The Celtic Cross & Tarot Traditions
Are tarot spreads really that important to learn from? I remember when I thought there were finite layouts and card combinations. My young tarot reading mind couldn’t fathom why you’d need more than three possibilities. Since then, things have really changed in the tarot spread department. There is an infinite supply of card layouts to choose from, all of which seem to offer something new to discover about the tarot. But, I can’t help but remember the days when it wasn’t about the layout. I learned tarot using one layout for the longest time, and it never failed to enhance my tarot reading in general. Too much of a good thing is still bad, so let’s go back to basics today. Today’s question is all about tarot spreads, and I’m taking full advantage.
To make it official, here’s today’s question:
What was the first spread you learned?
While it may not sound very exciting, the first spread I ever learned is the classic Celtic Cross Spread. As a tarot reader that’s now started to explore many different spread layouts, I still get excited by the Celtic Cross Spread. Do I wish it had a different name? Absolutely! But, too many people know the Celtic Cross Spread as the Celtic Cross Spread. From what I can gather, the spread was created either by Florence Farr or A. E. Waite around 1910 or 1911. That’s just what we know of the Celtic Cross Spread, as it does, at the very least, date back to the Golden Dawn. If the spread is any older than that though, I’m personally not really sure. What I do know, is today, the spread has changed very little in its symbolism even after one hundred years of use.
For me, the Celtic Cross Spread involves both tarot history and tarot reading. It’s a spread that you can actually study the significance of, which, to a beginner, makes a big difference. You, as a tarot reader, have an opportunity to feel like an expert with a special tarot layout in your repertoire. There’s a certain confidence that comes with reading or memorizing the Celtic Cross Spread. In fact, Benebell Wen has a great post discussing the repertoire of an intermediate level tarot reader. Mastering the Celtic Cross Spread is a step toward advancing your tarot knowledge as a reader. And, while it may look easy, there are always a few surprises this spread still has left for those looking to master it.
As a part of her supplemental sheets, Benebell Wen highlights the various layout designs of the Celtic Cross Spread. I’m not sure if this list is all encompassing, but it’s certainly eye opening. The list highlights three different layout orders to the Celtic Cross, namely the Gray Order, Waite Order, and Thoth Order. This highlights various approaches to which of the outer cross cards are laid down first. I didn’t even know this was a debate until a couple months ago. To make matters all the more strange, I personally memorized the Gray Order, without having been exposed to anything by Eden Gray. The Gray Order just feels natural to me, and it’s what I memorized early on. But, that’s not the end of the surprises surrounding the Celtic Cross Spread.
Another surprising element of the Celtic Cross Spread actually lies in the way each card is interpreted. Mary K. Greer, in her book Tarot for Your Self provides a great list of the traditional ways the Celtic Cross Spread has been interpreted. Out of that list, I personally take note of the Traditional or A. E. Waite approach and the Jungian style. My personal preference tends to might be slightly toward A. E. Waite’s approach, but I really find the Jungian approach conducive for personal growth or personal challenge questions. They’re very similar approaches, with very few minor differences. But, different approaches allow the Celtic Cross Spread to be enriched. The various definitions of the card positions allows tarot readers to adapt the spread to their needs.
The Celtic Cross Spread isn’t really special, it’s just reserved a special place in my heart. How I read the Celtic Cross Spread is different from how you might read it. There are just nuances that I do out of habit that you probably never thought of. Likewise, you’ve probably developed some habits I haven’t. Comparing and contrasting how two people read the Celtic Cross Spread is actually quite fun. What the popularity of the Celtic Cross Spread allows, is for a foundation to take place. Many tarot readers can approach the Celtic Cross Spread with little prior knowledge of the reading’s subject, and yet, easily discern relevant details. Advance readers can utilize the Celtic Cross Spread as a teaching tool, especially considering how the spread will grow with the reader’s knowledge.
If you’re like me and love the Celtic Cross Spread, I highly recommend checking out Mary K. Greer’s book, Tarot for Your Self. The book does a great job of expanding ways to connect to the Celtic Cross Spread. Some of them I use, some of them were just great to learn from. I went ahead and counted the various ways to read the Celtic Cross Spread in the book, and I noticed roughly five different suggestions. While I’m not saying this is a must, I think it does show the versatility of the Celtic Cross Spread, while also allowing you to perhaps think up your own unique ideas. Expanding on the Celtic Cross Spread may allow you to turn a generic reading into something impressive and insightful. There’s really no limit here, as it’s completely up to your experience level with the spread.
In short, there are many reasons I love the Celtic Cross Spread. It’s the first spread I learned, but I don’t think that influences my opinion in the least. The Celtic Cross Spread was what many tarot readers learned from for years. There’s something nostalgic about that, and I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way. I’m a newer tarot reader within the context of tarot history and community. The resources I have available to me are an abundance created by those who had very few resources at all. And yet, even with all those resources, I learned the Celtic Cross Spread first. There’s a reason this spread remains popular a hundred years later. Articulating just what that is, lies somewhere deep within the fact it was the first tarot spread many have learned. Sometimes, knowledge just comes by experience and experience alone.