22-Card Tableau Spread

Hiya, kids. We’re going to try something different today.

This is a spread I’ve played around with a couple of times before and that I’ve found very good for analyzing major turning points in a querent’s life. However, it has always seemed very difficult to explain to other people. In part, this is because it involves laying out quite a lot of cards–22, to be exact, although you could probably gather that from the title of this post–but not actually reading all of them.

You deal out twenty-two cards, face down, in a tableau: one card is set to the side, and the other 21 are arranged in a table of seven columns and three rows.

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It doesn’t take a genius to see where we’re headed with this. Each card you’ve dealt out corresponds to one of the Major Arcana. The extra card–the one you’ve set aside–is the Fool, the top left card is the Magician, and the bottom right card is the World. The Major Arcana serve as the spread positions in this case, the same way that you have cards titled “This covers you” and “This crosses you” and other silly things like that in other spreads. So the card that shows up in the top left would represent the way that the energies associated with the Magician (creation, direction, prowess) manifest in the querent’s life. And so on.

And here’s where the actual reading begins. Turn over the extra card, the one dealt under the auspices of the Fool. This represents the beginning point of your spread. It’s the central theme, or, if you prefer, the significator to ground the rest of the reading, much the same way that the Fool is the central character of the aptly titled Fool’s Journey in the Major Arcana.

To go any further with the explanation of this spread, I think it’s best if I take an example. So let’s do a reading together for Felicity, who just left a bad relationship and feels that she is embarking on a completely new chapter of her life, starting everything over. The card we’ve flipped over for Felicity is the inverted Four of Pentacles. (I used the Deviant Moon Tarot here. See my review for further thoughts on this deck.)

Bam. Right away, we have our central idea. The Four of Pentacles is about holding on to things too tightly–whether the “things” in question are material or emotional–and when inverted, it speaks of letting go. Felicity is finally letting go of her toxic relationship and is preparing herself to move forward.

Now, from here, you apply the card counting technique of your choice (see some idle ruminations on various ways to go about card counting in a previous post, here) to select the next card in the reading from among the 21 others laid out in the tableau.

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Because the card is in the Minor Arcana, I counted it at face value (that is to say, 4), and because it’s inverted, I counted backwards, from right to left. This takes us to the card in position 18 (the Moon), and we turned up Key 19: the Sun. And so we read this card as if it were paired with the Moon, intertwining their respective meanings. You could do this a variety of ways, but I’d be inclined to say that Felicity was deceiving herself regarding the relationship, convincing herself of its positive qualities and willfully ignoring its negative aspects.

Now, from this card, you count again, using your same card counting technique, to get to the next stage in your reading. But here’s the important thing: you do not consider the extra card (the Fool) in your card counting for the rest of the reading. That card–let’s call it the significator for simplicity’s sake–serves as a point of entry into the reading, but is not really to be considered a part of the reading. (Similarly, the Fool, numbered 0 in the sequence of the trumps, serves as a point of entry into the Major Arcana but is not actually part of their numerical sequence.)

What does this mean? Well, in concrete terms, it means that you act as if the significator isn’t there when you do your card countings. So, for example, I count seven cards to the right from the Sun (for complicated reasons; see my card-counting post if you want to know exactly why). This takes me to cards 19, 20, 21… And then straight through to 1, 2, and 3, finally landing on card 4 (the Emperor). I skip the significator; if I hadn’t, I would have landed on card 3 instead.

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Card 4 is the Ace of Wands, and once again, we would interpret this card in tandem with the significance of the Emperor. I’d be inclined to say something about Felicity regaining control of her life and finding the confidence to start something new, but feel free to interpret as you will.

And then from there, we count again.

You keep counting, turning up cards and interpreting them in tandem with the Major Arcana whose positions they occupy, until you land on a card you’ve already read. And then you stop. I won’t bore you with an interpretation of each and every card–if I did, this would be a long post, indeed–but below is a picture of what the completed tableau looks like.

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Now, aside from the individual card-by-card interpretations you might offer, there are a couple of other things of note here. For one thing, there’s a complete absence of cups, suggesting that Felicity is moving out of a phase of her life ruled by her (negative) emotions and into something different.

But more interestingly (for me, at least), we can look at the structure of the tableau itself. The King of Swords occupies the position assigned to the Hermit, but the Hermit himself also appears in this spread, in the Hierophant’s position. To me, this creates a meaningful link between the three cards. The Hermit here is inverted, suggesting a weakness of Felicity’s sense of self. Could this be because she was abused by a domineering, unloving partner (the conflation of the Hierophant and the King of Swords)?

It’s also interesting to me that two entire columns are overturned. The first column consists of the positions given to the High Priestess, the Hermit, and the Tower; these cards all share a common theme of the unknown and of coming change. This is essential to understanding where Felicity finds herself in her life right now. The second column contains cards assigned to the Emperor, Justice, and the Moon, indicating (to my eye) a struggle between the rational and emotional sides of Felicity’s personality.

But these are just some thoughts.

After all of this, the reading still felt a bit muddy to me, so I took one additional (optional) step. I cleared away all of the face-down cards and put the rest of them in a line, with the significator still off to one side. And then I repeated the card-counting process, this time with only the face-up cards, to identify the most significant cards in the reading.

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And here, things started to look much clearer. After much counting and muttering and plucking-out of cards, I came out with the inverted Hermit, the Six of Swords, and the Hanged Man. And this told a much simpler, more distilled version of the story. In these three cards, we see the reasons for Felicity leaving her breakup: her loss of personal identity, her emotional suffering, and her need to move forward with her life. And with two of the three cards coming from the Major Arcana, this parting word on the reading promises great change to come.

Of course, this isn’t a full-fledged reading, and Felicity isn’t a real person. But this is, in my opinion, a beautiful spread, and a demonstration seemed like the best way to share it with you. It’s complex and somewhat tricky–let me know if I’ve explained anything poorly–but because of that complexity, I’ve found that it can shed unique insight on major happenings in a querent’s life.

As always, if you end up trying this spread out, let me know how it reads! Is there anything you would tweak? Did you find it helpful? Thanks for sticking with me through this monstrosity of a post, and I’ll talk to you next time.

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16 thoughts on “22-Card Tableau Spread

  1. This is a great spread Jack! I just tried it and it was very enlightening. Since I did the reading for myself I didn’t catch all the details, but it gave me a great picture of what I’m feeling and living right now!

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  2. Wow! This is quite the spread! I love how much it can reveal and it sounds like it could be helpful for Shadow Work applications, maybe? I definitely want to try this out!

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      1. I tried it last night and I loved it! I probably was over thinking the card counting so I might be a little off but it still read really nicely! I’m about to write up how it went! 🙂

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      2. Lovely! Looking forward to reading your write-up. And no worries about overthinking the card-counting. It’s a bit of a weird business, and (if you decide you want to continue to use the technique) it takes a while to find a method that works well for you.

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  3. :O I’ve been working on the exact same concept for a few weeks now – great minds! My layout is different, but the idea of utilising the houses is the same. I’ve been struggling to explain the concept, but you’ve managed to make it very clear and I feel encouraged to forge ahead with wrangling my ideas into words!

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  4. This spread has really caught my imagination. I think I have the hang of the counting bit and will certainly try it out. I will let you know how I get on and will reblog it for you too. Good work. Must check out more of it.

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    1. Glad you like it. Working it out definitely took some finagling, and using smaller/simpler spreads is definitely a good place to start. But with big, life-changing, hero-journey type questions, I’ve found this spread quite useful.

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