How Spread Positions Affect Card Meanings

If you read with spreads (and not everyone does) then it is important to understand how the spread position affects the cards meaning. Sometimes the position is a negative one- for example “what is wrong with the situation?” in which case the card automatically becomes the worst version of itself. At other times the position is positive leading the card to it’s best possible version. One of the hardest things to wrap your head around when you are learning to read cards is how to read a good card in a negative position and a bad card in a positive one.

The card meanings I have been posting have included these meanings for the Rider-Waite, but no list of card meanings can give you every single possible meaning under every circumstance. At the end of the day so many things affect the cards meaning from position, to the question asked to your gut instinct. For now, we’ll look at spread positions and their effect.

The infinite number of spread positions fall roughly into just a few categories. Self reflection, advice/ actions, other people, past, present and future.

Self reflection is the broadest category. Some of the positions that come under this category are:

  • Hopes and fears
  • Desires
  • Your feelings
  • Your point of view

It is important to remember with these position types that what comes up may not be the actual reality- it’s just your perception of the reality. Sometimes your perception of reality is accurate, sometimes it’s not. That’s the point of these positions- to see if what you think is happening is what is actually happening. I think it’s important to include some self reflection type positions in any spread because our perception of reality is every bit as important as actual events. It is vitally important that we have a handle on where we are at emotionally and mentally when we are dealing with anything because our mental and emotional state affects our ability to deal with the situation.

The advice or actions type of spread position is also not reality. It’s a suggestion, something you should do, action you should take. In it’s way it’s the most ephemeral position type because it can be the hardest to read. It’s not an inherently positive or negative position so what do you do if you get a very negative or very positive card? I find that the negative cards in this position often suggest that you need to deal with that within yourself. For example if your advice card is the Devil, then the advice is to deal with your tendency to control and manipulate. Positive cards can be similar. For example the Sun as advice can be suggesting you either take a positive attitude or you deal with your tendency to romanticise the situation.

Other people type positions are also tricky. Unless you ask the other person involved whether the card is an accurate reflection of where they are at you just have to trust your reading. I have found that the other people position is actually more of how you perceive other people rather then how they perceive themselves. It’s about their impact on you, not necessarily their inner truth. For example you might get the Knight of Swords for someone else meaning you see them as something of knight in shining armour, always rushing in to help you when you need it- they however might see themselves or the situation differently if you were to ask them.

Past and present positions are probably the easiest to read, especially for yourself. Hindsight is 20/20, so it is relatively easy to see whether the card/s in past positions accurately reflect what actually happened and those for the present accurately describe what’s happening right now. One of the reasons we so often start with past and present positions is to give ourselves a base line. If these two are wrong then chances are it’s all wrong. And yes, as humans, readers can get it wrong. So, if these two positions don’t accurately describe what happened in the past or what’s happening now, scrap the reading and try again later. Having said that, give yourself a chance if the past is not as accurate as you think but the present is. Sometimes current events stem from past actions we didn’t realise at the time. Sometimes it’s a perception thing. For example if you had the 8 of wands in the past and you were thinking that you hadn’t recently studied anything, it may be that your current situation exists because of an unreasonable desire for perfection in the past.

Lastly the future positions, most often described as outcome or something similar. These are the most fluid positions, the ones most likely to change and the easiest ones to misinterpret. The trouble with future positions is that we see the future though the eyes of the present, very often seeing what we want to see or what we are afraid of seeing. The trick with reading future positions is to sketch it in outlines rather then trying to fill in details. No future is set in stone. If you see something you don’t like here do something differently. Re-evaluate, re-assess, re-think. If you do like the future you see, keep on with what you are doing. In some ways the future positions are the most important because that’s a large part of why we do readings in the first place- we want to know what’s going to happen next. But life is full of surprises, even for fortune tellers and card readers. Even we can’t see the details of the future. At best you get a foggy idea, kind of like a memory you haven’t had yet. Most often you’ll do a reading about the future, go “oh yeah right,” forget about and then months or years later say “omg, that reading came true!”

Spreads work well because they give our intuitions a frame to work in, something to bounce off and help narrow down the bewildering array of possible meanings for the cards. As with all things fortune telling, practice makes perfect, so give yourself time to get the hang of working with spreads. Start small then work your way up.

Happy reading!


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