Rethinking the Three-Card “Timeline” Spread

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In a recent post I gave a brief nod to the idea of scrapping the venerable “Past/Present/Future” three-card, left-to-right, timeline spread and replacing it with a more relevant sequence: “Present/Immediate Future/Extended Future.” While examining prior events may be admissible in a large spread like the Celtic Cross where most of the emphasis is on present and future developments, in a small spread it just takes up valuable real estate. Here I will examine the notion in more detail.

Unless the querent is somehow “stuck in the past” and unable to overcome a debilitating block, the “Past” position of a short timeline reading is typically wasted since nothing can be done about a situation that has already transpired. All we can hope to accomplish is to identify and defuse any residual impact on current affairs, and such implications may not even exist. When they do, their interpretation may add historical perspective but it offers little in the way of actionable content. I would much rather start with where things stand at the moment the cards are pulled since the applicability should be immediately obvious, and I can pick up where past experiences have left off. I like the concept of “traction;” the Present offers opportunities to change the course of future circumstances and events by being proactive in the “Now” rather than waiting for potentially undesirable conditions to emerge and then struggling with them. We can plant our feet and lean into the anticipated “winds of change” with the goal of stepping off into the unknown with a clear objective in mind and a positive attitude.

In this way the prediction can be made fresh by foregoing any out-of-date observations and assumptions. Sitters are usually eager to know what they can do right away to make a difference in their lives, and it does little good to explore the “woulda/coulda/ shoulda” scenario of missed opportunities and misplaced priorities. The querent has already learned those lessons and doesn’t need to have them reinforced in the current narrative. If the “Present” card hints at what went before, the querent will surely point that out but the reader has no reason to dwell on it when the focus should be on doing something constructive in the here-and-now to set the stage for what is coming. It becomes a matter of academic interest to know what brought the querent to the table but merely saying “Don’t do that again!” is moot and counterproductive. It may be appropriate for a side-conversation but it has no place in the main body of a limited reading.

The “Immediate Future” position shows a transitional state of development; the “ink is still wet” on the contract and there may yet be time to redirect one’s resources in the most effective way. As with the “Near Future” position in the Celtic Cross spread, I wouldn’t expect to extend the duration of this interim period beyond a week or two (and maybe less) depending on how “fast-tracked” the querent’s projected timeline is. I often describe this elastic state of anticipation as “taking the first step in a new direction,” with the attendant risk of making a tentative “false start” before dynamic balance and momentum are achieved. This is where the “one step forward, two steps back” dilemma can rear its head as more than one attractive option beckons.

The “Extended Future” position is essentially the “end of the matter” or outcome card, but it is still an in-process proposition rather than a “done deal.” Circumstances may have matured but they are not yet carved in stone even though maneuvering may be reduced to “end-game” proportions. Countermeasures could be in order if expectations are in danger of not being met. If that pertains, it may be useful to pull a fourth card to reflect the “rest of the story,” or to use the “Extended Future” card as the “Present” card for a new pull that will show the same thing. Tarot is infinitely flexible and adaptable, so there is no reason to despair unless the subsequent draw shows no relief in sight. In that case it may be time to cut one’s losses and embark on a different approach.


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