Playing Card Tarot Spreads
Reading tarot with plain old playing cards is relatively straightforward. If you have any prior knowledge of tarot, then you’ll easily be able to adapt to reading playing cards. If you are a beginner and don’t have access to a tarot deck, you’ll need my guide, “How to Read Tarot With Playing Cards”.
Once you have the basics of how to combine the numbers of each card with their suit, you’ll want to know how to lay out the cards in a spread. A spread is simply a layout or pattern. Each card is assigned a position and the position itself has meaning. This helps to give another dimension to the reading. So, in effect, you have suit combined with number combined with position. It seems complex but it isn’t really, not at this level anyway. Later, if you want to explore further, I suggest you get yourself a real tarot deck and learn as much as you can.
Brief Overview of the Tarot Meaning of Playing Cards
I don’t really want to cover ground that I’ve already addressed in my previous article, but just in case you need a reminder, here is a quick overview of the cards and their attributes.
The suits are Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades.
- Hearts (Cups) = emotions, love - all the feeling aspects of life.
- Diamonds (Pentacles) = material concerns - wealth, health, career.
- Spades (Swords) = intellect and communication - all that which goes on in our heads.
- Clubs (Wands/Staves) = action and creativity - ideas, inspiration and passion that cause us to act.
The numbers go like this:
- Ace - new beginnings; the pure energy of their suit.
- Two - partnerships, attraction, balance.
- Three - co-operation, connection, growth.
- Four - security, stability, foundations, inaction.
- Five - imbalance, challenges, change, adjustment.
- Six - sweet victory, harmony, attainment and peace.
- Seven - spiritual discernment, magic, wisdom, turning point, options.
- Eight - movement (or lack of it), organization, prioritizing.
- Nine - Growth, understanding, integration, realization.
- Ten - Culmination, completion, transition, endings, beginnings.
So the Ace of Hearts could mean a potential new relationship. The Seven of Spades could indicate a change of mind.
The Court cards (picture cards/Royal families) have individual personalities connected to the energy of their suit.
Knaves/Jacks represent children, teenagers, young men and women.
- Knave of Hearts - romantic, emotional, sweet-natured.
- Knave of Diamonds - curious, grounded, sensible.
- Knave of Spades - witty, clever, focused.
- Knave of Clubs - active, adventurous, risk-taker.
Queens represent the feminine, passive, receptive aspects of humanity, though can apply to either sex or none. Their focus is inward,
- Queen of Hearts - kind, empathic, nurturing.
- Queen of Diamonds - practical, down-to-earth, good in a crisis.
- Queen of Spades - truth-seeker, honest, straight-speaking.
- Queen of Clubs - ambitious, flirty, passionate.
Kings represent the male, active aspect of humanity, though can apply to either sex or none. They are focused outward.
- King of Hearts - approachable, wise, calm.
- King of Diamonds - wealthy, hard working, lover of luxury.
- King of Spades - professional, ideological, intellectual.
- King of Clubs - leader, inspirational, temperamental, sees the big picture.
These meanings are by no means exhaustive. Try to expand on what these ideas mean for you. Connecting them to your life is the best way to learn how to interpret the cards.
How to Do a Playing Card Reading
Before you begin your reading, shuffle and play with the deck a little. This is so you can connect with it and it can absorb your energy. Set the cards aside and think carefully about the question you’d like to ask. Word it so that you will receive the maximum information. For instance, there’s no point asking, “Will I be asked to interview for that job?” and then drawing five cards. That would be overkill. Only one card is necessary to answer that question.
For in depth answers you need an all-encompassing question: “What do I need to know about…?” “What is preventing me from…? “What happens if I make this choice or that choice?” Think about it and write it down, or better still, write down a few alternatives and then decide which is best.
With your question clarified, decide which spread you want to use. I recommend staying away from anything too complicated if you are a beginner. The skill in interpreting a reading is in understanding the cards in combination and how one affects another. This will come with practice and patience.
Now pick up your cards and bring yourself into a state of receptivity. Feel energy flowing through your hands and into your cards as you shuffle. Quiet your mind, focusing only on the question.
