When you want the big picture, when you want answers, when you want to know what you’re headed for, when you need all the information, the tarot spread you need is the Celtic Cross.
The Celtic Cross is the 60-inch ultra HD wide-screen of tarot. The Celtic Cross was first presented by the occultist and scholar, A.E. Waite. He called it “an ancient Celtic method of divination”, although, as the Celts did not have tarot, it was more likely he observed the use of a similar spread in Europe.
The Celtic Cross is made up of ten cards; the first six being laid out in a cross, and the final four cards form a column to the right of the cross — this represents the supporting column of the cross. See A.E. Waite’s original diagram.
You can ask your client to choose an extra card that represents him or herself, though this is not necessary. Most choose a court card but you can open the whole deck for them to choose, if you wish. This self-representation is called the ‘significator’. The significator is placed face up and cards one and two are laid over the top of it.
Position meanings of the Celtic Cross
Card one, placed right in front of the reader, represents the current situation and influences facing the seeker. Traditionally this is known as ‘what covers the seeker’.
Card two is placed at right angles to the first card and is ‘what crosses him’. In other words, this card represents the obstacles and challenges that the seeker must deal with. If the card is a positive one, then the situation is not too serious.
Card three, and this is where I deviate from A.E Waite’s version, goes below the first two cards. This is the root or history of the current situation. It may point to something that occurred long ago or quite recently. It might even highlight behaviors and attitudes expressed by the client.
Card four is placed at the left of one and two. This card indicates what is passing or is already in the past.
Card five goes at the top, above one and two. This card represents the seekers expectations, be they positive or negative.
Card six, completes the cross in the position at the right of cards one and two. It points to what is coming from the future into the present.
The next four cards are place at the right of the cross, beginning with card seven at the base.
Card seven tells you what influences the seeker has over his own situation. His input, if you like?
Card eight represents the influences of other people – or place, object or work. To simplify, it means environmental factors.
Card nine is, according to Waite, the hopes and fears of the client. However, I think we’ve already got that covered in card five, so I prefer to assign it as ‘what the client needs to know’.
Card ten is the outcome card if the client continues along the current path without making any changes.
Interpreting the Celtic Cross
When you have laid out your cards and they are all facing upwards. Take a deep breath. Look at the spread as a whole and try to feel whether it is positive, negative or somewhere in between.
Look at how many of each suit are present. Mainly cups, then this is an emotional issue. More Swords than anything else means that the situation could be around over-thinking or misunderstandings. Pentacles point to practical matters and Wands might mean that impulses, actions and ideas are to the fore in this reading.
Check the number of Majors and Courts. More than two or three Major Arcana means that this is an important time for the seeker and there could be events or circumstances that he or she cannot avoid. Multiple Court cards may indicate that there are several people involved in the issue.
Begin examining each card in turn. Get the client’s input as you go. With any luck you will see a story unfolding before you. Pay attention to any advice the tarot appears to offer and ensure that the client understands. Make a note of any questions that arise — you can turn single cards at the end to get further answers as necessary.
Making sense of the Celtic Cross combinations
One of the fascinating things about this spread is that it can be broken down into smaller combinations. For example, it is beneficial to read card five and card ten together, as they both contribute towards the outlook – the seeker’s expectations have a huge bearing on the outcome.
Another good combo is the time-line formed by four (immediate past), one (the present), two (hold ups) and six (near future).
Also look closely at three (the root of the situation) and seven (the seeker’s influence).
One more pertinent pair is made up of cards eight (others)and nine (underlying factors). These two can illuminate undercurrents that the seeker would not otherwise be aware of.
It’s possible to get a whole reading simply by reading the inner cross – cards one and two. Indeed, there is a whole book devoted to this – The Heart of the Tarot by Sandra A. Thomson. She explains the concept very deeply and offers examples of many combinations of two cards.
Points to consider when using the Celtic Cross
• You don’t have to stick exactly to the position meanings given here. The Celtic Cross is very flexible and you can allow yours to evolve as you become more experienced and used to using it.
• Spend some time on your reading. It takes a good 45 minutes to one hour to dissect the Celtic Cross properly
• Consider pairs and combinations within the Celtic Cross.
• Give a little thought to the significator, if used. How does it fit in with the reading?
• When in a hurry, why not use the first six cards, or even just the first two?
• Finally, remember that the influences and events in a Celtic Cross can take months or years to unfold and make sure your client is aware of this. To this end, it is worth making a note of the cards so that you can refer back to them in the future.
Thomson, Sandra A. The Heart of the Tarot: The Two-card Layout, Easy, Fast, and Insightful. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.