A Powerful Three Card Reading

by Douglas Gibb on July 6, 2009

Today we will combine all the techniques we have learned into reading a three card Tarot spread. The techniques we will be using are:

  1. The divinatory meanings of all three cards
  2. The ED’s or Elemental associations
  3. Reversed Tarot cards

Understanding Three Card Dynamics

Before we go further, it’s important to discuss a few concepts concerning the dynamics that exist between three Tarot cards. The most important point I’d like you to remember is that the Elements number four, yet we are only using three. In this sense we have already created an imbalance. We are missing an Element.

In the last post I wrote on the Elements, as part of this Beginners Tutorial to reading Tarot cards, discussed the tension that exists between the Elements. They always seek a perfect harmony, yet this state of perfection can never be reached; the three card Tarot spread we will be discussing further exploits this phenomena, by allowing us to read the point of change.

The second point I’d like you to keep in mind involves the nature of the three card Tarot spread itself. In this Tarot spread, we will not be using positions to indicate the past, the present, the future, or any other combination commonly seen. How then do we go about giving the reading a structure? If we are not using positions to provide the structure, what then shall we use?

The answer lies in the middle card of the three card spread. We will use that as the focus point for our reading. Imagine that the two cards that flank or provide the border to the middle card, in some sense, create the middle card. Their interactions transform into the middle card. In other words, the middle card is the outcome card.

A note of caution: I rarely view things in that way, however, it’s important that we start somewhere so that your confidence in using spreads that don’t depend upon positions starts to grow. The less you see the cards as positional indicators, the more you’ll start to open up to the energy flow that the cards themselves provide.

This process of becoming less dependent on positional based Tarot spreads will really open you up to seeing how the Tarot itself provides the structure to base your readings on. This process does take time and the foundations that we have laid with this Tutorial Series will go along way to help you achieve a greater understanding of this ‘structure’.

Questions To Ask Ourselves When We First Deal Out The Three Tarot Cards

  1. What Elements are present?
  2. What Element is missing?
  3. Is there an excess of either the Elements, the Picture cards, the Court cards or the Pip cards?
  4. Is there a complete absence of either the Elements, the Picture cards, the Court cards or the Pip cards?
  5. How many, if any, are reversed

Try and ask those questions in the order I have provided above. Think of it as a checklist. By answering those questions we will already have built up a strong impression of what the reading suggests.

Example Three Card Reading:

Magician, 6 of Wands and Universe reversed

  1. Elements present: Air or Spirit, Fire and Earth
  2. Element missing: Water
  3. Excess of Picture cards
  4. Missing the Court cards
  5. One reversed card
  6. This is the point we add the DM’s

Let’s start by looking at the Elements present. Apart from Earth, they are all active Elements. We know things are changing, and the Earth of the Universe card will give that ‘change’ a solid base in which to develop. In other words, these changes have the potential to last. I am viewing the Magus card as Spirit and as such, is supported by the Earth Element of the Universe card. However, we could say that the Magus, which, when seen as the Element Air is an Enemy of the Earth Element provided by the Universe card. This would certainly change the interpretation; it would indicate obstacles.

The excess of Picture cards indicates life changing events and the lack of the Element Water indicates that the client will be ignoring their health, other peoples feelings and their own. We can speculate that they have already put a lot of work into making this plan happen and are now at the point where circumstances have gathered enough energy to take the clients plan forward.

The reversed Universe card, in this context, seems to indicate delays. Why do I say this? Looking at the three cards I ultimately see the client’s plans working out for them, however, I see the Universe as indicating a resistance. It looks to me like this resistance is a product of circumstance rather than some inner subjective, or psychological resistance, that belongs to the client. In plain English, the Universe card reversed indicates that it may take longer to finalise certain key things; longer than the client may have anticipated. No doubt, the client will be feeling slightly frustrated while waiting for events to catch up or materialise. I would suspect these delays involve bureaucracy.

