Tarot: The Great Wheel

I’ve been using a particular spread recently, one that came to me when I was on my pilgrimage, and I figured I’d share it with you all as a sort of Solstice/End of Year/Yule gift.  Perhaps you’ll find it useful.

The way I came to it seemed to be a sort of divine sabotage, when you’re going about something and suddenly you get a really strong impulse to do something else, then you fight it for a minute or two until you give in.  Usually I fight such things for days and can’t sleep but I’m stubborn.  I started using it more as I began to develop more of a relationship with Arianrhod, and sometimes when I’m doing a reading for myself or someone else she seems to make it quite clear I should use this.  Calling it sabotage befits how I seem a little too often to need to be undermined in order to actually do what I need to do, because I’m too often out of touch with my true desires.

Anyway, here it is.

The Wheel

Draw a minimum of 8 cards.  Each is placed on a Station of the Wheel of the Year, corresponding to the 8 gates (more on this in a bit).  I usually start from Midwinter and end at Samhain, though this can easily be changed.   Sometimes a 9th and even 10th card are required–the 9th would be placed in the center, and the 10th outside the wheel.

Two readings are possible with this spread, and sometimes both need to be read at once. Whether one or the other or both should become apparent once the cards are laid out.

The Wheel of the Year

The first reading is a general accounting of the year, themes, lessons, or events which occurred or will become important (depending on the time frame you use).   The closer the reading is to one of the 8 stations, the more clear this will be.

If it’s currently midwinter, start reading from the spring equinox (3 o’clock on the wheel, or the easternmost card).  That card gives you a sense of what issues you may have had or what influences were upon you around that time of the year.  Then, reading from there, consider each card clockwise up to the present (if it’s midwinter, the northernmost card, or midnight).  The final card (Imbolc, or the northeastern card) is the next theme/influence/lesson to encounter.

One can also use this spread to understand future influences.  I recommend using the spread to look at the past first because each additional reading builds upon the others to produce a narrative of one’s life and also helps track how we alter our fate by our decisions.

Again, using the closest Station of the Year to represent the present, lay out the cards.  Start one station back–that is, start from Samhain (or the northwest corner) to represent the most immediate passing influence, than read each card clockwise to understand what influences will be coming, what themes or lessons need to be confronted during the times related to each station.

Using the 9th and 10th cards

The ninth card, if it seems appropriate, should be placed in the centre of the wheel.  This card represents a particular theme, problem, or lesson that defines your current state.  This card also influences how each other card should be read.  As each card in a reading helps modify and draw out the threads of meaning from all other cards, this one would be the master-indicator, the primary thread coloring all other ones.  It can be either what must be overcome, what goal is to be achieved, or the key to why the wheel is spread the way it is (again, more on this in a bit).

The tenth card, if used (I use it very rarely) represents a sort of shadow concept or an outside influence.  Fate is not always up to us.   While we have free will, our choices are always limited by previous choices we’ve made and the choices others make which influence us.  We didn’t choose what sort of family to be born into, nor do we choose to be hit by drunk drivers; thus, our fate is never decided just by us, and our choices which mediate our destiny are made within those patterns set by ourselves and others.

The tenth card, then, can indicate something that cannot be changed or an outside influence which might change everything.  Or, if reading for another person, it may represent to them something only they can know about and you cannot, something which might reveal itself to them over time.  It’s better not to attempt to interpret this card for them, only to keep it in mind after all the other cards are read.

Sample Reading

This is the reading I did for myself on the 13th of September, 2013, in a park in Rennes (just before the Autumn Equinox/Mabon).  Thus, Mabon was the present, Samhain the future, and Midwinter was where I started reading from (the past).

Midwinter: The Lady/Empress

A relationship that did neither myself nor the man I loved any good, which had become horribly bitter and difficult for both of us ended just before Midwinter Solstice of 2012.  During that time, the Lady reversed had shown up repeatedly, and I’d been utterly terrified of poverty (and I was utterly broke, in the middle of winter).  Also, my life had become infertile–my dreams came to naught, nothing came of my work, and I felt utterly disconnected from the world around me.  Before this, I’d been having increasing dreams about a goddess (Brighid, I later learned) coming to me, beckoning me away towards something more fruitful and life-affirming.  There was a moment, on midwinter solstice, where I remember uttering,  “I’ve fought the goddess” and not knowing why I’d said it.  This became apparent later (funny how that works).

