I am not a person of many spreads. In fact I tend to personally not call them spreads at all, but rather Narratives. I do however use what most people would recognize as a Celtic Cross, but while it looks similar it is in fact a very different beast under the hood.
Most sitters will see that I lay out the “Celtic Cross” on the table, some clients who also study Tarot becomes confused because I often do not (like never) read the Celtic Cross as it is traditionally intended. It can confuse my Tarot students because when I do example readings for them they often also get confused about how I actually come to the conclusions that I do because it does not fit the “card into slot” traditional Celtic Cross style.
Below, is a more or less traditional Celtic Cross that even lay people have come to recognize as “industry standard”. While helpful, it tends to treat the querent as a passive presence in the spread with some psychological tropes thrown in that may or may not be helpful to the querent or the question at hand (reiterating hopes and/or fears for instance) with ultimately only one card as the “final outcome” as if a question or person is a deterministic past, present, future paradigm.
Now before you tarot readers take up your pitchforks, I am talking about the very topical way that the Celtic Cross is often taught in the back of LWBs (little white books). This is usually the first major spread a Tarot student will attempt. Of course this is not often the way reader eventually use the spread, so pitchfork and torches down, please.
Below is the standard Celtic Cross:
So what I have done over time, is that I flipped the Celtic Cross on its side so it is in a sense coming from deeper to shallower— I imagine it as one swimming up from the depths and trying to breathe fresh air, there is urgency in the spread because most readings come from a place of desiring/grasping at/pulling away from.
All questions to me are ultimately one question, “What is the story?” A querent often wants to know how a thing will end, thinking (having been often taught) that they are passive riders on the tracks but the way I read my spread is the “if this—then (most likely) that” protocol with the querent an active principal running through the spread. Also, I do not use this spread for those who have no essential question or agenda, there are other things I do for general readings.
So here is my take on the Celtic Cross, personally I call this the
The diagram essentially explains it and as you can see some original elements of the Celtic Cross are kept, but my narrative allows for more integration and flow between elements with the emphasis on telling a story. When I plot the cards I actually lay them like a standard cross, then I flip it, I do not change how I lay the cards.
The Ascension Narrative begins at the depth, the bottom most card, this is a past-influential factor that is somehow feeding into the reason why the querent is coming. It could be a PTSD type influence, or old family hurts or wounds not quite healed, it can also mean an immediate-past event influencing the question at hand. To be clear, I do not always start at this card per se by beginning I mean the oldest influence on the issue, not necessarily the start of the story. In fact, I will start on any point in the Narrative and run back and forth from that point, trusting my instinct to tell the right story with the elements revealed in their most helpful way.
The cards that are traditionally the first two or three cards of a standard Celtic Cross, for me, are the reason why someone came in. These are the issues that caused enough distress or anxiety that creative enough disturbance to then have someone to call me up, looking for relief. The past influence card always influences these cards. Like the standard spread, I kept the blocking element card and like many current readers, this particular card has a huge influence on events. I spend a lot of time on this card.
The cards that are traditionally in the first two positions (the significator and the “what surrounds you” factor- or the current environment) I modify a bit--the first card is the current state of awareness or psychological space in relation to the person and the question. The ‘what surrounds you’ card is a card that is atmospheric, where this person is in space/time right now in regards to the question.
I then tend to read the A and B card (previously the ‘what’s above and what’s below you’—meaning the advice and also the foundation, or reason for the block), But I do not see them in the traditional light, I see them on a horizontal plane, like the wings on an aircraft. Often these illustrate the push and pull factor that is keeping this issue in flight. I can also read the A card as advice, or the thing the querent knows she needs to do and B- the reason why she isn’t. A and B and its cognitive dissonance are exactly why the querent is feeling the distress she is feeling and how they influence the block. I usually talk at length with the querent about why these opposing factors are in play and how they contribute to the issue at hand. These are huge chapters in the story but are not necessarily about the querent, these can also mean a relationship or another person in relationship with the querent.
The block is what has resulted from the A and B card as well as the past influence card. In this narrative, the block is the current issue that is keeping a narrative from changing, or making it change beyond what a querent was hoping for. The block is a key element and is almost always internally driven (for example, the block is not about a bad boyfriend but why one would stay) Since the blocking element is common parlance in reader circles I will not spend too much time on it.
The next card is what I call the Gate Keeper- this card is the major influence that will cause what happens next. This card is also very dynamic, sometimes it is the call to change, sometimes it is the “if things keep going the way they do”, sometimes it is even a person, or an outside influence working on the narrative. In story speak, this is the climactic action. And this climactic action (or inaction) influences the final four. This climax then prepares the final narrative.
The last four cards, the final four are all read together as a single story. This is the most likely narrative, based on the factors below it. This is not a “set in stone” narrative but completes the “if this-then that” equation. The final four are not as important as what the “future is” but rather a message to help us truly understand how today’s choices, blocks, influences and issues will create the most likely narrative. If the narrative is a positive one, often the message is, “You are doing great, keep doing what you are doing!” if the narrative is negative, the message is either, “What can we change in terms of the block, the influential factors and the gatekeeper to change this outcome?” OR “This does not appear to be working in your favor, how can we mitigate the damage or create a softer landing here?”
A Narrative is not as simplistic as a deterministic ideation of linear time. This narrative takes into account that all time is moving simultaneously while acknowledging a growing understanding that it is a probability, as all things are, as weather men tell us. So the narrative is not as helpful as a static “what does my future reveal?” but rather a self-actualizing understanding of “why am I being shown this right now, and how does knowing this support my personal and spiritual growth right now?”
The Ascension Narrative also places more emphasis on what the querent can do now as the active principle in the story. It isn’t just, “things happening to you” it’s, “you creating things that happen to you” or “things that you have to deal with to overcome challenges” or “you not creating things that also happen to you” The Narrative keeps the querent fully active at all parts of the process while the Celtic Cross largely keeps the querent out of the action or as a subject rather than the main protagonist.
I have a feeling that many readers read like this anyway, so I might be preaching to the choir. But I would like to know, have you modified the Celtic Cross? If so, please share—I would love to hear about your Versions of the old C.C.
In my next installment I will upload a sample reading of using the Ascension Narrative in action.
Subscribe below to get my daily blog posts right in your email!