The Sentinel’s Spread, Revisited.

A little while ago, I shared my revised version of the Sentinel’s Spread. What I’d wanted to do with that post was to begin a series, in which I’d examine the constituent parts of the spread through a sample reading. I ran out of steam after a few installments, for a couple reasons. For one, life simply got in the way, and for a time I just didn’t write very often, and so I lost the drive to finish what I’d started.

I realized that my purely hypothetical sample had no relevance, and the further I progressed with it, the farther I had to stretch to reach any sort of meaning or coherence, and I gave up on it, feeling as though I was only succeeding in beating a horse that was already dead.

But when I lay down the Sentinel’s Spread, I always walk away with such profound insights from the cards; and even if I can’t adequately express these sorts of things with sample readings, I don’t want to leave an incomplete, forced and lifeless example as the last word on my blog.

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I think the Sentinel’s Spread works because of its combination of shapes, allowing for multiple significant patterns to emerge from the reading.

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This is a photo of my most recent Sentinel reading, performed with the pocket Thoth. This setup is pretty typical of my readings lately, except for the Death Candle, which is not normally there.

While the final layout is meant to be read as a unit, there are five distinct components, each of which is made of a significant number and shape itself. If the process of laying the cards is reduced to an equation, it would be this:

1+3+4+12+1=21

with 21 being the total number of cards in the layout. In terms of shapes, it begins with a single point, followed by the line, then the cross or square, then the circle or dodecagon, and brought to completion with a return to the point. The five parts are summarized as follows:

1. The Sentinel (significator): The first card is selected to represent the reader at the time of the reading (or querent, if reading for someone else). I normally select the sentinel and set it aside prior to shuffling and laying out the rest of the cards.

2. The Watchtower (cards 2 – 4): The next three cards are positioned from bottom to top to create a vertical line, meant to evoke a tower. I think of them as three parts of a watchtower: the foundation, in which everything else is grounded; the body of the tower, built upon the foundation and which comprises most of the tower’s actual height; and the top, upon which the Sentinel is posted, which provides the point of perspective. These are metaphors for various inward aspects of the reader at the time of the reading (think body, mind, spirit or subconscious, conscious, super-conscious). The significator is then placed on top, putting the reader in the frame of mind to continue.

3. The Cardinal Directions (cards 5 – 8): These four cards are placed around the watchtower after the pattern of the compass, beginning with the East and the rising sun and concluding with the North. They are also associated with the four elements and the suits of the Tarot: East is Fire and Wands (passion or drive); South is Air and Swords (intellect); West is Water and Cups (emotion); and North is Earth and Coins (the material realm).  The elements are arranged so that Air is opposite Earth, and Fire is opposite Water, and they descend from energy (Fire) into solid matter (Earth) when read clockwise. I view these cards as immediately relevant to the reader, connecting the inward-being of the watchtower with the external world of the following cards. For this reason, I often consider these cards to be akin to walls or gates of a fortification built around the watchtower, or roads leading out from the center.

4. The Horizons (cards 9- 20): The twelve cards of the horizons encircle the eight cards already laid down, equaling the watchtower (3 cards) multiplied by the compass points (4 cards). Once placed, they can be read in any number of ways. This is the point when I start to really see patterns, both among the horizon cards themselves, or in relation to any of the cards already out. The significator represents the center, the point of origin or perspective – the “You Are Here” on the map, and the rest of the reading is the map, if you will, sprawling outward from the center, with the horizon cards showing the farthest reaches visible from the watchtower.

There is no singular way to read all of these cards, and I often find multiple layers of meaning as I approach the spread from different angles. Usually, though, I do like to look at each horizon card in relation to the cards on either side of it. The 12 cards divide nicely into four groups of three cards each, with each of the four cards from the previous section allotted a group. I look at each trio as a beginning-middle-end or past-present-future (or any other of the numerous three-card patterns out there) related to its respective element card, and this helps me process the cards in digestible segments while I wait for any larger patterns to coalesce in my mind.

