It's interesting how intuition works, because the first handful of times I tried this spread I started to develop some confusion about the placement of cards 5 and 6 (past influences, near future). I found a lot of variations both in books and online, and my head was swimming already. But as I was doing spreads I started to see a pattern where the 5 card (which I'd been placing to the left of cards 1/2, representing past influences) seemed to be speaking more about future possibilities, while the 6 card (which I'd been placing to the right of cards 1/2, meaning the near future) seemed to be more connected to the past. At times it seemed they could almost be interchangeable. It was really frustrating and I felt a lot of anxiety about continuing to play with it - well, it didn't feel like play, I was taking it super seriously and felt a sense of failure at having such a hard time figuring it all out.
I tried a lot of different organizations of cards in the spread, but none really seemed striking - no "this is it!" moments. Then on Aeclectic Tarot, in one of the forums about people's struggles with this spread, someone mentioned that after a lot of trials, he came across Arthur Waite's version, which clicked with him. So I looked that version up straight away, and was pleased with what I read. Waite's version featured the placements that I was already beginning to settle on, but with one very interesting and exciting difference: he allowed for flexibility between the meanings of cards 5 and 6 depending on the direction in which the person on the Significator card was facing. Up until that point I wasn't using a Significator. So I tried a spread, this time choosing the Page of Cups as Significator, which was facing to the left. So the future card went there, while the past influences card went to the right. If you were to choose a court card (or Major Arcana) where the person was facing to the right, then you would place the future card there, essentially reversing the placements. This was indeed a "eureka" moment. So I wasn't crazy after all!!!!!! Waite's version also recommended shuffling the deck and cutting it three times and re-stacking (which is when I started actually cutting the deck, which I didn't do prior), then selecting all cards from the top of the deck. This was a totally new method, as previously I was just shuffling and fanning. Following that, I found the spread to be very accurate and provide a lot of insight. I found it easier to read because I didn't have that sense of anxiety over the accuracy of card placements.
I'm still not entirely comfortable with the Celtic Cross in terms of cards 5 and 6, but Waite's version helped ground me a bit. I am feeling that as a whole I like the "left" position for card 6, and the "right" position for card 5, even though using those positions firmly seems backward (shouldn't it be past-present-future, not future-present-past???) Then today I found a website, Psychic Library, that (shockingly) reflects this same way of understanding or working with the Celtic Cross:
It considers the first card to be the Significator, instead of Waite's version where the Significator is essentially an "extra" card. (And as a side note, I do think that it makes more sense to either choose a Significator and then replace it, so you are working with all 78, or to use a Significator from a separate deck). But the past influences are to the right, and the future is to the left! Ahhh......
So, in short, I am slowly starting to feel more settled in my mind with the Celtic Cross. I have needed to find my own way with it, and based on my own intuitions about placements, combined with some external affirmations, I'm starting to feel more comfortable with my ability to use and interpret this spread. Of course I will still need to practice.....!!! (And I spent a lot of time pining for my youth, when I didn't overthink shuffling or spreads, and simply shuffled, fanned, and selected without a care in the world!) But having a fairly certain framework in mind will help alleviate my anxiety and allow my intuition to lead the way. (At least that's the hope!!)
A final note about shuffling and card placements/meaning:
After reading Waite's recommendation on shuffling/cutting, and also reading a recommendation by Joan Bunning (who I respect greatly) on her site that emphasized the importance of cutting the deck, I started to cut the deck on a regular basis - unless I am going back to basics with shuffling/fanning/selecting. How many times I shuffle seems to vary (usually it's 2-3 times), but my cutting style is Waite's recommendation of three times, and in terms of direction I do: three to the left (cutting) and three to the left (stacking), which so far has worked well for me.
But really, I'm not sure it really matters precisely how you shuffle, and whether or not you cut, and how you choose your cards....
I found some really great advice by Stefan Stenudd on Tarot Meaning about both the Celtic Cross (he also uses Waite's version), as well as shuffling, which I encourage anyone to read who is struggling with this, or any, spread! It's just the truth: your intent, and clarity of intent, is really all that matters. Once you've decided which card goes where, what it means to you as a reader, and what the question is, all else is unimportant. This is why readers can make up their own spreads - they decide what card placements mean, and off they go. *Sigh* Just what I needed to hear.....and just what I need to always remember.