The Tarot Institute DYNAMIC ELEMENTAL TAROT SPREADS
by John Gilbert, Ph.D.
Dynamic Elemental Tarot spreads are a very easy and effective way for beginners and experts alike to do powerful one to five card tarot readings. We'll discuss the five-card spread first.
Define the Five Elements
Step One is to define the Five Elements with a key word, phrase or concept for the upright position of the cards. It doesn't matter what definition you decide you use. What matters is that you decide upon one key word, phrase or concept for each Element.
Air (Usually swords or other sharp weapons)
The Air Element is generally considered to be thoughts and ideas, attitudes and beliefs.
Water (Usually Cups or other containers)
Water is generally considered to be relationships of all kinds, romance, marriages, emotions and emotional issues.
Fire (Usually Wands or other blunt weapons)
Fire is generally considered to be our intentions, desires, drive and energy. It can also be our psychic abilities or intuition.
Earth (Usually pentacles, coins or disks)
Earth is generally considered to be our finances and financial affairs, our health, our possessions and other things.
Spirit (The Major Arcana)
Spirit is usually considered to be one's spiritual path, where the client is on his or her spiritual path at this time.
Assign the Five Elements to the Five Suits of Your Deck
Step two is two assign each Element to one of the five suits in your Tarot deck. The usual assignments are given above, but you can assign them in any way you desire. You don't have to use step two at all if you already have meanings assigned to your cards or if you don't want to assign the Elements to the suits. If this is the case, please skip step two.
Prepare Yourself to do a Tarot Reading
Step three is to know what each of your cards means to you and to prepare yourself to do a Tarot reading. This preparation may be any ritual, prayer, meditation or other form of relaxation and raising your vibration you desire. It doesn't matter what you do, what matters is that you get yourself ready to do a Tarot reading to the best of your ability.
Prepare your Tarot Deck to do a Tarot Reading
Step Four is to prepare your Tarot deck to do a Tarot Reading. This means your deck is cleared of all negative energy and shuffled according to your method of mixing the cards.
Select the Cards for your Reading
Step Five is to decide how you're going to select the cards for this reading. You can choose them or have your client choose them. You can fan the cards, cut the cards and stack them in any manner you desire. You can pick a card, choose the top card, count down any specific number of cards (like every third card or every seventh card) or choose them in any manner you desire.
Decide how to set up the Dynamic Elemental Tarot Spread
Step six is to decide how you're going place the cards in the Dynamic Elemental Tarot Spread. To do this, first divide your reading space into five sections, one section for each suit of cards (Element). You can arrange this space in any manner you desire. I usually arrange them in five stacks starting with Air on the left followed by Water, Fire, Earth and Spirit. Some of my students place the Air and Fire (masculine) on top in a two card row, Water and Earth (feminine) on the bottom in a two card row and Spirit in between, in the middle. Decide how you're going to lay out the spread.
Select the Cards for the Reading
Step seven is to select the cards and place them in the Dynamic Elemental Tarot Spread. Draw or pick the cards one-at-a-time and place them by suit in a stack for the proper Element. If Swords are Air, place the sword cards, one on top of the other, in the stack and space set aside for Air. Continue selecting cards until you have at least one card for each of the five Elements. One stack will have only one card. Other stacks may have more. The top cards on each stack are the one's you're going to read for this tarot reading.
Interpret the Spread
Step eight is to read the top card on one of the stacks, the stack that calls to you first. You can explain what the card means and add the meaning of the Element used for the spread to this meaning. Continue in this manner until you've read all the cards in the spread.
Double the Meanings to Your Cards
By defining the inverted Elements with a different definition from the upright elements and using inverted cards, you can double the possible interpretations for your spread. For example, in my own readings these past few weeks, I've used the following definitions:
The Spiritual Element means the same thing to me whether it's inverted or upright. But the inverted major Arcana card is an indication the client is stuck right there and isn't making any progress. The rest of the spread will usually explain why and how the client is stuck. By concentrating on those things and asking the client how he or she might solve those issues you'll undoubtedly help them understand why and how they're stalled on their spiritual path. That process is call Tarot Coaching or Spiritual Coaching.
As an aside, one of the best places to refer somebody who's blocked on his or her spiritual path is to the Octagon Society. They offer instruction in spiritual alchemy designed to help individuals move along their chosen spiritual path.
Another way to double the meanings of your cards is to use some form of Dignities. For a discussion on dignities see the archives of Tarot News for several articles on Dignities. By using both inverted cards and dignities you can have four distinct meanings for each card using the Dynamic Elemental Tarot Spread.
Here's an example of how this spread works. The cards drawn are not in the order drawn, they're in the order they were placed on the stacks:
Air - 6, 10, 3, 5 Swords
Water - 4, 10, K Cups
Fire - 10 Wands
Earth - 6, P, N Pentacles (N indicates a Knight)
Spirit - Key XX
The last card drawn was the 10 of Wands but only one Major Arcana card was drawn as well. The card to be used in the reading is the last card in each row. In this case, the cards to be read are the 5S, KC, 10W, NP and Key XX. A total of twelve cards were turned but only five are used in the reading.
If you need further clarification for any one Element, you could use the cards in the stack for that purpose. The chances are you won't need to do that though.
You can also eliminate one to four spaces for one to four Elements and do the reading only for one to four Elements. Which Elements you choose to eliminate depends upon the question being answered and your own feeling about the reading. If in doubt, I suggest you use all five Elements. But, again, this decision is yours and yours alone.