5. “Sound the Alarm!” (conclusion): One final card is pulled to tie the entire reading together. I usually spend a few minutes with the spread before I pull this card, allowing for a dramatic moment of complete surprise at the end as a counterpoint to the moment of complete control that comes with the conscious selection of the sentinel at the start; but I always pull it before I put the cards away and extinguish any “reading time” candles. I call it the bell or horn or alarm, there for the sentinel to sound if anything urgent is revealed during his watch. It serves as a sort of fail-safe, a general conclusion, or something to ponder, an important detail not to be overlooked, or a final piece of closing advice.

~~~

So that’s it. I think I did a pretty good job of summing up the essence of the spread this time, and I’ll probably leave it alone now, except for the occasional possible reading or anecdote in the future. I welcome the questions or input of anyone who decides to give it a try.

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The Complete Book of…

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted here, so I thought I’d publish a quick book review for the sake of keeping this site somewhat active.

First thing’s first: the title of this book is beyond stupid – Complete Book of Tarot Spreads. Not only is this a lie (I’m aware of many spreads that are not in this book), it’s the type of title that smacks of phony marketing ploys which would normally drive me away.* This is compounded by the subtitle “Includes 122 Layouts (!)”. I haven’t counted them, but if everything in this book is included in that number, then it’s a bit of a stretch, because there are several “spreads” that are really only one card, and several more that are better classified as “exercises” than proper spreads for divination. This title is meant to draw in suckers.

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I actually really like this book.

However, when I saw this in the bookstore, I flipped through it out of skeptical curiosity, and found that, in spite of the title, the content of the book seemed honest and practical enough to be genuinely useful to me. It helps to know (for me, at least) that this book was originally published in German with the title of Tarot Praxis, which translates to “Tarot Study” or “Tarot Practice.” It seems that it’s only in America that publishers feel the need to try and dupe people into buying things, as if we consumers weren’t intelligent enough to make a decision without a radical promise of some sort of exponential pay-off (I realize I may be overreacting slightly to this title, but I so resent the commercialism in this country – stop talking at me like I’m a fucking jackass!).

And it’s true, this book does offer more than just spreads – it offers practice, as well. It’s comprised of three sections, only one of which focuses on actual layouts.

The first section is called “Practicing Tarot”, and it consists of all kinds of handy and helpful advice for the modern Tarot reader, laid out in quick and easy chapters. There’s no history or exposition about the occult or the “woo” factor. The deck pictured on the cover is the RWS, but the book itself does not focus on any single version of the cards. It also tries to dispel many antiquated myths about Tarot reading, such as the idea that one cannot and should not read for him or herself. This book is cut-and-dry practical Tarot and nothing more. The language is somewhat terse, but it gets the job done, like a no-nonsense book should do (it is good, but by no means is it “complete”).

The second section is entirely about the layouts. There is little by way of explanation here; just pages upon pages of various spreads. This section is also divided into chapters, categorizing the spreads within to better facilitate easy look-up for any given situation. There are a few large and complex spreads here, but for the most part they are fairly simple, even to the point of being a bit generic at points. I’ve played with many of these spreads so far, and for the most part, I like them. As with the first section, they get the job done, and if they don’t for some reason, at least they provide basic templates for spread shapes and questions that can easily be tweaked by the individual. While not at all “complete” (yeah, I’m going to keep harping on that), this section is decently comprehensive, so that most of your everyday sorts of issues (and even some that go beyond the everyday) can be sorted out with its help, no problem.

The final section is called “Tarot & Astrology”, and is the shortest section by far. That’s pretty self-explanatory, I think, and most of this section is made up of various charts for astrological correspondences (the basic template used here is that of the Golden Dawn). It’s very convenient for quick reference, and this is the only section of the book that talks about anything that’s not strictly Tarot cards. Considering that, of all the systems applied over the years to the cards, astrology is probably by far the most common, this was a thoughtful addition to the book on the part of the authors.

I’ve been using this book a lot lately, and overall, I think it’s very good. It can probably be used with success by beginners and advanced Tarot readers alike.** In Germany, another use of the word “praxis” is to denote a rigorous practice test designed to help students pass the Abitur, which is essentially the equivalent of the SATs here in the US (albeit much more academically intense than our sad excuse for a college aptitude test – man, do I sound condescending. I guess I’m still fired up from my commercialism rant. It’s true, though, what I say about the SATs). With that in mind, this book is basically just a Tarot study guide, and as such, it is very well done.

But doggone-it, it is not complete.

* Anything that’s labelled “complete”, or “ultimate”, or worse yet, “the only (insert subject here) book you’ll need” always raises doubt in my mind. As a guitar player, I’ve seen many, many “ultimate” guides and “complete” books of tricks that promise virtuosity overnight. It’s total bullshit, and I’d never spend my money on it. Tarot cards are admittedly a bit different than musical instruments, and it seems that, although the literature available is overflowing with these sorts of titles, they do often have content in them worth reading. I just wish the publishers would dispense with these titles that are nothing more than empty promises. As good as some of these books really are, none of them could ever truly be “complete.”

**For the record, on the scale of Beginner – Intermediate – Advanced, I consider myself at the time of this writing to be somewhere in between Beginner and Intermediate as far as skill with card reading is concerned. So no, I can’t actually say with certainty that advanced readers would get something from this book, but I think it’s pretty good all the same.

The Sentinel’s Spread, Revised.

I use the Tarot in a myriad of ways. It has proven to be a very versatile tool for the development of my metaphysical awareness. Of course, one of the most popular ways to use the cards is to lay them out in a spread for reading, and indeed this is something I do more or less regularly myself.

I’ve experimented with many spreads since I began using the cards. I even keep a notebook reserved just for copying spreads which I find in books and online for my own personal use. It serves as a handy index for me to leaf through when I’m considering how to interact with the cards on any given day.

Several months ago, however, I felt compelled to design my own Tarot spread. And so, taking my position as the Sentinel as inspiration, I began to experiment. Eventually, I came up with a rough version of the Sentinel’s Spread. You can read about my original design here, but I must admit that I have since gone back and re-read that post, and am not completely satisfied with it. In any case, the spread has evolved since then, and I’m here today to break it down for anyone who may wish to try it for themselves. The more I use it, the more I like it, so much so that it has become my default method for personal reading, and I would like to share.

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The Sentinel’s Spread with two Significators* – WWT

As the name suggests, this spread is designed around the metaphor of a sentinel atop a watchtower. It is a fairly complex spread, requiring a minimum of 21 cards, and the entire process of laying it out can be broken down into five parts:

  1. The Sentinel. (Significator)
  2. The Watchtower. (Cards 2-4)
  3. The Cardinal Directions. (Cards 5-8)
  4. The Horizons. (Cards 9-20)
  5. “Sound the Alarm!” (Conclusion)

A summary of these parts can be found here; I’d originally intended to link each part above to its own post, and I started that project fairly strong, but quickly sputtered out, as you can see by the lack of links from parts 4 and 5.

~~~

The querent may bring specific questions to the spread – in fact, they are encouraged to do so – but the spread itself is not intended to give only one specific answer. It is rather more of a general stock-taking type of thing, to be applied to many aspects of one’s life. To use the aforementioned metaphor, you may ask the sentinel to pay special attention to the north-west, because that is where the advancing enemy is rumored to be camped. However, the sentinel would be remiss in his duties if he did not also look to the other directions and report what he sees, whether to the north-west or to the south-east or anywhere else. In this way, the Sentinel’s Spread is a comprehensive look at the querent’s current state of being, and can offer suggestions on how to best proceed in whatever the matter is in question, but may also bring hitherto unknown circumstances to light. It can sometimes surprise with what it shows.

My own experience playing with this spread leads me to recommend setting aside a bit of time to fully interpret it, and also to record the reading in a journal or notebook so it can be revisited in the future. I’ve often found the experience of re-reading this spread with the benefit of hindsight to be enlightening. I also generally don’t lay down this spread for myself more often than once a month.

~~~

*One of these represented me, and the other represented the friend with whom I was reading at the time.

The Sentinel’s Spread: A Sample Reading.

In my previous post, I explained the purpose of my Sentinel’s Spread, as well as the meanings of each position. I will now give a sample reading so anyone interested in trying this spread can see how it is laid out and interpreted. I should warn that this spread takes some time to interpret, so it’s best to use it when you’ve got an hour or two of free time.

I used the mini rws for this reading, because it’s small size was appropriate for this large spread, and because the court cards in it are the ones I would normally use for a reading like this.

I used only Major Arcana for the sake of simplicity.

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1. The Foundation.

1. The Magician. This card is appropriate as the foundation of my Sentinel Tower, because the purpose of this spread for me is to gain a perspective on magical energies in my environment. With the Magician as my base card, I am especially attuned to the flow of these energies. Depending on which cards come up later on, I may also need to utilize the Magician’s ability to manipulate these energies.

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2. The Body of the Tower.

2. The Moon. The first thing I notice is that this card actually pictures towers, which is apt considering its position as the body of my own tower. This card suggests that I’ve built upon my foundation with experience exploring the inner depths of my psyche. This is a good thing, because an understanding of myself is the first step to understanding my world, although it might suggest that it’s time I came back out into the light. It’s easy to lose myself in there, after all. I suppose I’ll see what the remainder of this spread suggests for me.

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3. The Platform.

3. The World. This is the perspective from which I keep my watch upon the tower. It is the culmination of the previous two cards, and represents my current state of mind as I turn outward to gaze upon the horizon. I could not have pulled a better card for this spot. It means everything is clear from my perspective, and that I can expect as complete a view as possible from my tower. The four animals brings to mind the four cardinal directions, which will join this spread shortly.

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4. The Sentinel.

4. The King of Pentacles. I selected this card ahead of time to represent myself. As I’ve explained in a previous post, this card represents my position on the Council as the Earth Wizard. I also selected the next four cards prior to laying out the spread. They represent the other members of the Council, the ones with whom I would communicate my findings as the Sentinel. Of course, should anyone else experiment with this spread, it should be understood that positions 5-8 can represent any number of things. I suggest familiarizing yourself with the position meanings through the link at the start of this post if this is in any way confusing.

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5. Eastern Defenses.

5. The King of Swords. This is the significator of the Wind Wizard on the Council. He is the Guard.

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6. Southern Defenses.

6. The King of Wands. This is the significator of the Fire Wizard on the Council. He is the Knight Errant.