The Six of Wands is the middle Tarot card, and that is, in this version of the three card spread, the outcome card. The influences, or perhaps more specifically, the union (I’m often reminded of Yoga) of the Magus and the Universe have created a separate, individual Tarot card; a unique set of circumstances. Elementally, the Six of Wands is strong, it is well support by the other cards. Now is a good time to bring in the DM’s of the three Tarot cards, to assist our ‘narrative’.

The DM’s of the Magus, Six of Wands and the Universe card are as follows: Self-employment or self promotion; Victory and recognition; Success and Foreign countries.

Overall, this reading is telling me that the client will successfully expand their business into their foreign country of choice. They have worked hard to get to this point; they have ignored both their health and the feelings of others in the pursuit of this goal. There will be delays before the business is fully operationally; it looks bureaucratic in nature. The Six of Wands indicates initial success with recognition being given by their peers.

The Elements are looking to rebalance though; the missing Element of Water will need to be expressed soon. I would expect, at some point, that this area of the client’s life will require attention.

The missing Court cards indicates that the client may feel like they don’t need anyone to succeed in life. This fiercely independent aspect of their nature will inevitably catch up with them when the Elements seek to rebalance.

As you can see, from this simple three card Tarot spread, we were able to gather a lot of information on the client’s circumstances and possible future experiences. I would like you to continue practicing this spread as much as possible and remember, it is important to resist the temptation to read for others at this time. It’s much more important that you learn how to ‘open yourself’ up to imagination and allow different types of ‘narratives’ or stories to flow. This will not only give you the confidence to read for others, but will lay very solid foundations for your continued Tarot journey. It is my belief that by practicing the techniques that I have outlined in this Tutorial Series, you will avoid many of the pitfalls that can trap so many beginner students of Tarot.

For further research into reading three cards I would recommend the lessons on Supertarot’s Elemental Dignities and Reading Three Tarot Card Groups. You might also like to check out an awesome series of articles, by Tarot Elements – Elemental Dignities Mini-Series that introduce techniques for using Elemental Dignities within a three card reading.

This post is part of the Beginners Tutorial To Reading Tarot Cards.

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7 comments… Let's discuss

AJ September 27, 2009 at 1:37 am

This is exciting. I want to try this position-less spread. I’ve always seen three cards spread as past-present-future. But it’s a good idea to have your own personal layout.

Doug, do you have any ideas on how to practice spreads while you’re still a beginner? It’s kinda hard when you’re by yourself and has limited friends who are willing even if you just say it’s for fun.


BQ October 2, 2009 at 10:46 am

Hi AJ,

I have all kinds of ideas about how to practice spreads as a beginner. I currently use a 13-21 card dynamic spread I’ve been working on for quite some time. The Fibonacci Spread can be a pictorial modifier, positional, aspect, well, really….anything. I’ve used it as a geographic compass with situational connotations before. Quite a bit of fun that one. Currently I’m using it to write poetry. This would be my suggestion for a novice reader. In the near future, I intend to incorporate it into an article on this blog, but I would be more than happy to give you an abbreviated sneak peek.

It works much like a paired or three card spread, in that you are essentially overlaying, or painting the inherent energies into a field, mood, feeling, (whatever language you might choose). If you choose poetry, I encourage you to follow my lead. I am going to suggest you only use the first five cards. The spread is as such.


Of course, you can use more cards right off if you like. First, choose your subject. What would you like to write about? Love, Hate, Death, Birth? The possibilities are endless. I caution against negativity if the players are real people. Manifesting karma would not be fun. Read through the rest of these directions and once you think you’ve got it, meditate on the emotion. You may choose to focus on a blank piece of paper. Without losing focus, grab your cards and shuffle. The longer you meditate and shuffle the better.

Lay out your cards and let’s begin. At this point, I recommend gathering your environment. Focus now just beyond the cards. As if your peering to the bottom of the table top. Make note of the colors that stand out. Staying out of focus, think about what those colors remind you of. Is it warm or cold? Rainy? Sunny? Bring your focus in just a little. Does an image start to appear? If so, what is it? Now look at the cards. Don’t do anything until it appears as though the characters are interacting with each other. If there are common numbers. What is the significance? Suits? Try using the dignitaries. Remember, the elements give flavor and the DMs (Divinatory Meanings) tell the tale.

