The Branch spread

Invented by me

Most Tarot layouts are designed not to tell the future, but to give information on the present. The general excuse for this is that the future is an inexact, fluid thing, and making excessively clear predictions on it is likely to interfere with it in and of itself; a deck of cards can't generally account for choice. Even in the Celtic Cross, the cards representing the Future only apply if things continue to go about the way they're going now.

This is true, of course, but it is also overly simplistic. The future is a fluid, flexible thing, but it is still valid to reason about and perform divination against. This was much of the original intent of divination, after all. Knowing about now is all well and good, but knowing about later is a lot more fun.

The future is shaped by our choices. So why not invent a spread that reflects those choices?


Prepare your Tarot space however you ordinarily prepare for a reading; there's nothing special about this particular layout relative to any other Tarot layout. Perform whatever cleansing, protection, meditation, and/or naked candlelight yak rituals you prefer to perform.

My habit is to always pull a querent, and I deal it separately from the other cards: after the deck is shuffled, spread it out, and the person whom the reading is for- if present- should chose a card from the spread, preferably whichever one he or she feeels "drawn to". This is the querent for the reading; the remaining cards are gathered back up into the original deck order for dealing, although an additional shuffle can be done at this point. Like all fuzzy divination goo, do what feels right.

Place the Querent face-up in the middle of the table in whatever orientation it was drawn in. (If the card is reversed relative to the reader, so it is reversed. People can be blocked too.) Deal eight more cards as follows:

  1. Stacked on top of the Querent, a little offset so the index of the Querent can still be read
  2. To the left of card 1
  3. To the right of card 1
  4. To the right of card 3
  5. To the right of and half a cardlength above card 4
  6. To the right of and half a cardlength below card 4; immediately below card 5
  7. To the right of and half a cardlength above card 5
  8. To the right of and half a cardlength below card 6

The resulting shape should be similar to a sideways Y, resulting in the name "Branch spread". Time is considered to flow from left to right.

Position meanings

Like all Tarot spreads, each position has a meaning. Unlike most, these positions all refer to concrete events, situations, and options (with the exception of, as always, the Querent); this spread does not deal with "the flow of things" or "how things are perceived", unless that's what it winds up saying about the situation.

The Querent has its usual significance: it is a persona of the person for whom the reading is being performed. It describes the outlook and behavior of the person at the center of the reading, and should shape the entire reading significantly, as the filter on the experience of that person.

The remaining cards have the following significance, using the same numbering as the dealing order (which is not the same as left-to-right, since card 2 is dealt to the left of card 1):

  1. The current situation
  2. What lead to the current situation
  3. What you're (the querent is) doing right now because of the current situation
  4. What you (the querent) can't avoid because of what you've already done; immediate future
  5. One option in your (the querent's) future, part of a choice that will come after (sometimes as a result of) the future in card 4
  6. Another option, generally a clean dichotomy with card 5 (it's creepy how reliable that is)
  7. The outcome of making the decision in card 5
  8. The outcome of making the decision in card 6

This reading therefore predicts three futures: the very immediate (and usually obvious) future, and two outcomes based on possible decisions you can make.

Usage and interpretation

This reading is most obviously handy when there's a major decision coming up and you want hints on how the options might turn out, or for that matter what the options even are. It's often more useful when a person feels like there are no options, as it tends to highlight where alternatves may be found.

Cards 5 and 6 often form a clean dichotomy. When they don't, if it looks like there's a third option worth pursuing, it's often worth the trouble to invent a reading to see what options aren't encompassed in this particular reading.