another look at the Celtic Cross


Ah, yes. The Celtic Cross. I think most of us have a love/hate relationship with this spread. I don’t recall ever reading a book on Tarot without this spread being presented.

Yet I think we all have our problems with it. Well, I’ve taken another look at this spread, and come up with a few new angles.

To me, Tarot is totally visually oriented. That’s leads to my first problem with the Celtic Cross. It doesn’t look like a cross. There’s the horseshoe spread that looks like a horseshoe; the horoscope spread that looks like the zodiac wheel… you get the point. To me the CC is a circle with center point sitting next to a stick in the ground—like somebody lopped the top off the cross. That’s the first thing I wanted to fix; I wanted the cross to be a cross….

I’m using Eden Gray’s text, the first place I met the CC (kind of dates me, huh?) So here goes:

card 1—this covers him

card 2—this crosses him

(This always annoyed me. It’s the only mention of cross, and it’s a negative card. Something I felt didn't make too much sense)

card 3—this is beneath him

card 4—this is behind him

card 5—this crowns him

(The mention of ‘crown’ here always made me think of the tree of life. This card is in the top-most position, and there are ten cards…)

card 6—this is before him

Let’s stop here a minute and see what we’ve got.. We can look at this as a circle of cards with a point made of two (three if you use the suggested signifacator) in the center—nice sun symbol. And one reason why the circle is on the Celtic Cross. It was meant to blend the Celtic and Christian symbols together.

Usually, the next four card make what I see as the stick in the ground. And for some reason there’s no “this ___ him" said (that is if you ACTUALLY say these things :) ) with these last four ; I don’t know why that suddenly stops. Perhaps someone can come up with something to say for these last cards.

Instead of that placement, let’s finish the cross…

place card 7 (fears) beneath card 3

place card 8 (environmet et al) beneath card 7

place card 9 (hopes and ideals) beneath car d 8

place card 10 (the grand finale) beneath card 9

Voila!! Now the Celtic Cross LOOKS like a cross.

Now onto interpretation considerations.

Look at card 4, card 2 and card 6. Here’s where that problematic word “cross” appears. We tend to look at this card as a barrier or obstacle. But there’s another meaning to the word cross—'cross' as to 'pass over'. So if we consider card 2 to ‘pass over’ card 1, we arrive at a horizontal line of three cards. Card 4 is “behind him” and card 6 is “before him”. So we can look at these three as past, present and future.

Next, card 3, card 1 and card 5. Beneath, cover, and crown—a vertical line. The clue I take from this triplet is the word “crown”. From this, and the fact that it is moving upward, I consider it a spiritual triplet.

Then there are cards 7, 8 and 9; fears, hopes... Here is the emotional triplet.

And lastly card 10. Both a summation and a foundation…

If we group card 4, card 3 and card 7 together, we might consider it a holistic look at the past.

Cards 1, 2 and 8 are the now

Cards 5, 6 and 9 are possible future with the help of card 10

I thought I’d share these early morning thoughts. As you may tell, I like threes. After all, the world is triangulated….

fly well


The Celtic Cross is my least favorite spread, for all the reasons you mention. I like your ideas about finishing the cross and incorporating groups of 3's. I know that a lot of people favor the Celtic Cross and get a lot out of it, but for me it's cumbersome and confusing because there are too many pasts and futures, and the placements seem vague. Your version is an improvement!


Ravenswing, this is a great look at a spread that I decided I hated (about 2 years ago, after discovering Aeclectic, that is) and haven't used since.

For me, the arguments are as you've presented.

First, "covers and crosses" the querent. What the hell do those mean? Those never made sense to me. Right outta the gate, and I'm already struggling with the spread.

The "beneath him and crowns him" ... those didn't make sense to me either. So, along the way, I decided the bottom card meant the "karmic background" and the crown card the "karmic future to be expected, if ideals are acheived".

I whacked out cards 7-10 myself, but your presentation is much clearer and relates the card positions in ways that work nicely. I'll write your version down... in case I decide I don't hate the CC so much any more, and am willing to try a new and improved CC out instead.

Thanks for posting this!!


