Crafting Spreads with the Spread Machine by Kim Tsan - A Thorough Review (Podcast Ep. 30 Blog)


15 Nov
15Nov

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In this blog that goes along with Healing Thru Tarot Podcast Episode 30, I will be reviewing the Spread Machine Cards + Oracle and the 2 expansion packs all created by Kim Tsan from Fables Den. You may know her as the creator of The Way of the Panda Tarot

I reached out to Kim a few months ago to express my interest in reviewing her deck creations, and she donated the spread machine, the change expansion pack, and the quest expansion pack, so I am excited to share with you my experience with these decks. 

I’ve been working with her card system all fall, and I’ve found the spread machine deck and expansion packs are brilliant tools to help card readers create unique tarot and oracle spreads. Creating custom spreads has always been a large part of my own tarot practice - from crafting healing spreads for myself, customizing spreads for customers based on their question and creating healing and seasonal spreads to share on instagram or through my podcast episodes. Creating specialty spreads helps make it a more personal practice in my opinion. That's why I was drawn to the Spread Machine. This system helps readers develop spreads to explore and grow in the areas of personal development, self-growth, spiritual expansion, emotional healing, and shadow work.

5 Categories in Spread Machine Cards + Oracle

The original spread machine deck consists of 86 cards divided into 5 categories (shown above). We have the SEEKER category for personality traits similar to court cards, FOCUS areas highlighting important life areas, LIGHTWORK category for themes of healing, growth and empowerment, SHADOW WORK for themes of ego and disempowerment. And the final category is CALL TO ACTION that provides us with powerful action words to help us set goals, intentions, and inspire action to move us forward on our journey.  

Kim further divides the Call to Action cards into 4 subcategories (shown below) consisting of boundaries, expansion, success, and processing. The call to action cards are presented as verbs to inspire action and movement forward. And I love that she shows the category on the bottom of each card and color codes them to make it easy to clearly identify them as you work with the cards. 

4 Subcategories of the Call To Action Cards in The Spread Machine

Each card gives a keyword and some include a mixture of phrases to choose from to create your prompt for that spread question. Some cards offer multiple questions on the front of the card that you could use for prompts. If you pull a card that offers us 3 questions, you can choose one that fits best or pull a card for each. What I really like about this option is that it allows you to use a different prompt every time you use this card, which opens up more options for you when you are creating. It’s up to you to tailor the reading to your specific needs at that moment in time. This creates a truly unique experience to you - a one of a kind reading.

For example, the Trigger card in the shadow work category offers up 3 questions to consider when creating your spread. 

Here we have the questions: 

What is making you feel uncomfortable?

What is causing the negative reactions within you or from you?

What needs to be resolved? 

Here, you choose which of these questions to include in your spread, or if you are just pulling one card for the day, pick which question you want to answer with your tarot deck for the day. Let’s say you choose the question: what needs to be resolved? Then shuffle your tarot deck and pull a card to answer this question. Maybe journal on that issue for the day and spend time reflecting on what this answer means to you at this moment in your life. There’s so many ways you can utilize these cards.

Let me walk you through some of the ways you can use these cards in your personal tarot practice. 

The main thing this deck was created for is obviously creating unique tarot and oracle spreads. This can be done a number of ways. You could start pulling together a spread by choosing consciously or shuffling and drawing a focus area card

The focus area cards provide 3 keywords on the front of the card and they are all related to a particular area of your life. For example, one card suggests finances/money/abundance. Another focus card gives us trauma/healing/deep dive. Another says wellness/health/self-care. These cards help to focus our intention on a specific area that needs investigation or self-reflection. I like to start here to give me an area to expand upon. If you know the area you would like to create a spread for, you can consciously pull that card and proceed to the next step or if you aren’t sure where to start, let the deck choose by shuffling and pulling a card.

