I discovered Tarot—really, the Tarot discovered me—in 1970. At that time, I had a lifelong interest in mythology, and had occasionally looked at books of both mysticism and occultism—strangely, my home town library had a whole section of occult books that I read, without much understanding, as a teenager—but knew nothing of Kabbalah. I had never heard of the Tree. Through Tarot I learned of this wondrous image of the cosmos, and later worked out how to use it as a spread for readings that looked deeply at who we are. I first described how to use the Tree as a Tarot spread in my book 78 Degrees Of Wisdom. The spread can be done in a “short” form, with one card for each position, which is, of course, the usual way we do Tarot readings. But it also offers us the possibility to do a reading that uses all 78 cards. Over the years since 78 Degrees I have changed and developed some of the meanings I use for the positions in the spread. Now I’ve decided to offer this full deck spread as part of my reading practice. Below is some information about the Tree, the reading, and how it works.

The Tree of Life is an ancient Kabbalistic diagram of energy and its movements between the physical world and the divine. We all of us exist in different worlds at once, and the Tree, with its different levels, is a perfect way to envision and understand who we are, from our daily lives to our highest spiritual experiences. The spread shown below—which I have done for over thirty years—is a very powerful way to look at your whole self. Because it uses the entire deck of 78 cards it becomes not a question of which cards come up, but where they come up, and how they relate to each other. What emerges is a deep and powerful portrait of a person’s life and its possibilities, its joys and hardships, its difficulties and its triumphs.

Mystics have contemplated and studied the Tree of Life for centuries. Over the last two centuries Tarot has become increasingly identified with the Tree, almost like ivy covering the branches. The Tree contains ten positions called sephiroth (singular, sephirah). Because the sephiroth are often depicted as circles, some people assume a sephirah is a sphere, and this can be a useful way to visualize it. In fact, however, the word is derived from the Hebrew for sapphire, because each sephirah shines like a bright jewel of truth.

The Tree contains ten of these sephiroth, based upon a very old Hebrew teaching that says the universe was created with 22 letters (the Hebrew alphabet, often identified with the 22 “Major Arcana” of the Tarot), and 10 numbers. Not 9, we are told, and not 11. In Tarot we often see the ten sephiroth with twenty-two connecting lines, to show us the order of the Major Arcana (and their correspondences with the mystical energies of the Hebrew alphabet). For this reading, however, we will use only the ten sephiroth as the positions in the spread.

We draw the sephiroth as circles, but in fact they are radiant energy, each one an aspect of our existence. The Tree forms a perfect pattern of development. The energy moves from the wholeness and perfect unity of the Crown, sephirah 1, to the vibrant complexity of daily life in the world we see around us every day, known as sephirah 10, Kingdom.

10, not 9 and not 11. In fact, tradition teaches that an eleventh sephirah does exist, or rather has the possibility to exist, in a kind of gap between the top three sephiroth and the bottom seven. Because this sephirah, called in Hebrew Da’ath (in English, Knowledge), is more a possibility than a fixed state, I have given it the number 0 rather than 11. This reminds us that the “official” number of the sephiroth is 10. It also allows us to see the Fool as the image of Da’ath (just as we can see cards 1-10, the Magician to the Wheel of Fortune as representations of the main sephiroth). The Fool, and its 0 of nothingness, reminds us that we are never pinned down, we always the possibility of change. Da’ath thus becomes the line of transformation.

Here is the Tree, with the Sephirah in their places. The first name for each sephirah is the original Hebrew, the second is the same title in English.


Kether (Crown)


Binah (Understanding)


Hokmah (Wisdom)


Da’ath (Knowledge)


Geburah (Power)


Chesed (Mercy)


Tiphereth (Beauty)


Hod (Glory)


Netzach (Victory)


Yesod (Foundation)


Malkuth (Kingdom)

To use the Tree for a reading we need to “translate” these ideals into ways we look at our lives. There are, in fact, many ways to see the sephiroth as symbols of who we are. One is simply to look at the quality of the position and see how it can illuminate something about ourselves. Another is to relate them to what are called “planetary” energies, based upon the ancient astrological idea of the Earth, plus the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. A quick count will show you that this comes to eight places. As the highest places on the Tree, the Crown and Wisdom, sephiroth 1 and 2, lie beyond the limitations of a specific planet (some people see 2 as the stars, and 1 as the cosmos as a whole, but these ideas are not that easy to translate into places in a Tarot spread). Because it exists more as transformation, Da’ath—Knowledge—also is not part of a specific planetary energy. The meanings below are possibilities. In the actual readings I do we work intuitively to understand the message of each line.

1. Kether/Crown—Highest spiritual level. Unity. Cards in this line should generally be interpreted positively, from a standpoint of growth, and reaching to a higher level. However, some cards may show what blocks you from that highest achievement.

2. Hokhmah/Wisdom—How are you wise? What in your life leads to wisdom? (Alternatively, this card may also show the influence of your father.)

3. Binah/Understanding—What is your understanding of the world? What have you learned? (Alternatively, this card may also show the influence of your mother. Also, the realm of Saturn—what is born out of going beyond limits.)

4. Chesed/Mercy—How are you generous? How has life been good to you? Again, some cards may show what blocks the good things in life. (Also, the realm of Jupiter, largeness of spirit.)

5. Geburah/Power—How has life been hard on you? What tests you, what crises must you face? How do you express your power? (Also, the realm of Mars, aggressive force.)

6. Tiphereth/Beauty—Where is there beauty in your life? What is at the center of who you are? (Also, the realm of the Sun, how you shine.)

7. Netzach/Victory—What are your victories? How do you direct your will? (Also, the realm of Venus, and thus the emotions.)

8. Hod/Glory—What is your glory? What’s special in your life? How do you share your victories with others? What good things do others see in you? (Also, the realm of Mercury, and thus the intellect.)

9. Yesod/Foundation—What is the foundation of your life? What’s at the base. (Also, the realm of the Moon, and thus the imagination, dreams, stories.)

10. Malkuth/Kingdom—What is your world in which you live and act? What is the effect of outside events, other people? (Also, the realm of Earth, and thus the body.)

0. Da’ath/Knowledge—How do you transform things in your life? What makes change possible? What do you know so deeply it can change your life?

How, then, do we use the whole deck to do this reading? The answer is actually very simple and very elegant. A Tarot deck consists of 78 cards. There is a tradition that tells us to start a reading by taking a single card from the deck, called a Significator, and setting it above the place where we will lay out the cards in their positions. Usually this will be a Court card, and because it represents the whole person, it does not get interpreted. There are many ways to choose the Significator in a specific reading, but the simplest is probably to lay out the sixteen Court cards and ask the person getting the reading to say which one attracts him or her the strongest (my own method, when I read for someone, is slightly more developed).

If we remove one card, we end up with 77. Since there are eleven positions in this spread (10 plus the 0 line of transformation), we end up with a perfect pattern of seven cards for each sephirah. Usually we set these seven out in a simple line, but of course it’s possible to play with how to place them. To illustrate this, here is how the top of the reading looks:


First position. Crown

Cards 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Third position. Understanding Second position. Wisdom
Cards 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 Cards 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Following the pattern of the Tree we lay out positions 1-10, and then at the very end, lay out the final seven cards for 0, Da’ath.

Using the entire deck, with seven cards for each position, rather than the usual one, leads to a very complex reading. In my experience, each line has its own quality, its own movement. Sometimes the energy flows from left to right, or vice versa. At other times there is a clear center, and the other cards radiate from it, or go to it. At the same time, we see themes and issues emerge, not just in each line, but in the Tree as a whole. A Tree of Life reading is complex, and subtle, with wonderful variations and movements of energy. And yet, it is often very simple, getting right to the heart of who a person is even as it shows so many different levels.

