How to Read the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread

How to read the Celtic Cross tarot spread
The Celtic Cross tarot spread is one of the most common tarot spreads used today. It’s also one of the most complex.

If you go to a professional tarot reader to have your cards read about a specific question, it’s likely they will use this spread. It’s a classic, and it has deep history.

Tarot readers can get quite passionate about this spread, too. Everyone has their own way of laying out and interpreting the cards, and people can get quite opinionated about ‘the right way.’

Which is bull-hooey. There is no one right way to read the cards. There is only your way.

Reading the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread

The Celtic Cross Spread is best used when you have a single, specific question that needs clarification. It can also be used for general information, but that can be more difficult for tarot beginners to start with.

I suggest writing down your question before shuffling your cards, so you know exactly what you asked them. That way, as you go through the reading, you’ll be able to catch those subtle jokes the Universe likes to play. (Those ‘be careful what you ask for’ ones)!

If you choose not to ask a single and specific question, you can still use this spread. It will give you a general reading about your present situation, and the cards (and your subconscious) will tell you what is important for you to investigate at this point in your life.

Before you begin, it’s important you are clear about what you are going to ask and how you are going to layout and interpret the cards.

There are so many possibilities with this spread, and you’ll probably find dozens of different interpretations online. This flexibility is one of the reasons it is so popular. All versions and interpretations are acceptable! You can even make up your own.

However, to get an accurate and useful reading, you need to clearly communicate your intentions to the cards. They’ll only give back as much as you put in.

A special note about reversed cards: You don’t have to read them reversed if you don’t want to! Just tell the cards as you shuffle that you will (or won’t) be reading the cards reversed. It’s that simple.

The Basics of the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread

The Celtic Cross spread is best used when you have a single, specific question to ask. It’s not as useful when you are looking for general information (I like to use the Zodiac Tarot Spread for that).

The Celtic Cross spread deals with all aspects of one issue, one at a time.

Most variations of this spread switch up cards three and five, and sometimes cards four and six. There are also variations in how you interpret cards seven, eight, and nine.

You’ll hear talk about a significtor card, which comes from Arthur Edward Waite’s instructions on how to read this spread. The significator, which is totally optional, is a card that represents the querent. You pull it from the deck before the reading.

I never use a significator – to me, using one seems silly since there are already cards that represent the querent in the spread. Not only that, but by pulling one card out of the deck, you have one less card in the deck that the reading might have needed. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

But, to use a significator, you find the card that most closely represents the querent (usually a court card), and place it in the center of the reading before the reading begins. The significator will be covered by the first card of the reading.

Laying out the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread

The Celtic Cross uses ten tarot cards, laid in the following pattern:

Shuffle and cut your deck as you normally would. The cards can either be laid face-up, or they can be laid face-down and flipped as they are being read.

To begin, lay one card in the center of the table, slightly to your left. The second card is laid on top of the first, but at 90 degrees (or crossing it).

The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cards are laid around this first pair. There are different ways to lay out these cards, so you just need to try out a few variations to see what fits you best.

Common placements for these cards include:
* Placing the 3 card to the right of your pair, with the remaining placed counter-clockwise or clockwise
* Placing the 3 card at the bottom of your pair, with the remaining placed counter-clockwise or clockwise
* Placing the 3 card at the bottom, the 4 card at the top, the 5 card at the left, and the 6 card at the right

My favored layout is to place the third card at the bottom, and the remaining cards clockwise around the pair. This is how I’ll be interpreting the layout below.

(If you’d like to try a different order of laying these cards, just make that intention to your cards as you shuffle them).

The seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth cards are placed in a vertical column, to the right of the cross. The seventh card is placed first, closest to you, and the tenth is placed last, at the top of the column.

Interpreting the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread

Since this is one of the most common tarot card spreads, and it’s been in use for a very long time, there are many variations. I’ve included my favorite layout and interpretation for this spread, but I suggest you use this just as a starting point. (There are some more resources at the end of this post).