Another area I usually go to next is the seeker category – I may pull a card like the challenge card from this category that suggests exploring a hurdle, a problem or opposition that causes me discomfort or fear. 

The lightwork category has cards that help us narrow things down even further. These cards may steer us in the direction of exploring our potential, ways to nurture ourselves, the truth of the situation, messages from the universe and ways to align to our path/purpose

The shadow work cards help to guide us to identify problematic behaviors, toxic patterns, limiting beliefs, projections onto others, repressed emotions, sources of our resistance, and the origins of our emotional wounds. If I pull the repression card from the shadow work category here I have 3 questions I can choose from: 

What is being pushed down? 

What are you refusing to feel, to experience and to process right now? 

What are you resisting to acknowledge? 

I may feel drawn to one or more of these prompts that I can use in my spread depending on my focus area. 

The call to action cards are great anchor prompts. It helps to conclude the spread with an idea of the next step to take. For example, I may pull a card suggesting to commit, integrate, conquer, release, or forgive. These cards simply provide a definition of the word given. If I pull the release card, I see that the suggestion is to let go, set free, leave, move on, or move forward – all written in language that inspires action, which I love. 

The idea of this system is to use each of these cards to combine in a grouping to create a unique spread. This can be accomplished in a few different ways. You can flip through the cards and consciously choose the card you are drawn to. Or you can let the deck choose by shuffling and randomly pulling cards, if you aren’t sure which questions to ask. 

I love this because it gives my brain break and opens up the opportunity for the universe to give me messages I need to hear at that time. I may not be aware of the messages that most need to come in at that moment, so this approach opens me up to a broader range of topics or messages than would have been available if I only worked with consciously pulling topic cards. 

Each card from the deck that you either choose or pull can serve as a spread prompt or position in your spread. There are NO RULES with this system, so the sky is the limit, and the card combinations are endless. The best way to work with this system is to have an open mind and experiment with all kinds of methods. See which method works best for you. Experimentation is my favorite part of working with the tarot.

Kim includes a Quick Start Guide with each deck or expansion pack, which is so helpful to aid you in starting this process quickly without even having to read the manual. This quick start guide is helpful to keep handy to refresh your memory. She breaks it all down so easily! The Quick Start Guide shown above is from the Quest Expansion pack.

Kim has created an immersive experience with this system where you can be part of the creation process. I find this way of creating empowering because this puts you in the driver’s seat. It reminds me of the choose your own adventure books from the 80’s where you enter the story and make choices that steer the journey based on the options you choose. It feels much more personal. She has created an incredibly flexible tool that opens up more options for us as readers. You lead the process the entire way. 

You can combine these decks or use them as stand alone decks. And you can combine all the categories together and use as a full deck or keep the categories separate and pull from each category for each prompt. So many options. This experience is so innovative and creative and fun. I love the fact that anyone can create unique spreads this way. 

I want to walk you through some examples of spreads I’ve created using this system. First, I will walk you through a spread I created by consciously choosing cards from all categories with the original spread machine deck. 

For this spread, I determined that I wanted to create a spread focused on accomplishing goals so I picked out the focus area card with the words Goals/Productivity/Habit, then I looked through all the seeker category cards and landed on the intention card which states “What you aim to achieve, what you seek to manifest in life and what you commit to carrying out in the future?” I chose the question that resonated with me the most. I did the same from the lightwork category which was the potential card.

I did the same with the card from the shadow work pile and choose the excuse card. I picked two cards from the call to action category the transcend card and the commit card because both stood out to me as I flipped through all the cards in that category. 

From these cards in this order I created the following spread that I titled How to achieve my goals spread with 5 prompts all inspired by theses spread machine cards. See this spread below.

Now let me show you how you can create different spreads using the exact same grouping of cards even in the same order but choosing different variations of prompts to explore different angles of a focus area. This really excited me because it shows just how versatile this deck is and how deeply you can dive into the prompts. 

