1. the heart of the matter at hand, the essence of the circumstances
This card opens the door to what is happening for the querent. The suite of the card denotes the general theme of what is occurring, namely physical (pentacles), emotional (cups), will-based (wands), or mental (swords). Additionally every Tarot practitioner should know the finer intricacies of the four suites/four elements and for example, the fact that wands denote the lower mind while swords the higher mind, or that wands deal with creativity and individualism, while swords deal with struggle, that pentacles symbolize the physical body and labours and that cups deal with desires and pleasures etc.
Optionally one may use a significator card (one of the court cards) over which this first card is laid atop. If the significator card is in harmony or disharmony with the first card then a good deal of information is provided (see point I under position 2 below)
If the first card is a major arcana it sets an intense tone for the rest of the spread and implies that something very profound is at work in the person’s life and query. In other words it becomes a question about who they are in the grander scheme of things, and thus their integrity. Any position, in any type of spread, that features a major arcana automatically becomes more important and a nexus of more substantial energetic activities. Thus even if the rest of the spread does not contain any majors, there is generally something more substantial contained within the heart of the question, even if on the surface level it appears not to be the case.
If this card is a court card then it generally means some specific person is very important in the scheme of things. This card should be taken both as a person and as a psychological process or message, for the important people in our lives always reflect something within ourselves:
- a king may denote a need to learn responsibility and using one’s powers wisely and justly, to attend to one’s career or public life;
- a queen suggests organization and management of resources, a need for receptivity or being too open, and deals with the private sphere;
- a knight suggests movement, discovery, exploration, and self initiated or self directed change in life, a battle;
- a page evokes playfulness and youthful activities, study and learning, carelessness and innocence.
This logic can be applied to any position in a spread these cards appear. Furthermore if the card clearly represents a person’s spouse or the person they are dating, or any external person, which is generally determined by the gender of the card relative to the gender of the person, then you know the meaning of the card as a psychological state is going to be coming from a more external place than if the card represented the person directly with regard to gender. In this situation knights and pages are to be regarded as being capable of being either gender depending upon the context.
2. that which crosses your path
This card is likely to help or hinder the first card, and is in a sense entirely neutral on its own, meaning its true purpose is only understood through its relationship to the first card. A simple way to understand this is in terms of suite. If the first card is fire and the second water (and vice versa) then there is an immediate conflict. The same goes for earth and air. Swords and wands are complementary as are pentacles and cups; cups and swords together are neutral (meaning they can go either way) as are pentacles and wands.
A further refinement is to see which card is winning over the other based upon the number. Thus if a 6 is drawn first and a 7 crosses it then card 2 is dominating, but if the reverse were the case . . . (well you get it). However this general rule is subject to being broken depending upon the context and the images on the cards. If card 2 is exceedingly positive while the card 1 was exceedingly negative then card 2 may be interfering with something ill in a positive manner, so again the context needs to be understood. Aces are also generally very powerful even if they are the lowest number and so are also not always subject to this general rule.
Consider, as well, a situation in which the 5 of pentacles is paired with the 3 of cups. This certainly would not be complementary if we are using the rider-waite images. In a deck like the Marseille, this could indeed be complementary, however the numerology is also important to consider — 5 is unstable while 3 is harmonic and very stable.
Card 2 also forms a sort of bridge between cards 4 and 6, and the same can be said for card 1 relative to cards 3 and 5. Positionally the odd pairs with the odd and even with the even.
If this is a major arcana card then that which crosses one’s path to invoke change is again some deity, hand of fate or call to destiny etc. Not that this is necessarily something to tell a client but it aids in your understanding and thus your delivery of the information.
3. that which influences you from the depths (unconscious influences)
This is one of the more important cards in the spread, because it symbolizes a strong hidden influence on the matter as a whole emanating from the longterm past and thus information stored in the unconscious. It is often fruitful to immediately relate it to card 1, 2 or both and in this respect it can symbolize the root of the entire question or matter at hand. If, for example, card 1 were the 5 of pentacles and card 3 were Arcanum 13 (aka Death), then obviously the person’s impoverished state (or fear of poverty) is directly related to a fear of death, letting go and radical change. If the situation were reversed then it may mean the person is being forced to change due to trying circumstances and a lack of security in worldly matters. If the 3 of cups were crossing then we may say that friends, or happiness with friends, somehow interferes with moving on. Card 3 is polarized by card 5, the apparent or known influence (see below).
A major arcanum in this position points to a very strong compulsion of destiny/fate at work behind the scenes. A minor arcanum suggests generally a pattern of behavior, state of mind, or some specific incident from the past. If it is a court card it means the influence of a particular person from the past is making itself strongly felt, or that a past state of being is strongly at work. For example the page could suggest a person’s child, or it could suggest the person’s childhood generally or with regard to feeling youthful and optimistic and adventurous.