A Tree of Life reading with the whole deck runs around four hours. The cost is $500. To arrange an appointment, please contact Zoe Matoff by clicking here.

Please note: this reading is (c) 2011 by Rachel Pollack.

Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 2:59 am  Comments (21)  

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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this fascinating article. I’m currently reading your book, Tarot Wisdom, and getting so much out of it. An example – I had never thought of the 5 of pentacles as the tree of life but it makes perfect sense. The 5 has always been an important card to me – now I know why! I have been experimenting with a short version tree of life spread and will definitely apply some of the questions this array asks.

  2. What a great resource, Rachel! Thank you. Keep ’em coming!

  3. Hello Rachel,

    and then you do this spread with the Transparent Tarot… Still more possibilites! 🙂


    • Using the Transparent Tarot is a smart idea. You could still lay out the seven cards to see the dynamics between them, but then do them vertically to see what single image is revealed.

  4. I have admired your scholarly and intuitive work for years! Am ordering books again today!

  5. Rachel,

    Love your work!

    I am getting up to speed and will be back to you soon.

    In the meantime, I do have some experience with ip law (although this is not legal advice) and I have a question: did you intend, by putting a copyright notice at the end of your text above, to warn off others from using the tarot spread you describe? Or to protect the text itself? If the former, in my opinion, you should know that you cannot do so, as this would be tantamount to getting a monopoly on a set of ideas/methods/procedures, which is contrary to the copyright law. You can protect the text, although technically your copyright notice is defective (the ‘c’ in parentheses will probably not work to provide effective notice of copyright under the Copyright Act; instead, simply spell out “Copyright Rachel Pollack 2011″).

    There are ways to protect your rights — consult a lawyer if this is important to you. And if you don’t want others using your text or even your spread, then simply say so. Most people will comply. But I hope you are not trying to protect your spread. . . ”


    • Thank you, Paul. It’s the text that’s copyright. It’s my understanding that all published text is copyright, and the notice is simply to make that clear to people. As far as the spread goes, nothing prevents people from using it. However, if someone were to publish it in a book or web site of their own–and claim that it was their invention–that would be an infringement of copyright. This is not an abstract idea, it’s happened to me. Intellectual property law is a mess right now, since web piracy is so easy to do. We need new ways for authors and artists and other creators to be recognized and paid for their work, but no one has figured out how to do that.

      • Rachel, You are right, once the ideas are expressed in tangible form, they are considered protected by copyright. However, you cannot actually sue someone who is misappropriating your work until you have first registered that work with the U,S, Copyright Office (it’s not hard to do). And you cannot obtain certain benefits of the copyright statute such as statutory damages and attorneys fee unless you have done so timely. However, if your copyright notice is in proper form (“Copyright 2011 Rachel Pollack” or “© 2011 Rachel Pollack”), an infringer cannot claim innocent infringement for purposes of avoiding an award of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.

        I am sorry to hear that your work has been ripped off. You are right, the laws are not adequate in this regard. My own belief is that much of what constitutes such misappropriation comes from ignorance rather than malign motive. What serious tarotist could believe that their work could be advanced in any way by stealing work as well known as yours? Or could believe that there wouldn’t be consequences in so doing, even if imposed only by the cards themselves? Still, I am sure it does happen, for whatever reason. (Of course, if someone is knowingly ripping someone off, why aren’t they doing it in a mass market rather than a niche market like tarot?)

        In any event, such laws as there are not completely toothless; for this reason, formalities like the above may matter at some point. And to dissuade the ignorant, you could add “YOU MAY NOT USE THIS IN ANY WAY WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S PERMISSION”

        As to why I am being such a (self-important!) crank and offering you unsolicited and probably undesired information at wearying length, all I can say is this: I love your work, consider it a treasure, and would like to do what little I can to prevent anyone from dissuading or discouraging you in any way from doing more.

        Alas, you probably would have preferred cash …!


