The Diary Tarot Spread

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.

The Diary Spread completely laid out with the Bonefire Tarot.

The complete Diary Spread using the Bonefire Tarot (because of course it is). Overlapping the cards isn’t required, but it does help make it more manageable space-wise. Mini Tarot decks help keep it smaller too. I recommend laying out and interpreting one row at a time to keep it simpler, starting at the top and working down, because all of the flipping gets tiresome otherwise.

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.

The kinds of relationships I look for in this spread, as well as a handy way to refer to specific cards.

Yet another Paint masterpiece. This one shows the kinds of relationships I look for in this spread, as well as a handy way to refer to specific cards.

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.


The Spirals of Life Spread

In my Seeing the Wheels post I talked about using armillary spheres as a visual aid for the different Wheels in our lives. I also mentioned my epiphany of how the Wheels are actually all part of one giant spiral.

This Tarot spread uses that concept to help us zero in on different parts of the spiral to which we need to pay attention. It’s a bit different than the usual spread in that it relies more heavily on a reader’s intuition than on specific placement-based questions. The cards are read in relation to each other, both in groups and as a whole, allowing us to deeply explore what rises to the surface.

The Spirals of Life Spread

Here’s the spread layout and the order in which cards are put down. You’ll need some space for this one! And don’t worry – it’s way simpler than it looks.

The Spirals of Life Spread.

The Spirals of Life Spread. One of these days I will actually learn some sort of graphics program. Since that day is not today, enjoy this retro Paint masterpiece. Retro’s cool, right? Right.

It looks complicated until you see the colors. There are only 5 of them! This spread only asks and answers 5 general questions, making it super easy to remember. Specifics beyond those general questions depend on placement and intuition.

Lay cards down in the order shown above and they literally spiral clockwise around the center (hence the creative name). Reverse the order and you might have a rather nifty shadow spread, too (although I’ve not experimented with that yet). Nifty, huh?

So let’s dive in!

Red (Cards 1 and 2): This the Wheel of Self and shows us what’s going on for the querent right now. Card 1 shows the primary focus/motivator while Card 2 shows the primary challenge/block. If this looks familiar give yourself a gold star – it’s exactly the same as the Celtic Cross spread.

Green (Cards 3-6): The Wheel of Earth shows what’s happening in the realm of physical health and concrete resources. Lay these cards out and look at their positions. Does anything jump out at you? How do these cards interact with each other, or the Wheel of Self? Placement might matter here, depending on what your intuition says. Maybe the above card indicates the aspect of this Wheel that’s getting most of their attention, or their goal in this area. What’s below could be the foundation of what’s going on or even a subconscious motivator. What’s to the left – the “sinister” side – could relate to a problem area while the right indicates an area of growth. Or the two together could show what comes most readily to hand, or the best tools to use going forward. Or maybe all four cards simply show what’s surrounding the querent right now and placement doesn’t matter at all. Let your intuition guide your interpretation. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Blue (Cards 7-10): The Wheel of Water shows the influences surrounding the querent. These can be people or situations, but either way they tend to elicit emotional responses. What’s the environment looking like right now? Do these cards relate to each other? How do they interact with the other Wheels? Placement matters here, too, because cards are more likely to be connected if they’re in close physical proximity to each other. Again, let your intuition guide you through these cards and their relationships to the rest of the spread. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Yellow (Cards 11-14): The Wheel of Air shows the querent’s ways of thinking and modes of thought. Goals and aspirations show up here, as do past traumas and present concerns. What mental patterns are helping or hindering their progress? What don’t they know that they need to figure out, and what do they hold to be true that might need to be reconsidered? Intuitively work the cards and see what comes up. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Black (Cards 15-18): The Wheel of Mystery shows things surrounding the querent that are beyond their direct/immediate control but influence them all the same. Karmic patterns can pop up here, for instance, as can spiritual tasks and life purpose issues. Again, let your intuition guide your interpretation. This is where looking for patterns becomes key to the whole thing. As you worked outward to get to this Wheel, work your way inward again to see what might relate and reflect. See what you can see. (For a fun variation, especially considering the nature of this Wheel, maybe try using oracle cards instead of Tarot here. Some might find that easier to work with.)

A full Spirals of Life Spread done with the Bonefire Tarot.

This is a full Spirals of Life Spread done with the Bonefire Tarot. The key to keeping this spread workable is offsetting each Wheel from the others. It also took up the whole of my 30″x30″ divination table, so keep that in mind when laying it out! 🙂

And there you have it! The deep diving, exploratory, and revealing Spiral of Life Spread! I’d love to see your commentary about it once you’ve tried it out!

