The Celtic Cross Spread — Part I: An introduction

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Editor’s Note: If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc

By Sarah Taylor

With the exception of the Kings, each of the cards in the major and the minor arcana have received a look in this article series. The Kings will be coming up within the next couple of weeks, and I will be revisiting each card in different ways as we continue our exploration into the tarot — but I feel we have a solid enough foundation to start focusing on one of the more complex readings that tarot has to offer us: the Celtic Cross.

Ace of Coins from the Camoin-Jodorowsky Tarot, a restored version of the Marseille Tarot.

The Celtic Cross layout (the link goes to a picture of the Celtic Cross layout that I use) has become somewhat of a cliché in tarot circles. I have heard it said that it is hackneyed, dated, limiting. My feeling is that you could say the same thing about a jazz standard, but that wouldn’t convey the sense of history and richness that envelopes it, and the sense of possibility that comes with it. Yes, the Celtic Cross can be seen as being much- (if not over-) used, a layout that we might settle for in the absence of applying our own imagination, something that binds us to the strictures of its format. But going back to the analogy of the jazz standard, it can also be seen as classic, widely recognised, dependable, and a template from which you can choose to depart and create variations of your own. (For example, Eric has devised his own tarot spread — called the Celtic Wings — which is drawn from the Celtic Cross.)

The Celtic Cross as a tool for focusing

My relationship with the Celtic Cross goes back to the first days when I started working with the cards. I was drawn to its format immediately. There was something about the discipline of working with a highly ordered layout, and a relatively large number of cards, that appealed to me. In this way, the Celtic Cross has the effect of focusing what you bring to it in terms of the question you use to frame your reading.

Many clients who come to me for a reading cannot grasp fully, or are not able to convey, what it is that they want to know. (I have written about this in a previous article.) That is the nature of where we tend to be when we petition the tarot. Often, we are in a place of uncertainty, or paradox — and this is reflected in the thoughts that we have, our feelings and behaviours, and our language.

However, I would argue that we cannot work with the Celtic Cross if we lose our grounding in the paradox: its cards are so specific that it demands we align with them — either verbally or energetically — as much as we can. If we feel vague, if we act vaguely, then the Celtic Cross’s response will only make our predicament seem more vague. There has to be clarity in some form or other. This can come from the querent — some are very clear about what it is that they want to know. It can come from the reader, whose own insight can hone the reading to a fine point. It can also come from a collaboration between reader and client to frame a question that works in co-operation with the layout.

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Sarah Taylor

About Sarah Taylor

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2 Responses to The Celtic Cross Spread — Part I: An introduction

  1. Charles says:

    I wish I had more time to comment, but I’m behind on 3 separate deadlines. So some quick remarks:

    I tried to research the origin of the layout, but came up mostly blank. It appears to have first been recorded by W. W. Wescott, or at least, nobody can find any earlier description, he says it was ancient when he learned it. The Celtic Cross seems to be a reference to the Rosicrucian cross.

    Celtic Cross is a “positional layout,” the meanings derive mostly from the position of the cards, but it still contains elements of a “nonpositional layout,” where the cards relative to each other carry meaning.

    I tend to view the cross by the lines, they form general influences. The cross has a horizontal axis (time) and a vertical axis (events). At the center, the two cards I describe as our inner self and outer being. They are at the intersection of both rows, the place where time and events pivot around our Self.

    The vertical column on the right, I sometimes refer to it as the “Pillar,” it is a stack of blocks that is kind of the “backbone” of our life. I always have the hardest time interpreting the Pillar, some of the positions seem to change meaning (e.g. hopes OR fears) according to the reading.

    Oh well, I’m out of time. I hope we can discuss this more.

  2. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:

    Oh thank you Sarah! This is a wonderful lesson. Within the tiny scope of my tarot experience, this spread has always pulled me in – it’s structure giving frame for the work to be done within it. Like a home with many rooms.

    Very helpful and enjoyable to read you, as always!

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