psychic basement” where pessimistic self-doubts accumulate. It can also divulge the querent’s instinctive push-back against the changes imposed by the “Near Future” scenario (dragging of feet, digging in of heels, etc).

The second one offsets and hopefully overpowers the first; it sits above the “Querent’s Status” card and is titled the “Seat of Aspiration,” showing not only the querent’s most optimistic outlook for a satisfactory outcome, but also what he or she aspires to and is willing to work for in realizing that vision.

The “Final Outcome” card will be placed to the right of the “Querent’s Situation” card. I have made no changes to the traditional interpretation of this card; it reveals the “End of the Matter” or ultimate answer to the question. In line with my customary practice, we will assume that the conclusion will materialize within one to three months after the reading; however, this can be fine-tuned by applying my experimental “Penultimate Timing Method” to Card #5 with the understanding that the querent’s reaction to emergence of the “Near Future” (Card #4) may either accelerate or delay long-term closure.

What we have come up with is a kind of horizontal or “flattened” 8-card Celtic Cross variant that dispenses with some of the extraneous positions of the original. Given that European football is big in the ancestral homeland of the Celts, I’m going to name it the “Celtic Goalpost” spread. The “Querent’s Status” card suggests the “ball,” the paired “Seat of Limitation” and “Seat of Aspiration” positions represent the “goalposts,” and the “Final Outcome” card provides the “net.” The objective of the reading is to kick the “ball” (querent) into the “net” (future), as squarely as possible between the “goalposts” (limiting psychological determinants showing how far the querent is willing or able to go in mentally repositioning for success).

In a Waite “alternate universe,” we might sub-title these positions as “This Anchors Him” (Card #1); “This Motivates Him” (Card #2); “This Is Behind Him” (Card #3); “This Is Before Him” (Card #4); “This Defines/Redefines Him” (Card #5); “This Holds Him Back” (Card #6); “This Inspires Him” (Card #7); and “Final Outcome/End of the Matter” (Card #8).

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