For this reading, I’m going to read the reversed cards. Remember, you can always choose whether or not you want to read the cards reversed or not. Just let the cards know ahead of time what you’ll be doing.

If you want some tips on reading reversed cards, look here.

The First Card – The Querent

This card indicates the ‘person in question.’ This usually means the person asking the question, but in some readings it may mean someone in the querent’s life.

This gets tricky, especially when your querent is asking a question like, “How will my father’s surgery affect our family?” when there is an obvious second party involved. The best way is just to ask for feedback and clarity as you go through your reading.

Other interpretations for the first card
* The heart of the matter
* The querent’s general life at present
* What influences the querent

The Second Card – The Situation

This card shows the situation, potential situation, or problem.

Like any reading, keep in mind that this may not be referring to the question that your querent asked. It could refer to the question they should have asked instead!

This card will often show that there are possibilities for a solution (if it is positive) or that there are obstacles in the way (if it is negative). Challenges usually show up in this position.

Since this card ‘crosses’ the first card, you can think of it as the problem that is crossing the querent, or standing as an obstacle in their situation.

Other interpretations for the second card
* What helps or hinders you

(The card in the second ‘crossing’ position is always read upright, not reversed).

The Third Card – The Foundation

This card reveals influences on the querent, usually from the distant past. This card will show the long-term choices or patterns that have brought the querent to the present situation.

These are things that still effect you today, even though they happened long ago. This card can indicate negative things you need to move on from, or positive things you can draw on for support.

Other interpretations for the third card (or the card in this position)
* The root cause of the problem
* Your subconscious influences

The Fourth Card – The Recent Past

This card indicates influences that are more recent, and have lead to this situation, or to the querent asking this question today.

Sometimes this card is related to the third card, but it doesn’t have to be.

Other interpretations for the fourth card (or the card in this position)
* none

The Fifth Card – Likely Immediate Outcome

This card reveals the short-term outlook for this problem or situation, generally over the next few months. It’s often called ‘the crown’ card, since it’s at the top of the cross.

If things progress along their present course, this card will show the events that are likely to take place in the future.

Other interpretations for the fifth card (or the card in this position)
* The best possible outcome
* What the querent desires as the outcome
* The querent’s conscious goals and ideals

The Sixth Card – Immediate Future of the Situation

The events shown here will happen soon, and there is little that the querent can do to change them.

This card shows if this situation is on hold, or if it is on its way to a resolution. Whereas the second card shows whether or not there is a solution to this situation, the sixth card shows how far along the problem is to being solved.

Other interpretations for the sixth card (or the card in this position)
* Whether this situation is on hold or resolving
* What will influence this situation in the future

The Seventh Card – True Feelings

This card reveals what the querent really feels about the situation, including how they actually want the situation to resolve.

This is a good card to compare with the first card (the querent card in the center of the cross) to see if there are any obvious conflicts.

For example, if the querent seems to want one thing (reconcile with her husband) but actually, secretly wants something else (a fling with a coworker), then the subconscious motivations will show up here.

Other interpretations for the seventh card
* The querent themselves
* How the querent is currently approaching the situation
* Advice on how to address the current challenges

The Eighth Card – Outside Influences

This card indicates what the querent’s friends and family feel about their situation. It may show that other people are in control, or that there are people who need to be consulted with the decision making.

Other interpretations for the eighth card
* The environment around this situation or the querent
* The people, events, or energy that is outside the querent’s control

(FYI: The meanings for the seventh and eighth cards are commonly switched, so be sure you know how you’ll be reading them before you question the cards).

The Ninth Card – Hopes & Fears

This card can be closely related to what is hidden in the eighth card. The ninth card reveals what the querent hopes and/or fears about the situation.

In the example above, your querent may hope (and fear!) that the coworker wants a real relationship, instead of just a fling.

This can sometimes be a difficult card to interpret. It helps to compare it to card three, which is the foundation card. There might be a relationship between what they hope or fear and what has led them to this point.

If this card is reversed, it may be that the querent is not yet aware of how their hopes and fears are driving the situation forward.

