Can you read tarot with playing cards? Yes! It takes a little bit of know-how, but it can be done. Here’s how to read tarot with playing cards and still get a real reading.
Tarot cards and playing cards have some major differences, but they have enough in enough in common to make a reading possible.
Tarot Cards vs. Regular Playing Cards
The first thing to understand is that a deck of regular playing cards is a much smaller deck of cards than a standard tarot deck. Modern tarot decks consist of 78 cards, compared to just 52 cards in a deck of regular playing cards.
When we read tarot with playing cards, what we’ll be doing is basically a Minor Arcana-only tarot reading.
The deck of 78 tarot cards are typically divided into 2 parts: There are the “numbered” cards called the Minor Arcana, and “picture” cards called the Major Arcana. We’ll be focusing on just the Minor Arcana here.
The 56 cards of the Minor Arcana are divided into 4 suits, and are roughly equivalent to the 52 cards in a deck of regular playing cards.
So, big picture: When we read tarot with playing cards, what we’ll be doing is basically a Minor Arcana-only tarot reading.
Tarot Suits vs. Playing Card Suits
The most obvious difference between the Minor Arcana of tarot cards and regular playing cards is that the 4 suits are somewhat different.
Tarot suits are typically: Cups, Wands, Pentacles and Swords —although their precise names often differ. (Here’s a deeper dive on tarot suits)
Playing-card suits are of course: Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds and Spades.
Here’s how tarot suits relate to playing-card suits:
|Playing Card Suits||Tarot Suits|
If you’re already familiar with tarot reading, the above table may be all you need. It’s almost enough to jump right in and start reading tarot with playing cards.
Except one tricky problem.
Tarot cards have 4 royals. Playing cards have 3.
The only remaining issue is that our playing cards don’t actually line up perfectly to the Minor Arcana of tarot cards. Why? Because tarot has 14 cards per suit, and playing cards only have 13 cards per suit.
The difference is that tarot decks have an extra court card, the Knight.
Tarot courts cards are: Page, Knight, Queen King. Playing cards by contrast have just three: Jack, Queen and King.
But, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, we’re going to promote the Jacks to Knights.
So to make this work we’re going to have ignore the poor Pages from our reading. Sorry, Pages. You’re out.
Page or Knight? Who gets cut?
Since playing cards have three royals or “court cards” per suit, and tarot cards have four, we have to lose one Minor Arcana card when reading tarot with playing cards. In the above chart, we obviously chose to give the Pages the boot. You might be wondering, “Why not convert Jacks to Pages instead, and kick out the Knights?”
You can. This choice is up to you.
Logically speaking, this isn’t a terrible idea. It can be argued that the concept of a “Jack” is closer to a Page. Centuries ago, the Jack card was also known as a “Knave card”, or a “Valet card” — both of which are closer to “Pages” than “Knights”. So there’s a good argument for reading your Jacks as Pages if you want to.
On the other hand, in vintage 17th century European cards, the Jacks were frequently portrayed as valiant warriors, who were much closer to the concept of Knights. Here are two old French playing cards as an example:
So by that measure, Jacks are closer to Knights.
The choice of how to translate between the tarot and playing card decks is up to you. I think a good reason to read the Jack playing cards as tarot Knights is that Knight cards tend to be much more important cards in a tarot deck. So, it’s nice to preserve the Knight card meanings when doing a playing card tarot reading.
Again, how to read tarot with playing cards isn’t an exact formula. Deciding how to account for the 4 court cards in tarot cards vs. the 3 court cards in playing cards is an open debate. I lean towards preserving Knights and booting the Pages.
So, no Major Arcana when reading tarot with playing cards?
As discussed above, you won’t be using the Major Arcana when reading tarot with playing cards, but there is one exception: The Joker card does make an excellent Fool card.
So you can optionally keep one Joker card in the deck and have at least one Major Arcana card in your playing card tarot reading.
List of tarot meanings for every playing card
Now that we have our system set up, you’ve probably already figured out how to read tarot with playing cards. Use the table below to look up the tarot meaning for each regular playing card. Click the highlighted links for more information about the corresponding tarot meaning.
