Charles San introduced the 1973 Causeway Books edition of Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot with an  essay, “How to Read the Cards,” in which he recommended this Major Arcana-only spread. It features an interesting way of selecting the cards and, when I first tried it, the cards themselves suggested a way to give the reading additional definition and depth. Here is the spread with my own modifications. (San did not state where to place each card except that they circle around the Significator.)

  1. Shuffle the Major Arcana and deal out six cards face down on top of each other. Turn the seventh card face up and place it in the middle of the reading area. This is the Significator and represents a starting point for the reading. Return the other six to the bottom of the deck.
  2. Deal two cards face down and turn one card up, placing this third card at the 10 o’clock position (relative to the Significator). Do this seven times placing every third card in a counterclockwise circle around the Significator [this order is added by me as a result of the example spread that follows]. You will end up with seven cards circling the card drawn in step 1.
  3. Optional: if unsatisfied that these cards suffice, deal three more cards from the remaining thirteen, taking the third, tenth and thirteen cards, and place them above the circle.

San says you are to build a vision of the “present place in the ebb and flow of one’s life,” as “the individual cards and the combining of them provides one with the reading.” You can read this spread for yourself or one friend, but if three people are present then “the reading that results concerns all three as part of the society in which they live and work.”

Here is my spread using the Golden Dawn / Whare Ra Majors:

GD-Circle of 8x

After drawing the Star as Significator, I drew, in order: the Wheel of Fortune, Strength, Judgment, Fool, Sun, Temperance and Death. I was confused at first by the power of the imagery and was unable to perceive a developmental flow in the cards. So, I tried reading them as a sequence based on the order drawn. What emerged was a sense of a powerful and passionate change giving me new purpose and direction. Here are some of the patterns I found:

  • Change cards: Fortune, Death, Judgment and Fool.
  • Fire cards: Jupiter, Leo, Elemental Fire/Pluto, Sun, Sagittarius.
  • Four pairs of zodiac signs and their rulers:  Temperance/Fortune; Strength/Sun; Death/Judgment; Star/Fool.
  • Two Mother Letters: Fool/Aleph, Judgment/Shin.
  • No Earth. (Likewise, there is no Earth in my astrological chart.)

It was the very power of this spread that I found so confusing! How could anyone get a handle on eight Major Arcana cards with no indication of what each one was doing individually?

Then I thought of relating each card to the Significator—The Star card. That’s when I saw it! The original Golden Dawn Star card features a large central star with seven smaller stars around it. Each of these smaller stars should have a glyph of a planet as on this Golden Dawn drawing of the Star from an original Golden Dawn manuscript.GD-Star-sepia

It seemed as though the significator card was telling me to examine the spread from the perspective of these seven planetary energies. It made sense to start with the position of the Sun representing the first card that I drew. The remaining cards followed in the planetary positions (counterclockwise): Sun, Venus, Mars, Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter. I offer this as one way to read “The Circle of Eight Spread.”

I also found it helpful to look quickly at all the Major Arcana that were NOT in the spread (what is not in the current ebb and flow of my life).

I’d appreciate any thoughts you have on the cards I’ve drawn. Otherwise, enjoy this reclaimed classic – with or without the planetary positions.