Imbolc: Princess (Page) of Pentacles

I decided to pursue Druidry at this time.  Single (not just from that long-term relationship, but also from another one which started way too fast, a necessary mediation from my previous one but one that I couldn’t sustain), in the winter of my soul, miserable, feeling the utter chill of the world and loneliness, I found myself (randomly) praying to Brighid, asking for an answer to a question I couldn’t comprehend.  The answer came almost immediately, and I remember this flood of understanding and a thirst for a new being-ness, a new study, a new curiousity about the world.  At that moment I decided both that I’d study druidry and also that I’d begin to worship the gods as real (as they’d just made themselves quite obvious about this).  The Princess of Pentacles (study, curiosity, inquisitiveness, a new material existence), thus, described this well.  A funny note: that prayer? Was the day of or after Imbolc.  I’d not realised Brighid’s associations with that day at the time.

Spring Equinox: The High Priestess

I spent the day with a fellow druid who, though significantly younger than me, pretty much opened me up to the entire world of magic and spirit.  The time just before then and the time after involved some intense dreams and upwellings of feeings I did not know how to comprehend.  Also,  I did my first magic ritual (pre-planned–I’d done other things prior to this, but they were always things that just “came to me” at the time) which ended up influencing more of my life than I’d expected possible.   This time was one of intense awakening, dreams I had trouble sorting, and my first visions.  Thus, the High Priestess could not have been a more apt card.

Beltaine: Reversed Queen of Wands

Much of my previous life had become one of forgetting myself.  The aforementioned relationship had led me to develop some rather tragic and intractable habits where I sublimated my will and self-awareness in order to keep peace.  This, of course, led to some miserable issues with envy and jealousy.  I had a very vivid dream just before Beltaine (which was also when I self-initiated into OBOD) related specifically to such issues, particularly insofar as jealousy becomes the fruit of a denied self.  The Queen of Wands when upright inspires others through her intense connected to the fires of will; like The Star, she is connected to light, but unlike The Star, she embodies will through herself to others.  Reversed, she is like a dancer who has just remembered she is dancing, has noticed she is performing for others, and tries to control this and thus stumbles.  She is the fire that no longer gives light, but the conflagration which torches the world around her. That had been me, that had been what my experiences around Beltaine had been specifically about.  I’m reluctant to say more.

Midsummer: Reversed 5 of Swords

I’d made plans to celebrate my first druid ritual with other druids which exploded spectacularly.  I’d also attempted to do several other things which constantly resulted in conflict, including attempting to establish a closer friendship with my former partner.   Oh, and I was currently in multiple dating relationships, none of which were precisely what I wanted or needed (I was about to go to Europe), and those all ended spectacularly (don’t drunkenly invite each of your lovers to the same bar during Gay Pride, unless….well, you get it).   Much of this time was defined by conflict and fear of confrontation which I’d develop from past, “apparent” defeats.  There ended up being a way through all of this, but it required me pulling myself out of a mental pattern of feelings of apparent defeat and wasted energy on shame and regret.

Lughnasadh: Reversed 2 of Wands

My plans to leave Seattle, to re-organize my entire existence, and to release the tension of uncertainty in my life culminated at this time.  I did my first solo druidic ritual out in a park in public amongst willows, engaged in several really profound experiences which led to me understanding what had kept me from fully becoming myself and embracing everything new which had been happening to me.  Some of the interpretations of this card suggest it means the miraculous release of unnecessary tension, entering a gate created by that tension rather than always standing at the threshold.  I can look back at that time as the last time I worried whether or not I could walk through that gate.  I did, and barely remember why I resisted.

Autumn Equinox/Mabon: Reversed 9 of Swords

“Deliberate exploration of deepest fears.”  This makes me want to laugh, actually.  I was living out of a 50 pound rucksack for five weeks in Europe, traveling alone, trying to piece together several intense visions I’d had before the pilgrimage.  Want to know terror?  Leave the city you’ve known for 13 years, throw a bunch of clothes, books, stones and candles in a backpack and go try to find out why you’ve been having intense visions in a foreign country.  Have only tentative plans afterwards, not much money (25 euros a day total), and not be certain if it was all for naught.

Turns out it wasn’t.  I wouldn’t have known that, though, had I not gone. Also, I highly suggest sleeping in the middle of a cornfield on a Breton mountainside during a full moon in the drizzling rain without a tent. The visions were spectacular.  Also, it’s scary as fuck.

Samhain: 8 of Wands

Suddenly, everything started falling into place.  I started writing stuff that people were reading, I got accepted to write a column on Patheos, and pretty much everything else in my life made sense.  The card of synchronicity, speed, accomplishment.