When your cards are shuffled to your satisfaction place them face-down before you. Using your left (receptive) hand, cut them into two. Place the bottom stack on the top and then with your right hand turn over the appropriate number of cards.
Look at the cards, write them down with their position next to them. Note the suit and the number. Let your thoughts soften and listen for any intuitive ideas that pop into your mind. Pay attention to any physical feeling, such as a lurch in your stomach or tingling on the back of your neck.
Write down your first impressions of each card and what it might mean to you. Then go and look up what each means and put them together in your mind or on paper. See if you are able to reach any conclusions and answer to your question.
If you get stuck, ask in the comments section below.
I will include some brief example readings with the spreads.
Quick and Easy Playing Card Tarot Spreads
The simplest spread for when you want a quick yes/no answer is to draw one card. To work out the answer, you firstly need to decide on a system, so odd numbered cards might be no, while even are yes. Or maybe you could assign red cards to yes, and black to no. Or the other way around. There are no rules with this one. But you have to decide and then stick with it. Then, once you have your answer, you can add to it with an interpretation of the card.
Example one-card reading:
Q: Should I contact my friend to arrange a get-together?
I’m going with red/yes black/no.
Five of Clubs. Black, so no.
I’d like some more information so I check out the number - Five - imbalance, challenges, change, adjustment. The suit is Clubs , so action and creativity. I would interpret that (knowing the friend well) that she is overwhelmed by work at the moment. She works in the health field, with infants, so I’m guessing she is just too busy to contemplate a meeting at this time. I’ll try again next week.
Two-card spreads are as flexible as your imagination. Here are some ideas for positional meaning. Oh, and you can change the physical position too. Side-by-side, vertically, T-shaped, crossed or stepped. Here are some examples of two-card spreads.
- His perspective/her perspective
- This way/or that way?
- What I know/don’t know
- What’s positive about this/what’s negative?
- Where I am/what’s blocking me?
- If I make this choice/or that one?
- What should I hold on to/let go of?
So use two cards in any situation where there’s a choice, or differing viewpoints.
Example two-card reading:
Question: What should I focus on? What should I release?
Ace of Clubs and Six of Diamonds
The Ace of Clubs tells me that there could be a new opportunity in the offing and that I should be ready to act upon it when it comes. It signifies some sort of new beginning.
The Six of Diamonds (slightly confusing because my deck is all black with small pops of color) tells me that I may be too focused on material gains and perhaps I need to let that concern go for the time being.
Once you have got used to one and two card playing card spreads, you can move onto three cards. Now you have the chance to build a story into the reading, to see nuance and depth. Again, use your judgment about how to place the cards; it’s not terribly important where they go, as long as you remember their assigned meaning. It’s fine to take notes, by the way, it helps your understanding, and you can explore the reading further by journaling about it.
Three cards are helpful in that they can indicate imbalance or provide an alternative viewpoint.
- Direction I’m headed toward
- Obstacles in my path
- My perspective on this relationship
- Their viewpoint
- The outcome of the relationship
What Am I Learning Spread
- Lessons in the past
- Challenges to come
- Lessons to be learned
What's Working Spread
- What’s working?
- What’s not working
Should I Spread
- What I should do
- What I should not do
- What I should consider
- What am I resisting?
- How to let it go?
- How to move on?
Strengths and Weaknesses Spread
- What to focus on?
Example Three-Card Reading
Question: I’d like to learn where I can take my writing career.
- Direction I’m headed toward - Three of Clubs
- Obstacles in my path - Four of Diamonds
- Advice - Nine of Diamonds
Direction: The Three of Clubs is quite a satisfactory card to get here (I’m connecting it back to the Three of Wands in the traditional deck). Threes indicate growth, reaching out and making connections. I’ve been doing that more lately, getting in contact with other writers and bloggers. I will keep doing that.
Obstacles: The Four of Diamonds (Four of Pentacles) could be telling me I am holding onto my resources - time and money too much. I should maybe relax about it all. Also, I could be restricted by my own comfort zone - I know that is one of my problems.
Advice: Nine of Diamonds (Nine of Pentacles) - a good card indicating continued growth and understanding coupled with a stable financial base. As an advice card, I’m leaning into, ‘don’t worry, all is taken care of’.
- Near future
- Distant future
- My positive contribution to the relationship
- My negative influence on the relationship
- My partner's positive contribution
- My partner's negative influence
Career Choice Spread
- Should I take this new job?
- How will I benefit?
- What do I need to watch out for?
- Will I progress (yes/no)
- What I have
- What I desire
- What I need
- What I get
Example Four-card Spread
I’m going to do an imaginary reading here for Sophie and her partner, Tom. They’ve been going through a bumpy patch and Sophie wants to know how to navigate to calmer waters.
Question: What does Sophie need to understand about her relationship with Tom?
Using the relationship spread:
- Sophie’s positive contribution to the relationship - Five of Diamonds
- Sophie’s negative influence on the relationship - Seven of Clubs
- Tom’s positive contribution - Ace of Spades
- Tom’s negative influence - Jack/Knave of Spades
The Five of Diamonds suggests that Sophie is able to overcome challenges that might have previously, or currently, beset the couple. She is able to adapt and be resourceful… and she’s not afraid to ask for help.
Sophie’s negative contribution is the Seven of Clubs. This card shows that she has a determined nature and is viewing this as a turning point in their relationship. I get the feeling she would like the cards to confirm her willingness to part.
Tom’s positive contribution, represented by the Ace of Spades, is clarity of thought and vision. He is able to see the long game and is wise enough to know that their challenges and obstacles are temporary.
The Knave of Spades indicates that Tom may be clever and witty, but he might also have a sarcastic side to him. It’s possible that communication between the pair is strained.
I would use this reading as a basis to chat with Sophie about what she really wants and perhaps ask the cards further questions. I would probably move onto a five-card spread to see where that takes them.
Five-card spreads are even more useful to look at a complex situation. I tend to just use one, and that is a wheel of four with a single card overall. I don’t assign specific meanings but begin with the top card and read them clockwise to reveal a sequence of influences and events. The card in the middle is the pivot, or where all things come together.
Example Five-Card Reading
I’ll continue with Sophie and Tom’s situation. This will be much briefer than I would usually do because this article is getting way too long now.
Card one is the Four of Hearts. This to me, indicates that Tom and Sophie have a firm foundation on which to build their marriage. Unfortunately it looks like they are stuck in a rut.
Card two is the Ace of Spades, which appeared for Tom in the previous reading. This shows that if he can rein in his tendency to show off his clever sarkiness, he can use his gift of clear thinking to see the way ahead.
Card three is the Ten of Hearts. This is a lovely card that shows that the little family can come together and look forward to a mutually rewarding future.
Card four is the Nine of Diamonds, which tells me that the challenges they faced, especially if linked to money worries, will lift and their financial resources will increase.
The final card in the center is the Queen of Clubs. This card probably represents Sophie finding her old enthusiasm and bouncy mood. It’s a strong and happy card which bodes well for the future.
Playing Card Tarot Timing
I find I have trouble pinning down timings in traditional tarot, let along playing card tarot. One method is to assign seasons to the suits to give a rough idea when events will unfold.
- Hearts (Cups) - Spring
- Diamonds (Pentacles) - Winter
- Spades (Swords) - Autumn/Fall
- Clubs (Wands) - Summer
Some people switch Hearts and Spades, but I like to think of love blossoming in the spring and thoughts turning to intellectual matters (study) in the autumn. If there’s a reader out there with better suggestions, I’d like to hear them - please.
To Wind Up
This has just been a brief glimpse into what is possible when using playing cards for a tarot reading. I hope it starts you on a journey toward discovering the amazing, mystical, addictive world of tarot.
Questions & Answers
Are the symbols and meaning of the cards the same with every tarot card expert?
No, definitely not. The cards have certain standardized meanings but they are overlaid by the reader's own perspective. That's the point of tarot--it speaks to each individual, their intuition, experience and memories.Helpful 1
- Helpful 2
Do you keep the Joker in the deck for tarot spreads and what does it stand for?
It's up to you. It represents 'potential or ' risk-taking', depending on the context. There's a more comprehensive explanation here: https://exemplore.com/fortune-divination/How-to-Re...
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