Tarot Reading Guide


Chapter 8 Thirteen Fun Things to Do with Tarot Cards

ⓘ This guide applies to Tarot Card Meanings, Tarot Readings, Tarot Spreads and Tarot Decks pages.

In This Chapter

  • Other than fortunetelling and divination, what can I do with a tarot deck?
  • What are some creative uses for tarot cards?
  • Can I use a tarot deck to play everyday card games?

Your trusty tarot deck can be a powerful, flexible partner for all kinds of activities. In this chapter, you’ll find a treasure trove of applications for the cards, from slumber-party fortunetelling to brainstorming for business. Best of all, this baker’s dozen of “card tricks” is just the beginning—inspired by these creative uses for the cards, you’ll quickly come up with applications of your own.


Telling fortunes with tarot cards didn’t start with the Gypsies (they used regular playing cards until their clients began expecting them to use tarot), but with the French, who often associated dire and dramatic meanings with each of the trumps.

You don’t need Gyspy or French ancestry, though, to enjoy telling fortunes with tarot cards. Lower the window shades, light a candle or two, cover the table with a thick velvet cloth, and you’re good to go.

After dealing the cards, consult a guide to fortunetelling meanings (Tarot Card Meanings page provides fortunetelling meanings for every card in the deck) or make up your own! Does the Chariot point to a new car in your future? Might the Wheel suggest a change in your luck?

As an experiment, consider keeping track of your prophecies. You may have an untapped ability to foresee your own fate!


Fortunetelling seeks to reveal a future that must come to past; divination, on the other hand, attempts to glimpse a portion of the Divine Plan. When you use tarot cards as divinatory tools, the goal is to understand the flow of events—and your role within that flow.

Begin with simple questions: How will this situation develop? What is this challenge meant to teach me? How can I position myself to take best advantage of the events around me?

Using the meanings in this guide or your own intuition, treat each tarot image as a coded message from a divine source, or pretend the reading represents advice from a wise advisor—someone with your best interests at heart. What omens do you see? What potentials are present?


Tarot decks with evocative images on every card make for powerful meditation aids. After finding a quiet space with limited distractions, shuffle the cards, draw one, and allow it to become a focal point for your attention.

Study the details of the card intently. What colors are present? What objects and symbols can you see? What is the mood or emotion of the character on the card? When you close your eyes, how easily and vividly can you recreate the card’s image in your mind’s eye?

Once you can see the card clearly in your head, imagine stepping through its borders and entering the scene. What sounds will you hear? What will the weather be like? Try asking the central figure a question; the answer you’re given may surprise you.

Listing Gift Ideas

Tired of wracking your brain to come up with the perfect anniversary, birthday, or Christmas present? Relax—and let the tarot help you generate as many as a dozen ideas in one minute or less!

Steal the kitchen egg timer, give yourself sixty seconds on the clock, and deal yourself a line of twelve face-up cards. As you glance at each card, pick out a single detail: a color, a costume, a number—whatever your eyes fall on first.

Allow each element you spot to inspire a gift idea. A golden cup might suggest a bottle of wine. A silver dagger might suggest a letter opener, a piece of silver jewelry, or a Swiss Army knife.

Keep your momentum up by taking no more than five seconds with each image. If you get stuck, shout “Pass!” and move on. You can always come back later or draw a replacement card.

Journaling and Creative Writing

Especially if you’re already drawing a card a day as a way of building your reading skills, why not make that card serve double duty … as a writing prompt?

Shuffle the deck, draw a card, and open your notebook. Give yourself five minutes on the clock, then put pen to paper and start writing non-stop. Write a dialog with the character on the card. Explore the theme suggested by the keyword or title. Free-associate, make lists, or write a short story—but, whatever you do, don’t stop writing until the timer goes off!

If words don’t come, don’t fret. Just write the words “Just keep writing!” over and over … and, eventually, your brain, bored with the task, will prompt you with a new idea.

Letting Ghosts Go

Are traumatic memories poisoning your ability to enjoy today? Is carrying a torch for an old flame keeping you from appreciating the best qualities of your current partner? Are old fears putting a lid on your highest aspirations? If so, you can make the transition from haunted to hopeful by using the tarot to free yourself from old “ghosts” like these.

First, pick out a card that represents your ghost. Next, draw three cards: one to represent why this ghost has power over you, the next to reveal what you need to realize in order to move on, and the last to suggest the first step you can take toward healing. Inspired by this spread, write your ghost a letter explaining your plans for moving on. Taken seriously, this exercise has enormous potential to heal everything from bruised pride to a broken heart.

Visualizing Goals

Every self-help guru out there testifies to the simple power of visual goals: pictures, collages, and totems deliberately chosen to represent what you want and where you want to go.

The idea is simple: seeing that photo of a happy couple, an island retreat, or a shiny Lexus keeps your desire for a new relationship, a trip to Maui, or a new car top of mind. As a result, you’re more likely to see and take advantage of opportunities that move you closer to your goal.