The Gates

Anyone who studies the British-influenced Druid or witch orders is probably familiar with the notion of the Stations of the Year also being Gates.  I’ll re-iterate it as best as I can here for those unfamiliar.

Each of the Stations of the Year, because of the specific influences of Solar and Earth currents being configured differently, acts as a kind of Gate of knowledge or wisdom; also, they function as access points to Realms.  Most are already aware of this from Samhain, when the veil is thinnest between our realm and the realm of the spirits and the dead.  Other times also exist as Gate, and each has its specific influences.  These are best learned by scrying during rituals, particularly during the specific day (or within 48 hours before or after).


I’ve only scryed 3 successfully, so the influences of the Gates in this reading need to be developed further.  From reading Tarot with this spread I’ve come up with at least a working knowledge of each Gate, and I’ll list them here.

When doing this reading, the 9th card (the center card) should be used, as it will represent the current state or goal. This card will help interpret each of the other 8 cards, either guiding the meaning of each or explaining how those gates influence the current state.

Midwinter: The Gate of the Longest Night, The Whispered Truth,Earth

Cards in this place will can insight into what sorrows might exist, or what is left when the light is stripped away–that is, the material or un-illuminated soul.  So, not just what is dark, but what is found and remains in the darkness.

Imbolc: The Gate of Spring’s Promise, Rebirth, Reforging

A card in this station may indicate the seeds of hope, of new ideas, or what the path of rebirth and renewal.  As Imbolc is also Candlemass, the time when old candle stubs are reforged into new candles for the year, this gate may indicate what may light one’s path from the breaking-down (or nigredo, or dark night of the soul).

Spring Equinox: The Gate of the Balance of Waxing Light, Air

The two equinox spots indicate struggle, conflict, or thresholds.  This is the Gate of increase; from the balance of dark and light.  As life and light increase, this is the transition of the querent from the earthly to the mental, or from emotions to will.  Keep in mind that neither are bad, despite how much we crave the light in the darkness.  Spiritual insights come more readily in the darkness and dreams, at least to me.  Cards here will suggest what influences this Gate has on the current situation.

Beltaine: The Gate of Summer’s Birth, the Dance of Life

Here is what must be embraced, the path to fecundity and fullness, the increasing influence of the person in the world and their relations to others.  What must be exchanged? What must be worlded with others? How does the will enact itself into the world?

Midsummer: The Gate of Light’s Fullness, Fire

Just as Midwinter is the gate of what is found in the darkness, this is the gate of what is shown in the light.  Influences here suggest not only how one relates in the world, but what is revealed by one’s interactions with it, what is illuminated by the sun of joy and reason.  This is sometimes an uncomfortable card, more so than many of the others, for it can also reveal how we fail to enact our own will and desires in the world.

Lugnasadh: The Gate of the Sacrificed King and the Harvest

Here is a hill, upon which one can climb to see the whole world and the history of mortals.  What have our actions wrought?  What must be given up, what must yield for the betterment of all?  Cards here sometimes refer to what must be sacrificed, but the point is not self-abnegation, but of “heroic” and willful completion.  Also, what the actions of the querent currently will yield might be suggested here, or what should be considered as our role in the world.

Autumn Equinox/Mabon: The Gate of the Consummated Hunt, The Waxing Balance of Darkness, Water

After the harvest is the end, the rest.  Hunter and Hunted end their struggle and dance into each other, the Summer yields to Winter, the Light goes into the Sea.  At this Gate, a card may indicate the end of striving, the desire for completion, the release of tension, and the desire for wholeness.  What we have been hunting for has been leading us, what we have been fleeing has been courting us.

Samhain: The Gate of the Dead, The Winter’s Embrace

With the caveat that death is utterly under-appreciated, this gate indicates what must be thrown into the forge to be remade.  Some struggles are futile, some old dreams must be composted.  What must be consigned to the earth?  What must be let go of in order to become something better?  In the darkness, we must find our own light; in the cold, we must make our own warmth.  Cards at this gate can indicate how to do this.


Sample Reading

Taking the same reading I listed above, we can look at it from the view of the Gates.  I had drawn the Reversed Seven of Swords (one of the hardest cards to interpret).  I took it to mean its transformational meanings–mental challenges, the failure of the mind to work ones way out of a problem, and the failures of cunning

Midwinter: The Lady/Empress

What remained in the darkness of my soul, when I was stripped from everything I thought I knew and was The Lady, the goddesses I’d been actively ignoring. As it is the gate of Earth as well, it indicated what I was having trouble seeing with my mind–that I was actually very well taken care of and that life was abundant.

