One of the best Tarot layouts for beginners is a three-card spread. (If you are a beginner and you’re looking for meanings for a deck related to the Rider-Waite deck have a look here) While there are many variations of the three-card spread, the most common one is the Past/Present/Future layout. This is a good spread to use when you have a specific question or need to look into a situation, making it very useful. The Past/Present/Future spread provides just enough information without feeling overwhelming, so it’s a great way to practice your Tarot reading skills and building connection with a new Tarot deck.
Although the three-card spread is simple, don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It can reveal insightful and deep information provided you keep your question uncomplicated. Focus on a single aspect of a situation rather than asking a broad question with many facets. For example, ask “How is my attitude influencing my relationship” rather than “Why am I struggling with this relationship”. The more specific your question is and the more you can frame it in terms of the structure of the reading the better your results will be.
In this guide, I’ve given a thorough explanation of the basic Past/Present/Future layout and some of its variations. I’ve written it as if you are doing the reading for yourself, as this is a good way to practice your intuition and Tarot reading skills.
3-Card Past/Present/Future Tarot
This three-card spread is a very common one and involves reading your past, present, and future regarding a particular situation in your life. Clear your mind and hold a specific aspect of this situation in your mind, or repeat a specific question as you shuffle the deck. Once you feel ready, draw three cards and place them down in front of you as shown above.
Card 1: The first card reveals the past energies that are affecting your current situation. It may also reveal what may be blocking or helping you move forward in the situation. The information revealed here can help you learn from your past. How does the situation depicted by the card relate to you? How is this influencing your current situation? Have you successfully overcome a similar situation in the past or is this still something you struggle with? If you have overcome it, how did you do it? A positive past card shows that there is an energy you already possess that you can work with, while a negative past card is urging you to let go of the energy represented in the card.
Card 2: This card represents the events that are currently taking place in your life. It is the energy of the present moment. Relate this card to the past card. How does the past relate to the present portrayed in this card? Is there a negative aspect in the past that has led to this situation, or is the past threatening to destroy the positive situation shown in the card and is this where your concerns lie?
Card 3: This card represents the outcome of the situation. The information revealed may or may not be what you were looking for, but it is the most likely outcome given the circumstances as they are and the course you have been taking up to now. If this is unfavorable, look at the preceding cards to discern what needs to be let go of or changed in order to avoid what is shown.
If the past and present cards are both negative, but the future is positive you are going through a transformative period where you will learn to overcome the obstacles shown. If the past and future cards are both positive, but the present card is negative there is a temporary setback in your development and you need to work on the issues associated with the negative card, but your chances of success are great. This setback may serve as a means to steer you into a new direction where the opportunity that is depicted in the future card can arise. If the first two cards are positive, but the future card is negative, your luck is about to change. You can avoid a negative future outcome by seeing it as a warning and relating it to the path you are on.
An important thing to remember when conducting a Past/Present/Future reading is that the time frame for these events may vary. For example, the outcome of the future card may not come to pass until a year later or it may happen in a few days. It’s up to you to trust your intuition. Try to put the whole reading into a time-span. If your current circumstances are at the precipice of change, you can expect the future to unfold sooner rather than later, but if things are pretty stable at the moment the future can take up to a maximum of three months to transpire.
NOTE: In cases where you ask “when will I…” take into account that the future card is an indication of what needs to happen before what you asked for can happen. In other words, if the future card is negative you need to go through that negative event before you can manifest what you’re asking for. In this case it’s wise to weigh the pros and cons. You may decide the gain is not worth the loss.
The straightforward and simple mechanics of the Past/Present/Future layout make it highly flexible. The category assigned to each of the cards can be modified to suit your needs.
A variation on this spread that doesn’t involve time is the Situation/Challenge/Guidance layout. You would conduct this spread in the same way that you do the Past/Present/Future spread, but the insights and information revealed will be a little different. The first card reveals the energy surrounding the situation you are asking about. The second card represents your current challenge with regards to the situation. The third card reveals the information that you need to help you with your question or situation.
As with the Past/Present/Future reading you need to read each card individually and in conjunction with the others. What is represented in the Situation card can relate to you, your surroundings or someone who is also involved in the situation. The same goes for the Challenge card. Here you will need to discern how the challenge fits into the situation. A positive challenge card may show that you are doing the right thing, or that you are struggling to cope with someone who is doing everything right, or even that, despite your best efforts, your challenge is to let go of the ideal that is depicted in this card because you aren’t ready for it. You’ll better understand what the challenge is once you look at the Guidance card. If the Guidance is negative, it is telling you not to do what is depicted in it, it serves as a warning. A positive Guidance card shows what is in your best interest to do. If the Challenge is positive, but the Guidance is negative you’re probably sabotaging yourself and the challenge will be to allow yourself to succeed by avoiding or letting go of whatever is depicted in the Guidance card.
The more you practice the easier it will become to discern what the cards are trying to tell you with a three-card reading. Once you have the hang of the basic three-card reading you can try any of the following combinations or even come up with your own combinations to answer questions in almost any sphere of your life.
Variations for Understanding a Situation:
- Current situation/Obstacle/Advice
- What you can change/What you can’t change/What you may not be aware of
- What I think about the situation/What I feel/What I do
- What worked well/What didn’t work/What I learned
- Option 1/Option 2/Option 3
- The solution/An alternative solution/How to choose
- The Pros/The Cons/Other information to take into account
Getting To Know Yourself Better:
- What does my Heart want/What does my Head want/What does my Soul want
- Material State/Emotional State/Spiritual State
- Your conscious mind/Your sub-conscious mind/Your super-conscious mind
- You/The other person/The relationship
- What you want/What they want/Where the relationship is heading
- What brings you together/What pulls you apart/What needs your attention
As you can see, there are endless variations to the three-card Past/Present/Future spread. What you want each card to represent is completely up to you. As a Tarot reader, you have the freedom to decide the structure of your spreads.
With over 37 years of experience in reading Tarot, I have developed many strong skills. However, my specialty is providing 3-card readings that shed insight into your past, present, and future. When you’re ready to shed some light on the truths of your life, request your free 3-card reading from me. This personal reading will reveal everything you need to know to live your best life.