Main image courtesy of Understanding the Path.
The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and the year is nearing its end. This is a time of reflection for everyone-- during the holiday season, we get to spend time with family and friends, think about the past year, and look forward to the coming months.
If Tarot is a part of your life, you might recognize this time of year as approaching the Yule season-- making it a great time to reflect on your year and think about what might be coming for you.
But it can be difficult to figure out what the best card spread might be for you, whether you’ve worked with Tarot cards before or are new to the art. What’s the best layout to help you understand where you’re leaving this year off?
In this post, we’ll give an overview of the history of Yule-- and recommend some Tarot spreads based on what experienced Tarot readers find most valuable during this time of year.
Yule has a long and rich history. It was originally a pagan holiday in pre-Christian Germanic countries, such as Norway and England. Yule, or “Geola” in Old English, was a 12-day festival that coincided with the winter solstice and marked the end of the previous year and the beginning of the next one.
The festival of Yule had a variety of mythical and religious associations. It has been connected with the Wild Hunt, for example-- a procession of spirits that traveled across the sky under the leadership of a mythological or religious figure, depending on the viewer’s location and beliefs. Yule was also deeply connected to the worship of the old Norse gods, including Odin, who counted Jólnir (pronounced yol-nir) as one of his many names. The 12-day season was full of festivals and feasts dedicated to various gods-- including Thor at the Feast of Yule (also spelled Juul) and Freya at Modraniht (Mother’s Night), which coincided with modern-day Christmas Eve.
When the Germanic people groups that celebrated Yule were Christianized after coming in contact with Roman and African missionaries, many of the associations with the season changed. Pagan beliefs fell out of favor, and with them, the nature of Yule celebrations changed for good.
However, Germanic peoples did incorporate several aspects of the Yule season into their new Christian traditions-- Christmas was, and is still, celebrated around the same time as the original Yule festival. Modraniht, as we’ve already mentioned, now coincides with Christmas Eve. And the modern conception of Christmas as a season of 12 days-- “The 12 Days of Christmas”-- comes directly from those older pagan Yule celebrations.
Nowadays, although for many “Yule” is synonymous with “Christmas,” lots of new religious movements and neo-pagan groups have revived Yule celebrations and tried to recover the original meanings of those feasts. Not everyone who celebrates Yule today is religious, either-- since the festival coincides with the winter solstice, the shortest day and darkest night of the year, it’s often considered a spiritual time even for those who aren’t part of an organized religion group.
Tarot readers-- religious or not-- have picked up on the spiritual nature of the Yuletide season since the beginning of Tarot reading as an art. Yule takes place in December, and so it coincides with the longest night of the year, the death of the natural world, and the start of the next year.
For Tarot, then, this time of year is heavily associated with change and rebirth. Although winter brings cold and death, there is always life and warmth somewhere, and the darkest night of the year will eventually turn into a beautiful dawn-- and Tarot readings done around this time generally make a point to keep this cycle of death and life in mind.
As the year ends and begins anew, Tarot enthusiasts often find themselves turning to the cards as a means of reflecting on what the past year has been like for them, and in order to start thinking ahead to what the next year might hold for them. This doesn’t mean that readings done during the Yule season are meant to tell you precisely what will happen in your future-- but they are meant to help you understand where you are in life and where that might lead you.
There are lots of different Tarot spreads you can use to hone in on the themes of change and renewal associated with Yule. We’ll go over a handful of them here, but there are plenty more out there-- if you feel moved to, you might even consider setting up your own spread with a focus that suits you.
With Yule Tarot spreads, each card you draw has a meaning based on its position-- and that meaning is either tied to reflecting on the past year or the coming year. Some of the simplest and most popular spreads for this purpose consist of just three or four cards, while some of the more complicated ones can include six or more cards.
This spread, outlined by Lou Siday, is meant to help you reflect on what might be holding you back as you move forward into the new year. It consists of three cards, arranged in a row, which are assigned the following meanings:
Lou Siday's Traditions of Yule spread is another three-card spread whose goal is to help you reflect on what difficulties may be present in your life. This spread assigns meanings to cards based on the associations of a handful of Yuletide plants:
The Yule Tarot Spread is a six-card spread that Tarot readers often use to try and tap into the energy and themes surrounding the winter solstice. Many find this spread useful as a more thorough reflection of the past year. The six cards in this spread are assigned meanings as follows:
As a mode of self-reflection and growth, many people consider Tarot to be an accurate and useful tool. Especially as the end of the year approaches and we look toward the future, that self-reflection can prove fruitful. The Tarot spreads outlined here are meant to help Tarot enthusiasts make sense of their circumstances and how to move forward while leaving the past behind-- but there are plenty of other Yule-related spreads out there, too, so go with the ones that feel relevant to you!