These days I find myself explaining to people interested in consulting the cards with me the difference between the various types of readings that one can opt for and why we read according to size, so to speak.

As I distinguish between what I call small focused readings (3-card), medium readings (5-7 cards), large readings (9-13 cards), and tableaus (36-52 cards), I thought of saying something here about what is at stake in choosing between the various options (when money is not the main factor determining what people can afford).

I will also demonstrate briefly with examples of recent readings that I’ve done for people of different age, race, class, and gender. I will use the Lenormand cards to illustrate here, and I will only focus on readings with up to 13 cards. But I must say that I read through these options with all the cards that I’m proficient in reading with: Tarot cards, playing cards, and oracle cards.


Let’s begin with a 3-card reading.

As it all depends on the nature of the question, the focus can also change according to the degree of specificity in the question. That is to say, one can easily zoom in on a problem, and yet be as abstract or concrete as one wishes to be. Let’s take the example of the abstract question, and without passing judgment on its practical usefulness.

‘Does he think of me?’ (Variant: when the querent wants to be more open-ended in her question, she may ask, ‘to what extent does he think of me,’ or ‘how does he think of me?’

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The straightforward answer here is:

Yes, he thinks of you, repeatedly and deeply.

As we can see here from The Lady, The Whip, and The Fish, this 3-card reading can be to the point and maintain the focus. One can elect to offer elaborations, but they are not necessary. In the case above, the cards indicate that although the supposed lover thinks of his love interest, he is not free of hidden aggressions. A whip, after all, has corrective connotations. With a whip in hand we tend to discipline. Next to the Fish floating freely, the Whip may be getting out of control and developing into an obsession. The querent can decide to what extent such thinking of her is any good, or whether it has the potential to actually go somewhere. My point here is that, basically, a 3-card reading can go as deep as a tableau, but it will not elicit the same wealth of information as the larger sets do.


The 5-card is almost like a 3-card reading with 2 more cards in play where you see the dynamics of what you may want to do but you must not unfold against the background of what it’s a good idea to pursue even if you’d like to do the opposite or something else. It sounds convoluted, but it’s not. This is a good one for the tarot cards, if you want to use only the major arcana cards, though, of course, the full pack can also be in play any time. Some actually prefer the ‘dos and donts’ type of spreads with the playing cards, as playing cards indeed go straight to the point. Tarot cards and oracle cards give you more visual cues to work with, but they are certainly not more precise than the playing-cards, as some may think. Ultimately, however, what you go for is simply a matter of mood and preference.

Here’s an example: A man wants to know how he can communicate with his partner.

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The straightforward answer here is: Stay optimistic, but don’t even think about saying a word.

If we look at the string of three cards on the horizontal line, and indicating the present situation, we can see that the relationship is at a standstill. A heavy incurable atmosphere permeates the relation. The bond is there, and it’s strong (Anchor+Ring) but right now, the dead rules (Coffin). In the position of ‘do’ we find the card of the Sun. So the man is advised to maintain a positive outlook on the situation. In the position of ‘don’t we find the woman herself. This tells us that what the man must not do under any circumstance is impose anything on the woman, least of all tell her things about herself – even positive things, such as compliments. With the Sun above, one might be tempted to set the record straight, and shower the woman with a lot of light, but the cards clearly say: bad idea.

As we can see then, from a 5-card reading of this type, a lot more information can be gleaned, and we also have a better sense of the depth of the situation. If we want more dynamics we must go with the square of 9 cards or call on the council of 13.


The 9-card reading gives you ampler information, as the field of play is larger. As we read here columns and rows and diagonal lines, we get a sense of more depth. This is great with the Lenormand and the playing-cards, but some, again, also prefer the tarot cards.

Let’s look at a quick example:

A woman wants to know if she is going to get the promotion in the corporation she works for.

