5 Different Tarot Card Spreads For The Total Beginner

Photographed by Megan Madden.
It's easy to fall under the spell of tarot cards: Their meanings are universal enough to apply to just about anyone, and nowadays it's easy to find and purchase a deck that fits your aesthetic to a T. But, once you decide to give them a try, how do you, you know, use them?
Tarot reader Theresa Reed tells us that it's actually quite simple to ease your way into a robust tarot practice, but there are a few tricks to making it stick. First, start small. Second, practice with clear mind. Finally, keep in mind that tarot is not a memory test.
If you're just starting out, Reed explains, don't feel like you need to go into your first reading blind. Draw a card then feel free to look it up in a tarot book or online to find its meaning. Or, if you aren't 100% clear on how to set up a certain type of spread, your reference materials almost definitely have a template for it, so consult them before laying out a dozen cards willy-nilly.
To that same end, don't try to tackle all the overarching problems in the world with a single reading. While you shuffle your deck, come up with a specific question or concern that you hope the cards will address. Reed says that practicing out of general worry or confusion will lead to a muddled and biased reading.
Ahead, we'll take a closer look at that first tip from Reed: Start small. That's your best course of action as far as creating tarot spreads (aka card formations) goes. Read on to get the lowdown on how to put your deck to use.
Read these stories next:
1 of 5
Single Card

It doesn't get more straightforward than this. Reed says pulling a single card can answer a direct "yes or no" question, bring clarity to a problem in your life, or simply help set the tone for your day ahead. It's also suited for beginners, given its simplicity: Just fan out the deck with your query in mind, and pull the first card that catches your eye. Reeds adds that you can use your single card reading as a springboard for journaling — spend some time reflecting on the card you draw, and write out how you think it applies to your current situation.
2 of 5
Past, Present, and Future

This three-card spread is pretty self-explanatory and, according to Reed, it's "been around forever." The first card you pull from the top of the deck reflects your past, the second your present, and the third your future. Look at them individually to see how they fit each time period, then lay them out in a row to see the longer story that they tell. This spread is all about the lessons you stand to learn from the linear passage of time, so even if the three cards you draw seem completely unrelated at first, they're depicting a story arc of sorts.
3 of 5
Mind, Body, and Spirit

Reed says this three-card spread is a great way to check in with yourself. As with the past, present, and future spread, it's important to look at the cards one at a time and together. In this case, doing the latter won't tell you a "story," per se, but it will give you a better idea of how your whole self is doing. If the cards representing your mind and spirit, for example, have conflicting meanings, your head and your heart might not be aligned at the moment. This is a great spread for people who often deal with inner conflict or decision — make it part of your weekly or daily routine, if you like.
4 of 5

To set up the horseshoe, start drawing cards and placing them from the bottom left and continue until you reach the bottom right of the horseshoe or upside-down "U" shape. You'll end up with seven cards in total. This may seem like a drastic change of pace from the single and three-card spreads we just mentioned, but Reed insists that even a beginner can distill meaning from more complicated spreads. "I like to use the horseshoe if I have a question about the future, but also want to take a look at what obstacles are present." That's the big picture that the spread will paint, but each card indicates a specific aspect of your situation (the bottom left, for example, represent past events while the bottom right card suggests a possible outcome). Give the horseshoe a try the next time you're left with a few lingering questions after a past, present, and future reading.
5 of 5
Celtic Cross

The iconic Celtic cross spread is also the most complex one that Reed recommends for tarot newbies. This spread offers an even more in-depth snapshot of the past and future — Reed says the horseshoe is actually a "modified" version of the cross — and, she adds, it provides the reader with a clearer idea of what patterns have been forming over time. Reed admits that the Celtic cross isn't for everyone, but if you're a process- and detail-oriented person, you'll love sitting with this spread and parsing its meaning slowly and steadily. That said, it's definitely wise to keep a diagram handy the first few times you try out the cross, since the order in which you lay out the cards isn't as intuitive as it can be with other spreads.