For the 2 spreads I will share now, I pulled the focus card that gives us the keywords dreams/true calling/vision, and then I consciously pulled the following 6 cards to create my prompts – motivation from the seeker category, purpose from the lightwork pile, sabotage from shadow work, and explore, innovate and align all from the call to action pile. Those cards are shown below.

Using these same 6 cards show above, I created 2 spreads: one called True Calling Spread to identify what my true calling is, and the second spread is called How to Pursue My Dream Spread to explore how to bring that dream into fruition. So, I connected the 2 spreads so you can use both to identify your dream then strategize on how to bring that dream into reality.

As you read the questions from the second spread below, remember the cards are the same for each spread and I kept them in the same order, but this shows how flexible the system is because this process resulted in two varying spreads.

So, you can see how you can tweak the key phrases and prompts to make all kinds of variations of spreads. Plus, you can even reorder the same cards and vary the spread again. That’s why this card system is a game changer for a tarot practice.

Those spreads were created by consciously choosing the cards. Now let me share with you the spread I created using the change expansion pack by shuffling the deck and randomly pulling cards for spread creation. I kept the categories separate and pulled a card after shuffling each pile. You could combine all the categories into one pile and pull 3 cards from the larger deck if you choose. 

In the change expansion pack there are 3 categoriesshadow work, flux cards for overarching concepts governing our worldview and call to action cards

In this deck the shadow work cards offer a full heart symbol that poses a question to prompt you to own your personal triggers and shadows, while the clear heart symbol asks a question to help you heal and clear your heart space of the shadows you have experienced from others. You have the option to use whichever prompt calls to you most. 

When shuffling the cards, I didn’t have a topic in mind. I pulled a card from each category and read all the phrases and prompts on each card for inspiration. From the shadow work pile, the silence card was pulled, from the flux category the consciousness card was pulled and for the call to action the connect card came up. Those cards are shown above.

After reading all of these themes and prompt suggestions, I was inspired to create a 6 card spread called Using My Voice Spread as the silence card asked how and why we remain silent, the consciousness card provided a list of themes including the words collective, archetypes and narratives, and the connect card offered definitions including to bring others together, to create bonds, and foster communication. Each of those themes and prompts inspired this spread. Here is the 6 card Using My Voice Spread that resulted from randomly pulling these 3 cards.

This was a spread I wouldn’t have thought of creating without the prompting of this card grouping. This helps to illustrate the brainstorming effect that can result from experimenting with the spread machine deck and expansion packs. I love the idea of creating various new spreads across vast themes, concepts, focus areas, etc.

Ways you could use The Spread Machine:

  • Creative stimulation
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • A tool to get out of a rut or funk (writers’ block or creative block)
  • Identification of the source of stagnation
  • Inspiration for healing work or creative projects 
  • Ideas for plot development or character development for writers 
  • For setting intentions and goal setting
  • Journal prompts for self-reflection and personal growth
  • Use as clarifier cards in spreads
  • Use as an oracle for message for the day or area to reflect on
  • Use as label headers/markers for laying out a spread (see example below)

One of my favorite ways to use these cards would be label headers when laying out a spread. This is perfect for multilayered readings like when I’m looking at 3 areas of life (i.e., career, relationships, and health). 

After choosing the cards for each spread prompt, I lay the cards out in a table format (see photo below for example). So, the 3 rows going down would identify the areas of life so I have a card for work, health, and relationships. Then I lay out the prompts at the top as columns. So for each prompt I pull a card for career, then health, then love. And I do this for each spread question, and at the end I have a large spread looking across 3 areas of life. It is like a large life review spread or you can look at it as 3 spreads in 1. But the spread machine cards work perfectly as labels for the rows and columns to help mark the spread. In photos it is an easy way to remember which prompt you used when sharing with a client. I love the way these look in photos!