Other interpretations for the ninth card
* The mindset of the querent
* Psychological influences on this situation
* Advice that you shouldn’t overlook
* What you need to know about this situation

The Tenth Card – The Final Outcome

This card shows the likely long-term outcome of this situation, if things stay on their present course. This card often shows what happens when you put all nine of the other cards together.

Timeline-wise, I usually interpret this as a solution that occurs over the course of several months to a year.

If there is a court card in this position, I always grit my teeth a bit. It can mean that the ultimate outcome is in the hands of the person who is represented on the card.

When you are reading for someone else, there is a natural human tendency to make the outcome seem positive and hopeful, even if the cards skew negative. Remember that your role as a tarot reader is to interpret what you see, not to sugarcoat the bad news just to make someone happy.

Putting It Together – A Sample Celtic Cross Tarot Spread Reading

My question: What can I do to improve my financial situation, so I can be an equal partner with Chris?

One of the things I notice first is that this layout is heavy with Pentacles and cards from the Major Arcana. This is expected, since this is a question about money (the Pentacles), and it is very important to my life right now (the Majors).

Card 1 – The Querent (me!) – Six of Pentacles

The card in the first position represents the heart of the matter. In this case, with such a personal question that combines both finances & a partnership relationship, it’s no surprise to see the Six of Pentacles here.

The Six of Pentacles is a positive financial card, with an emphasis on the sharing of resources. It has aspects of both giving and receiving.

Currently, this partnership is strong, and there is a generosity between us that goes far beyond the financial. However, I come to this relationship with a boatload of debt and very little income. My partner is debt-free, and makes more than enough to support us both (which he seems to enjoy doing).

However, there is an aspect of any giving/receiving relationship that can skew towards a power imbalance. This is the very thing I’m trying to prevent by increasing my finances.

I don’t want to start thinking of myself as inferior, just because I don’t contribute as much financially. And if I’m being 100% honest, I already kind of see myself as inferior because of our financial situation – which is totally my issue, not my partner’s.

Card 2 – The Situation – The Chariot

The second card shows the situation or problem. In this case, The Chariot arrives to say there will be ultimate victory over this issue.

The Chariot is an active card about power, victory, and success. This card arrives when you feel in control of your life.

Seeing it here, in the crossed position, implies that I don’t feel in control in this situation, and there are issues about power and confidence.

I am a bit surprised to see this card here. I would have expected something about the financial difficulties, not the perceived imbalance I feel. However, as always, the cards know best.

I do feel out of control, especially as it relates to financial matters. And I’m worried that there is an imbalance of power in my relationship. So far, the cards are telling the right story (even if it’s a story I am uncomfortable hearing).

Card 3 – The Foundation – Five of Cups

The card in this position, at the bottom of the cross, shows issues from the distant past. These are the issues, choices, and patterns that have brought us to this point today.

The Five of Cups is a card of disappointment, regret, and deep loss. In this position, I read this card as having a message that there is something (an event, a memory, a person) that happened in my past that I am still not over. I need to move on.

When I think about my past, going all the way bay to when I was a kid, there are a few events that relate to loss, relationship problems, and money. These memories bring baggage that I’m still carrying today – and that baggage is influencing this situation.

Card 4 – The Recent Past – Two of Wands (reversed)

The card in this position indicates events and influences that are recent. This could mean events that happened a few months ago, or something that happened yesterday.

The Two of Wands is a card about making future plans and waiting for their results. When it is reversed, it is about lack of planning, fear of the unknown, and plans falling apart.

This seems an appropriate position for this card. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve felt uncertain about many things, including my financial plans. Although things haven’t yet fallen apart, I haven’t gotten clear on what I want yet, so I haven’t been making plans or goals.

Card 5 – Likely Outcome – The Empress (reversed)

The card in this position is the ‘crown’ of the cross. It shows the likely outcome, if nothing changes. (It can also be read as the best possible outcome, or the outcome the querent actually desires).

The Empress card is the card for fertility, femininity, and creation. Reversed, this card reads as a creative block, barren ground, and dependency on others.

Oh, hell no. That’s just not acceptable!