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Straight off, and just by looking at the central card, the Mountain, we can infer that it’s going to be very difficult. What first appears to be a familiar bagatelle, letter recognizing a small contribution at work (Letter+House+Fox), turns out to be more about letting the woman go (Letter+Scythe modified by Ship). If we follow the V-line consisting of Letter+Fox+Clover, we may say that the promotion is in the house in spite of forces against it. But it looks like the actual job will be performed elsewhere (Ship under Fox indicates that the job will be with another environment).

So what does this promotion consist of, then, if not staying on the job? With the Scythe in the last position, it’s difficult to maintain an entirely positive reading here. We can also say that the doubt about a positive outcome is related to the fact that the relation at work has been strained, perhaps due to vain ambitions (Sun over Whip). As the querent offered a context for the reading – she has just graduated while on the job – it is easy for me to make the inference that what we are talking about here is the graduation paper, which, while useful to have, is not enough to sway the boss. So it goes.

The good news is that once an educational elevation is consecrated it can always be used elsewhere. The Book, the surprise card here, and looking on to the whole drama, indicates that much. One just never knows what lies around the corner. And perhaps enemies are not always worth fighting with. One can just move on to sunnier pastures.

Thus as we can see, from a 9-card reading we can make all sorts of deductions that we can back up with evidence from the cards themselves. And the querent can go home thinking about a whole lot of things, including that fact that, as in the case above, it would be a waste of energy to start thinking about what more one could do, or what other requirements one could fulfill to get a job that may not even be the ultimate bliss; not with the competition around trying to put sticks into your wheels all the time.


Generally speaking, then, which option is best for a reading depends really on the nature of the question. The cards can confirm for you what you already know (3-card option), and then advise you even in spite of yourself, or some would say, against your better judgment (5-card option). But the cards can also tell you more about where you come from with your question and what motivates it – things that you may not even be aware of.  They can tell you why you want to know what you want to know before they indicate a trajectory for the future (9-card option). So, depending on what you want to achieve, on what the aim is with your question, you can adjust the reading so that the spread addresses your need.

The more cards on the table, the more information. The art is to put it all together in such a way so that you don’t end up with a walk in the woods with a guide who doesn’t know the woods. And one last note, as this is also one I get all the time, namely the assumption that the Lenormand cards are more to the point, while the Tarot is more ‘out there.’ Wrong.

You can be as deep or swift with any of the cards you read with, for the only task you are called to perform is address the queren’t question. If the querent is ‘out here’ interested in metaphysical questions, then you can address that with all the cards on your table. None lend themselves to answering such questions better than the others. If the querent just wants to know how the others perceive him or her, then the cards will have an answer for that too. All the cards. If the querent wants a predictive reading, your task is to read the cards, not predict anything. And you can do that with any cards you happen to have in your hands.

The game is, and has always been, to pay attention and participate in the event while you’re paying attention. This is the grand privilege that card readers can afford themselves and which the so-called scientific community and hordes of professional counsellors have not yet figured out. But then guess what? Our time may come when we may see more respect from people at large for the good wisdom that we impart on a daily basis because of these, so-called, ‘trivial’ tools.

A hundred years ago in anthropology it was considered taboo to participate in any of the events observed and practiced by peoples of dubious ethnicity and provenance. Now, however, everyone wants to go crazy and dancing. So, the world is changing all the time. Therefore the game is, and has always been, to pay attention and engage directly with that which you make an effort to pay attention to.

For more elaborate readings and examples, you may want to look at my posts tagged with the following: 3-card, 5-cardsquare of 9, council of 13, grand tableau, and grand tableau with playing cards. More generally for posts that demonstrate a method, you may look at my Method page. Enjoy!


Note on the deck: Dondorf Lenormand, Carreras, 1926


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  1. Camelia, I really enjoyed this post. I especially love your practical examples. They are so helpful for those of us who are continuing to delve into new areas with cards; for example I’ve been inspired (by you!!) to start learning how to work with oracle and playing card decks in addition to tarot. And I really like your take on the ability of all cards to “cut to the chase” … thanks again for great insights here!