From your favorite tarot deck, you can choose cards to represent your goals. (The Empress, for example, might remind you to make healthier choices at mealtime.) To literally keep your goals in sight, clip cards to your car’s sun visor, frame them for your office desk, or scan them in and use them as computer wallpaper!

Making Your Own Deck

You don’t have to be a publisher to create a deck of powerful tarot cards. Got a collection of old photos? Try shuffling, dealing, and reading them. (For extra credit, try associating each of seventy-eight different photos with one of the cards of a standard tarot deck!)

Personal decks don’t have to be fancy. You can sketch images on index cards, build collages, or snap Polaroid prints. You can assemble images on your computer, then print them out on blank card stock. Enhance your deck’s durability by trimming corners and laminating each card.

No idea where to begin? First, list the twenty-two trump names from your favorite tarot deck. Next, give each card a title that makes sense to you. Finally, jot down a note or two describing how you would illustrate your title. Your notes can help you find images in photos and magazines.

Trimming away the Borders

Many people—especially those who prefer to read intuitively—find tarot cards with borders distracting. If titles and keywords constrain how you think about a card … why not cut them off?

This process, gleefully called “correction” or “border-ectomy” by members of the tarot community, can radically transform a deck. Borderless cards are surprisingly vivid; many times, a deck that strikes you as dull or impotent is no more than a border-ectomy away from becoming your favorite pack. (Before going on a trimming frenzy, be sure to practice your technique on those extra cards that come with each deck.)

The Osho Zen Tarot, the Thoth deck, the Sacred Circle Tarot, and the Bright Idea deck are perfect candidates for trimming. Like many others, these decks trim easily in a standard paper cutter. Once the borders are history, you can round the card corners with an inexpensive set of rounding shears, available in any scrapbooking or craft store.

Collecting Decks

The explosion of interest in tarot has flooded the market with thousands of decks. Publishers have released packs reflecting almost every theme imaginable, from ancient aboriginal art to zoo animals.

For collectors, this variety is exciting … and even addictive. Most tarot students begin with a deck or two. Eventually, though, they find a third deck with an intriguing theme and a fourth deck with exquisite artwork. Before they know it, they have an entire closet devoted to a collection that spans more than two hundred decks!

With online shops just a click away, even the residents of tiny, remote towns can get in on the action! Whether you snap up inexpensive commercial decks for fun or pursue rare, small-press decks for potential profit, tarot collecting can enhance your appreciation of everything from fine art to world culture.

Comparative Readings

If you’re going to have a tarot collection, you might as well put it to work! Comparative readings involve dealing a spread from one tarot pack, then laying out the same spread multiple times, using corresponding cards from other tarot decks.

Comparative tarot is an intriguing approach to card reading first popularized by tarot reader Valarie Sim. What does the Rider–Waite Fool, with his feathered cap and canine companion, have in common with the blindfolded Fool from the Alchemical Tarot? Why does the Emperor face right on some cards and left on others? And how might differences like these influence your reading of each card?

In addition to enhancing your appreciation for detail, comparative readings are also offer the fastest possible way to become familiar with the distinctive “voices” of several new decks at once.

Visual Brainstorming

Mention the word “brainstorming,” and people cringe. Most of us associate brainstorming sessions with dull, dry meetings in windowless conference rooms—a process that’s more a test of endurance than an exercise in creativity.

Tarot cards can change all that. Next time you need ideas on the fly, jump-start your brainstorming session with a visually-rich tarot image! For example: the Six of Cups (a card associated with sharing and cooperation) might suggest holding a conference call, calling in consultants, taking the entire team on a trust-building retreat.

Whether everyone works from the same image or you draw individual cards for each member of the team, brainstorming with tarot fires the imagination and encourages people to let their ideas roam free. For best results, turn off your inner critic, set a timer, and, during the creative phase of your project, reward people for the quantity (not the quality) of their ideas.

Playing Games

Get back to tarot’s roots! The deck has trumps, four suits, numbered cards, and court cards for a reason: long before it was used as a divinatory tool, the tarot was the plaything of kings.

The original game of triumphs, or tarocchi, is still played in parts of Europe today. Googling the name of the game will produce dozens of links to rule sheets in several languages. Be prepared, though: no authoritative rules exist, and there are as many different ways to play tarot as there are tarot decks!

If tarocchi bewilders you, remember that, by extracting the trumps and the Knights, you can convert a tarot deck to a standard card deck faster than you can say, “Texas Hold ’em!”

In a Nutshell

  • In addition to reading and divination, you can use tarot cards for a number of creative applications.

  • You can use the cards as brainstorming tools, generating lists of everything from gift ideas to plot twists.

  • Improving progress toward your goals may be as simple as choosing tarot cards to serve as visual reminders of what’s important to you.

  • You can tailor a deck to your personal tastes by trimming away distracting borders … or take customization to the ultimate level by making your own handmade tarot deck.

  • A deck collection is more than an entertaining hobby! With more than one deck on hand, you’ll be able to perform comparative readings using corresponding cards from several different decks.

  • If nothing else, you can always use a tarot deck to play card games!