How Does Tarot Work?

The truth is that no-one knows for sure. There are lots of theories about how the cards work, however. Here’s what I think is going on.

What Is A Tarot Deck?

At the end of the day Tarot cards are simply a deck of playing cards. In some European countries, people still use them just to play games. In fact, my first introduction to Tarot (apart from what I’d seen on TV and in movies) was when I left school and was working for the summer in France. Some friends I made there taught me to play the game Tarot….and that was it, they used a Tarot deck, very similar to the decks we use for divination, as a normal deck of playing cards. And really, that’s all a Tarot deck is – a deck of playing cards, with lots of interesting images on. So how then do they work for divination, for revealing insights into ourselves and our situations?

Tarot as a tool for insight

When we use Tarot for divination and to gain insight, it becomes an aid or a tool. The images awaken something in our subconscious that allow us to see things more clearly, or in a different light. The answers to our questions, and the solutions to our problems, are buried deep within us. When we use Tarot we can bring forth those answers – we become conscious of them.

Conscious, Subconscious, Universal Conscious

We’re all aware of what’s going on in our conscious minds – our conscious selves. Our subconscious is a little more mysterious. This is where our inner wisdom and intuition lie. We can access the wisdom in our subconscious by listening to our intuition, through meditation, and by reading Tarot. Tarot acts like a bridge between our conscious and subconscious selves. It goes even deeper than that, however. There’s a third connection – a link to the Universal Consciousness.

What Is Universal Consciousness?

Here’s how I think about Universal Consciousness. When I was a kid I believed that we all have an invisible ‘thread’ of light extending out of the top of our heads and these threads are all linked together and joined to a ball of light in the heavens. This ball of light contains all knowledge of time and space and all of the knowledge of the universe. This is how I still think of Universal Consciousness. We’re all linked to it, and just as importantly, through this link, we’re all linked to each other, but because our conscious minds are so busy and dominant, it can be difficult for us to access our subconscious and, in turn, the Universal Conscious. We can think of Universal Consciousness in different ways – maybe it’s God, Divinity, Spirit, our Higher Selves. It is part of all of us and we are all part of it.

Tarot As A Tool

When we cross the bridge and become aware of the link between our conscious, subconscious and the Universal Conscious, we gain deep insight and clarity. Tarot is a tool that can help us to do this. The images on the cards stimulate our subconscious and intuition. We’re able to make connections that aren’t obvious to our conscious minds. This, in turn, helps us to discover solutions to our problems, to make connections between issues that we thought were unrelated to each other, and to see things from a different point of view. We’re often told that if we trust our gut that we’ll discover the solution to our difficulties, or that we’ll know best how to proceed. The problem with this is that we can’t always understand what our gut is trying to tell us. Tarot helps us to interpret what we already know in our gut by revealing what our subconscious, our gut, is trying to tell us.

Divination is possible when we bring this one step further. Our subconscious is already linked to the Universal Conscious and, when our subconscious is revealed to us through reading Tarot, our link to the Universal Conscious is also revealed. The future isn’t set in stone. It will change depending on the choices we make, and the changing circumstances in our lives. However, there are likely outcomes to events if we continue along the same path, with the same energies and making the same choices. This is how we can divine the likely outcome to a particular situation. Our subconscious is already aware of the likely outcome and Tarot reveals this awareness to us.


But, this still doesn’t explain how it is that we pick the cards we need to awaken our subconscious and bring us insight. It was Carl Gustav Jung who first introduced the concept of synchronicity in the 1920s. Synchronicity is the occurrence of two or more events that seem related, even though there is no obvious causality between the events. In other words, cause and effect cannot be used to explain the event. According to the concept of synchronicity, our psyche and matter aren’t separate. Jung used synchronicity to explain how the I Ching works and if we apply this concept to Tarot, we see how it is that we can pick precisely the cards that we need to see. It is synchronicity, and not coincidence, that we pull cards that answer our questions.

How Does Reading Tarot For Others Work?

It’s possible to read Tarot for others, even remotely, because we’re all connected to the Universal Conscious. We can imagine it as a triangle that’s created between the Reader’s subconscious, the Querent’s/Seeker’s subconscious and the Universal Conscious. The operation of synchronicity means that the cards that are needed, to give advice and insight to the Seeker, are the ones that are pulled. It is then down to the Reader to interpret these cards.

Can We Read Cards Using Intuition Alone?

There is some debate on this issue among Tarot Readers. Some Readers will tell you that all you need to interpret the cards is to follow your intuition. I respectfully disagree with this. All Tarot Readers use their intuition when reading the cards. Tapping into our intuition and our subconscious is a fundamental part of the process. However, this isn’t enough. Tarot cards are rich in symbolism and meaning. We need to study this symbolism in order to have a deep understanding of the cards. Studying various interpretations of the cards by different teachers and writers adds layers of understanding to our own interpretations. This is an ongoing process whether you’re a beginner, or a seasoned professional. When we use Tarot as a tool to help others, it’s vital that we’re knowledgeable and understand what we’re doing. Clients most often seek readings when they’re in difficulty, suffering emotional turmoil, or at a crossroads. If we, the Readers, are serious about helping our clients, then the advice that we give should be well-informed. That we also use our intuition is a given. 

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