How Tarot Readings Work: Science or Pseudoscience?

Updated on July 18, 2019
TessSchlesinger profile image

An interest in God, meta-physics, and religion dominated Tessa's life for half a century. A decade ago she walked away to become an atheist.

There's nothing magical about Tarot cards. They can, however, be an excellent psychological tool.
There's nothing magical about Tarot cards. They can, however, be an excellent psychological tool. | Source

Can a Tarot Card Reading Be Accurate?

Tarot cards CAN be accurate.

Believe it.

If you’ve ever been in a difficult situation and didn’t know which decision to make, then you’ve probably wondered if a free online tarot card reading can help you. The answer is no. This article explains when a tarot card reading can be helpful and why tarot card predictions of the future don’t work.

Tarot cards to not predict the future. They use human projection and archetypes to figure out what is going on inside.
Tarot cards to not predict the future. They use human projection and archetypes to figure out what is going on inside. | Source

Design and Influences of Tarot Cards

At the end of the 19th century, as science became fashionable, superstitions began to be examined in a new light. Psychology was in fashion. Reading tarot card spreads had evolved over about 600 years, and during that time, probably through a process of trial and error, they had become a fairly accurate rendition of the archetypes of the human unconscious mind.

While Carl Jung first wrote about archetypes in 1919 and the Rider Wait Tarot Card, portraying the archetypes, was commissioned by Edward Waite in 1909, another term had been in use for at least some two decades. The term was 'primal images.'

Edward Waite commissioned the artwork instructing Pamela Colman Smith as to what he wanted. What he wanted was a pack with primal images, aka archetypes.

arot cards all have illustrations that visually show us the situations in our own lives.
arot cards all have illustrations that visually show us the situations in our own lives. | Source

Tarot Reveals the Unconscious Mind

Psychiatrists and psychologists use the Rorschach ink blot test to determine what is going on deep inside one. That's because nobody has ever found a way of determining what's in our unconscious minds. It's hidden from us.

Just as the Rorschach ink blot test uses images to appeal to the emotions of those viewing them, so the illustrations of the Rider-Waite tarot cards uses a similar system to draw out what the person shuffling the cards is thinking deep, deep inside.

The fundamental difference is that the viewer can see the Rorschach ink blot cards while the viewer cannot see the tarot cards he chooses.

Learning the Tarot Cards Meanings and Interpretations

Rorschach Ink Blot Test

Briefly, this is a set of ten cards that comprise ink blots in different shapes. The patient is asked what they think those shapes are (I'm always tempted to say 'ink blots.'). While there is some controversy as to whether the responses of patients accurately determine what they are thinking, it is generally accepted that the patient will project their deepest fears, desires, etc. onto the shapes.

We project what we believe or think on to other things...
We project what we believe or think on to other things... | Source

How Do Tarot Cards Work When You Can't See Them?

It's understandable that we wil project our concerns onto what we see. We've known that about human beings for a long time.

But how do we project what we feel onto something we don't see?

The answer to this is dependent on what we believe (and what we believe may or may not be true).

Let's postulate that we are electrical, informational beings, and that, at some level, we do know more than our eyes can see. Let us further postulate that we are aware, at some level, of the contents of our unconscious minds. Then let's take it a step further. Let's assume that, just as astral travel takes place outside the body, so it's possible for the electrical field that is within us and surrounds us can be aware of what is outside of us - including some cards twelve inches or so away from us!

In that case, tarot cards could be a powerful tool to establish what is going on inside us at a very deep inner level.

Rorschach Inkblot Test

Tarot Card Spreads and Tarot Questions

Generally a tarot card reader will ask you, the tarot card querent (questioner), to lay out the cards in a certain pattern - facing down.

It is believed that your energy (life force, eletricity, knowledge) transfers to the cards and then influences the cards to bring up exactly the right card to indicate what is going on in your life.

It is believed that by dealing the cards upside down, the conscious mind cannot interfere with any undesireable contents of the unconscious mind.

The tarot card reader then turns the cards right side up and begins to interpret the different archetypes for the querent.

Generally the tarot card reader will ask for further information from the querent in order to add context to what the archetypes indicate. Some would regard this as cold reading. Cold reading is a technique used to interpret a person's "body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc"

This information can then be used to influence whatever the cards say. In that way, virtually any card or any spread will appear to be correct.

The mystic within us.
The mystic within us. | Source

Tarot: Celtic Cross Spread

The Celtic Cross Spread (illustration above) in the most popular spread. In it, the first are will represent you (the querent). The second card would be an indication of forces that work for you and against you. The third card deals with the root of the issue that you are facing, and it progresses down to the last card which tells you the outcome of your question.

From experience, mostly the kind of cards that come up bear no relationship to the question, and it takes a lot of imagination to figure it out. In short, I don’t believe the system works – except for a very few people who have some sort of extrasensory ability we don't yet understand.

For the most part, I think the answers have more to do with cold reading than anything else.

By Understanding What Is Not Real, You Can Interpret What You're Seeing More Clearly

Different Types of Tarot Card Spreads

There are many different types of spreads that readers use in order to determine the answer to various friends. A spread that is specifically for relationships might have a card allocated to whether the relationship will work or not while a spread that is meant for careers might cater to a question involving a pay increase.

Here are some examples of tarot card spreads.

  1. Three card spread
  2. True love spread
  3. Career path spread
  4. Spiritual guidance spread
  5. Success spread

The Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana

Tarot is divided into two distinct packs. The major arcana consists of twenty two cards and the minor arcana consists of fifty six cards. Each of the cards in the major arcana represents an archetype and each of the cards in the minor arcana represents the daily events of our lives. Sometimes only the cards of the major arcana are used for a spread.

