How To Read With The Opening of the Key And Still Keep Your Sanity

by Douglas Gibb on June 1, 2011

The Opening of the Key is a Tarot spread. A great Tarot spread. There are 5 separate stages and each stage is called an ‘operation’. The first operation describes current events, whilst 2, 3 and 4 incrementally represent the future. Stage 5 is the outcome.

It was designed by the Golden Dawn.

It takes between 2-3 hours to complete a reading, and you’ll do so with accuracy, insight and understanding.

What makes this spread so attractive is the amount of information it provides. It tells a multi-layered story where each separate thread can be followed from the beginning to the end.

The Opening of Key was used by the Golden Dawn to predict ordinary, everyday events.

This form is especially applicable to Divination concerning the ordinary material events of daily life.

And to reinforce that …

… the “Opening of the Key,” which, as has been before said, is especially applicable to the daily events of life.

– from The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series)

In other words, it’s good for divining the future.

There is also a spiritual component to this spread; a formal ritualised type. If you are not into the whole ritual thing, don’t worry about it. The Opening of the Key does not rely on ritual to make it work.

The ritual used is for practicing Golden Dawn magicians. Doing the ritual only makes sense, and would be effective, if you’re a practising Golden Dawn magician.

And then there is the spirituality that comes from working with the Opening of the Key. This kind of spirituality is experiential. You’ll discover that part of the spread on your own.

The techniques required

The Opening of the Key is essentially a non-positional spread. Not that it doesn’t have positions, it does. But they are abstract and unlike the standard positional meanings of past, present and future.

It’s best to get used to thinking of this spread as linear in nature.

The main techniques that are used are card counting, card pairing and Elemental Dignities. That’s it.

I remember someone saying that card pairing and Elemental Dignities are old techniques. Older than the Golden Dawn. If anyone knows more about the history of these techniques, I’d love to hear about them.

The point is, these techniques are useful no matter what spread you use.

Background information required

A lot. Particularly when reading from stage 2 to 5. A knowledge of Kabbalah, Astrology and the Tree of Life is needed to make the most out of those “operations”.

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of information you’ll need before you begin is this: there are different versions of the Opening of the Key.

Regardie, in the book called ‘The Golden Dawn’, describes one version. Crowley’s The Book of Thoth has another and Paul Hughes-Barlow has a separate, specialised form. Each one of these versions is valid. Each one of these versions works.

My approach will be to reference all three styles during this tutorial series. And when I have to make a choice between using one method over another, I’ll do my best to explain why I’ve chosen it.

Why are there different versions of the Opening of the Key?

The same reason there are different versions of the Celtic Cross spread. Most Tarot bloggers and authors have their own variations. There is now no longer the standard version. Just versions. The people that use them, adapt them. This is no different with the Opening of the Key. Crowley is different from Regardie is different from Paul Hughes-Barlow.

The rule of thumb is, “if it works for you, use it.”

What this tutorial series aims to do

To focus on the practical, not the theoretical.

I don’t want to get caught up in the trap of making this tutorial series larger than it needs to be. When I need to introduce theoretical information, I will be doing so in order to help you understand the techniques better.

If you have a specific area of the Opening of the Key that you would like me to cover, let me know in the comments.

The Opening of the Key Tutorial Series

  1. Introduction
  2. How to select the Significator that will be used in the Opening of the Key

(Theoretically) Related Posts:

12 comments… Let's discuss

Bonnie Cehovet June 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Douglas –

Still laughing over the title to this article! Years ago, when I first attempted this spread, this would have been “oh so true”!

Needless to say, this is an important spread for everyone to work with. It is a blessing that you have come out with a process that allows the reader to go in steps and maintain t heir sanity/dignity. :) It is all to easy to get lost int he process.

Thank you for pointing out that there are three versions of this spread. Each one can be used in its own way, with respect. If one does not appeal to a reader, one of the other ones might. For the serious student, This is a lovely spread to spend an afternoon (morning, evening, or day!) with. It is also a good one to journal, so that you can go back after some time and add comments as you see new things.



Douglas Gibb June 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm

HI Bonnie,

Thank you for pointing out that there are three versions of this spread. Each one can be used in its own way, with respect. If one does not appeal to a reader, one of the other ones might.

Yes, that is exactly what I want people to take away from this tutorial series – that this spread can be adapted; that it isn’t set in stone :)


Tarot Reading June 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm

I totally agree. By recording the results of the process in a journal, one can review from a distance (timewise) and then re-assess the programme a little.



Paul Hughes-Barlow June 1, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Hi Doug,

Great to see you going where few dare to tread.

I have one quibble already, and it is your comment on linear. To my mind positional spreads are linear, while the OOTK is non-linear. I have seen readings where the direction of time easily changes direction. In fact, the whole point of card counting from any card in either direction is that the linear dimension of past, present and future is scuppered.



Douglas Gibb June 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

HI Paul,

Thanks for your comment :)

I intended the term “linear” to mean straight line. It was to convey how the Opening of the Key is dependent on the order of the cards remaining undisturbed; that the cards are not rearranged into a predefined set of positions as is common. The emphasis being on the difference between traditional positional spreads and the Opening of the Key.



Paul Hughes-Barlow June 1, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Ah. Then maintaining the sequence or order of the cards might have been a better description.

Positional spreads also maintain the order of the cards, as they are dealt out to the positions, but only the cards that are dealt out are looked at. The name of the position then becomes attributed to the card. In the context of a particular spread this reasonable, but when you look at all the different spreads, then the name is arbitrary. In one spread the first card dealt out can be The Past, while in another spread it could be Health, or Love etc.

The OOTK is more logical from a mathematical pov, as in essence we are reading all 78 cards in sequence. To make it more manageable, the deck is broken down into at least four piles.

I think the injunction to not change the order of the cards in some way relates to a pre-radio, pre TV age when everyone played card games, and when the cards are dealt out to each player, they would sort the cards out into suit and number order.


tarotjay June 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I’m looking forward to this tutorial! I’ve just started experimenting with opening the key in the last week or two. It seems like a really useful technique, although it seems more demanding logistically (i.e. a lot of steps) than a regular spread.


Cher Green June 16, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Nice. I look forward to following along.


Nick June 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Thank you for finally deciding to make a series on this spread! As someone who’s put a lot of work into trying to learn this spread, I look forward to seeing what you write. I have to say it’s one of the greatest skills I’ve ever tried to acquire, as the spread’s overwhelming accuracy and insight can be slightly life-changing. You mentioned the spiritual component of the spread and I couldn’t agree more. I swear by it as a means for personal contemplation and self psycho-analysis. When doing it for yourself, the spread becomes very meditative in its repetition, and as you try to delve into the separate triads to glean as much from them as possible. That aspect makes it very prayer-like and helps to make the whole art of tarot reading more holy in a way. I’m sure others have experienced this too with this spread.


Douglas Gibb July 13, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Hi Nick,

Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experiences with us. I hope you enjoy the rest of the tutorial series :D


Mark September 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm


Great start, can I expect a continuation of this tutorial, or am I missing something? Thanks for developing this.



Tom McLean July 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm

As a rule, I generally ignore anyone or anything claiming Tarot can be used to divine the future. Tarot is a mirror, and can be used to show what is blocking one or preventing one from attaining a desired goal, but cannot be used for divining the future.


Leave a Comment

1 trackback

Previous post:

Next post: