Stop Using the Deity Identification Spread

Stop Using the Deity Identification Spread April 8, 2020

On various social media I use, I’ve seen a lot of people posting about ‘deity identification’ Tarot spreads. These posts are almost always short posts asking for people to interpret the cards the practitioner has drawn. Often, these are beginners or newcomers seeking out which god they are ‘meant’ to worship.

Let’s go into why this is a bit of a problem.

The Spread Itself

The deity identification spread going around – largely on various Pagan and witch subreddits, but on websites and communities too – is short, just five cards. Most of the posts asking for assistance with the spread didn’t like to any original source, so I took off to Google.

The spread originated from Tarot Tumblr blogger ‘hellboundwitch’. hellboundwitch was a popular Tarot blogger, well-liked for their many Tarot spreads and informative posts. I was somewhat surprised that the spread currently causing so much frustration (I’ve seen multiple people, friends and acquaintances, complain on its sudden prevalence) came from hellboundwitch.

One reason for my surprise was that I found their Tarot resources useful; their popularity was well-earned. The larger reason was because the Tarot spread was old. At least by internet standards. The Deity Identification Spread was published in 2013.

The short spread doesn’t have a lot of exposition on what its purpose is, outside of the obvious ‘identify a deity’. The cards are meant to reveal various traits and associations a deity has.

Related Spreads

Looking at the original post, hellboundwitch references their ‘Deity Communication Spread’. This other spread, which predated the Deity Identification Spread, is also a small spread. Six cards are pulled to help the querent understand what their relationship with a deity is going to look like. I actually thought that this communication spread was better suited for pursuing and establishing relationships with god or spirit compared to the Deity Identification.

There is also a much larger spread, called the Deity Dossier, by Tumblr blogger This Crooked Crown. An acquaintance brought up this larger spread when I mentioned this topic on Twitter. This 18 card spread is much more concerned with the minutiae of a god and spirit. In This Crooked Crown’s post they do give out a shoutout to hellboundwitch for helping test out the spread, but I find that more of an interesting tidbit than anything relevant to the larger story. What is relevant is Crown’s mention that the Deity Dossier spread is meant for “ those “I’m being contacted by a deity but which one!?!” questions”.

Crown also has a Mini Deity Dossier spread that is much similar to the Deity Identification Spread. Coming in at six cards, it is a bit of a blend of the Deity Identification and Communication spreads.

Current Prevalence and Popularity

All of the posts I mention above are six to seven years old. On the internet that is a long time. And while they’re all from popular Tumblr bloggers, it is weird that there has been this resurgence. Especially since the popularity seems limited to the Deity Identification Spread.

A post on Aeclectic Tarot forums mentions the spread…but that’s from 2014.

So as to why there is this odd popularity of a seven year old Tarot spread? I don’t have any answers to that. If anyone does have any information, post it in the comments or send me an email. I’d be very interested!

Photo by Soulful Stock on Unsplash

The Problem

Why are people getting frustrated with the prevalence of the Tarot spread? Is there something bad about it in particular?

No. At least from what I’ve seen, no one has been upset at the spread existing or taken issue with the specific meaning of card positions. Rather, the ‘problem’ with the spread is in how people are using it and what people are expecting from it. The problem is a human one. It has a lot to do with newcomers and beginners to witchcraft and paganism and the expectations we have when we first start our spiritual or religious journeys.

I don’t think we actually need to stop using the spread. We just need to use it differently, and we need to teach newcomers why it might not be the best for their purposes.

Needing a Deity

When I see people using this spread, they often mention trying to find ‘their deity’. They are trying to find their patron, or a God that has chosen them, or the God they are ‘meant’ to work with. And right away we can see the assumptions that trip us up.

Because not all of us will have deities we are ‘meant’ to work with or worship. Not everyone will get signs. Moreoever, not all religious or magical traditions will require you to form patron relationships or close bonds with a single deity. It is very clear in the descriptions of the various spreads above that they are meant to be used when you have already received signs or communication from an entity. They aren’t meant to assign you a deity or anything like that.

Witchcraft does not require deities, moreover. Specific types of witchcraft may use deities or incorporate deity worship but if you’re practicing an eclectic mishmash blend of witchiness or magic, you don’t need to add deities just because other people work with Them.

For those of a more devotional bent, I must say that we do not need to wait for a deity to reach out to us before worshiping Them. There are tons of posts all over the place asking for helping figuring out if someone is being ‘called’ by a God, often with the underpinning assumption that we must first be called before starting devotion. This is just not the case. These Tarot spreads are much more useful in a devotional context in the sense of double-checking that a God you have established relationship with is who you suspect They are, or they can be used to ensure an entity that appears in ritual or spiritual journeys is who they said they are.

Beginner to Tarot, Beginner to Deity

Hands down, I think the biggest problem when it comes to this spread is that people who are beginners to spiritual and magical practices and beginners to using Tarot are trying to use it very early in their practices. They don’t have any real grasp of Tarot or their decks. They’re still learning the meaning of the cards, the interplay of the symbols and card placement.

And most of the time the posts requesting help with this spread are just asking for people to interpret the cards they pulled. The people responding are being used as free Tarot readers.

Thankfully, many of the responses to these posts have pointed out that Tarot isn’t necessarily the most effective method of making contact with deity or discerning deity messages. I think that if one has a background in reading Tarot that they could use these spreads to great effect. If not, though, it is just going to muddy the waters and cause confusion.

Hence the many, many posts asking for help.

There really isn’t a solution to all this. I’ve seen people writing about more useful ways to approach contacting deity or interpreting deity messages. I think all we can do is educate newcomers better. We can address the aspects of our community that lead people to believe they need a deity to chose them, or to focus on one single deity, or that we have to wait before researching and engaging with the Gods. We can address the odd idea I’ve seen thrown around that it is ‘dangerous’ for newcomers to make contact with deity.

Ultimately, though, I think this trend will fade in time. It’s interesting while it happens.

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