Recently I’ve been looking through the tarot literature in Spanish and Portuguese, and I came across a popular spread which gets little press in the English literature. It’s a fairly simple 5-card spread in the shape of a cross, often referred to as the “method of Péladan.” This spread is designed to answer specific questions within a limited time frame.
Joséphin Péladan (28 March 1858 – 27 June 1918) was an eccentric French novelist and occultist, born in Lyon, France, into a devoutly Roman Catholic family. The Swiss occultist Oswald Wirth apparently learned this 5-card spread from Péladan and popularized it in his own books on the occult, such as Tarot of the Magicians.
Given his background in Catholic occultism, my hunch is that Péladan modeled this spread after the image of the crucifixion of Christ. The central card (“synthesis”) stands for Jesus on the Cross. The card to his right (#1) is the good thief who was rewarded by joining Jesus in heaven. The card to his left (the viewer’s right) is the bad thief who did not repent and thus forfeited heaven. The cards above and below (#3 and #4) appeared to be modeled after the Judgment card. Card #3 would be the Angel blowing his horn to announce the Final Judgment, and card #4 would be the resurrected human bodies, who are responding the the angel’s call. The Angel is even holding a banner with the image of the Péladan spread.
If you purchase a tarot deck published by the Spanish playing card manufacturer Fournier, you will typically find in the enclosed LWB (“little white book”) a description of the Péladan spread.
The cards are laid as in the above diagram, with the following meanings of each position:
1. Affirmation (pros): positive, favorable, active or affirming factors; the querent’s resources in the present situation; that which is available to the querent at the present time; who or what the querent can count on; what the querent should do; what orientation the querent should take regarding the matter.
2. Negation / Denial (contras): negative, contrary, hostile or impeding factors in the present situation; who or what works against the querent’s goals; what the querent should avoid doing; the wrong path to follow; that which can limit, harm or deny the querent’s interests in this matter; that which is lacking or is not available to the querent at this time.
3. Discussion, sometimes referred to as the adjudication, debate, argument, judge, or path to follow. This card indicates the most productive road to take to decisively resolve the issue. This judgment takes into account the other information in the spread, especially the balance of forces pro and contra, as shown in cards #1 and #2.
4. Resolution, sometimes called the sentence (as in a trial), the solution, the result, or the likely outcome of taking the steps deemed advisable in card #3 and keeping in mind the pros and cons outlined in cards #1 and #2. Delineating the resolution also depends on card #5 (synthesis), which represents the querent and the key factors in the situation.
5. Synthesis (like a summary statement) represents the basis of the question, its most salient features, and the querent’s attitude and intentions regarding the matter. It shows how the querent experiences or feels about the situation, what significance the issue has for the querent, and what lessons the querent may learn from it.
The usual recommendation is that this spread be done with the 22 Major Arcana cards, but there is no reason it cannot be done with the whole deck. I have even seen it used with the Lenormand cards.
The traditional method of selecting the cards is a bit unusual. After shuffling the 22 major cards, the reader asks the querent to pick a number from 1 to 22 and then, counting in order from the top, selects that card from the deck and places it in the first position of the spread. The same method is used to selects cards #2 through #4. In other words, for the second card, the querent picks a number from 1 to 21; for the third card, a number from 1 to 20; and for the fourth card, a number from 1 to 19.
Card #5, however, is decided by adding the values of the first four cards. If the sum is 22 or less (22 being the Fool), then that number indicates the fifth card. It is possible that the fifth card could also occupy one of the positions from #1 to #4. If the sum is greater than 22, the the digits of that sum are added together to get the fifth card. For example, if the first four cards were: 10 + 16 + 7 +19 = 52, then you would add 5 +2 = 7. In this case Major Arcana 7 would be both the third and the fifth card. If you prefer a different method of selecting the cards, there is no particular reason to stick with the traditional method described above.
An alternative view
An interesting twist on this spread can be found in the works of Brazilian author Nei Naiff. He regards cards #1 and #2 as representing the present situation, cards #3 and #4 as indicating the future path, and card #5 as signifying the vision, intention and thinking of the querent. What is unusual, if I understand Naiff correctly, is that he defines card #1 as the condition of the positive factors and card #2 as the condition of the negative factors. Thus, a card such as the Hanged Man in position #2 would indicate that the negative factors in the situation are in a state of inactivity, suspension or immobility — which usually represents something positive for the querent. Or, if the Tower appears in position #2, then “negation” implies that there will not be any unforeseen disruption or obstacle regarding the matter of the question. It’s as if Naiff sees position #1 as “what is being affirmed and rendered operative” and card #2 as “what is being negated or rendered inoperative.” Unfortunately, I do not have the original description of Péladan to check what he meant when he invented the spread. If anyone has Péladan’s original text, I’d greatly appreciate knowing how he intended the various card positions to be interpreted.
In any case, this is a simple and useful spread with a solid tradition in the occult literature.
Let me end with an example. I asked whether this blog would achieve its goal of explaining clearly to the reader the nature and use of this spread. Here are the five cards:
………………………………………. The Star (17) ……………………………………….
The Tower (16) Justice (8) The Devil (15)
……………………………………… Temperance (14) …………………………………
(Card #5 was arrived at by adding 16 + 15 + 17 + 14 = 62; then, 6 + 2 = 8.)
Card #1 – Affirmation: The Tower often has a negative connotation, but it can represent sudden changes and new insights. A favorable interpretation would be to focus on providing a novel method of spreading the cards.
Card #2 – Negation: The Devil can warn against being overly ambitious in the undertaking. I took this as advice not to try to be overreaching.
Card #3: The “adjudicator” is the Star, a card of hope and gentle illumination. The path to follow is one of explaining the matter simply and clearly.
Card #4: The “resolution” is Temperance, which symbolizes a balanced view and the tempering of opposing ideas or forces. For this reason, I included variations on the use and interpretation of this spread.
Card #5: The “synthesis” is Justice, and my hope is that I have done justice to the original ideas of Péladan and the use of his 5-card spread.
If you try this tarot spread with one of your own questions, please feel free to comment about your experience of the Péladan method in the section below.