I'm a professional tarot reader, but when I don't have a tarot deck with me, I can use a deck of playing cards to provide a useful reading.
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, 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 an 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 of the tarot 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 Reading
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 alone 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.
Deck used for illustration in this article: Ghost by Bicycle
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: Are the symbols and meaning of the cards the same with every tarot card expert?
Answer: 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.
Question: Are these all the possible tarot spreads or are there more?
Answer: The number of spreads are infinite... well almost. You can devise your own spread for any question, any number of cards, with any position label. Keep records of your spreads, take photos, journal your interpretations and you'll soon build up a personal core library of favorite spreads.
Question: I did a four-card reading, but I don’t exactly know what they say. I have the three Diamonds for my first question; then for my 2nd, I got the King of Clubs. My 3rd was the King of Hearts, and my 4th was the Ace of Hearts. What do these mean?
Answer: I have to explain why I cannot interpret your cards for you. Accurate readings depend on the reader knowing the question asked and a little bit about the situation of the querent. You are asking for a cold reading and that is almost impossible.
A four-card reading will be based on one single question. It sounds as though you have done four one-card readings. To get an idea what each card means try these articles:
Question: I want know if a guy is the one for me, I want a good answer but now I am confused because I got King of Hearts, Three of Spades, Six of Diamonds and Four of Clubs. So what does that mean, he is the one or not?
Answer: Okay, it looks like you have turned a bunch of cards without thinking through what you want to know. You said, "I want to know if he is the one for me?" and then you said, "Is he the one or not?" So what you are actually looking for is a simple yes or no answer. Therefore, only draw one card. Drawing four cards is confusing and contradictory.
Question: When talking about "Near" and "Distant Future" What does that mean? I’m sure there is no set time frame, but is there a vague idea of what these mean?
Answer: "Near Future" is almost here; tomorrow, next week, next few weeks. You can accurately predict it because you are already planning it.
"Distant Future"; beyond that which you can plan. So six months, next year, next five years. Much harder to envision.
Remember that a tarot reading is a kind of snapshot of the energies around you today. Your actions and decisions now will change future outcomes.
Question: How is the Celtic cross spread done with playing cards?
Answer: You can do a Celtic Cross reading, in the same way, it's done with tarot cards. I can't explain it here as it would be way too long. I have an article about it: https://exemplore.com/fortune-divination/Tarot-The...
However, to do it successfully with playing cards would require the reader to be very experienced and adept at reading patterns in the cards.
Question: What is the Fool in playing card tarot?
Answer: You can use one of the Jokers to represent the Fool. However, as there are no other Major Arcana, it's optional.
More information here: https://exemplore.com/fortune-divination/How-to-Re...
Question: Do you keep the Joker in the deck for tarot spreads and what does it stand for?
Answer: 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...
© 2017 Bev G
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 14, 2020:
Jeanne, there are so many tarot spreads out there, it could have come from anywhere.
It sounds like you remember it perfectly well anyway, so if it works for you, then use it :)
Jeanne on June 12, 2020:
About 50 years ago when I was in my 20's, I am now 75 yrs old, I picked up a little book for 99cents and it had a lay out that I am looking for. I was practicing on my mother and while I was reading I told her that her brother was going to die in three weeks. He did and he was only 46. It scared me so much that I am afraid to read for anyone. I threw the book away and now I am looking for the lay out. The client says what time line they want their wish to happen. Days, weeks, months. The cards are layed out in a single layer and then another on top of each to clarify it. Have you heard of this or know where I can find something like this.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 27, 2020:
tealArrow, there's no set number of times. As long as they are shuffled thoroughly. I tend to keep doing it until I feel a kind of 'right that's done' moment.
tealArrow on May 24, 2020:
im learning how to become a better reader and im getting there. my one problem is that i dont know how many times im supposed to shuffle
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on April 19, 2020:
Hello highschooler, I shuffle, cut (with my left hand), put the bottom half on the top and deal them from there. It doesn't matter how you choose the cards - whatever works for you. I also pay attention to the card at the base of the deck. When reading for others, it's like extra insight into the reason for the question.
highschooler :) on April 19, 2020:
Hi Bev :) i want to know, when you pick your cards, do you take the ones from the top, or do you choose them throughout the deck?
Your posts are very helpful
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on April 02, 2019:
Hi Miguel, yes, it makes sense and it's fine for people to use what works for them. There aren't any hard and fast rules (though some might have you believe otherwise).
