The three-card spread is one of the most basic formats for quick-and-easy tarot readings. Yet, it can be surprisingly deep and insightful. It is perfect for a daily journal or when friends or people at parties want you to demonstrate what you do. Furthermore, the three-card spread is amazingly flexible as I hope to demonstrate. Most of these spreads are laid out in a row, left to right, although any pattern is fine.
Probably everyone is familiar with the basic timeline spread:
Most of you will have used the following inner trinity for a quick diagnostic as it shows what’s going on at three levels of experience:
An interesting variation on this is:
- HEAD – What does my Head want?
- HEART – What does my Heart want?
- SOUL – What does my Soul want?
Three-card readings are also great for evaluating potential actions. To compare options lay out this three-card spread for each possibility:
- The PRO or BENEFIT of a particular choice or action.
- The CON or LIABILITY in that choice or action.
- SOMETHING ELSE you need to take into account.
It can also help you deal with problems via the dialectic imperative:
- THESIS, idea or issue
- ANTITHESIS, obstacle or problem
- SYNTHESIS, integration or solution
Zoe Matoff came up with a more prescriptive version of this that is brilliant when you want to cut through all the nuances and get a (relatively) straight answer with “Zoe’s Do/Don’t Do Spread” (a favorite of both Rachel Pollack and me):
- Card 2: DON’T DO THIS
- Card 1: The ISSUE or SITUATION
- Card 3: DO DO THIS
Zoe wrote me this explanation of her spread: “Often cards two and three will describe such disparate courses of action as to make it very clear what course of action needs to be taken or what decision is to be made. And, of course, card #1 can turn out to be a total surprise, delineating the situation as it really is, or in a light in which the questioner has not yet seen it, or a totally different situation that requires attention but has been overlooked. Last, but not least, all the cards need to be seen together to make clear the urgency or nature of the issue.”
Three-card readings form the basis of all the more complicated relationship readings:
- PERSON A (is, wants, needs, gives, receives, etc.)
- THEIR RELATIONSHIP (as if it were it’s own entity)
- PERSON B (is, wants, needs, gives, receives, etc.)
And, as I was reminded by James Ricklef in the Comments, they are the core of choice spreads:
- CHOICE A
- OTHER considerations
- CHOICE B
Three-card spreads are also great for simple Yes/No questions: Upright cards are yes. Reversed cards are no. The center card counts twice. Thus, there can be a tie, which indicates that the answer is not yet determined, or it’s better not to know, or ___. You can interpret the individual cards or not. (Any odd number of cards can be used.)
Inspired by John Gilbert, James Ricklef used this smart variation on the Yes/No Spread in his excellent book Tarot Tells the Tale. (By the way, this is one of the best books available for learning how to read the cards. It features practical advice and entertaining examples that demonstrate the techniques.)
- YES, IF . . .
- NO, IF . . .
- MAYBE, IF . . .
James adds: “The cards indicate the conditions under which the answer would be Yes, No, or Maybe. Thus the “Maybe” card can indicate a deciding factor or a decision or action that the querent has to make in order to arrive at the outcome s/he wants.”
You can find many more examples of three-card spreads in James Ricklef’s book and in my own Tarot for Your Self, where the three-card spread is recommended for daily readings and developing a tarot journal.
Added: This one is good practice for integrating three cards into one statement: Jacob goes to the store. Alison loves Max. Day turns into night. Note: Your sentence can be much longer and more complex.
- SUBJECT (person, place or thing)
- VERB (action or state of being, try an active verb here)
- OBJECT (goal, what’s affected or changed, recipient)
What’s your favorite Three-Card Spread? You’ll find several more Three-Card Spreads contributed by readers in the Comments section. Be sure to check these out, too, and add your own.