The Three-Card Layout, Tarotsplained

Today I did a reading that is a perfect example of how to take your tarot reading to the next level using one of the most basic layouts.

The three-card layout is the go-to layout that I recommend for beginners.  It allows me to ask almost any question and get a clear, concise answer.  It always has at least four cards (which is neither clear nor concise, but let’s not quibble). This is the most fundamental layout to have in your arsenal IMHO.  I’ll explain.

Position 1 represents the person in relation to the person or situation they’re asking about.

Most situations are actually group dynamics, where two people are interacting within a much larger context.  Position 2 is the mirror of that, how the person or group is reflecting the questioner.  This layout reminds me that everything is relative.  Nothing is fixed.  It’s all about how people bounce off of each other.

Position 3 is the most likely outcome for the questioner based on the current trajectory.  Remember that everything is only probabilities.  The act of simply doing a reading can change the outcome by changing the questioner’s awareness and perspective.  That’s the object of the game IMHO.  So remember that Position 3 isn’t a history lesson, it’s a road sign of coming attractions.

I made my three-card reading always have a fourth position.  Wheeeee!  Think of the first 3 positions as you the reader initiating a conversation with your higher self or guides.   You ask one question in three specific contexts.  Then Position 4 is where — just like a regular conversation — you draw a breath and allow the other person to interject something.  I call it the focus card, but it can be any point the cards would like to make on the matter.  Something like a reminder or an alternative, maybe.  I think of it as literally me taking a breath and waiting for the other person in the conversation (in this case my higher self or guides) to change directions if they’d like.  The best thing I’ve done to cultivate my intuition was learn to be a listener.


When I turned over my Position 4 card in this particular layout I saw that I had the Ace of Pentacles upright.  I thus took it out of Position 4 and put it over the entire reading like a sign over the door.  This is called “exalting the aces.”

I then replaced it with the next one on the pile.  That was also an ace, which also got exalted.  If you get all four aces, they all go up top, each one being replaced with the next one on the pile as you turn it over.  (I lay the cards face down and turn them over.  Here the aces were consecutive and at the end, in Position 4.  But if the ace were in Position 1 I still wouldn’t know that until the whole layout had been done, and would get the same replacement card.)

Aces in tarot are always an indicator of divine potential.  That’s another way of saying they point to a better version of you.  They are like a new path that can be chosen if you are paying attention.

Even in reverse the Aces are enormously helpful.  There is always the hand of an angel extending an offer.  In other words a question with an ace in the answer can always lead to something bigger.  In this way they are almost like Major Arcana cards, in that they can be subtle, referencing a larger and deeper context.  The question is always whether you notice the hand and accept the offer.  That’s the hard part.  Even when you do accept the manna you’re still out in the desert.  That’s why the sky is always gray behind them.


Today I did a three-card layout (with a total of six cards) asking about a project I’m pitching to a freelance client.

This particular reading is teachable because it’s a clear answer to a very common question, with many of the same components people deal with every day:  My client wants me to do something, and I can see a much more profitable and efficient thing we could do.  So I’m pitching that to her.

But she and I don’t communicate well.  We don’t get each other and have to work through an intermediary.  For various reasons we are both invested in continuing the relationship.  But it’s not easy for either of us.


Here we have a great example of how to read the multiple levels of a layout.  There are two Major Arcana cards, one representing me and one my client.  In other words this is about who we really are, and who we are becoming together (whether we get it or not).

The outcome and focus cards are both Minor Arcana cards.  So the specific thing I asked about is neither here nor there.  This, too, shall pass.  It’s happening in order to prove a point or show something to one or both of us.  Personally I think that’s extremely valuable higher-self information.  That’s why I do this.

Then the two aces show me what the actual point is, where there is to be gained in taking this high-road perspective.  I’m correct that there’s a potentially huge financial opportunity.  I’m clear on that because my card (The Star) and the Ace of Pentacles (the one confirming the soundness of a new opportunity like the one I proposed) are both upright.

But there is a lot of reversal in this layout, and it gives the key bits of information that we need in order to truly hear our guides out.  My client’s card (The Hanged Man) is reversed, suggesting that she’s not actually reachable because of her own internal struggles.  She marches to her own drummer even when it’s not appropriate.  This is a major life theme she’s working through, because it’s a Major Arcana card.

My outcome card is also reversed, the 9 of wands.  I can own up to this, I have a chip on my shoulder based on past experience.  Like the man in the card, I’m battle-tested and know I will beat the next challenger too.  But that’s reversed, telling me not to be defensive.  Yes, I’m indomitable.  But that may not be the best thing to be in this instance.  I need to remember to be happy and not right.  Because with my card being The Star upright, I’m certainly as correct as the stars in the sky.

The ever-important focus card, the 2 of swords, is also reversed.  The fact that the guides interjected a reversed card assures me that I don’t know everything, don’t see the full picture.  I’m not entirely clear.  And the card in question, when upright, is a clear message to go with what you know, follow your gut.  The blindfolded woman with the swords is using the force, Luke.  The cards are telling me not to do that, put the swords down, take off the blindfold, sit quietly by the ocean and wait.  There are things I simply cannot intuit at this time.

The specific aces are the upright Ace of Pentacles and the reversed Ace of Cups.  This is a great opportunity to discuss the multiple layers of perspective that can be gleaned from just these two cards of the six.

The upright Ace of Pentacles speaks to the original question, about the proposal I am thinking about sending to my client.  The Ace of Pentacles tells me that — within the context I just mentioned, where there is more to this than meets the eye and I need to chill out and wait — yes this is an enormous financial opportunity.  We’re both sitting on a gold mine, just as I said.

However the reversed Ace of Cups speaks to a burgeoning heart-level connection.  Reversals in general mean “no.”  But an angel doesn’t stick its hand out of the sky to say no.  So a reversed ace refers more to a delay, something that one or both of the people isn’t clear about when it’s a reading about more than one person.  Well, is it one of the people that’s unclear, or both?  Simple to answer.

We have cards representing each of the people.  One is upright, one is reversed.  The reversed one, the extra stubborn Hnaged Man, is pretty straightforward.  One of these people is in their own little world and can’t be communicated with.  The other one is a Star in the sky, perfectly available to all.  So on that level, it’s the client.

However both my outcome and the advice or focus card were reversed Minor Arcana cards.  Both of them suggest me in a certain way not being available, with the defensive 9 of Wands reversed suggesting a chip on my shoulder that I can admit exists.  I do not feel valued or respected by this client.   The reversed 2 of Swords is again an admonition to put down the swords and take off the blindfold, that more is to be revealed.

In sum I can say that whenever you’re curious whether it’s either/or, it’s both.  Always both.  Also that listening to your higher self is both equal parts simple, challenging, and rewarding.










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