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How to Read the 9 Card Tarot Spread and Celtic Cross

tarot cards

If you’re looking for how to choose a deck, see my article on that.

If you’re looking for the basics and how to get started, see my article on that.

This article will cover some more advanced spreads and topics for tarot reading than what I’ve previously covered.

The first spread I recommend learning after you’ve familiarized yourself with your deck and gotten some practice with basics spreads is the Celtic Cross.

This is probably the most famous spread in the history of tarot. It’s in pretty much every introductory book and pamphlet.

But this spread requires a lot from the reader, and so it isn’t the best for learning.

You don’t want to have to remember the order and purpose of all 10 card positions while struggling with basic readings.

This spread is one of the oldest and most flexible. It can be used for almost any type reading or question.

Beware: it also has a lot of variation. I tend to think of the version in the Universal Waite deck pamphlet as the “official” version, but the many variations on it are all equally valid.

As I said in my beginner post: it’s important to make every spread your own. In fact, I just looked up the Waite version only to realize I changed the order at some point.

The reading method and spread style or variation that works best for you is always the correct version for you.

The “official” or “correct” versions might be nice to preserve from a historical perspective, but from a teaching perspective, I’d rather have you get the best results.

Celtic Cross Spread

Celtic Cross Tarot

If you want a mnemonic device to remember the order I do, here’s how I remember.

You’ll make a cross: first upright, next across that card. Then 3, 4, 5, and 6 make a second cross: left to right, top to bottom.

Easy! You should now never forget the first six cards. The last four are just a pillar growing up from the ground.

Congratulations, you should now have memorized the order of the whole ten-card spread in less than a minute.

The purpose of each position can be learned fairly easily, too. The first four cards should look like the basic three-card past/present/future spread that we did before.

The crossed (2nd) card just adds some depth to this by giving the main current challenge.

Cards 5 and 6 are what they look like. The one hovering up above are the hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The one below represents being below the conscious, in other words, the subconscious.

I don’t really have a way to remember the last four, but you’ll learn those quickly with after a few readings.

Now, this is supposed to be an article on intermediate and advanced topics. So, let’s dig in a little deeper with reading.

Card Groupings

If you’ve been following along so far, you’ll notice I’ve grouped cards as the initial two-card cross, the first four cards as a past/present/future unit, the above and below as a unit, and the final four as a unit.

I really do think in these groupings to connect the cards.

As soon as you get comfortable with individual card readings and meanings, you’ll want to start to understand how groupings alter and affect readings. Look at these groupings together to develop a deeper narrative.

I recently did a reading in which the Four of Pentacles was above and the Ten of Pentacles was below. It was abundantly clear to me that this person had a lot of fears about financial security.

Subconsciously, his goals had noble intents: family safety and providing.

But these underlying fears had manifested as independent goals of control and obsessively saving money. I won’t go into the full details of the rest of the reading, but you should start to see how this grouping of cards let me get a clearer picture.

The advice card (7th) was a reversed Nine of Cups. Because I had seen this earlier story, I read this as a need to address the materialism leading to his inner unhappiness.

The subconscious desire was security for his family.

Did they have enough to be happy? Yes.

My advice was to try to let go of his fears. For now, they were financially okay. What was the point of working to death for the family if he never got to spend time with them?

The goals had misaligned with the original purpose.

The 9 Card Tarot Spread (Box Spread)

9 card tarot spread box spread

This is the 9 card tarot spread, also known as the box spread. It applies the same basic principals we’ve discussed in other spreads.

You will lay down a 3 x 3 box. The first column is past, the second present, the third future. The top row represents goals and aspirations, the middle current feelings, and the bottom the subconscious.

Notice how similar this spread is to the Celtic Cross and the standard three-card spread. What’s so interesting about this one is to really dig into the connections and weight of each card.

There is one central card with the most importance. It sheds light on the core question or difficulty in the person’s life.

There are also a lot of ways to move through the spread. See what you’re drawn to each reading. Maybe you narrate from top left diagonally down to the bottom right.

Other times you might focus on moving across the middle row where the tops and bottoms just illuminate little changes in the reading.

This spread leaves open a lot of flexibility for skill. The more experienced you are at reading, the more likely you’ll find this spread a rewarding method.

If you’re just starting out, this one can be quite intimidating.