A checklist to read tarot cards


An overview

Individual cards

If a card doesn't make sense


Numerology-concept-still-lifeAsk 10 tarot readers how to read tarot, and you will get 10 answers. I don't have the ultimate guide to reading tarot cards, but here is a list of items to help you delve deeply into a reading.

To see how I use these tips, look at I want to get fit again! A tarot reading.

The list items below are not rules. You don't have to use them all or in any specific order.

It might seem too analytical to follow a checklist for a tarot reading, but as you get to know the items, they will become part of your intuitive process. They will spark your intuition and curiosity. I believe the most profound tarot readings are a mixture of intuitive and analytical approaches.

Note that not all points will apply to a particular reading, especially if the reading is small (two or three cards).

An overview

Before I start with the individual cards, I look at the whole spread.

Some interesting features of the spread will strike me immediately, and I will note these in my tarot journal.

After a reading, I return to this list to see if anything else is significant.

  • Can you see a theme in the spread? (Love, youth, pain, relationships, action, quarrels...) Look for cards with similar themes, such as abundance (Three of Cups, Four of Wands, Nine and Ten of Pentacles). The theme might colour your whole reading.
  • How many cards can you see in the same mode (major, minor, suit, or court)? Does this signify anything? Does the focus fall on spirituality (many major cards), dominant forces (majors), everyday matters (suit cards), or people/personalities (court cards)?
  • How many cards are from the same suit (including element associations for major arcana cards)? Does this give the reading a particular flavour? For example, creativity (Wands), emotions (Cups), the intellect (Swords), or practical matters (Pentacles)?
  • How many cards with the same number (including the numbers of the major arcana cards)? Does the emphasis fall on beginnings, endings, cycles, youth, maturity)?
  • How many reversed cards (if you use them)? Do they indicate blocks, inner journeys, delays, or difficulties?
  • Is there a particular suit or number that is not present, but you feel should be? For example, a reading on financial matters that doesn’t include a Pentacles card or a relationship reading without Cups.
  • Does a number predominate in a spread? The Two of Wands, Two of Cups, and the High Priestess might emphasise the number 2. You might discover that the associations of a particular number could be relevant. For example, the number 2 might suggest passivity.
  • Sometimes, the card just before or after a particular card in the deck sequence could have meaning in the reading. For example, the Seven of Wands follows the Six of Wands in the deck. Could this point to a victory that has the potential to become a burden? What would have happened just before and what might happen just after?
  • What if the card had the same number but a different suit? How would that change the spread’s interpretation? Why do you think you drew one suit instead of another?
  • What is the overall energy of the spread? (Active, passive, low, high.)
  • Do you like the cards you see, or are there cards you’d rather not see in the current spread? How does this influence your feelings or bias about the spread?
  • Is there a powerful card that could influence the entire reading? Or a strong card that could influence the surrounding cards? (You can decide for yourself which are the powerful cards. I usually include the major arcana cards, the Aces, and cards like the Three of Wands and the Kings).
  • Are there cards that reinforce or oppose each other? If reinforcing, the theme might be most significant. Opposing cards could point to different viewpoints that need to be synthesised, a stronger card that could ‘win’ in influencing the reading, or a contradiction imperative to the interpretation. (Cards don’t completely cancel each other out. The energy of the weaker card is still important to the reading.)
  • Are there cards interacting with each other? For example, a Knight moving towards another card; a person looking at another card/person or ignoring them; the Hierophant could be blessing a card, or the Devil weave an evil influence (he mimics the Hierophant’s blessing); one card may point to another or someone/something on the other card. Are any of these interactions significant?
  • Are there pairs of cards or mirror positions? (Hidden/Known, Me/You, Young/Old, etc.) Does one card influence, reinforce or oppose the other?
  • Look for progressions and regressions in the number on the cards. Numbers moving from Ace to Ten could show progression and vice versa. The progression or regression could point to someone maturing, behaving more childishly, or gaining new skills.
  • Note progressions in the symbols on the card. It might be significant if the path in one card becomes a mountain in another or a desert becomes a fruitful garden.
  • Could gender be important in a card or the spread? Sometimes, a card could be androgynous. Some decks emphasise gender or queerness.
  • Does the spread contain mini-spreads? The Celtic Cross, for example, contains Past/Present/Future, Best that can happen/Near future/Outcome, You/Others, Internal environment (hopes and fears)/External environment. You can read the mini-spreads separately and see if they add meaning to the overall reading.
  • Don’t let ‘scary’ cards frighten you. The cards cannot hurt you; they are pieces of cardboard. We can often also change the future by making different choices.

Individual cards

The sequence of these points is not important.

  • What is the first thing that comes to mind when you look at the card? It might not be something traditional, but it could be significant.
  • Do you have any personal associations with this card? Any metaphors or clichéd sayings? Do you recognise associations, such as with songs, stories, or something your mother always says? How could these be relevant?
  • What are the traditional keywords or phrases for this card?
  • Do you have any book meanings that could be significant?
  • Note symbols and colours; they may be relevant.
  • Do you know of any unusual meanings for this card? Could they be relevant?
  • Remember that a card could have more than one message for you.
  • Consider how cards surrounding the one you are reading influence it.

If a card doesn’t make sense?

  • Sit with the card for a while. Don’t be too hasty about abandoning a card or the reading.
  • Move on to the next card and come back later. Other cards in the reading might throw light on the current card.
  • Could the card be a warning, a need, or advice? The Three of Cups as a “warning” could warn against too much drinking and partying. The Three of Swords as “benefit” could mean you use your head, not your heart.
  • Switch keywords from verbs into nouns, nouns into adjectives, etc. It might make more sense if, for the Two of Wands, you consider “master”, “mastering, and masterfully.”
  • Look up synonyms of the keywords. “Mastering” for the Two of Wands may make more sense than “dominating.”
  • Look up symbols on a card in a dictionary of symbols.
  • Are you perhaps someone or something on the card? The dog on the Fool card may be exasperated, anxious, or loyal. Does that change your perspective?
  • Use all your senses. What could the person on this card see, smell, touch, taste, or hear?
  • Consult other books for suggestions.
  • If you have books that describe the cards, read the full description of this card. Ask yourself, “What does the card show?” Often, when you describe what you see on a card, it may make the meaning clear.
  • Ask yourself, “What else could this card be about?” Consider details and symbols. Also, look for other interpretations of the story unfolding on the card. In addition to its traditional meanings, the Six of Swords might show a severe depression or an inner journey.
  • Pretend you are reading for someone else. Research shows you are wiser when you talk about yourself in the second (you) or third (he/she) person.
  • Try a few books that list card meanings from a different perspective.


Note if certain patterns repeat in readings.

This is not relevant to individual readings, but over several readings, it might become clear that something is a pattern that is significant or should be broken.

Cards that frequently pop up could be meaningful (some tarot readers call these 'stalking cards'). Also, note prominent themes or the energy of various readings (many low-energy readings could suggest depression or exhaustion).

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