In some cases this card may not be speaking of the deep past at all, for it could suggest that some dimly sensed or seemingly mysterious desire or state of mind has emerged for the person and powerfully impacted their world. Only the context of the entire spread will make such subtleties clear.
4. that which influences you from behind (the recent past reverberating into the present)
Things that have transpired recently have a definite impact upon our present state of mind, for better or worse. A wonderful love affair leaves us with an elevated feeling and excitement which can last for years to come, while a bitter argument can cast us in a pit of anxiety and dread despite its having happened even long ago. Rarely does this card refer to things having transpired years ago, but there is no reason it could not. It all depends upon how the past is exerting an immediate (and noticeable to the querent) effect upon the present. This card shows the ripples of a prior experience that is still strongly felt now in relation to the matter under investigation.
In a sense it could be considered the root of card 2, just as card 3 is the root of card 1; this is a loose association at best.
5. that which influences you from above (conscious influence related to goals and actions)
Just as the deep past or unconscious sphere creates a well of energy which feeds our current circumstances, so too do our thoughts about the future, our aspirations, longterm goals and dreams of a better or worse tomorrow create a strong energetic pull on our lives.
This is the card of the longterm future, specifically our thoughts about it. If this is a very negative card then it tends to show that a person has a very pessimistic view of the future and specifically how the circumstances described by the entire spread influence this view of the future. A more positive card shows the opposite. However either type of card can still show something of what the person desires as an outcome to be attained in the distant future.
On a subtle level this card hints at the types of actions that life, fate or destiny, are demanding of the person. For example: once the 8 of swords in the Marseille deck resided here and it was clear to me that the person had reached the pinnacle of what their meditation practice could really offer them (as 8s deal with perfection and the culmination of activities).
This is also a card that suggests a consciously perceived or known influence by the querent upon the matter at hand. It is what they consciously understand with regard to what is unfolding or what they “think” may be the cause of their problems. Card 3 will always show a more accurate cause, for the branches of the tree always have their origin in its roots. A common example might be a king card in position 5 suggesting an authority figure having some effect upon the circumstances the person finds themselves in and it may mean the querent believes this person is the chief cause, all the while a powerful arcanum resides in position 3 suggesting that something far more profound is at work which ultimately is responsible even for this authority figure exerting a specific influence on their life.
In a very general manner it indicates the longterm future based upon what is happening now (and of course this means assuming nothing changes and the person follows verbatim what is outlined in the spread).
Finally it is often useful to think of this card as a symbol of the individual’s Will power, and thus their capacity to alter their circumstances, symbolized by the rest of the spread.
6. that which influences you from the future (what is drawing you forth; the short term trajectory)
The future impacts the present just as much as the past, and this is the card of the near future, meaning the most likely place the current trajectory will take you to. The reversed Tower card here once indicated that the person was very likely to continue on a path that would allow her to not confront an immanent crisis.
It is the immediate future they are manifesting based upon their thoughts, actions and previous states. Whatever it suggests is directly related to cards 1 & 2, and thus it is not to be regarded as a future state divorced from what is happening now. It has to be seen in light of the path outlined by cards 1,2 & 4.
It is also generally what the person is looking for or reaching toward as a way of dealing with the matter at hand. It polarizes card 4 and so these two cards ought to be examined as a pair to see where the person is coming from and where they are going. This means that a lot depends upon card 2 because it acts as a bridge between cards 4 and 6. So the person has to deal with what card 2 signifies because it is metaphorically appearing in their path, be it a bridge over water or a large wall with no apparent way through. Thus in order to deal with card 2 the person engages in whatever is symbolized by card 6 and card 2 itself is bursting forth from card 4. If I do action A (card 4) it gives rise to such and such circumstances (card 2) and necessitates an outcome or action (card 6).
7. the state of yourself, strengths and/or weaknesses, determination
Some people regard this as the card of advice, which is appropriate because the state you find yourself in also has bearing upon what you can do to change the situation for the better. This card is, in a sense, the culmination of the preceding 6 cards and basically describes the person’s state of being (mentally, emotionally, physically) due to everything that is transpiring and coming forth!
A major arcana here tends to suggest great power and facility to deal with whatever is ailing the person, but this is also relative to any other arcanum that may have appeared earlier.
Due to its place in the structure of the spread it is also spatially related to card 3, the root of the matter, and therefore it is important to pay attention to the interaction between these two cards and to see which is more powerful, if they are complementary, oppositional or neutral etc.
8. the surrounding environment (people, places, things, but usually the nature of where you find yourself)
This card directly impacts the card below and vice versa. It is the externalized result or portion of the energies at work in the original 6 cards drawn, as opposed to card 7 which is the internalized result. This card often includes within its symbolism the manner in which others are impacting the querent’s life, the more so if it is a court card.
