Two Ways To Develop a Tarot Spread Without a Question
Last week we explored tarot questions that can be used when you don’t have a question. This week I’m sharing two ways to develop a tarot spread without a question. Sound nuts? Give it a try! This high-octane technique outperforms every other spread I’ve ever used. It takes a little more work, but the dynamic process is shockingly revealing. I learned this technique from Hal Weeks, creator of the Wickwillow Tarot (now sadly out of print), and am excited to pass it on to you.
Stand in the Place Where You Live
The first method to develop a tarot spread without a question is location based. It can be done anywhere and all you need is paper (stickies will do, but use your tarot journal if you have it with you), something to write with, and your tarot cards. This technique is fascinating because the formation of the spread itself is part of the divination. If you have a question, you can ask it. However, no question is necessary with this technique. Only a desire for truth, clarity, and compassion. Here’s how to develop your spread:
- Stand up, close your eyes, and turn around.
- Open your eyes and what do you see? Write the first thing that catches your eye on a sticky or in your journal. This becomes position one in your spread.
- Repeat this process several times (three is always a good number) to develop a spread.
For example, let’s say you open your eyes and you see the mirror. Mirror is position one. Do it again and maybe this time you see the door. Door is position two. A third time produces curtain, for position three. You can brainstorm, meditate, or follow stream-of-consciousness thinking to determine what each position means. Don’t spend a lot of time on this — go with your first instinct. Now pull cards for each of these positions.
- Position 1: Mirror — What is in my best interest to reflect on?
- Position 2: Door — This could be something coming into my life or something I need to pass through. I’ll choose the idea of passing through: Where am I going next?
- Position 3: Curtain — Brainstorming produces the following: a veil, something that’s blocking your view, something you need to tear away or open, something that is helping you to stay private. Could be keeping the light out of your awareness. For my spread position, I’ll choose the concept of letting light in: What does the light reveal when I open the curtain?
An alternate use of this method is to develop not a spread but a question. Let these three objects roll into a question. By combining mirror-door-curtain, you can come up with a sentence in the form of a question. For instance, “How could reflecting on myself provide a passage through which light can come into my experience?” You can use either these three card positions or your favorite spread to discover your answer.
The second method is based on the technique of bibliomancy, or book divination. In this variation, you pull words from a book to use as the symbols for your spread or question.
- Open the book randomly.
- With your eyes closed point to a word. Write it down on a sticky or in your journal.
- Do this several times.
- You may need to use selectivity in case you point to a word that is not useful, such as “the.”
As above, you can use each word as a position in a spread, or combine the words to come up with a question you would never have thought to ask.
Manly P. Hall’s First Principles of Philosophy was sitting on the table by my chair. It struck me as the perfect choice because it was close to hand and likely to have an appropriate selection of words. When doing bibliomancy, I use my thumb to riffle the pages of the book three times, stopping on the third time at the page that feels right. With my eyes closed, I used my index finger to scan down both the left and right pages (I move my hand in a winding figure eight pattern), feeling for the right spot. I touched down and opened my eyes. The word was “that,” not really useful, but the word before it was “nature.” Good. I repeated the riffle-and-scan process twice more and added the words “interpretation” and “life.”
Next I jotted down the first thoughts that came to mind for each word.
- Nature: my nature, true nature, the natural world, out in nature.
- Interpretation: translation, what we do to understand
- Life: my life, purpose, lively
Similar to the above method, I could use these three words as spread positions, or I could use them to develop a question. I cheated and did both.
These are the two questions I worked up:
- How does the natural world help me to understand my purpose?
- How does being in nature translate into more energy?
Here’s my spread and reading for the second question. I asked “How does being in nature translate into more energy?” The deck closest to hand was the Zillich Tarot by Christine Zillich, available in a tin from U.S. Games. This deck is borderless on three sides and the watercolor artwork flows suggestively from one card into the next.
Position 1: Being in nature.