For me, Pentacles/Diamonds (earth, north) will always be connected to winter. December is my birth month and Pentacles also correspond to December.
Miguel on April 01, 2019:
Hey Bev, thanks for these playing card articles, they're great. I especially love the flexibility in the whole idea of assigning multiple meanings for each spread, no matter how many cards used. I've never thought of it like that!
Also, just a possibility for alternate "timing" associations:
- I'd definitely leave hearts and clubs alone because they correspond to water and fire respectively, spring and summer
- But perhaps switch Diamonds to autumn/fall because this is when we harvest what's been grown spring and summer (and also get ready for the last fiscal quarter of the year) and Spades to winter because in winter we'd normally not DO as much and rather reflect on the previous year to see what we can do better.
Just an idea? :) Thanks again!
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 07, 2018:
Firstly, if you are comfortable using a playing card deck for readings, then go ahead.
Secondly, I must disabuse you of the notion that a tarot deck has to be gifted to you or find you in some way. That is plain nonsense and a silly myth promulgated by those who should know better. If you want a tarot deck, go buy one. They are only cardstock with printed images, made in some factory in China. In themselves, the cards are not magical. The magic comes in your connection to the images and the ideas/thoughts/memories that appear in your consciousness.
PlayingCardReader on September 07, 2018:
Hi there Bev, I have to first say that I absolutely love and connect with your articles. I very recently had my psychic awakening and a playing card deck is the first deck to come to me and it has been doing VERY well for me. I have been studying and practicing very diligently, however, I have not come across any readers who solely use a playing card deck professionally. do you believe that this is possible? I am not against using another more 'traditional' deck, I just believe that it has to come to me and I cannot personally go and obtain one. Thank you in advance for your insights.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 30, 2018:
Shan, I'm not going to interpret your cards for you because:
1. I don't have a connection with you.
2. I don't know the circumstances.
3. I don't know the question.
4. I don't know what positions or spread you used.
Why do people draw cards and then expect some random stranger on the internet to read them for free? Crazy.
Shan on August 29, 2018:
I got a 10 of diamonds queen spades 8 diamond, i got alot going on in my head so its hard for me to read
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 06, 2018:
If only it worked that way, I'd be a billionaire.
harry martin on May 06, 2018:
In one card spread for instance I want to know which team will win between Barcelona and Real Madrid, how do I do it?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on February 22, 2018:
That sounds about right, although the 8 of Diamonds tends to be more about work and study. Paying attention to detail, that sort of thing.
You have to understand that when you do a reading, it's a reflection of the energies around you in that moment. That means it's difficult for someone else to look at the same three cards and interpret them accurately.
fann on February 21, 2018:
both of us has got feelings and emotions for each other but the outcome is highly due to money issue that we cant be together.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on February 21, 2018:
What do you think the cards mean, fann?
fann on February 21, 2018:
I had a 3 cards spread.
My perspective of the relationship.
His persepctive of the relationship.
I had in order 3 of Hearts, King of Hearts and 8 of Diamonds.
Please help me interpret. Thank you.
tigerlily on February 11, 2018:
Just started and this is a very enlightening guide for me. Thank You for the help.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on January 13, 2018:
You need to go look it up, Coukey. There's no point in pulling card for tarot unless you want to learn what they mean.
Couckey on January 13, 2018:
Mine is two of diamonds....can someone explain?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on November 12, 2017:
Hi K88, haver a look at this page: https://exemplore.com/fortune-divination/Reading-P...
All the (brief) meanings pertaining to relationships are laid out there.
I'd say that the Nine of Clubs (Wands) shows that he feels a bit worn down and possibly thinking about his options. The Ten of Clubs (Wands) shows that you are determined to keep going till the end.
The key to keeping your partnership on track is communication. x
K88 on November 12, 2017:
Hi Bev, I did a 2 spread reading about his and my perspective of our relationship. I got 9 of club for his and 10 of club of mine and I wonder what it means.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 03, 2017:
Watch you don't get addicted, Coffeequeen - there are so many layers; reading is just a little part of it. Thanks for stopping by.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 03, 2017:
That was really interesting to read. I didn't know you could do readings from a normal deck of cards. I'll have to learn to read tarots, I've always found it very interesting.
lori811 on June 22, 2017:
I know so!!:))
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 21, 2017:
Thanks, Lori :) I believe in destiny too, I also believe we can change our personal destiny at any time. At least I *think* so :D
lori811 on June 21, 2017:
Wow! I love Tarot Cards and a true believer of destiny. Great article and photos. Kudos to you!