Tarot for Troubling Times

That feeling of dread in the pit of the stomach. Restless sleep. Unable to concentrate. Unease.

But what on earth is the matter?

Holly Golightly described this feeling as ‘the mean reds.’

I’m sure we’ve all experienced that knowing. Something is up, but unable to put a finger on precisely what. So what do you do? Try and ignore it? Rage and snap at everyone near you? Kick the bin? Perhaps exploring the feeling, it’s source and working out how to deal with the situation would be more appropriate.

When people come to me for a reading, or I want to help myself through times like this, I’ve found a three pronged approach works well. 1. Explore the situation. 2. If the outcome appears to be unpleasant explore steps to change or ease things. 3. Check out what the probable outcome will be if the steps are taken.

In the example below, I’ve used a celtic cross to deep dive into the issue. If the unease appears to be borne of a relationship, I’d tend to look at this with a relationship spread (I’ll outline a one I use often at the bottom of the post).

For a deep dive exploration of something as nebulous as feeling troubled, it’s perfectly feasible to make a statement followed by a general question.

My life feels a mess right now and I’m not sure why. What’s going on?

1. Centre, The situation, 2. Crossing Centre, Contributing Factor, 3. L, What led up to this situation, 4. R of centre, Where this situation is leading, 5. Below centre, Subconcious factors that play a part in the situation, 6. Above centre, what’s tickling away at the conciousness but not grasped, 7, Bottom of Column, the protagonist as they are, 8. Second from bottom, environmental/outside factors contributing to the protagonist’s state, 8. Advice, 9. Probable outcome. Top L (blurrycard in this pic) is the base card. I usually take the card from the bottom of the pack to give an overview of the spread.

The spread above describes a work situation, a project that has been causing me concern. I find that it’s pretty easy to pinpoint what situation the cards are describing whether it be for myself or for another. AHA moments are quite common.

So it looks as if this situation isn’t going to end well, with the advice being to walk away. I’d like to explore and see if there is a way to improve the situation or change the outcome entirely.

What can I do right now to change that outcome?

Left-Within – mind set, Centre-Without – action, Right-Insight from the Tarot

So, the advice here is geared towards damage limitation – recognise the warnings and think of something new, accept that this situation is only going to end in tears of the worst kind and move on. No matter how you swing things, this is going to be an ongoing source of worry and perhaps loss of finances. Call it quits, cut losses and move on.

Be aware that reads as difficult as this can get an angry response or an upset one – not only from others but from yourself too. The temptation is to tear down the spread in disgust. But resist that temptation if you can. The best advice I can give for passing on insights like these for others is do it kindly, with compassion, and be prepared to take plenty of time.

I don’t want to abort this project. I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to be a quitter. But if my years of reading Tarot have taught me anything, it is that to explore a situation because it feels awful and to have the Tarot acknowledge that the situation is awful feels bad. What feels worse, is to make this exploration a pointless waste of time by ignoring the insights and advice, and then life going tits up because of it feels worse.

So, the next step is to ask about the outcome if the advice is followed. The spread I use here is a run of 5 with the base card (6) under the centre card. The cards in the centre are the focus of the spread, the cards to the left and right of centre the discussion. I’m aware positional spread junkies will hate this, but the cards to the left tend to denote past and the cards to the right usually indicate how things will pan out.

What will be the outcome of this situation if I take the advice from the Tarot (advice in spread 1 and 2 – Walk away).


This spread indicates that I’ve been working away for no discernable reward, but if I change tack and set my sights on a project more suited to my talents then I will feel much more in control of things and get a lot of joy from it.

So from exploring the situation, I found that I do indeed have a cause for worry. Walking away from a sizeable project will help here. There’s not a lot I can do to change how it’s going, so freeing myself up to do something more in keeping with my talents is the way forward.

Tarot as problem solving is way better than ending at the first spread and feeling that all is lost, in my experience.

A Word About Choice of Deck

I’m not in the habit of choosing decks that avoid life’s tough stuff, but be sensible. If you have an inkling that you’re going to be digging in tender territory, be discerning when you choose your tool. I’m speaking from bitter experience here. I read for a woman using The Urban Tarot a while back. She had some intense issues to look at, and some of the cards were triggering in a very negative way (pictures suggesting self harm in this case).

Cards with graphic images of cruelty – such as the Nine of swords in the Wild Unkown or the Ten of Swords in the Animal Totem Tarot can be upsetting if you’re feeling fragile (or simply don’t like seeing cruelty). Thoth can be a stark harbinger of bad tidings too (depends on the reader I guess). Just use your common sense.

Here’s the relationship spread I mentioned earlier in case you suspect your unease springs from a relationship of any description (taken from The Celtic Tarot companion book by Kristoffer Hughes).

1. The protagonist (Seeker), 2. The relationship, 3. The Partner, 4. The protagonists hopes regarding the relationship, 5. The partner’s hopes, 6. The protagonists fears regarding the relationship, 7. The partner’s fears, 8. Outside influences on the relationship, 9 The probable outcome. A base card can also be used with this spread to give a general overview of the insights.

So in future, instead of brooding on those random bad feelings, why not explore them? See what on earth is going on and whether you can do something about it.


If you have your own methods of problem solving with the Tarot I’d love to know your process or if you try my method, I’d be interested t hear how you get on.

The deck used throughout this blog post is the Zillich Tarot by Christine Zillich, published by US games.

The cards shown in the relationship spread are the Mini Marseille Tarot by Lo Scarabeo (only the reverse side of the cards are shown).

5 thoughts on “Tarot for Troubling Times

    1. Thank you Jesse, I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. The poor old celtic cross gets a lot of stick, but I find it has a very useful place in my spread armoury!


      1. It’s good to come back to it. Our use it all the time, and I even have a modified version which I may write about very soon. I think you would dig it.

        I think the reason this spread is much maligned, is that people either forget, or have never been taught, how to milk all of the delicious information from it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great use of the Celtic Cross here, and I love the problem-solving approach in particular. You got some great messages out of it. Also, excellent advice about the choice of tool; I think some readers just go for their favorite deck without thinking about the querent’s question and the possible emotional consequences of using an in-your-face symbolism. Not that we always want fluffy bunnies or angels, either, but your examples illustrate the need for diplomatic choices at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Joanne, and yes, there are some really good balanced decks out there that can deliver deep truths without ripping open wounds lol. This Zillich reads well here. It doesn’t hold back from the gritty stuff, and delivers it without feeling like a hot knife in the eyeball


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