Of course my random draw turned up the Queen of Discs for this position! As the Queen of Earth, she is at home outdoors and is shown here surrounded by flowers and fruit in the foreground, while evergreens line a snowy horizon. She strokes a goat, the symbol of her astrological sign of Capricorn. Browns, greens, golds, and reds blend into russet as one of the main colors. There is the darker gray suggestion of a road over her shoulder leading off into the distance. Most of my time in nature is spent walking, either to work or running errands.
Position 2: Interpret/Translate.
The Two of Cups is an interesting reading of the word “interpretation,” bringing a sense of identity, or uniting two things in order to understand them. Perhaps this card suggests becoming one with them. The blue, pink, and lavender pastels bubble dreamily. Large, globe-like flowers flank the main figure, and two fish interlock in a heart shape around her head. Her hands, clasped as if to hold something, are at this point empty. The words of John Keats, from Ode on Melancholy come to mind:
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies
Keats suggests that within the greatest experiences of pleasure sadness dwells because beauty and joy are fleeting, leaving in their wake only shadowy memory and emptiness. The bubbles also remind me of a Buddhist poem on the nature of impermanence:
Like stars, mists and candle flames
Mirages, dewdrops and water bubbles
Like dreams, lightning and clouds.
In that way I will view all existence.
As in the Keats poem, the ephemerality of nature is explored. This evanescence itself is the energy of life. Every day as I walk I watch the roses bud, bloom, wilt, and concentrate into winter rose hips. I watch the dead wood of the grapevines sprout into leaves, the clusters of tiny dots start to hang heavy with hard green fruit that ripens into dusty sweetness. Yellow dock rusts. Afternoons darken. When I identify with, become one with, love, each day’s difference, each day’s impermanence, I understand my ebbs and flows. I hold without grasping; I clasp emptiness.
Position 3: Life/Energy
The Three of Discs shows a figure standing on a ladder laid on the ground, bowed down, hands reaching out to, almost worshiping, a faceted shape, rather like an otherworldly crystal. Dark skies hang over white slopes from which brown buildings rise. Two ladders lean against a multi-story building while two more reach from snow past sky and out of view. Against the dreariness and hard work of the scene, the pastel crystal seems like a bubble or bloom from the Love card, but crystallized into perfection. Rays from it gleam out in all directions.
What do we become one with? The transience of nature? Or the solidity of the fruit of our labors? The cycle of nature reminds me to return to the beginning–the Queen of Discs has a round, green circle over her belly, the tanden as it’s called in Japanese, the location of our true nature and the source of our energy. The crystal the worker bows to in card three can only translate into increased energy when it is no longer separate from us, but incorporated into us, when we become one with it.
(Incidentally, as soon as I was finished writing this post, I realized that the figure in this card is pushing the boulder-sized crystal up the slope of the ladder, Sisyphus like. This image makes more sense of the card! But of course, we see what we see when we read the cards, so my interpretation holds.)
“How does being in nature translate into more energy?” By not only observing but identifying with the beautiful but momentary cycles of nature, I am reminded that it is not the fruit of my labor that energizes me, but becoming one with my work. By meditating on the cycles I discover in my work, I plant that energy within me where it can grow and produce more fruit.
One of the most common questions I hear students and clients ask the cards is “what do I need to know now?” or “what does the Universe want me to know?” When used sparingly, these questions lead to profound readings. Unfortunately, used too often they produce mushy nonsense. (Did you honestly follow through on the actions the cards recommended the last time you asked?) When you don’t have a question, but know you need an answer, divine the question using one of these two ways to develop a tarot spread without a question. Fully engage the process by writing down your ideas and interpretations. Conclude by answering the question that came up. Follow through by implementing the advice you receive. When used in this manner, tarot can not only offer wise counsel, but will pinpoint and open the hidden doors in your life. When you walk into these secret and sacred rooms, you’ll step into a spirit-guided life.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.