Sin 7: 10-card Arrangements.

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I have two favorite 10-card Tarot arrangements: the Celtic Cross and the Sandman. 

The Celtic Cross

For better and for worse, the Celtic Cross has become an arrangement that’s included in nearly every little white book sold with new Tarot decks. Even though I cut my teeth on the Celtic Cross, my opinion was then and is now that it’s a blunt arrangement which fails to achieve the precision demanded in so many performances, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. My experience is that the Celtic Cross is a useful tool for sitters who won’t ask a question to open the performance. The Celtic Cross is also known and loved by many sitters who seem to genuinely believe that its arbitrary configuration has a magic power all its own.

So whether or not you like this arrangement, you must know it because your sitters will request it. What follows is the best known and most commonly followed variation of the Celtic Cross, followed by a summary of each position within the arrangement: 

celtic cross tarot reading spread

1—The Present: The existing state of affairs which represent the person, place, or thing that is the subject of the deception. This will be the anchor card against which all other cards are measured. Many fortune-tellers call this card the significator and will deliberately choose the card face-up before shuffling the deck to ensure that the card which represents the sitter aligns with the sitter's question. Speaking for myself, I never choose cards in advance: I just shuffle, deal, and work with the cards as they fall.

2—The Challenge: Present circumstances which help or hinder the subject of the performance. This position is used for divining the essential nature of a problem, and the card which occupies it is laid horizontally across 1 (The Present).

3—The Past: The seed which grew into the present. The past explains how the subject came to be where it is in the present. I almost never investigate the past because I think it’s a waste of time, but depending on the kind of information a sitter requests this position will be useful to you.

4—The Future: The near future taking shape as a result of decisions being made in the present. Consider this a short-term prediction which provides either support for, or caution against, the sitter's choices. It can also be used to divine information about events that are just about to appear.

5—Known influences: What is known to the subject of the performance. This is the subject’s aspirations and motivations, but largely indicates present awareness. This is useful for exploring and shifting perspective.

6—Unknown influences: The subject’s blind spot, but also the unconscious, things which are misunderstood, and affairs to which the subject is ignorant. Like (5) Known Influences, this is useful for challenging perspective and encouraging contemplation. 

7—Advice: Generally speaking, the advice you give to your sitters will be self-evident from the other cards present in the arrangement, but you’ll occasionally meet a genuine stupe who just can’t connect the dots and needs you to spell it out as simply as possible. For sitters who just want you to tell them what to do, this is your answer. 

8—External Influences: Other people, situations, and things that are influencing the subject of the performance. Depending on how (8) External Influences relates to other cards on the table, it can reveal unhelpful enemies, uncaring bystanders, concerned allies, or other details about present circumstances that aren't covered elsewhere. 

9—Hopes & Fears: For better and for worse, (9) Hopes & Fears represents emotionally charged perceptions about the most likely outcome. This position is an invitation for all manner of fluffy masturbation, but no matter how you feel about it the truth is that a lot of sitters enjoy the gentle self-abuse that comes from exploring their emotions. If you linger on this position, be sure to ask open-ended questions like “How does this make you feel?,” and let your sitters take the steering wheel.

10—Final Outcome: When all's said and done, this is the ultimate resolution to the question posed by the sitter regarding the subject of the performance. It's a natural extension of (4) The Future, but also functions as a summary of all the other cards on the table. Depending on your perspective, (10) Final Outcome can also be used as your anchor card to reveal what’s most relevant to the discussion. If you have a sitter who just wants an answer and doesn't care about why the answer matters, then this is what you want.

The Celtic Cross arrangement can look imposing if you’ve never seen it before, but I promise you that the number of positions in the arrangement has nothing to do with the difficulty in reading it. Instead, the alleged difficulty in using the Celtic Cross is caused by fortune-tellers who insist on using a linear approach in which they start at (1) The Present and move chronologically to (10) Final Outcome. 

My experience is that the Celtic Cross is a workable arrangement if you use a non-linear approach in which you ignore the chronological numbering and instead move around the arrangement based on which cards (or combinations of cards) are more interesting than others, and also in response to the conversational flow of the narrative.


Subject (Slave of Clubs) + Advice (4 of Hearts)

Jane is shown by the anchor card, the Slave of Clubs. Advice for what Jane should do is shown by the reference card, the mutable 4 of Hearts. In this configuration, the mutable 4 of Hearts antagonizes the Slave of Clubs who expresses the Ace of Clubs in a mutable aspect. In this combination, Jane's advice is to wait patiently and savor a skeptical view of the people and the world around her. Thoroughly considered doubts, fears, and threats may ultimately be proven worthy of more consideration than what they've received, but Jane won't know this unless she pauses in her pursuits long enough to see it.

Subject (Slave of Clubs) + Hopes & Fears (5 of Clubs)

Jane is shown by the anchor card, the Slave of Clubs. Her Hopes & Fears are shown by the reference card, the fixed 5 of Clubs. In this configuration, the fixed 5 of Clubs grasps and feeds the Slave of Clubs who expresses the 3 of Clubs in a cardinal aspect. In this combination, Jane is enlivened by the full knowledge of having begun a romantic union, but simultaneously fears that the relationship will become a dominating pillar of her life around which all other concerns are made to orbit.


