What is a Past-Present-Future Tarot Spread?

Most Tarot readers, especially when they’re first starting out, want to use Tarot spreads to give their personal readings shape, depth, and structure. Using Tarot spreads can help us focus our intentions in a particular direction, formulating a question or digging into a challenge that makes it a little easier to clarify what the cards may be trying to tell us.

And while some dive right into a complicated 10-card Celtic Cross or 12-card year ahead reading, the simple 3-card past-present-future layout is a classic for a reason.

Straightforward and to the point, but with plenty of space for nuance and lessons, this spread is one that even the most seasoned readers lean on for a reason. It’s practical and efficient.

This Tarot spread can be used in more general, open-ended readings when you’re just looking for insights into what you may want to be focusing on or paying attention to in this particular moment. But it’s especially well-suited to questions when you’re struggling around a more specific relationship, challenge, decision, or obstacle.

Wondering how your connection with another person or community is evolving? Trying to decide what move to make next in your career? Wrestling with an ending and uncertain of what lesson you’re meant to be learning?

The past-present-future spread can help you step back from the nitty-gritty details or intense emotion and look at the bigger picture, honoring both where you’ve been and where you’re going. Sometimes, by broadening our scope, we can get a clearer idea of what we have been working through and make a more informed decision about what we want to do next by considering what journey we’re on.

But what if you haven’t used this spread before?

Such general positions might feel like a lot to dive into, whether you’ve been reading tarot for a long time or are just getting started. Let’s walk through these three positions together to have a better idea of what this particular spread can offer you.

Reveal your past, present, and future with our free, interactive 3-card Tarot reading!

What is a Past-Present-Future Tarot Spread?

Card One: Past

The first card in this Tarot spread represents the past or something that has come before.

Depending on what topic you’re reading about, this could speak to childhood, adolescence, several years ago, or several days ago. It could even acknowledge something that happened just a few hours before your reading.

Past can be a very wide-open concept, so if you’re doing a more general reading, be prepared to spend some time parsing through whether the cards are pointing you to a specific time in your life or whether they’re referring to a more general idea, connection, or goal.

What is behind you? What shaped you? What has influenced you to this point, and what is your relationship with that thing like?

This position is usually a little bit easier to understand if you’re digging into a more specific aspect of your life. I find with my own readings using this spread when the past card comes out, someone laughs or nods sagely. If you’re asking about a relationship and the Knight of Wands shows up, it may be speaking about an ex that was passionate but flighty, who didn’t want to commit, or who was always in search of another adventure.

Or, if you’re looking into a career decision, the Devil in this position could indicate that you have previously found yourself trapped in jobs that didn’t offer any real opportunities for growth, that were only about fulfilling physical needs or gathering wealth.

It’s important to note that sometimes this Tarot card serves as a significator, representing the main subject of the reading (or the client).

This position can offer a bit more insight into the overall standing of the person asking the questions and may provide some extra details on the person’s state of mind, history, or feelings on this situation.

You can also check out: How to do Your Own Daily Tarot Reading

past present future tarot spread

Card Two: Present

A Tarot card that speaks to the moment we are in sometimes makes it easy to get very literal about this position.

This card may be offering insights into current emotions, fears, challenges, or truths, making space for new perspectives or angles that you had not previously considered. And while sometimes this card can reflect exactly what you already believe about where you are, generally, this position makes space for something that is happening right now, helping you to see ways that progress is being made even if you don’t feel it.

As well as literally speaking to what is happening at the current time, this card can also reveal what is at the heart of a situation or challenge.

What is really going on? What needs to be uncovered and explored? What has perhaps not been acknowledged or recognized that could shift how this particular issue is being addressed?

To give you a few examples, Aces in this position speak to new journeys, an opportunity that is either already present or is about to arrive. Seeing a card like the High Priestess or the 2 of Swords may indicate that the querent is trying to make a difficult decision or sorting through several choices.

On the other hand, a card like Death could mean that a release is in process, that something has come to an end, or is in the midst of ending. Depending on the topic, this can be a welcome relief or a frustrating acknowledgment. Still, it can be useful to see what perspective the cards are taking by paying close attention to this position.

Card Three: Future

The last Tarot card in our spread, the future card, usually speaks to the road we are on currently, on what may be around the corner if we don’t make any changes or adjustments.

Given what we see in the past and the present, the third and final card in this spread usually follows a throughline, offering a conclusion to the story that the cards are telling. This is generally an insight into what may happen next if we continue down the same path, offering us a glimpse of what we can expect moving forward.

Where are you heading? What is on the horizon?

Sometimes this card speaks to a goal or intention that we have set, while other times, it may be revealing an outcome that we didn’t anticipate. And whether this card indicates joy and contentment with cards like the 10 of Cups or the Sun or urges us to be cautious with cards like the 5 of Wands or the Tower, this is often a card that people put a lot of emphasis on.

For even more Tarot spreads, you can check out: Five Tarot Card Spreads You Need to Try

More Things to Consider With a Past-Present-Future Tarot Spread

Before you use this past-present-future Tarot spread for yourself, it’s important to consider how you feel about predictions in general and predictive Tarot readings more specifically.

Some people believe that the Tarot is simply a tool for intuition, that the cards themselves do not have the power to reveal what is to be. Others use the cards for timings, either generally or more specifically. And still, others believe that the cards can absolutely indicate the future and can give us details to the very minute about when or how something might happen.

No matter what you believe, take some time to clarify your position on this before you start using spreads with a future or outcome position. Particularly if a more challenging or “negative” card comes up in the third position, it can bring up a lot of anxiety and make it hard to understand what the cards may be trying to say.

Many readers do not like to use a future position in their Tarot readings, preferring instead to see this as what may happen next or advice on how to take control of a situation.

You may find that this approach feels more useful for you, and there are a number of alternatives available to help you find different ways to utilize this final card. Consider what will actually be useful for you: do you want advice, insights, encouragement? Clarify what will help you the most before you draw your cards, and let this position give you what you need.

Try a Past-Present-Future Tarot Spread

Tarot spreads offer a wonderful framework for readings, but it’s important to consider what you expect from the cards before you get started.

By taking the time to think through what you believe about Tarot and giving yourself a moment to clarify exactly what you’re looking for from the cards, you can find the real depth of meaning in these simpler spreads. And whether you have a specific kind of insight that you’re seeking or are just looking for a more general check-in, the past-present-future spread is a powerful layout to remember.

How often do you do spreads like this, and in what ways does this layout help you feel connected to your past and your future? Do you like having an outcome card, or do you prefer to adjust it to your own taste?

Remember that if you don’t have a deck of your own, you can use Astrology Answers’ free interactive 3-card tarot reading tool to draw your cards.

Happy reading!

Images from this post feature cards from The Gentle Tarot.

Related article: Can the Tarot Tell Me Who My Soul Mate Is?

About The Author

Meg Jones Wall

Meg Jones Wall (she/her) is a queer photographer, writer, and tarot reader based in NYC. She is a columnist and contributor at Autostraddle, shares daily card studies and original tarot spreads as 3am.tarot on Instagram and recently launched a tarot newsletter, devils & fools. She is currently working on her first book and is available for personal readings and writing opportunities through her website.
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