How to Read Tarot with Playing Cards

If you’re doing tarot readings every day, then the chances are that you usually have a deck with you. However, that doesn’t always turn out to be the case for some practitioners. Especially with beginners who don’t want to invest in a deck from the get-go.

Whether you’re a professional or a beginner tarot reader, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to carry a deck with you at all times. Because playing cards can make a great alternative to your traditional deck of the Major and Minor Arcanas.

But how to read tarot with playing cards, you ask?

Well, you’re about to find out!

What is cartomancy?

The practice of fortune telling with the use of a simple deck of cards is called cartomancy. But what is cartomancy to be exact: well, cartomancy is a practice that was first used in the late 1400s. It originated in Europe and slowly started to take over the world as the years passed by.

Cartomancy hit its peak performance between the 18th and the 20th centuries for a very simple reason. The royals needed entertainment and the court jesters always had a deck of cards with them for party tricks. As this pastime became more popular, it stopped being restricted to the royal courts of Europe only. But how exactly is cartomancy different from your regular tarot reading?

Tarot & playing cards equivalents

At first glance, a deck of cards might not look like something you can utilize to read tarot with, however, it has its own little system just like your regular Rider-Waite Smith deck. A complete deck will provide you with sets of spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. Each one of these sets correlates to a suit of tarot cards.

  • Spades = Swords
  • Hearts = Cups
  • Clubs = Wands
  • Diamonds = Pentacles

A deck of cards will always come with a total of 52 cards per pack. This is definitely not the 78-card layout that practitioners are used to seeing in tarot decks. However, they serve the same purpose; so you might want to think of them as a minimalist deck of tarot cards.

These 52 cards will likely come divided into the aforementioned suits, so you might want to shuffle around a bit before starting to conduct a reading. Other than that, everything about them is pretty much the same as your regular tarot deck.

Except for one stark difference.

With a deck of cards, you won’t have the option of going back and forth between the Major and the Minor Arcana, frankly, you won’t even have the Major Arcana to begin with. While this may seem like an inconvenience, it actually makes things easier since there are different workarounds that you can resort to. While this is perfect for beginners who are only looking to get a feel of the tarot scene, the more experienced practitioners will realize that the end result of a cartomancy reading is vastly different than that of a tarot reading.

Tarot reading with playing cards

A tarot deck is always more extensive and insightful, thanks to the different Arcana sets and Oracle cards. However, as we mentioned before, a deck of playing cards will just give you the Minor Arcana, therefore limiting your reading to a black or white, yes or no result.

So how do you work your way around not having your Major Arcana cards?

How to do a tarot reading with playing cards

With the missing of the Major Arcana, you will have two options for a reading. You can choose to settle for a surface-level reading or interpret the cards you draw on a basis of intuition.

You will need to know the basic meanings of each suit and card before doing either one of these things. Once you know these meanings it’ll be easier for you to get in touch with your higher self and interpret what the cards are trying to tell you.

Card suits and their meanings

Take a moment to go over the list below and try to understand what it all correlates to. Then, you can begin to conduct a reading mixed with your own interpretations.


The suit of hearts stands for all things emotive. Relationships, feelings towards a certain person or situation, and your overall emotions all fall under this category. This might include your moods and the changes you have in them as well. Hearts are connected to the element of water and are deeply associated with fluidity and flow. They can often represent a stream of emotions.


Spades are harbingers of thought, articulation, and communication. They rely heavily on expression. Seeing spades in your readings can mean lots of different things depending on the context. They represent the element of air, this makes them deeply connected with all things spiritual. Spades can also represent the changing of things.


Diamonds, as the name might suggest, are heavily associated with material concerns. A reading of diamonds can allude to financial situations and other types of practicalities. They’re aligned with the element of earth, which makes them even deeply rooted in materialistic things, but also gives the reader an opportunity to include nature in their interpretations.


Clubs are associated with fire. They represent energy and activity. Therefore seeing clubs in a reading can often allude to socializing or a more speedy lifestyle.