    • Great Shelley. I’m glad to hear that you find these examples useful. That’s the whole idea, to inspire and make some things, or potentially complex issues, more accessible to others. About cutting to the chase, it’s never a question of ‘which cards’ but rather, ‘which approach?’ It’s all in the method, not the tool. If the reader sets out with the intent to cut to the chase, then she will. If something else is going on, she’ll address that too. A skilled reader will always know what’s what, and when it’s called to deliver either the one (more practical reading) or the other (more psychological reading).

      • Absolutely! One question I forgot to ask here: do you use significators when you work with any of these decks? I never have with tarot (ie, pulling out a specific card to represent the querent and leaving it out of the shuffled deck) but when I started learning Lenormand I saw that sometimes significators are used, or sometimes certain cards are “charged” to represent the theme of the reading. What are your methods regarding this? I ask, because I found it interesting that in the first two examples you shared here, the Lady appeared in a very apt position. Of course, this isn’t surprising in card reading, to see this happen, but it made me wonder if you ever do pull out cards and what your thoughts are on the usefulness of that practice?

  2. Dear Camelia,

    thank you for your clear cut examples and for exploring this. Something I would also find in the way of 3-5-9-card readings is also the symmetry of the layout. While always cards are read as a group, a 3-card reading (in a straight line) can also give excellent sequential information – a development for example. A cross shaped reading provides 2 axes, for example a development plus a “do-dont”, as you had, or a cause effect and a time line. The 9 card matrix now has the full 2-d symmetry, giving 3 rows of sequence plus 3 columns, plus diagonals plus a central go-to-card. So, apart from the amount of information, I also find the organisational quality very interesting.

    • Yes, symmetry. I’ve been writing about it in connection with the reading of the grand tableaus. I love to do readings in a spiralling way, when you have an organization and a certain way of reading the lines according to specific geometrical arrangement. As I like stereograms – I’m a bit addicted – I always see instantly what emerges in 3-D potentially in a tableau. Quite fun. I’m never bored. So, evidently indeed, the more cards on the table, and the more interesting the method even when it’s pretty simple, the better. People tend to get a lot for their money.

  3. Shelley, about the significators. Yes. It’s crucial with playing cards. I wrote about this, so just do a search and get the posts that say something about it. Why is it crucial? When reading with playing cards, once you picked a significator – which, by the way I always leave in the pack, so I never know if it pops in the spread or not – all the other court cards are seen as other people acting in relation to the significator. So, you never read the other court cards as ‘aspects’ of the querent, as one often sees is the case with some readers of the tarot cards. The only exception is the Jacks. Sometimes they can be considered as the thoughts of the other courts, rather than acting on their own. But you’ll have to see what else you’ve got on the table in order for that reading to apply.

    With the Lenormand cards, the same applies. To begin with, the Man and the Lady are your people, representing the one you read for. As tableaus also lend themselves beautifully to reading especially love triangles, there’s often also a card representing ‘the other’. Likewise, if you read for a certain problem, in the Lenormand world you often have cards representing these concerns. When not doing a tableau, some prefer to set these cards aside, or place them at the center of a square, but I never do that. I prefer to allow for the cards to fall on the table whichever way they choose to. I do, however, keep it in mind, that there’s a card that I think of as the significator. If it doesn’t pop in the spread, then I see all the relations on the table as having a somewhat marginal relation to the card in question, rather than affecting it directly.

    In my opinion, if you don’t choose a significator, you can easily run into the problem of agency, having to ask yourself, ‘who are these people?’, when you see court cards populating your spread. So, the role of the significators is simply to eliminate the confusion. It’s different with the tarot, especially the major arcana cards. Say, you have this string: Emperor, Hermit, The Priestess in response to a question about what you need. Here you’d have to say that the person needs to relinquish control, meditate on the meaning of life, and seek the advice of a wise woman. Obviously here I see the first 2 cards representing the querent, and the third card representing an other agent. So, it can be a little tricky to figure these things out. My advice is, always use your commonsense.

  4. November 12, 2013 — 5:47 am

    Camelia, So few people CAN read what IS in their divinatory reading. It is a gift. Maralyn

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