Remixing Etteilla’s spread

To the best of my knowledge, a Tarot spread called "The Great Figure of Destiny" by Jean-Baptiste Alliette or Etteilla remains to be the largest ever designed spread, comprising of 66 cards. I became aware of this spread while watching Strictly Supernatural: Tarot and Astrology (narrated by Christopher Lee!) where it is stated (if I remember right) that the spread actually uses all the 78 cards. I knew Etteilla had taken Tarot far but jeez, that was really Far! I haven’t seen the spread featured in that many books; Gérard Encausse or Papus mentions it in his The Tarot of the Bohemians (Senate, 1995, p.330), and Paul Huson includes it in his Mystical Origins of the Tarot (Destiny Books, 2004, p.275). Here’s the spread according to Papus: 

"THIRD DEAL: Take up all your cards, let them be shuffled and cut for you, then arrange them as shown in the following figure, according to the order of the numbers.

You thus obtain Etteila’s great figure, which gives the key to the Past, Present, and Future of the person about


p. 331

whose fate you are inquiring. To use this method successfully you must follow this figure very carefully. The best plan is to draw it with all its numbers upon a table or a large sheet of cardboard, and then to arrange the cards according to the order of the numbers.

For reading the results of this figure you must take up

the cards two by two, the 1st with the 34th, the 2nd with the 35th, etc., for the Past.

The 23rd with the 45th, the 24th with the 46th . . . . . the 33rd with the 55th, for the Present.

The 12th with the 66th, the 13th with the 65th . . . . . the 22nd with the 56th, for the Future.

One careful survey of the tableau will render it easily understood." (from The Internet Sacred Text Archive, Papus: Sixth Lesson)

Paul Hughes-Barlow gives a slightly different method:

"The Third Deal or Great Figure

This method is more elaborate than any of the others. Let all the cards be well shuffled and cut by the inquirer, then arrange in the following order: –

On your right hand, working upwards, place eleven cards. Opposite to the first card, but leaving a space between (see diagram), place the 12th card, and work upwards from that until you have arranged another column of eleven cards.


From the 11th card on the right, begin and place eleven cards across, which arrangement will give you the three sides of a square formed by thirty-three cards. Then form the circle by commencing with the 34th card, and placing it in a line with the centre card of the top row. Sixty-six cards will now have been used. One card must represent the inquirer, and should be placed in the centre, and the more satisfactory plan is to take the juggler to represent a man, and the high priestess a woman, instead of simply drawing any card by chance. Eleven cards now remain, and with these the triangle inside the circle can be formed. The apex of the triangle will be towards the manipulator, as shown in the diagram.

This figure will give a reading of the past, present, and future – the right referring to the events that have passed, the left to things as they are at present known, and the third to what is to come.

The first card placed on the square and the first card placed on the circle are paired, then the 2nd and the 35th, the 3rd and 36th, and so on until you have taken all the cards on the right, which will give you a reading of the past. Pair the 23rd card with the 45th, and proceed until you have finished with the section referring to the present.

For the future, take the 12th card and the 66th, and read the indication of events to come.

The triangle formed of the eleven cards is an innovation on Etteilla’s method, but, read in reference to the deductions made, it will probably confirm the cartomancer’s opinions. This figure requires much attention and patience, especially if the more symbolical meaning of the cards is studied."  (my underlining, from Etteilla’s Method)

So.. basically you have a past-present-future spread, with the humble amount of 22 cards within each three groups. What follows here is my take on this spread which, I hope, won’t upset Monsieur Etteilla too much (well, the man was an adventurer by spirit so I don’t think he’d be too worried). I decided to leave out the last eleven cards, or not to interpret them, as is the case with Papus and also Huson.  


Cards on the circle correspond to inner life (~inside).
Cards on the outer "square" correspond to outer life (~outside).


1 & 34: Self (1="outer me", 34= "inner me") 
2 & 35: World (2="the world around me", 35="how I relate to it")
3 & 36: Work (3="outer work", 36="inner work")
4 & 37: Force (4="outer force affecting me", 37="inner force to use")
5 & 38: War (5="conflict on the outside", 38="conflict on the inside")
6 & 39: Love (6="relationships and love", 39="how I relate to these")
7 & 40: Journey (7="outer journey, either literal or symbolic", 40="inner..")
8 & 41: Hopes & Fears (8=outer, 41=inner)
9 & 42: Wisdom (9="wisdom of the world", 42="inner source of..")
10 & 43: Transformation (10=outer, 43=inner, "what needs to change..")
11 & 44: Chance (11=outer, 44=inner, "what is possible..")  

These positions – or meanings – are then repeated in cards of the "Present" and of the "Future" (so that 23=present outer "Self", 45=present inner "Self" and 12=future outer "Self", 66=future inner "Self", etc.). This enables you to see how these themes develop with time. I suppose I’m such a B&W person that I need to have spesifically defined positions to be able to work with any spread at all.. 


This entry was posted in Tarot, Tarot Books, Tarot Decks, Tarot History, Tarot Psychology, Tarot Spreads and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Remixing Etteilla’s spread

  1. I really like this — I’m always on the look out for new shapes and arrangements for Tarot Spreads. At the moment it seems as if every new question from a querant needs it’s own new spread to be answered properly.
    I really like matrix style spreads like this — where the cards are all together so they can affect each other, not just hang there in space the way they do with a lot of more traditional shaped spreads. It’s annoying though that I frequently have a gap in my mind between what I know has to be done, and my abbility to realise the thing in my mind.

  2. Anonymous says:

    it gets worse
    This was the third in a series of four spreads carried out one after the other. An all day affair.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *