Celtic Cross Meaning in Tarot
The Celtic Cross meaning in tarot refers to a divination spread that is one of the oldest and most popularly known tarot card spreads used for divination. Many seasoned tarot readers site this spread as one of the first ones that they learned, but it is also very polarizing. Many love it and rely on the Celtic Cross tarot spread as a reliable go-to resource. Others passionately dislike it and are vocal about their reasons for not using it.
The origins and background of Tarot can be traced back to Italy and France, but it is curious how this culturally Irish symbol has been such a prevalent part of the tarot learning experience. What is it about the Celtic Cross that is so popular, and what can we really get out of the Celtic Cross meaning in tarot practice?
What is the real Celtic Cross meaning?
The Celtic cross can be traced back to medieval times. This variation of the traditional Christian cross adds a ring around the intersection of the arms and stem. The symbol was influential in the British Isles, specifically in and around Ireland. Today it is a symbol of Irish heritage pride. Various legends have different ways of communicating the Celtic Cross meaning, origin, and symbolism.
Irish legends recount how the traditional Christian cross was adapted to appeal to Gaelic pagans. Saint Patrick, a missionary dedicated to converting Irish pagans to Christianity, is credited by some for creating the Celtic Cross as we know it today. By combining their current focus of worship (the sun) with the cross, the association of the sun with God, it facilitated the communication of Christian ideals. It then aided the acceptance of God as the sole supreme being.
Some say otherwise, that the symbol was originally used by the Druids, and adopted (or even stolen) by Christian missionaries.
The Celtic Cross meaning in Tarot Divination
“The Celtic Cross” as understood by tarot readers, refers to a tarot divination spread. Eleven cards are used, and set or laid out in interconnected cross patterns.
Pictorial Key to the Tarot is a book written in 1911 by Arthur E. Waite to accompany the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck. This deck is one of the most popular and easily recognized decks available. As a scholar who studied western occultism, Waite incorporated the symbolism of the Celtic Cross meaning as his preferred method of using Tarot as a divinatory tool. He referred to it as “An Ancient Celtic Method of divination”. He described how to select a card to represent the person receiving the reading (called the Significator), shuffle the cards, and how to lay them out.
The method described by Waite is now almost universally known as the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread. It is designed to give you the opportunity to examine a situation that requires attention.
The Celtic Cross Tarot Spread is now well known because it has been a featured in almost every print resource available for beginners learning Tarot. Over time, the spread has been adapted and different variations are available, but they all have the same basic characteristics.
Ok, so how can I understand the Celtic Cross Tarot Spread better?
The spread is always shown in this pattern, and this is how it has stayed so recognizable:
I have never found official confirmation of this following theory, but I have always felt that this was initially a practical choice. Tarot card spreads need space, and unless you are laying the cards down on the floor, it may not be practical for the average person to have a surface or table big enough to display this spread if it actually mimicked the Celtic Cross.
Variations in Card Placement and Meaning
Different variations can be found, so you may experiment with different ways of practicing the spread. This is my preferred use of the spread.
Ten cards or Eleven Cards?
There are 10 cards that are chosen from the deck for the reading. If you choose to use a card to represent the person in the middle of the situation, then you will select a court card according to the seeker’s physical attributes before you shuffle and select your 10 cards. You may also consider a Minor Arcana card that reflects the situation you want to explore. As you may have guessed, I choose not to employ the Significator.
The Placement of the Cards in the Outer Cross
Waite’s spread places a very important role on the Significator. There is a card placed above to represent what is dominating the seeker’s wants or desires. The card on the bottom represents the root of the situation, which may or may not have occurred. The cards on either side of the inner cross represent the near past and future occurrences that have influence here. The placement of the past and future cards is dependent on the direction of the gaze of the Significator. So there will be variations on the placement and order of those two cards.
Much of the variations of this spread lie in the order of the outer cards of the cross. While two readers might agree that the left-most card represents the near past, they might disagree if it is the 3rd card to be placed or the 5th card.
Other variances concern what the meaning of the positions mean. Two readers might agree that bottom-most card in the outer cross is what is beneath you, they might disagree on what their interpretation of that statement means. Does this represent a literal occurrence that is the instigator of the situation, or does this card represent the subconscious influences of the seeker?
How to decide for yourself
Deciding which interpretation of the spread you prefer could be tricky, or very easy. The way you first learn it would have significant influence. Researching and finding variations and understanding how other readers use the spread is a great way to explore, test and decide for yourself.
I’d love to hear about your experience with the Celtic Cross and the version you prefer. Share below!