Imbolc: Princess (Page) of Pentacles

I’d asked for a reading from a friend before I went on pilgrimage, and he’d drawn this card as a path I should take rather than that of the King of Swords.  I’m overly-balanced on Air qualities, which tends to mediate any new experience I encounter by what I think it means or should mean.  Here, the curiousity of the Princess of Pentacles was the path towards experiencing something new, allowing my mind to shut off a bit so I could actually live the life around me.

Spring Equinox: The High Priestess

The opening to the Feminine that this card indicates, as well as the ecstatic, physical experiences was desperately needed to get myself out of the mental blocks I’d created for myself.  Letting myself experience the stillness of inner wisdom rather than the outer world of decisions became crucial for me to actually encounter what I was there to do.

Beltaine: Reversed Queen of Wands

At the gate of the Dance of Life, the self-conscious Dancer.  My sense of my self and my relationship to others had become quite askew, and my attempts to use my will to influence my situation had become destructive.  This frustrated sense of self had become so woven into my mental patterns that I had stopped letting myself lead and inspire others, and was the opposite of grace.  At this gate, then, I understood what was holding me back from completion, fullness, and interacting with the world around me.

Midsummer: Reversed 5 of Swords

Here, more swords.  The light revealed how conflict and “defeat” had become such a haunting influence upon me that I’d repeat things specifically to see them fail or not engage in new things because I was certain they would.

Lughnasadh: Reversed 2 of Wands

This card often indicates a sudden release of tension, letting go of attempts to hold aspects of oneself apart.  The sacrifice to be made, then, was this, allowing indecision and opposing aspects of myself to collapse into each other, to “walk through” as it were rather than standing at a threshold.

Autumn Equinox/Mabon: Reversed 9 of Swords

The consummation of the hunt was precisely my unexamined fears.  Confronting them all (and intensely) was the moment I gave up struggling against things which no longer should have power over me.   This consummation was precisely what was needed to undo the mental strategies I’d developed to keep my fears at bey.

Samhain: 8 of Wands

When things go very well for me, I prefer to sabotage them.  I still don’t fully know why, except that I suspect I’ve believed for decades (with good reason–we don’t develop such things just for the fun of it) that good things will become bad and synchronous events must not be related.  The gate to rebirth was this itself–allowing myself to experience events suggesting success and accomplishment without getting in the way, embracing the excitement of new and helpful things without constantly trying to manipulate them, riding a current rather than anchoring myself against it.

A Word on The Wheel and Fate

I’ve done successive readings with this spread and have found that often times the cards will mirror the previous readings and becoming different aspects of the same influence.  However, it should be noted that Fate is constantly changed by choice.  Failing to learn a lesson will alter the rest of the wheel, or doing some dramatic thing to change ones fate will likewise change the influences.

When using this for others, this is should be mentioned, particularly if you are using it as a “predictive” reading.  A subsequent reading with a different center card, too, may indicate another aspect of the influences, or a particular question.  I recently did one for myself where the 2 of Cups appeared in the center, which still nevertheless mirrored my previous wheel readings for myself, but showed a new truth that I hadn’t been able to acknowledge previously, perhaps because of choices I’d made.


I’m really open to insight on this spread, by the way.  If you use it and find it successful, I’d love to hear it.

5 thoughts on “Tarot: The Great Wheel

  1. The spread you’ve created is great. And having a central card that relates to the card at each of the gates allows more meanings to be discerned in the reading.

    I had planned to e-mail you about the reading you did for me, but this post answers my question. Each gate does have a theme in addition to its time in the year. I understand the reading a better now.

    Thanks again,

  2. I plan to try this tonight and will let you know how it goes! For some reason this spread makes more sense to me than other spreads I’ve seen to look at the year past or ahead. I also love your descriptions of the Gates (a new concept to me) and I overall really appreciate how your writing is poetic and tangible at once — it doesn’t get overly abstract. Your blog is a recent discovery for me and I’m really enjoying it.

    1. The Gates are described i much more detail by both John Michael Greer (the Archdruid of AODA) in The Druid Magic Handbook, and also in the OBOD training materials (each holy-day ritual involves at least facing the direction of the gate and the rituals “plays” are designed around those gates). But, again, I’ve barely begun to explore this.

      Please, do, let me know how the spread works for you! And also, thank you so much for the kind words about my writing and for reading me. : )

      Be well!

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