If this card is a major arcana then it means very powerful forces are present in one’s surrounding environment and one is going to need to pay close attention to their external circumstances (this is in contrast to a major arcana in position 7 which is internal). If position 7 and 8 are major arcanum then one must carefully examine their relationship to see if they are compatible or to see which one is stronger than the other (this can be determined via number but it is better determined intuitively — for example in the Marseille tarot The Empress stares off into space, while The Emperor stares directly at her when placed to the right in the order of cards, which personally tells me that she has power over him despite her bing a lower number).
Always compare this card to card 7 and if both are minor arcana then see if they are compatible or not by the usual methods described above. The stronger of the two cards, when they are not compatible, tells us which of the inner reality or the external reality is likely to prevail with regard to the matter inquired about. If they are compatible then the stronger card lets us know where the stronger energies impacting the situation are hailing from. Basically we are comparing the person’s self image or perception of their environment to the environment itself and often how others perceive the person or how the environment they dwell in is actually impacting them rather than how they think it is impacting them.
Finally this card is spatially related to card 6 due to where it is placed and it is wise to see what that relationship implies. Just as we are creating our immediate and longterm future, so are we, by extension, creating our environment, which is by no means static.
9. hopes and fears concerning the essential matter at hand
One’s hope is also one’s fear and vice versa. For those using reversals, the reversals, tend to emphasize fear, whereas the opposite is the case for upright cards and hope, but often the image and essential nature of the card reveals if there is more hope or fear in general. However often the card below (8) and the card above (10) and the context created by the entire spread can help us more accurately determine which is being emphasized. For example is this card weaker than most others by virtue of cards 8 and 10 and by the fact that many other cards are higher numbers, major arcana or court cards?
So the sense is “you are afraid or hopeful of X” but usually it is a bit of both. In contrast to card 5, which, when compared with card 9, may be considered our ultimate hope irregardless of what is happening in our life with the other cards, card 9 is specifically related to hopes and fears regarding the circumstances outlined in the spread as a whole, and again based primarily upon the initial testimony of cards 1 & 2, which are the center piece of the entire matter under investigation.
Another way to present this card to the querent is to describe it as how they think the situation will work out, whether good or ill. This is not often how it actually will work out and it is important to assess this. Both hope and fear are often a huge impediment because they are more directly related to the fate of our ego, our external reality and identity.
This card is related spatially with cards 6 and 5 due to where it is placed. All three deal with the future in some capacity.
10. how everything comes together under one general outcome or essence
This is the card to immediately contrast with card 9 because it shows how things tend to work out rather than how we hope or fear they will work out. However, ardent hope or paralyzing fear can destroy an exceedingly negative or positive outcome. Therefore these cards must be carefully examined along the usual lines of analysis described above so that we can properly identify how determined is the outcome this card suggests.
On top of this it suggests the synthesis of everything that came before. Taking this card together with card 1 shows us the end and the beginning and constitutes a very powerful tool for assessing the essence of the entire situation. If these cards are in powerful harmony then their synthesis may mitigate the other challenges outlined by the spread.
It is the sense of “all streams are converging here”
It can be extremely useful to draw one or two more cards to place next to this one in order to get a sense of where this final outcome is taking a person. The same can be said for card 9 (where does one’s hope or fear take them?).
This card is spatially related to card 5. In such a context card 5 can be taken as one’s will power (what one is giving to life) and actions while card 10 suggests what that will power has to contend with. The reverse may be true as well. If card 5 is particularly negative while 10 is positive than card 5 may be interfering with card 10 which means the course the person has set for themself (long term future) is taking them in a questionable direction because it is not in alignment with the natural convergence of energetic streams. For example if card 5 were The Devil, while card 10 where a reversed king or other empowering card reversed, this would indicate that card 5 is indeed blocking or making difficult the naturally empowering state of card 10.
If both these cards are exceedingly harmonious or exceedingly inharmonious then more confluence exists for the likely outcome and this means that one’s course and the natural destination are in concord for better or worse.
If you’ve made it this far I applaud you (likewise if you skipped to the end, which is something I do quite often) — and — I am also going to tell you not to concern yourself with thinking too hard about everything said above or committing it too certainly to memory. The card images ultimately work in a way so as to transcend the apparent order and rigidity of the predefined meanings of the positions in the spread. Very often rational methodology captured by The Emperor is eclipsed by the irrational (as in non-linear) powers of The Moon, and both of these cards relate to the fourth stage in a cycle of 7, so where a person had learned the rules based upon his relationship to the world (the first series of 7) he must eventually let them go because ultimately Divine order functions intuitively and non-linearly (the last series of 7). What this means is that very often it is good to read the celtic cross spread, and any spread, out of order and to not focus too much on either the positional meanings or the standard card meanings themselves. Let the images speak above all else, let the cards tell you their story, rather than the story you believe they ought to have; see the celtic cross as a big collage of colors and characters so as to feel and perceive the essence of the situation. In this way you allow for the logical and intuitive dimensions to blend. Draw additional cards as needed to clarify a single card. If you are feeling bold, take the card that spoke to you most profoundly and make it card number 1 in a brand new celtic cross.
Glory To God Alone