      • Thank you very much, Paul, both for the information and the kind words. the article was first on a website some years ago and then in my book SOUL FOREST, so no problems about official copyright. I have no idea what led the person to claim a spread from me as one of her own. maybe misplaced memory, since she got it in a course, rather than a published book. Ironically, I had based my spread on the work of Gail Fairfield, to whom i was careful to give credit, and Gail’s information actually was published. Some people just don’t understand the concept of not taking credit for someone else’s work. If it happened at work they would know better. If a co-worker showed them a great idea she’d developed for the company they would know very well it was wrong to go to the boss and say “I’ve had this great idea.” They might do it, but they would know it was wrong. They seem to think that the more spiritual the idea the less it should be protected. I was once on a group teleclass when people started saying how wonderful it was that books on tarot, which were so expensive, were now uploaded to web sites and available for free. How noble. I suggested that if an author worked for years to write the book, and people were stealing it with no payment, the author was not likely to ever write another. This seemed a surprising concept. Oh well.

  6. I’m so happy to have found your site, Rachel. I first heard of you from an old friend who took a course at The Omega Institute. Then The Shining Tribe was recommended to me in 2005 and has continued to inspire and inform my life since then. Thank you for all that you do, for your books, your readings and your teaching. You are a treasure. And I enjoyed the above exchange as well. Much love, Jesica

    • Thank you so much, Jessica!

  7. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to
    your weblog? My blog site is in the exact same area of interest as yours and my visitors
    would certainly benefit from some of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this okay with you. Many thanks!

    • Thanks very much for your interest. Yes, pleas feel free to quote, so long as you refer people back to the original. Your blog is interesting. I’ve not had any out of body experiences but I know a number who have, and it seems amazing.

      On Tue, Jul 9, 2013 at 10:06 AM, Shining Tribe

  8. Hola buenas!!! me llamo Maria Laura, le cuento que me estoy iniciando el el Tarot, estoy realmente fecinada, y me recomendaron leer sus dos libros> los arcanos mayores y los arcanos menores, voy por el primero, queria saber si tiene algun consejito que que soy muyyyy nueva y aveces me mareo un poquito, desde ya le dego que es realmente hermoso el libro suyo. le dejo un saludo Maria Laura.

  9. Hello Rachel,

    In doing an internet search to see if I could find directions on how to do a 78-card Tarot reading, your blog is the only place I’ve found so far which gives anything at all about it. I understand about copyright and needing to give full credit where credit is due, but my question is whether or not you’d give me permission to use your spread provided it’s done giving you all the credit for having devised the spread.

    I don’t know if you ever visit Aeclectic Tarot forum, but if you do, I’m known as Grizabella there. I’m an experienced reader and wouldn’t think of ripping anyone off for anything, so no need to fear that from me. I see that the latest comment on this page is from 8/2013 so I don’t know if you’ll see this, but if you do, I’d like to hear from you about this. I have some knowledge of the Tree of Life but will be doing more studying up on it before attempting the use of your spread—if permission is granted for me to use it.

    Thank you for your time if you’ve read this.

  10. Hi, Ellen/Grizabella. Yes, of course you can use it. I really appreciate your commitment to giving credit.

  11. Thank you very much! I look forward to learning and using the spread.

    My favorite book on Tarot history and one I’ve learned the most from is your Tarot Wisdom, by the way. It’s a permanent resident on my Tarot reference bookshelf. I live in an RV with very limited room for things, so to put a book in permanent residence says a lot. 🙂

  12. I and my book are honored. Thank you.

  13. I’m a visual artist thinking of painting the ‘tree of life’, as such I’ve been reading a lot on the topic. I love the simple form you have used to explain this highly esoteric subject – makes it so much more accessible to the populous. I’ve been studying ‘Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom’. Your wisdom astounds me.

  14. Thank you, Chitra. That’s an exciting thought.

  15. […] it, three cards. The Celtic Cross is ten cards. There are spreads that have more. I’ve seen tarot spreads that use the entire deck. It’s not the number that matters, it’s what the positions mean and the story that’s […]

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