Numerology notes: There are 18 cards in this spread as designed. Numerologically that reduces to 9. Leaving off the outer ring – which might be preferable for those who aren’t here for mystery – yields 14 cards, which reduces to 5. Adding a clarification card to all cards except 1 and 2 (since they clarify themselves) yields 34, which reduces to 7. Leaving off the outer ring and using clarification cards uses 26 cards, which reduces to 8. Keep that in mind when plotting out exactly how you want to use this spread! 🙂 Aren’t numbers fun?

The Five Keys – Unlocking Meaning in Tarot Readings

Note: This wound up being more advanced than I usually address on this blog. It’s aimed at those doing readings for others. I considered not posting it at all, then figured someone out there might be able to use it. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!

There’s more to reading Tarot than memorizing the little white book that comes with the deck. Sure, we need to learn what each card means, but we have to go beyond that to best serve our clients.

Luckily there are Five Keys to help us unlock the meanings of our readings. The more we as readers utilize these Keys the more accurate and applicable our interpretations will be.

The Five Keys are Question, Art, Placement, Relationships, and Follow Through.

1) Question

Tarot is a tool that helps us answer various questions. We need to understand those questions before we can use the tool. That’s what this Key is all about, and this part of a reading takes place before the cards are even shuffled. It sets the stage for everything that follows.

If the client comes in with a clearly thought out, simple, and concise question, then yay! They’ve already done the heavy lifting with this Key, so we can use it as-is and quickly move on.

That’s not always the case, though. Some clients, especially first-timers, go to a reader because the situation they’re dealing with is confusing or overwhelming and they’re a bit lost. The sign that I look for here is a client who, when asked what they’d like to read about today, offers up a whole explanation instead of a simple sentence.

A woman holds her temples with a confused expression in front of a chalkboard covered in squiggles and arrows. Caption reads

I think we’ve all seen this before. Hell, I think we’ve all been this before!

That gushing, stammering, stuttering explanation is a plea for help. Help them.

It might be that the situation appears overwhelming because they’re not seeing it clearly. For instance, let’s say they ask about changing jobs, but everything they say about why has to do with this one coworker they can’t stand. Readers can help by pointing that out and talking it over with the client. Maybe the question they really want to answer isn’t about changing jobs so much as how to most effectively deal with the coworker. Figuring that out before we begin gives us a totally different read.

Or maybe the situation appears overwhelming because they’re lumping several separate things into one overwhelming issue. This is often the case when multiple issues inspire a similar emotion. The client focuses on the emotion and doesn’t see what all is feeding it. As a reader, we can help them untangle that big knot into separate threads and then read each one individually. That leads to the resolution the client sought in the first place.

2) Art

The art of the card itself can help us interpret it. We’re all drawn to different styles of decks, right? There are also types of decks that we find easier to read than others. Those decks, for whatever reason, work with our minds and intuition in a cohesive way. So let’s use that!

Run your gaze across the card while considering the client and how this card might apply to their situation. Does something about the art jump out at you? If so, free associate with that symbol to see how it might influence the reading.

Strength, from the Voyager Tarot.

Strength, from the Voyager Tarot. The collage style of this deck is particularly suited to this technique.

For instance, take the above card. The book meanings of the Strength card all tend to reference inner strength or self-control. That’s fine as far as it goes, but how incredibly vague! There are lots of different kinds of inner strength and ways for it to manifest. To truly help our clients we need to get more specific and narrow this down some.

When we gaze at this card, maybe our eye is drawn to the butterfly. That could indicate a need to focus on the Strength that comes through change and evolution. Or maybe our eye goes straight to the ancient ruins in the background. That could indicate that the Strength of endurance might be more applicable in this reading. The flowers? There is Strength in expressing our vulnerabilities, too, and it’s one many overlook.

The Magician from the Rider-Waite Tarot.

The Magician, from the Rider-Waite Tarot. This technique works on traditional decks too!

Or gaze at this card. There’s a lot of symbolism here, and where your eye catches can direct the thrust of your interpretation. Does your eye catch on his hands? That symbolizes bridging the gap between the heavens and the earth. Maybe this card is referring to the client’s ability to bridge a different kind of gap. If your gaze lingers on the chalice, this card probably has a lot to do with an emotional-type question. The red of his robes? Maybe the client needs to seek out more worldly and material forms of attainment (which is what that red robe symbolizes).

Clients rarely go to a reader for abstract philosophical expositions of where they are in their current karmic cycle or whatever. They want applicable answers to their present concerns. This technique helps us give that to them.

3) Placement

Every book I’ve ever picked up on Tarot has a whole section on spreads. There’s a reason for that. Spreads offer placement-dependent questions that further clarify the card’s meaning.

Perhaps the most famous spread is the Celtic Cross.

My version of the Celtic Cross, showing the order in which I lay out the cards and what each position means.

