Self-Care Spread–and a Conundrum

I’ve been focusing a lot on posting my Wooden Tarot card meanings lately and I’ll continue to do so after I sit with the majors a bit. But this blog isn’t just about the Wooden Tarot and I want to do some different things, too.

This morning I woke up feeling subtly off-balance. I sort of looked at everything with a “why even bother?” attitude and generally felt discouraged. So I decided to reach for my cards and googled “self care tarot spread.” I figured there would be a million of them out there, but there aren’t as many as you’d think. So I just made up my own.

This is a very straight-forward spread with six positions, although the sixth one was a little tricky for me, as you’ll see in a moment. The questions are: How can I take care of my…

  1. Body
  2. Mind
  3. Heart
  4. Practice (that is, my daily asana and meditation practice)
  5. Practical concerns
  6. And how do I implement these answers?

I used the Thoth tarot, as I usually do when I’m looking to the tarot for some sort of comfort. The answers were lovely until the very end, when I got a nice little jab that I’m still thinking about.

self care spread.jpg
The original spread was done with my huge Thoth deck, but I’ve recreated it with my trimmed tiny Thoth. The order is 1-3 down the left-hand column, then 4-6 down the right.
  1. The Priestess. I can take care of my body by listening closely to it. Many of the signals about what I need to be eating, drinking, or how I need to be moving, sitting, and standing are not going to be obvious, so I have to listen carefully and intuitively. Lately, I learned this lesson the hard way by knitting with bad posture, which gave me pain in my shoulders, arms, and hands for over a month. The pain has mostly gone away now because I’ve made a point of correcting my posture, but I wish I hadn’t waited until my body was screaming at me before I changed what I was doing. This is also a wonderful card to draw because it’s my birth card.
  2. The Two of Swords–Peace. Wow, what an amazing card for taking care of one’s mind. It’s literally the peace of mind card! Not everything needs to be worked out in my head; not everything is a problem that needs to be solved by logic; sometimes it’s OK to leave decisions undecided or to reside in paradoxes and contradictions. Honestly, it’s probably better to live that way most of the time.
  3. The Star. Another lovely card! I can take care of my heart by remembering that everything is workable, that new things come to flush out the old, that blood moves through the heart like tides.
  4. The Four of Wands–Completion. Ha–I actually did this spread before I had done my morning practice. I can take care of my practice by completing it!! But more generally, this card is about wholeness. One of the most difficult aspects of meditation practice (and yoga practice, as I’m learning) is to remember to practice throughout the day. Ideally, we take our practice into each moment. Sometimes I do my morning practice, but really resist taking it into the rest of my life. The Four of Wands is about wholeness, and I have to remember to think of my practice as something I do with my whole life, not just something I do for 45 minutes each morning.
  5. The Ace of Cups. How to I take care of my practical affairs? By reaching out to people, interacting with others, opening myself to new experiences. This is about saying yes to opportunities that feel joyous–and to bring a sense of joy to new opportunities.
  6. Nine of Swords–Cruelty. DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNN!!! So how do I carry all this stuff out? The Nine of Swords? To me, if there’s a card that embodies self-hatred, it’s this card. Even more so than in the Waite-Smith deck, this is about self-cruelty.

So what do I do with the Nine of Swords? What happens when you ask a question and the cards give you an answer that is literally the least appropriate of all possible answers? I think many would say that, well, it’s obviously telling you what not to do. I usually never read cards that way, though–it feels like bending the answer to what you want to hear.

And yet, it does seem significant, as if the card were saying, “You have a choice. This is what you have to keep in mind.”

In any case, sitting with this spread did indeed make me feel better. It’s good to remember that doing a self-care tarot spread, regardless of what the cards say, is an act of self-care already. Instead of proceeding in my foul mood, I recognized what was happening and approached it with a sense of curiosity and caring. I think the cards reflected back to me what I was already feeling for myself, but the Nine of Swords is a little sting in the tail that will keep me thinking for a while (or not, as per the Two of Swords.)

I also had Angeles Arrien’s Tarot Handbook by my side when I did this which helped me frame the cards in a healing way. I’ve been meaning to do a post on this book for months, having worked a lot with it this fall. I let it fall by the wayside over the winter as my tarot practice slowed down in general, but now I’m fired up about tarot again. I finished reading Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom and have started my second pass on Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot. I hope to show you all my work with Arrien’s book soon as well.

If you do this spread (or have any ideas about wtf the Nine of Swords is doing here) let me know!


  1. What a beautiful spread, and an interesting reading! Personally, I’d be inclined to interpret the Nine of Swords as telling you to listen to your intuition when you get in a why-even-bother funk. That kind of feeling can be unproductive, but it can also be an indicator that something is wrong and that change is needed. In that sense, the Nine of Swords can serve as encouragement to take self-doubt and channel it towards greater understanding of the areas of your life that need improvement. Just my two cents.


    1. Emily says:

      Thanks, for your reading, Jack! The Nine of Swords just seems *so* significant in that position, doesn’t it? I really like your interpretation.


  2. Oh I shall be doing this for sure, I was surprised there wasn’t many self care type spreads around too as its one of the main reasons I’m so drawn to the cards. I like to think of the nine of swords as a reminder that a lot of things I think are wrong are actually just my thoughts that are preventing me rather than any person or any thing. In a rather blunt way, its almost telling you that if you want to do these things then you’re going to have to get over yourself first and just do it. I’m an over thinker, so I get this card a lot and its almost a sign to say ‘stop thinking about it, stop beating yourself up (self cruelty like you said) and just do it.’.


  3. Hi Emily! Lovely spread, and love the power of the Thoth.

    My inclination would be to interpret the nine of swords not as what not to do, but as a warning. Sometimes I feel people can be quite cruel with themselves when attempting self car (i.e. the attitude that one should be able to take care of their body, mind, heart, soul, all at once, and perfectly). Maybe the card is warning you again too much self-talk and expectations around self-care, and inviting you to lighten up and take each day as it comes. All cards embody their traditional meaning and the opposite concept, all in one, and I think this is happening here. The 9 swords really look like a prison and contrast with the openness of the other cards. Maybe some days it will mean you need more rigidity and self-assessment around self-care, and other days more fluidity.

    I think this nine of sword will mean different things to everyone, and that is what makes it so interesting : )


  4. t charles says:

    I am a Thoth reader, and I think sometimes we get too attached to those key words. It seems to me like the last card is your round up of all the others, you felt warm an fuzzy about all of it, but I would say examine your answers a little closer. Sometimes self care is not about making things easier, but about forcing some things – maybe your simple answers were not quite enough and the 9/S is telling you to sharpen up, and look long and hard at self-love.


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