The cards are saying that if nothing changes, it’s likely I will become financially dependent on my partner. (It’s important to note that there’s nothing here about being a burden on him, or about the imbalance).

I am so uncomfortable with that idea. I’ll do anything to change it! Let’s keep reading to see what advice the cards have for change…

Card 6 – The Immediate Future – Eight of Pentacles

The card in this position shows what will happen soon, and there is little I can do about changing these events.

The Eight of Pentacles is a card about apprenticeship, learning, and hard work. It’s about putting the time in to learn your craft, so you can create a major body of work.

I’m excited to (finally!) see a Pentacle card, since I was really looking for financial advice when I asked this question. I appreciate all the woo-woo inner work that needs to be considered, but I’m much more interested in the practical and mundane.

The Eight of Pentacles here indicates that I will be (and in fact, I currently am) working hard to become better at something I enjoy. This hard work will soon pay off, and I will gain the reputation (and hopefully financial success) that comes from being an expert in the field.

Card 7 – True Feelings – Ten of Swords

Ouch! The seventh card indicates what the querent believes, feels, and sees about the situation. The Ten of Swords indicates a complete and utter ending – hitting rock bottom.

Comparing this to the first card – the Six of Pentacles – I see a real conflict here. Even though I want financial security and equality, my subconscious is throwing up roadblocks to getting it. In a way, I’m stabbing myself in the back.

To move in a positive direction, I need to let go of the past (especially those events and memories from the Five of Cups in the third/Foundation position). Those things are DONE, and now I need to move on. It’s the only way.

Card 8 – Outside Influences – Seven of Pentacles

This card indicates what my family, friends, and environment feel about the situation, and how they influence it. In this reading, I’m including my partner as part of my environment.

The Seven of Pentacles is a card about slow returns, patience, and hard work.

Although my family, friends, and partner are completely supportive of what I do professionally, I know they think I’m walking a hard and slow path. The easy way (which they have sometimes hinted at or advised) would be for me to go back to the corporate world to earn a fat steady paycheck.

This would solve some of my financial worries, for sure. But it wouldn’t really solve the bigger issue, which the cards are pointing out quite clearly. I have issues surrounding money, and until I address them, it really doesn’t matter how much or how little money I make.

Card 9 – Hopes & Fears – Three of Swords (reversed)

The card in this position indicates what I hope or fear about the situation. The Three of Swords (upright) is the ‘breakup and heartbreak’ card – I definitely fear that!

But, reading the Three of Swords reversed is different. Then the message becomes more about recovering from loss and having a bright new outlook on life.

Which is absolutely what I hope for. The cards, through this reading, have shown me that I have a lot of internal work to do before I begin to solve my financial problems. And I am extremely hopeful and motivated to do that work.

I am absolutely hopeful that I can recover from all of my financial setbacks and loss, and I am eager to have a bright new outlook on life that doesn’t involve so much financial-and-power-issues baggage.

Card 10 – The Final Outcome – Judgment (reversed)

The card in this position indicates what the ultimate outcome for this situation will be, if nothing changes.

The Judgment card is near the end of The Fool’s journey, and is about being called towards something bigger. It’s about knowing the truth of your life’s purpose, and being unable to live any other way.

Reversed, the Judgment card carries a message about weakness, critical errors in judgment, and denial.

Ugh. Not exactly the outcome I was hoping for!

However, I think it’s an accurate reflection of the other nine cards. If nothing changes, I will likely become financially dependent on my partner (as shown in the reversed Empress, in the Likely Outcome position of Card 5). Add that up with all of the financial-and-power baggage I’ve got, and it becomes a firebomb of unaddressed issues and needs.

If I don’t take care of the inner work of money (and how it relates to power, control, and gender), I’ll end up in a weak position where I feel that I don’t have any voice or control. That’s so unhealthy for the relationship with my partner, but it’s also extremely unhealthy for my sense of self-worth.

Although the cards came through with a message that I wasn’t expecting, it was exactly the message that I needed to hear. Ugh! Sometimes I hate it when the cards are right.