Tarot

Reading Tarot With Playing Cards? Here’s a Complete Guide

tarot with playing cards

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
Clubs Wands
Spades Swords
Hearts Cups
Diamonds Pentacles

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.

Playing cards as tarot cards

 

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:

French Jack of Clubs

The Jack of Clubs featured the famous knight, Lancelot

Jack of diamonds French

The Jack of Diamonds featured the Greek warrior Hector

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.

joker and fool tarot cards

 

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.

But because the deck is smaller, it’s probably a good idea to stick with relatively simple three card tarot readings, like the Past, Present and Future spread or Situation, Action, Outcome.

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?

 

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