I believe the "vertical" and "horizontal" concepts have been touched on by Pollack in 78DW and Bunning's On-Line course, but are well worth repeating. I hadn't thought of actually putting the staff (cards 7 - 10) below; this is something to try. I wonder if, sometime long ago, for the sake of space, the last 4 cards were laid to the right and that layout just became the standard? And as for something to say when laying the last 4 cards (because announcing the positions is part of the CC charm), "This is how you see yourself (card 7); this is how others see you (card 8); hopes and fears (card 9); and outcome/advice (card 10)." It's all very theatrical and mysterious (if you want to do that sort of thing). Even though the CC can be difficult, I still think it's a lot of fun and I like hearing new, fresh ideas on how to approach it! Thanks, Raven :)


Thank You For This

I just wanted to thank you. I tried this spread with your grouping ideas and for the first time ever I actually KNEW what the cards were telling me, no maybe's, no doubting myself. I think the problem I always had was that I had a hard time reading the cards wholistically. It is like knowing all of the sounds in the alphabet without understanding how they work in individual words. With so many different meanings there was so much, "well it could be". If someone told you to memorize on the sound if /i/ you would think well, it could be a short /i/ or a long /I/ sound, or perhaps the spanish /i/ which sounds more like a long /e/ or a silent /i/ like in the word field. Then if you saw a bunch of random letters grouped together with like this "ksduirkn" you would have no idea what the heck that /i/ is supposed to sound like. But when you understand that you look at the other letters in the word, and where they are, and what they are, tells you what that /i/ is supposed to sound like. "LIKE" yes, that /e/ tells us that it is a long I sound. "Familia" that is a spanish word so it has the long /e/ sound, "Tip", it is a short word so it has the short sound. You get the point. It now has some context and focus. The word tells us the sound, not just the letter. Likewise, the spread tells us the meaning, not just the card.

What you did by explaining the relationships within the cross was giving me the text. The sounds, the words, the sentences were suddenly in context. This is how I learned to teach young children how to read and it explains why, for 11 years, I've struggled with reading Tarot. I've been concentrating on the alphabet rather than on the words and passages. I have been "sounding out" my spread without considering all of the relationships connecting the meaning to the central focus of the spread.

I am going to take an entirely new approach to my tarot studies now. I now see why journaling is so important, I've learned so much more about the cards by reading them this way and realized that I knew so much more about them then I ever gave myself credit for.


Ravenswing said:
card 1—this covers him

card 2—this crosses him

Interesting take on it! Thank you for sharing this!

I never read the 2 spot as "crossing". Rather I interpret it as events going on that affect the situation at hand.


New 9th position

In Idiots guide to Tarot, their CC was a lot better!At least for the 7-10:
7-hopes/fears (what he fears)
8-environment (what he is surrounded by)
9-What you must go through to reach 10 (what he must do)
10-poss result (what he becomes)

I thought i could make up the "what...he" parts that seem to have been forgotten.


I have to say, I like the CC....Of all that is in Joan Bunning's Course/Book, I think her discussion of the CC
works best for me.

Here is the link:

It made me aware of the broad possibilities of each position and interactions of positions.

When I use the CC, which is occasionally, I go back to this early exposure I had from Bunning.



Here are some more ideas on the Celtic Cross. I don't regard them as definitive or original but I'm happy to discuss their merits or deficiencies.

The covering card is the essence of the question, what would cover the significator if you use one. It represents the question at hand or the immediate significant influence affecting the querent. The heart of the matter.

The crossing card can be read as what is opposing or blocking the initial energy of the question but I tend to read it as a moderating influence or something that diverts, deflects or distracts from the question.

The vertical axis of the cross is the intentional axis leading from the base or foundation, what is already established, below the question to the aim, intention or crowning glory above it, what you are trying to achieve.

The horizontal axis is the axis of time from what is behind, that is the immediate past, to what is before, that is the immediate future. To me, this points to the column of cards on the right of the cross between the house, or environment of the querent, and the hopes and fears of the querent. In this sense you could read the influence of the immediate future or the time axis on the querent's environment, hopes and fears or how they will influence the timeline, or both.

The lowest card in the column is the role or status of the querent in the reading. What stance they should take or possibly what actions they should make.

The top card of the column is the final outcome or the nature of the answer to the question posed by the first card.

There are probably many rationales for arranging the cards in the column in relation to the cross and many more for relating one position to another. Obviously, the question relates to every other card and the intention, environment, past and hopes and fears will influence the outcome. In the cross itself, how has the immediate past influenced the established base of operations and the aims and how do they influence the immediate future? A case could be made for a 3D representation with the querent & their environment placed underneath the question and cross with the hopes and fears and final outcome vertically above. Or, considering a Tree of Life spread, the final outcome or manifestation is at the bottom with the foundation above it and the initial impulse (question) at the top.

The challenge for any tarot reader using any spread is to take time to think about what the positions mean to you and how they relate one to the other. If you're not sure, it's right that you stay away from the spread otherwise what confusion or misconception do you present to your querent.


The celtic cross is a really complex spread.
I rarely use it.
Yet, I like it.