Hopefully you’ve been able to keep track of all these mental notes. Try going through and writing down all that you’ve observed. After you do that, see if you can make it rhyme. If rhyming doesn’t come naturally to you, a good thesaurus can be worth it’s weight in gold. Keep up this practice, and soon you will find that the tarot will sing to you.

That’s all for now. Hope you’ve found this helpful. Until next time.

Love and light,


AJ October 16, 2009 at 4:11 am

Oh hi! I just saw this reply of yours. It seems an interesting spread. I will try this and see what I could make out of it.


Sheri June 1, 2010 at 4:12 am

Hi Douglas,

I still haven’t given up trying to read..lol..please tell me if I’m close..the question was about marriage between two people happening…Wheel of Fortune/2 Cups/king Wands…

I’m thinking that it’s a yes, but here’s what I read…elementally the center card is weak because of the two fire cards, so the relationship is still building/forming emotionally. There’s alot of emotion and passion in this relationship. The wheel of fortune says that there is a change coming to that relationship and the King of Wands says/or confirms things will go well for this couple. Since the elements of earth and air are missing, I’d say that there isn’t much logical thought or stability in this relationship at the moment and that it will come at a later time or maybe the thinking (Air) has been done already and that is why the relationship is changing and is confirmed things will go well and the stability is still building.

Please tell me what you think,

Thanks 8)


Douglas Gibb June 5, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Hi Sheri,

I like your interpretation :)

You have incorporated all the major pieces of information into this reading – the pressure the two of cups is under, the lack of Earth or Air and the role the Wheel of Fortune has. Overall, there is not much for me to add here. I think your interpretation is good and, in terms of this reading, there are some changes coming to the relationship that will help the two people involved know if marriage is right for them.


Sheri June 7, 2010 at 6:00 am

Hi Douglas,

Thank you for your help on this. I’m encouraged by what you said and feel that maybe, just maybe I’m finally getting it. I know my lack of confidence in reading is holding me back so it’s nice to always get your positive feed back.

Sheri 8)


Sheen October 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Hey Douglas,

A very very interesting read indeed. Added a lot of perspective to my readings. I have been trying to integrate it into my readings.. however, I have been facing a few doubts which have been appearing in my readings again and again. I have decided to not do anymore readings till I get these cleared. I mean what’s the point of reading the cards wrong?

Some doubts are related to the post and some are some basic doubts about doing any reading at all.

Basic doubts:

1) Can a reader pick cards for someone else and do a readings for someone else? Even if the one whose reading I am doing has not asked for a reading at all? ***

Eg: My frnd’s father hasn’t been keeping well. So I did a reading for her father without her knowledge. What would be the down side of such kind of a reading considering I havent even met her father ever?

2) Sometimes when I try to do a love reading, I get confusing cards that lead me into walls.

Eg: I was doing a reading today, whether a frnd of my mine will be romantically involved with someone she knows from office? The cards I got were:
Knight of swords, Six of pentacles and Ace of pentacles.
Now, with the elementary meanings, the flanks cancel each other. The centre card, is an earth card which shows things are going to be grounded or the way they are. But Six of pentacles shows something being shared.

So would it be safe to conclude that these people already like each other and with time they would develop a stronger bond and share these feelings?***

Doubts regarding your Post:

1)If the flanking cards only determine the strength of the centre card, then does that mean that what each flank card represents doesn’t matter if their elements are contrary?

Eg: I drew the following cards for whether somebody would cheat on his current gf for someone else he knows.
The Emperor, Two of swords and The hanged man.
Does this mean that I draw my conclusion on the basis of only the centre card ( 2 of swords) and donot factor in the flanks at all just because they are elementarily contrary to each other? ***

I don’t even know how to conclude this reading. So confused. :(

Pls help Dough.

Thanks in advance. :)


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