This is the version of the Celtic Cross I use (which is why you’re all stuck with a graphic made in Paint). Cards 1-6 are the Cross and 7-10 are the Staff. Don’t worry if your version of the Celtic Cross is different from mine – there are a thousand variations on this particular spread. Experiment and find the one that works for you.

Let’s say we’re doing a reading and the previously-mentioned Strength card pops up in the Celtic Cross. It gains shades of meaning depending on which position of the spread it’s in.

Is Strength the Covering card? That’s where the client is right now. However, if that same card is in the Crossing position, then Strength – either a deficit or a surfeit – is a challenge that must be overcome. If in the Above position Strength is a goal to which the client aspires (perhaps indicating a current position of powerlessness or helplessness, or attempts to move out of such a state), while in the Advice position Strength is something they need to address the conflict.

See how much the position changes the emphasis? Combine that with a clear question and free association of the card’s art and deep, intricate meanings start jumping out!

4) Relationships

Cards are not read in isolation (unless we’re doing a quick one-card pull, anyway!). They’re read in relationship to each other, and those relationships invite conversations between the cards. It’s those conversations that lift a session from “interpreting a series of individual cards” to “doing a reading”.

Let’s look at that Celtic Cross again (and reuse that splendid graphic). There are some obvious links between cards to explore there.

A diagram shows relationships between cards of the Celtic Cross.

Relationships between cards of the Celtic Cross.

First, we have the Covering and Crossing cards. Those obviously relate to each other, and even the name of the Crossing card tells us that this is a little Cross in the middle of the big one. So look at them together. What do they have to say to each other?

Then we’ve got the arms of the Cross to look at. Vertically we’ve got Above, Covering/Crossing, and Below. This whole axis gives us amazing insight into the client, showing us where they’re at right now and what factors are most influencing them. How do all of these cards work together? If Above and Below – their goals and what drives them – are complimentary then moving forward is easier. However, if they’re working against each other then resolving that disconnect in the Now might be necessary before forward progress can be made. (Look to the Advice card for insight here.) How does their Crossing card relate to the goal or what drives them? Does it? Or is it just an irritation that distracts them from where their focus should more productively be? Lots to pick through here!

The horizontal axis of Behind, Covering/Crossing, and Before is a straight-up timeline. How did the Behind card contribute to the current situation, and how will the momentum those cards create together lead into the immediate future? This clarifies the whole thrust of the current situation.

Once we’ve done all that we’ve got the Staff to work with. Interpret the cards individually in their places, then take in the reading as a whole. Is the Outcome something the client is happy with? If so, excellent. Carry on then. If not, though, the future’s not set. We can change it if we like, and now that we have an overview of the whole thing we can look at ways to do that. For instance, maybe the Advice card could be shifted to get the client where they want to go.

Now we can start tying the cards of the Staff to each other and back to the Cross.

Compare the Above card to the Outcome card. Are they in alignment? If so, then the Outcome shows the client’s goal is reached. If not, then either the goal is misunderstood (by the reader or the client) or the Outcome is not desired. Clarify that and come up with possible approaches to reconcile those cards.

Does what’s going on Below have anything to do with our Hopes/Fears? Would dealing with what’s going on in one change the other?

How does the Others card relate to the Crossing card? If they’re related, then there may be a way to defuse the external drama and thus deal with the conflict. If they’re not, then the struggle may be more internal to the client. Perhaps Others can assist with easing it.

I could keep going, but you can see what I mean here. The cards aren’t static in their places. They talk to each other. Regardless of the spread you choose to use in your readings, use the relationships between the cards to further clarify and amplify your interpretations.

5) Follow Through 

This is the Key that happens when the reading is done and we’ve gotten all we can from the cards. We can’t just say “ok, we’re done here – have a great day!”. Clients come to us for perspectives, tips, and ideas they can apply to their lives. What can they do, on a practical level, to navigate their challenges and reach their goals after they walk out the door, hang up the phone, or close their email?

Sometimes they need to open themselves to a new way of approaching or looking at the situation, or work on some personal development that will assist with the current situation. I’ll often draw a “for further thought” card at the end of everything and recommend that they meditate on it for the next little bit. That can help. (As a nice touch, email them a picture of the card you drew for them or recommend they find an example online they prefer. This is especially useful for phone or online readings.)

Another idea in the same vein is suggesting an affirmation to help them focus on attaining their goals. One I offered recently is “I am a strong, fierce, fabulous woman who stands my ground”. Work with the client to come up with something that works for them, then make sure they have a copy.

Cleansing baths, spelled candles, and charged stones are all wonderful options here too. For in-person readings, I like to charge a glass pebble with good vibes towards their goal and gift it to them.

Be creative!

From clarifying the question to following through, these Five Keys are designed to help us as readers best support our clients on their journeys. Try using them in your next reading to unlock the meanings in your readings!