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7. Western Defenses.

7. The King of Cups. This is the significator of the Water Wizard on the Council. He is the Scout.

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8. Northern Defenses.

8. The Emperor. This is the significator of the Wizard of Aether on the Council. He occupies the Northern quadrant, which would normally be reserved for the Earth Wizard, but because I am the Earth Wizard, and the Sentinel upon the watchtower, he fills in the spot. The cards up to this point represent the completed fortress. It looks pretty strong to me, so I will now turn my attention to the horizons. This is where the spread gets a little more difficult to interpret.

In the interest of saving space and time, I will do the next twelve cards in groups of three.

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9, 13, 17. The Eastern Horizon.

9, 13, 17. The Hermit, The Tower, and The Wheel.

To the East, in the Realm of the Mind, I perceive the Winds of Change approaching, far off in the distance. The Hermit suggests that, at the moment, things are still and quiet. However, the Tower (an unsettling image to see, especially in the context of this spread) and the Wheel suggest that this tranquility will be short-lived, because storm clouds are on the horizon. The storm will shake things up quite a bit, and it will probably be distressing. But storms always pass. The Wheel suggests that things will definitely be different after the storm, although whether this change will be good or bad is difficult to say at this juncture. I will be keeping a close watch of the East. If any serious trouble arises in this area, I know I can rely on the King of Swords for help.

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10, 14, 18. The Southern Horizon.

10, 14, 18. The Hierophant, The High Priestess, and Death.

To the South, in the Realm of the Spirit, I perceive, well, something. I’m not sure what. The combination of the Hierophant and High Priestess suggests development of spirituality, especially when coming from the South. This is actually very fitting, as will soon be revealed in a post I am currently working on. Death brings up the rear of this movement, which suggests that this spiritual development will be transformative. This is a welcome sign, as I have been experiencing something of a crisis of faith recently. I will be calling on the King of Wands to join me on this particular journey, and I suspect that he will not be unaffected by these forces.

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11, 15, 19. The Western Horizon.

11, 15, 19. Strength, the Empress, and Judgement.

To the West, in the Realm of Emotions, I perceive rising tides. Things are looking up. Without delving too deeply into my personal life, I should say that my emotions have been running awry of late. I find comfort in both Strength and the Empress. They give me hope, and further off in the distance, Judgement sounds the Trumpet of Reconciliation. I hesitate to rejoice in this vision, for fear of disappointment. But the King of Cups will be there for me should I need a shoulder to lean on.

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12, 16, 20. The Northern Horizon.

12, 16, 20. Temperance, the Star, the Fool.

To the North, in the Realm of the Body, I feel the guiding hands of the gods. That the Star should turn up here is very interesting to me, because the North Star has been a navigational tool for ages. Temperance also suggests guidance. The fact that both of these cards depict two vessels from which water flows is also interesting, although I’m not too sure what to make of it at present. The Fool is the furthest in the distance, but I can still make him out. I take it as a reminder to not take things so seriously all the time. He appears to be approaching, and I’ll be sure to welcome him into my fortress when he gets here. The Emperor has always given me sound advice in the past, and I expect he will continue to do so should I ever need it again. As the Realm of Body, the Northern quadrant is the physical culmination of the energies of the others. Things have not been easy for me recently, but this climb up the tower, above the world of my troubles, has helped to clear my head, and to assure me that better things are on the horizon. Even in the East, where things seem most troubling, I am not without hope.

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21. The Alarm. Thus completes the Sentinel’s Spread.

21. Justice. The conclusion to this spread suggests that things are appropriately balanced, and I have no cause for alarm at the moment. It reminds me, however, to remain vigilant, because things can change in a moment.