Because of the way the Celtic Cross was built, it’s quite difficult to combine it with other arrangements. Other arrangements in this book either duplicate positions already present in the Celtic Cross, or when included the arrangement just breaks down and stops working. I prefer to use small, modular arrangements that can be puzzle-pieced together with other arrangements on an as-needed basis, but the Celtic Cross is still useful for a variety of reasons and does a good job of capturing broad generalities.


The Sandman

This may be the flakiest thing you’ll ever hear me say, but this arrangement came to me in a dream. Seeing as I'm an atheist, I don’t believe that this arrangement was channeled from the Devil, but that doesn’t make it any less useful. As I dreamed it, the Sandman arrangement can only be performed with two people, the performer and the sitter, and is arranged according to the following diagram:

mirror mask neil gaiman tarot reading

Every element in this arrangement has been known to me for some time, but I had never thought to assemble it this way. Specifically, the “Shadow” appeared because I was reading about the same from a Tarot author I follow, the separate hands and discard process were lifted directly from cribbage, and the mirror element which turns everything upside down and inside out was inspired by Dave McKean’s screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Mirrormask.” 

This is a visually-oriented arrangement which favors illustrated cards, so depending on the sitter's ability to interpret non-illustrated pips, you may be better served using either only the trumps of the Satanic Tarot or a fully-illustrated deck of 78 cards. Although this diagram only shows five positions, it’s still composed of 10 cards because each position is occupied by two cards. Let me show you the method to this madness:
  1. The performer shuffles the deck and deals to both him or herself and the sitter five cards each. The performer and the sitter pick up their cards as a hand, not allowing the other to see the cards’ faces.
  2. The sitter looks at the cards in his or her hand and chooses one card to lay on any position. This card is not chosen at random—it is deliberately selected by the sitter based on his or her desires. The sitter may lay the card on any position in the arrangement at will, and the order in which the cards are laid is not important.
  3. After considering the sitter's chosen card and position, the performer chooses a card from his or her hand and lays it horizontally across the card just laid. Just like the sitter, the performer is looking at the card faces and deliberately choosing which card to place in the arrangement.
  4. Repeat the previous steps for all uncovered positions in the arrangement. Positions may be filled in any order. The positions of Needs, Habits, Desires, and Future are plainly understood, but the position of the Shadow is interpreted as hidden fears, shameful mistakes, buried nightmares, and all the skeletons you’ve pushed into the far back of your closet.
  5. The arrangement is performed as usual except that each position is interpreted as a pair with the anchor card being the one laid down by the sitter, and the reference card being the one laid down by the performer.
  6. If both parties to the Sandman are able to interpret the cards, then everything is reversed: the performer becomes the sitter, the sitter becomes the performer, future becomes shadow, needs become desires, and anchor becomes the modifier.

tarot cards sandman


Right-side Out: 6 of Diamonds x King of Clubs

John is performing for Jane. In this performance, Jane's habits are represented by the cardinal 6 of Diamonds crossed by the King of Clubs. In this configuration, the 6 of Diamonds is the anchor card and the King of Clubs is the reference card who expresses the 7 of Clubs in a mutable aspect. In this combination, the 6 of Diamonds antagonizes the King of Clubs and it shows Jane as a person who makes it her business to to literally or figuratively disarm stupes, idiots, and troglodytes of all sorts. Jane is a capable and experienced hunter, and once she marks her prey she rapidly closes the distance to make a fast, calculated kill. However, you shouldn't think Jane cruel because her goal isn't to kill her prey, but only the worst part of her prey. Jane ultimately leaves her prey in a better state than the one in which she found it.

In-Side Out: King of Clubs x 6 of Diamonds

Jane is performing for John. In this performance, John's habits are represented by the King of Clubs crossed by the 6 of Diamonds. In this configuration, the King of Clubs is the anchor card who expresses the 7 of Clubs in a mutable aspect and the cardinal 6 of Diamonds is the reference card. In this combination, John's King of Clubs antagonizes the 6 of Diamonds and shows him as a person who is accustomed to venting his religious frustrations about how he thinks people should live their lives onto high-profile leaders and other outspoken voices. John might not think his complaints through very carefully, but his forceful conviction is enough to make even the most accomplished of his targets question their worth and reconsider if they deserve the power they claim for themselves.


The Sandman is a fascinating arrangement because it allows the sitter to choose his or her preferred fortune, but only with the added interference of the performer. If you’re a fortune-teller who wants to have this deception performed for you but there’s nobody to help you, then you can deal a blank hand and draw from it at random. After laying down all cards, you read for yourself. It’s not quite the same as asking another fortune-teller deceive you, but the effect is sufficient. 

Be forewarned that the position of the Shadow in this arrangement can elicit unwelcome emotional responses. Some sitters enjoy this kind of emotional exposure in a performance, but most sitters (and most fortune-tellers, too) don’t enjoy stripping themselves figuratively naked. This arrangement is a lot of fun for romantic couples and is in fact something my wife and I enjoy sharing, but considering the nature of what might emerge during the performance you should not perform this arrangement for anybody who has not been warned about looking through the mirror.