When I first started reading cards, the first question I asked querents was “how much info do you want – a Telegram, a Letter, or a Diary?”. It was the easiest way I knew to convey the length and depth of different spreads to people with zero knowledge of Tarot.
The “Telegram” spread was a standard three card draw. The “Letter” was my version of the Celtic Cross, which I discuss in detail here. This post covers the Diary Spread.
The Diary Spread is in depth and sprawling. It consists of neat rows and columns, making it easier to lay out than the Spirals of Life Spread. Like that spread, though, this one relies on intuition and basic positioning more than specific questions for interpretation.
I can’t claim total credit for this one. My aunt taught it to me, and I have no idea if she got it from a book or learned it in some other fashion. I’ve tweaked it since then, of course, but the core of it hasn’t changed.
The Diary Spread
This spread consists of six rows of five cards each. Each row is based on one broad topic, but individual cards are intuitively interpreted. Placement may matter and may not, depending on how the reader feels about it at the time. It’s a remarkably flexible spread.
Here’s what it looks like all laid out.
Row 1 – Prelude: This row shows us what events led up to the current moment. It can refer to events that happened yesterday and/or events that happened decades ago, and they always relate to present concerns. LOTS of long-standing patterns and foundational beliefs show up here, so don’t be shy about referring back to this row as you interpret cards further down. Sometimes these are all separate events, sometimes they’re all facets of one event with the center carrying the emphasis, and sometimes the whole row is a timeline. Depends completely on the reading and what your intuition says.
Row 2 – Present: This row is all about the (surprise!) present. It might dip into the last week or so, if it’s pertinent, but it generally doesn’t. Again, like the previous row, the cards here can be read a number of ways depending on how your intuition guides you. However, now that we’ve got more than one row we can add in column relationships too.
Does A1 relate to A2? Or D1 to D2? These relationships might add clarification to otherwise confusing issues. I usually stick to only vertical and horizontal positioning relationships – this isn’t a Lenormand-style Grand Tableau – but if diagonals or squares call out to your intuition go for it.
Row 3 – Others: Now it’s starting to get interesting. This row shows us little glimpses of the people around the querent, who might be affecting their Present and Immediate Future (foreshadowing!). I often find that the center card (C3) is the person closest to the querent, with the flanking cards (B3 and D3) being close friends and the cards at either end (A3 and E3) being acquaintances (coworkers and the like). It could jut as easily be people ranked by closeness to the situations mentioned, however, meaning a coworker at the center of a promotion dispute could take center stage. Again go with your gut on this. Column relationships are big here, too – is the Other of A3 related to the situation described in A2 or even A1? This is an especially good time to look for patterns.
Row 4 – Immediate Future: The thing I always say about this row is that the events described are already in motion. There’s not much time (if any) to head these events off, so the best idea here is to prepare as best as possible for their coming. Column relationships are big here, too – B2 might lead directly into B4. As always let your intuition guide you through it.
Row 5 – Potentials: If everything predicted in Row 4 happens as described, these are some of the likely results. This timeframe is more elastic, so if there’s something here the querent doesn’t like they can change it. They just have to move fast! This is a great time to discuss plans of action and figure out ways to encourage what’s desired and discourage what’s not. Don’t forget to check the column relationships here too!
Row 6 – Outcomes: If all the Potentials are allowed to develop as described in Row 5, this row shows us where those might lead. This can absolutely be changed – it’s far enough out that events can be drastically shifted, if not avoided completely, if that’s what’s the querent decides to do. This is the most empowering row of the whole spread. Again, column relationships are key! Look back over the whole of the reading for any patterns that may have appeared during the spread.
A Note on Distributions: Check for the distribution of similar cards. A cluster of Majors should focus attention/emphasis there, for instance. Progressions – a 7, 8, and 9 in the same suit and column, for instance – should be noted too. As always, let your intuition guide you through what this might mean and how to work it.
A Note on Art: Is a figure in one card looking at another figure in a different card, or distinctly looking away? Is a hand in one card reaching for someone or something in another card? Look for these kinds of things in your spread, as they can intuitively guide you to relationships beyond the row/column setups we’ve already discussed.
A Note on Clarifications: I will occasionally do clarifications on the final card of Row 6 if needed. I was taught that clarifications can be up to but no more than three cards, and to stop clarification attempts immediately if a Major appears. If further clarification on anything else is needed, either reshuffle this deck (make sure you took good notes first!) or pull out another deck entirely for a whole new reading. By the end of the Diary Spread we need more cards to clarify than we have left!
And that’s it! The Diary Spread is fantastic for those who don’t know what they want to read on because it can cover everything. I often find that things come up requiring further exploration, too. I allow at least an hour for this spread to account for that, so it’s something to keep in mind when scheduling.