~~~

Overall, I am pleased with this spread. Not everything is clear to me at the moment (despite my significator’s position atop the World card), but that is to be expected. I believe that with practice, this spread will become easier and easier for me to read. I also purposefully left out personal details from this sample reading. My intention here was only to show how this layout might be used. It has given me many insights tonight, and I will be returning to my post on the watchtower periodically. As the Sentinel, I can never be away from it for too long.

If anyone tries to use this spread for themselves, please share your thoughts on it here.

The Sentinel’s Spread.

I am the Sentinel on the Council. It is my job to keep my eyes on the metaphysical horizons and to be aware of forces at work or play in the distance, to report to the Council so that we may learn from and adapt to the magical goings-on around us.

The following is a spread I devised myself for just that purpose.

This is a large and somewhat complex spread that uses up to 21 cards, including a significator. It will take some time to interpret. It’s purpose is to evaluate your current position in life, including potential strengths and weaknesses, as well as what may be off in the distance. It’s a spread for meditation on what’s current and preparation for what is to come. This spread is not meant to answer any specific question; it’s more of a general stock-taking type of thing. It is my spread, used for purposes of observing and interpreting external magical energy, and to be considered in consultation with the Council. However, I share it in hopes that it may be of use to anyone who wishes to gain a better vantage point in his or her life. Here it is:

Cards 1-3: The Watchtower. These cards are placed one on top of the other.

1: This card represents the foundation of the tower. It should be strong; if it is weak, immediate action should be taken to fortify it. In a magical sense, this card represents your innate understanding of the world and your place in it.

2: This card represents the body of the tower. How have you built upon your foundation of knowledge?

3: This card represents the platform upon which you stand. What is your current perspective? How clearly does this perspective allow you to see off into the distance? is there anything blocking your view?