A good book on tarot card meanings will present a variety of meanings dependent on the question asked.
A good book on tarot card meanings will present a variety of meanings dependent on the question asked. | Source

Doing Tarot Readings Yourself

If you're a believer that you can accurately select the cards you need to determine what is going on in your very confused unconscious mind without looking at them, there is no need to deal the cards face up.

Far from believing that dealing the cards face up will confuse the unconscious mind, I believe that they are more likely to be accurate if they are dealt face up and we can select those cards we gravitate towards.

I also think it's perfectly okay to design your own spread and to figure out the questions ahead of time.

So, for example, you will designate the first card to be the answer to the big question in your life, the second card to be about some of the detail, the third card to be what sort of action you should take, and the forth card to be the most likely outcome.

Designing Your Own Tarot Card Spread

So here's an example of designing your own spread. For this particular spread, you would have designed the questions up front, and you will always use this list of questions for this particular spread. Be very clear and specific in your questions.

You will spread the twelve cards - face up- in front of you. Then you will chose the four cards that you gravitate towards. Put them in the order of favorite to non-favorite.

Then use a tarot card book to interpret the answers to your questions. I have used several of these books in my life and good ones will give you a variety of interpretations dependent on the type of questions asked.

Basic Tarot Card Spreads

Muddled Feelings and Tarot

Sometimes we have feelings we can't quite pin down.

This is where tarot is useful. So if we spread them, those cards we gravitate towards are the ones that best explain how we are feeling.

This is projection working to make our reality more clear to us. Dreams do much the same thing.

It is, of course, not necessary to use Rider-Wait tarot cards. I prefer others because I love art, and some of the decks out there are beyond stunning.

There are things that we don't understand that do exist. Because there are, and we cannot differentiate when it's true or not because we can't measure it, tarot card readings are not always accepted.
There are things that we don't understand that do exist. Because there are, and we cannot differentiate when it's true or not because we can't measure it, tarot card readings are not always accepted.

Do Online Tarot Card Readings Work?

Absolutely not.

Tarot card reading is not magic.

It is a method of projecting one's unconscious knowledge and feelings into a card. While we can do that if the cards are in front of us and we can actually see the cards, that is not so in any online reading.

Would you like to learn more about your deeper self through tarot card readings?

See results

Keep a Record of Your Tarot Card Readings

Just as we forget our dreams, so it is easy to forget the truths a tarot card reading can reveal to us. We are so into what we want to know that a great many of us conveniently forget what we don't want to know.

I therefore believe it's important to keep a note of all tarot card readings, and to be detailed in what was said.

This is particularly so if we're doing readings on a weekly basis. We may chose the same cards repeatedly (and that's revealing within itself), and then we may start selecting different cards, and that means we are perceiving our situations differently.

Tarot cards work through subconscious projection.
Tarot cards work through subconscious projection. | Source

Can Tarot Cards Foretell the Future

I think cold readings and lucky guesses are responsible for a great many 'accurate' predictions about the future.

I don't think the future can be predicated.

I think, however, we can determine likely outcomes if we are very clear about existing situations and have a clear idea of how our actions can influence those situations.

Gilded Tarot Cards - My Very Best!

The Gilded Tarot (Book and Tarot Deck Set)
The Gilded Tarot (Book and Tarot Deck Set)
I cannot begin to express to you how much I love this beautiful set of cards. Somewhere inside me, it touches an unknown universe, and I can't even begin to explain that to you. I understand you may prefer another deck of cards. Just, in my experience, select one to which you connect to emotionally.

Selecting a Tarot Card Pack

I have, through the years, owned many different tarot card packs. Initially, I started with the Rider Waite design, but as time went on, I just fell madly in love with some other designs.

I also happen to believe that the more one has a love and familiarity with the cards, the more one will make meaningful selections when trying to obtain clarity about situations.

Although all the tarot cards deal with different archetypes, it may be best to start with the Rider Waite design, just so that when others are using them, you know what each illustration represents.

So good luck with your new tool to finding out everything you thought you didn't know but actually do. There's a lot in your unconscious mind, and you don't need someone else to tell you what it is!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Tessa Schlesinger


Submit a Comment
  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    10 months ago

    As I explained, it's a cold reading. You do not possess super powers, and I can give you a 100% guarantee you would be wrong in everything you said to me. I know that because I went through a lot of these people at one time. They all spoke nonsense. No exceptions.

  • Lionrhod profile image


    10 months ago from Orlando, FL

    Oh my dear the amount of misrepresentation you are spreading.

    Lets just start with this... you as the person having the reading do not interpret the cards.

    I've worked as a reader for over 3 decades now.

    Yes there are some folks that read the signs and signals that folks give off...and sometimes you can't be as blind to that as you might want.

    I do the entire reading with my face down to the cards, And then only look up and if needed offer advice to help their hearts. Nope this shit isn't fake in any way.

    And have sometimes tokd them stuff that came out of the blue, That was totally on point,Long story, but yeah its real.

  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    11 months ago

    Probably cold reading more than anything else. I can 'read' someone within five minutes of meeting them. Everything tells me something about them. Their syntax when they talk. They accent. The way they hold their body. The exact words they use. The way they reason. The expression in their eys. Their body movement. You name it - it tells me something. A few well placed questions, and I more or less can tell them that I'm psychic! I'm not. :)

  • Sharlee01 profile image


    11 months ago

    I enjoyed this article. Very interesting, I have had my cads read several times, and found my readings to be very on point.

  • profile image


    12 months ago

    wow, what a nice post and article.Thanks for your content.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)