Interpreting numbers on a deck of cards

Just like the numbers you have on your tarot deck, a regular deck of cards also comes with certain numbers that can add value to your readings. Let’s now look at how you can interpret these numbers.


Aces represent opportunities and beginnings, but they won’t tell you whether you’ll miss out on the opportunities or not. Being able to tell whether something is a missed opportunity or not depends on the rest of your reading, as well as how you interpret the spread you have at hand.

Aces can also allude to bad timing, so remember to take the good with the bad when you’re conducting a reading.


Getting a two in a reading can mean that you will be met with balance, but it can also be a tell-tale-sign of disharmony. In either case, the two will signify cooperation - but how that might happen depends entirely on your subject.


The threes can signify a deep connection between people. The downside to this is that the connection could end in a shared loss.


The Four cards could mean that stability awaits, but this can quickly turn into instability. That’s where the foundation function of the four cards will come into play. Depending on how strong the foundation of a thing is, you should be able to tell whether there’s instability or stability waiting for you in the future.


The fives in your deck of cards signify activity. However, this isn’t the sort of energetic activity that comes with the fire cards. A five will likely represent an activity caused by a kind of disturbance. This is often seen as an ill omen in cartomancy, but again, your interpretation of this may change depending on the context of your reading and the spread.


The Six Cards are reminiscent of the water cards, they represent flows and patterns. A six could indicate a repeated action, but in other cases, it might serve as a warning for you to keep an eye out for the patterns in your life.


If you’ve pulled up a seven in your reading, then it means that there are some mysterious things at play. This is because the seven cards represent stagnancy and change, all at once. To solve the mystery of the seven cards, you must look at the card patterns you have at hand and evaluate the situation through context.


The eights in your deck of cards represent movement that brings harmony and health over time. Although, this is just one interpretation. Anything that has to do with peace, harmony, health, and mobility could be associated with eights. But in some cases, an eight could also signify imbalance.


Having a nine card in your reading can allude to growth, wish granting, and idealistic behavior. On the flip side of things, however, a nine is likely to represent disappointment in certain outcomes.


The tens are probably the most simple cards to interpret in your deck. A ten signifies completion. So this means that whatever you’re looking at has come full circle and the journey is complete.

Court cards and their archetypes

The last thing you need to know in order to thoroughly evaluate the cards you pull is the court cards and their archetypes. These are similar to the court cards you have in a tarot deck, but at the same time, they’re entirely different; because with these court cards, there are some rather specific details involved.

The Kings

The king cards represent male figures of authority. A king is always the highest ranking court card in cartomancy; and it indicates leadership, protection, and possession. In negative cases it could also allude to aggression, overbearing behavior, or disputes.

The Queens

As per their feminine aura, the queen cards are often associated with compassion and fertility. They can also connote love, motherhood, creation, and abundance.

The Jacks

The Jacks are essentially the cartomancy correspondences of the Fool. They do have a few twists, especially in how they represent a certain age group and mentality. The Jacks are associated with young people and new beginnings. But they can also represent immaturity in a negative context.

Another interpretation of the Jacks could be that you’re about to receive a message, since young boys were used as messengers between the 18th and the 20th century.

Tips on card interpretation

To get the best possible interpretation out of your deck of cards, you need to check your surroundings first. Your practice area will heavily affect your insight, so you will want to cleanse the space and your cards before doing anything. Burning some sage and keeping a bowl of salt with you are two options of going about cleansing your area and tools, but you can resort to other options if you’d like.

Cleansing tarot cards

Some practitioners also choose to have a shower and drink some black tea before conducting a reading to help them feel more grounded when interpreting the cards. You can also resort to outside resources and keep a journal with you throughout your sessions.

Both beginning practitioners and advanced tarot readers could need some guidance every now and again, so don’t be afraid to seek out some knowledge if you think it’ll provide for a better reading.

Another option could be to familiarize yourself with the person you’re performing a reading for, that way you can base your reading on their life experiences and have your input be more accurate.

Now that you’ve soaked in all this information, you can go out into the world and confidently perform a reading with your deck of playing cards.

Happy practicing!

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