Card 4: The Sentinel, placed on top of the Tower stack. This is where you place your significator. You can choose one prior to laying out the other cards, or you can choose one at random. If you choose the latter, what does this say about your current state of mind? Is the Sentinel alert? Does he/she maybe need glasses?

Cards 5-8: The Defenses, placed left to right in front of the tower. These cards can represent a couple things. They can be seen as the four walls of your fortress; they can be elements at your disposal, to use against whatever dangers may be approaching. You can place significators here to represent certain people who are close to you or part of your support system. If you choose to do this, perhaps it would be a good idea to place an additional card on top of each significator as a reading on how that person is doing in relation to the rest of the spread. Whatever these cards represent to you, they are in the vicinity of your tower, not far off in the distance like the next cards (watch out for dangers here which may have escaped your watch in the past).

I recommend briefly studying the first eight cards (your completed fortress) before laying out the next cards in order to have an idea of where you stand. This will help you to interpret what’s coming up.

Cards 9-12: the Cardinal Directions. Placed from left to right around the cards already laid, these cards represent the horizon.

9: East. Associated with the element of Air and the suit of Swords.

10: South. Element of Fire and suit of Wands.

11: West. Element of Water and suit of Cups.

12: North. Element of Earth and suit of Coins.

These are the cards that show what’s in the distance (metaphorically speaking); they may or may not correspond to cards 5-8. You’re the Sentinel; it’s your job to perceive if these are friendly, neutral, or hostile forces. Are they approaching? Retreating? Or are they just passing by? What do they indicate is on your horizon? Once you’ve placed cards 9-12, you can either consider yourself finished and move on to the final card, or you can add more cards to the horizon to help clarify the situation. I wouldn’t recommend more than a total of three cards in each direction, or a total of 12 cards on the horizon.

Should you decide to place more cards, they should be added one at a time to each spot, in the order that the directions were placed. In other words, cards 9, 13, and 17 go in the East; 10, 14, and 18 in the South; 11, 15, and 19 in the West; and 12, 16, and 20 in the North. You can then read each group as a progression of events, or as a whole. Whatever makes the most sense at the time of reading is what is recommended.

The Final Card: The Alarm. This card is placed directly behind the significator as a general conclusion to the whole spread. Given the state of your fortress and what you can see on the horizon, what is the best course of action to take? Is it all quiet on the front? Or should you sound the alarm? Should you muster the troops? Should you just keep silence until something more definitive can be reported? Should you call in the contractors for repairs? Or should you abandon your post altogether and scramble to find a safer vantage point? The message this card holds should be carefully considered both by itself and in conjunction with the entire spread.

Some other points to be considered: Is your tower a solitary fortress, or is it part of a vast system of defenses around a central point? Is it on the fringes of an empire, or part of the Citadel that houses the government? do you answer to a higher power? What is the surrounding landscape? Forests? Mountains? Plains? Or are you on an island, surrounded by waters? Are you an appointed Sentinel (like me), or are you just a common soldier summoned to keep watch for a shift? Is your tower guarding something specific, or is it just there for general security? Is it wartime, or peacetime? I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, but these can all represent variables to keep in mind if you decide to use this spread to its fullest potential. What they really mean is up to you. Keep an open mind when using this spread. The basic idea is just that you’re standing on a platform elevated above your everyday life, and you’re keeping watch. Maybe you know what you’re looking for, like a signal from a Scout, or the return of a messenger or questing Knight Errant. Maybe you don’t know what you’re looking for, but you want to keep an eye out anyway for whatever the winds of fortune might be blowing your way.

One possibility is to use exclusively the Major Arcana, which would use all but one of the cards. This can show you where each of these archetypal energies are present in your life, how they are working for or against you, and what aspect you are currently missing.

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~~~

So there you have it: the Sentinel’s Spread. As I said, this is a personal spread that I use for specific magical purposes. But any are encouraged to give it a try and let me know how it works out. I’ll post a sample reading with pictures using this spread next time. In the meantime, happy watching.

Here are other examples of readings with the Sentinel’s Spread:

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