The spread machine cards could also be used by therapists for treatment planning, focus areas or areas to probe further in sessions, shadow work assignments, brainstorming ideas for creative solutions to get out of ruts in sessions, help narrowing down questions to answer in client work if the client is having trouble articulating the issue, and therapists could use these cards to generate conversations in sessions when feeling stuck in the current treatment plan. Many of these ideas could work outside of session, if the therapist isn't incorporating the tarot into actual client work. Therapists can use this as a tool to get more creative in their client work if their practice has been feeling stale recently. Use it to kick start your creative juices!

I would suggest starting with the original spread machine deck with 86 cards due to the range of cards. These are powerful and effective. The expansion decks do offer depth to your spreads, if you want to deepen the complexity of your custom spreads. The change expansion pack helps to zero in on the shadow work, and the quest expansion has a gaming theme perfect for gamers and focuses on power ups for what empowers us and power detractors for what disempowers us! You can use this quest pack to build your heroic profile. 

I had a lot of fun with this quest pack and used it to create a power up spread. I consciously choose 6 cards from the quest pack to create the spread, and these cards included the ultimate move card from the character category, talisman from the equipment category, mana potion from the power up pile, paralyzed from the status pile, battle from embark category and finally power buff from the power-up pile again (see cards chosen below). 

After reading all these card descriptions and prompt ideas, I came up with the following 6 card spread called Power Up Spread, which was a fun exercise. Pull these cards for yourself to join in on the fun!

Please tag me on Instagram @healingthrutarot if you throw any of these spreads for yourself. All of these spreads can be found on my Healing Thru Tarot pinterest page on the Healing Thru Tarot Custom Spreads board here 

So, in summary, let me just say that I love that this system takes you on an immersive journey and is fun and creative in the process. I also particularly love that Kim has included subcategories for both lightwork and shadow work. Both are necessary for healing, and the prompts she has provided on the shadow work cards are particularly helpful in digging below the surface to unlock the blocks that have been preventing our healing from progressing. 

I found the cards extremely user-friendly, and it was easy for me to jump right into the method of spread creation within minutes of unboxing the decks. She made this as easy to understand and use as possible. I highly recommend the spread machine and expansion decks. Build your spreads however you choose and take control of your healing process in a deeply personal and unique way. Kim is massively creative, and her creations offer us tools to deepen our healing journeys. 

And not only are these cards effective tools, but the quality of these cards is superb. The cardstock is 350 gsm, and the magnetic box they come in is sturdy and beautiful. The colors are vivid and colorful. She uses a range of pretty colors for the various categories. The color coding of the categories is immensely helpful when working with the cards. Kim truly created a phenomenal product in every way. It is one of the highest quality tarot products I’ve worked with. The cards are matte, and feel luxurious to work with. The colorful edging is gorgeous. 

I highly recommend this card system, if you want to level up and start creating your own tarot spreads, if you are in a tarot rut, or in a funk - it’s so fun and shakes things up! This card system is so unique and playful. This would be great for teens because the cards are so playful and hands on. 

Where to get Kim's products

You can find Kim’s products at her website FABLESDENSHOP.COM She also has a shop on etsy under FablesDen - She provides excellent products as well as fast shipping and superb customer service. I highly recommend all of her products. Thanks to Kim Tsan at Fables Den for sending copies of these decks for me to work with so I could review them for you.

FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received The Spread Machine + Oracle, The Quest Expansion Pack, and The Change Pack for free from Kim Tsan, creator of the decks, for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.  

Below, I included links to Kim's youtube videos of her walking you through the spread machine decks and how to use them in creative ways.

Kim Tsan's Video Introducing the Spread Machine Deck

Kim Tsan's Youtube Video Showing The Many Uses of the Spread Machine and Expansion Decks

Link to Podcast Episode 30 on Anchor click here

Other relevant Podcast Episodes: Ep. 7: Using Tarot for Creative Projects Like Writing - for other creative ways to use tarot - Click here to listen. 

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