|Playing Card||Relative Tarot Card||Quick Meaning|
|Ace of Hearts||Ace of Cups||Creative energy, passion, new romance|
|Two of Hearts||Two of Cups||Combining of energy, partnership, attraction, relationships|
|Three of Hearts||Three of Cups||Collaboration, celebration, friendship, community|
|Four of Hearts||Four of Cups||Meditation, contemplation, re-evaluation|
|Five of Hearts||Five of Cups||A setback, disappointment, negative thoughts|
|Six of Hearts||Six of Cups||Joy, nostalgia, childhood memories|
|Seven of Hearts||Seven of Cups||Choices, imagination, options, illusion|
|Eight of Hearts||Eight of Cups||Disappointment, abandonment, withdrawal|
|Nine of Hearts||Nine of Cups||Wishes fulfilled, comfort, happiness, satisfaction|
|Ten of Hearts||Ten of Cups||Harmony, marriage, happiness, alignment|
|Jack of Hearts||Knight of Cups||Romance, charm, imagination|
|Queen of Hearts||Queen of Cups||Emotionally secure, calm, intuitive, compassionate|
|King of Hearts||King of Cups||Emotional balance, mentoring, generosity|
|Ace of Diamonds||Ace of Pentacles||Manifestation, new financial opportunity, prosperity|
|Two of Diamonds||Two of Pentacles||Balance, adaptability, time management, prioritisation|
|Three of Diamonds||Three of Pentacles||Teamwork, initial fulfilment, collaboration, learning|
|Four of Diamonds||Four of Pentacles||Financial savings, stability, security, conservatism|
|Five of Diamonds||Five of Pentacles||Isolation, insecurity, worry, financial loss, poverty|
|Six of Diamonds||Six of Pentacles||Generosity, charity, giving, prosperity, sharing wealth|
|Seven of Diamonds||Seven of Pentacles||Vision, perseverance, profit, reward, investment|
|Eight of Diamonds||Eight of Pentacles||Apprenticeship, education, quality, engagement|
|Nine of Diamonds||Nine of Pentacles||Opulence, luxury, self-sufficiency, independence|
|Ten of Diamonds||Ten of Pentacles||Wealth, inheritance, family, establishment, retirement|
|Jack of Diamonds||Knight of Pentacles||Routine, conservatism, a methodical approach, diligence|
|Queen of Diamonds||Queen of Pentacles||Practical, motherly, down-to-earth, nuturing|
|King of Diamonds||King of Pentacles||Security, control, power, discipline, abundance|
|Ace of Spades||Ace of Swords||Raw power, victory, break-throughs, mental clarity|
|Two of Spades||Two of Swords||Indecision, choices, truce, stalemate, blocked emotions|
|Three of Spades||Three of Swords||Painful separation, sorrow heartbreak, grief, rejection|
|Four of Spades||Four of Swords||Contemplation, recuperation, passivity, relaxation, rest|
|Five of Spades||Five of Swords||Conflict, tension, loss, win at all costs, betrayal|
|Six of Spades||Six of Swords||Regretful but necessary transition, rite of passage|
|Seven of Spades||Seven of Swords||Betrayal, deception, getting away with something, stealth|
|Eight of Spades||Eight of Swords||Isolation, self-imposed restriction, imprisonment|
|Nine of Spades||Nine of Swords||Depression, nightmares, anxiety, despair|
|Ten of Spades||Ten of Swords||Back-stabbed, defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss|
|Jack of Spades||Knight of Swords||Ambition, haste, action-oriented, communicative|
|Queen of Spades||Queen of Swords||Quick thinker, organised, perceptive, independent|
|King of Spades||King of Swords||Clear thinking, intellectual power, authority, truth|
|Ace of Clubs||Ace of Wands||Inspiration, creation, beginnings, potential|
|Two of Clubs||Two of Wands||Future planning, progress, decisions, discovery|
|Three of Clubs||Three of Wands||Preparation, enterprise, expansion, travel|
|Four of Clubs||Four of Wands||Celebration, hospitality, friends, reunion|
|Five of Clubs||Five of Wands||Disagreement, competition, strife, tension, conflict|
|Six of Clubs||Six of Wands||Public recognition, victory, progress, self-confidence|
|Seven of Clubs||Seven of Wands||Challenge, competition, perseverance, defense|
|Eight of Clubs||Eight of Wands||Speed, action, momentum, air travel|
|Nine of Clubs||Nine of Wands||Courage, persistence, test of faith, resilience|
|Ten of Clubs||Ten of Wands||Burden, responsibility, hard work, completion|
|Jack of Clubs||Knight of Wands||Action, forward energy, impulse, adventure|
|Queen of Clubs||Queen of Wands||Confidence, social adeptness, determination|
|King of Clubs||King of Wands||Natural-born leader,entrepreneur, vision, honour|
|Joker||The Fool||Beginnings, a free spirit, innocence, optimism|
Now it’s time to read tarot with playing cards
The first thing to do is shuffle your cards. Remember to meditate on your tarot question while shuffling. It may help to lower the lights and get in the mood, and mentally connect to the Universe.
You can ask simple questions and draw single playing cards. After drawing each card, check the list above to find the tarot card equivalent for each playing card.
For more complicated questions, and deeper insight, it’s a good idea to use a layout or a tarot card spread.
Tarot reading with playing cards, yes or no
For quick tarot questions, like yes or no questions, there are two ways to go:
- You can use tarot card yes or no meanings. (Here’s a guide to the “yes” or “no” meaning of each tarot card.)
- Or: A every simple way to do a yes or no tarot reading with playing cards is to assign “Yes” answers to the red cards, and “No” answers to the black cards.
For more serious questions, you’ll probably want to look up the tarot meaning of each playing card, but if you’re in a hurry, the red/black method is always an option.
Tarot with playing cards spreads
The tarot spreads you’ll use when reading with playing cards are more or less the same as the spreads you would create with a normal tarot deck.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of tarot spreads, they’re very simple: Each card in your playing card layout has a different meaning, and applies to a different facet of your question.
For example, if you’re looking doing a Situation, Action, Outcome layout, then you’ll be drawing three cards. The playing card in the first position will give you insight into the “Situation” you’re asking about, as a whole. The playing card in the second position would give you insight into the “Actions” you should take. The last card will give you foresight into the “Outcome” of the situation, or something to focus on in order to avoid that outcome.
However, there’s no reason you can’t do a larger tarot spread, like a Celtic Cross reading with playing cards. Keep in mind though that for these larger, more in-depth types of tarot spreads, you’re still working without a Major Arcana when tarot reading with playing cards. For those unfamiliar with the Celtic Cross tarot spread, here’s an overview.
Is reading tarot with playing cards a real tarot reading?
Well, no. It’s good in a pinch, but a major part of tarot insight comes from the 22 Major Arcana cards, which aren’t a part of any playing card tarot reading (except the Fool card if you have a Joker handy). While there’s plenty of wisdom and insight to be had in the Minor Arcana cards, it’s more of “lite” tarot reading.
Of course, if you find yourself without a deck of tarot cards and you’re in need of a tarot reading, may I suggest iFate’s award-winning web-based free tarot readings?