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Tarot Cards vs Playing Cards

Published 02/04/2024 by Joanne Jones

Tarot Cards vs Playing Cards

One key difference between Playing cards and Tarot cards is the number of cards in each deck. A standard tarot deck typically holds 78 cards, split up into two main sections: the major arcana and the Minor arcana.

The major arcana holds 22 cards representing significant life events or themes and changes, while the minor arcana consists of 56 cards, similar to a traditional deck of playing cards.

The origins of tarot cards can be traced as far back as the 15th century in Europe when they were initially used for card games. From the 15th century to the 19th century, tarot decks evolved to include symbolic, colourful images and deeper meanings, making them popular tools for divination and spiritual guidance.

Regular playing cards have a history that dates to the 14th century. The primary purpose of a regular playing card deck was for entertainment purposes and playing various card games. However, with ancient knowledge and added esoteric meanings, complex games turned into divination.

Playing Cards vs Tarot Cards for Reading Tarot

A key difference between tarot cards and playing cards is the deck's structure. A standard deck of playing cards holds four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades) with numbered cards ranging from 2 to 10, along with face cards (jack, queen, king) and an ace.

In contrast, a tarot deck consists of unique imagery on each card with specific meanings and symbolism within the major and minor arcana.

Tarot cards also have deeper layers of meaning when used for divination or spiritual practices. Tarot readers believe the cards can provide insights into the past, present, and future, allowing individuals to gain clarity and guidance on various aspects of their lives.

The most common spread used for tarot readings is the Celtic Cross, which involves laying out 10 cards in a specific pattern to provide a detailed interpretation of a situation or question.

Both tarot cards and a regular deck of playing cards have unique qualities and uses. Each deck of cards used in tarot, whether a modern or traditional deck, offers a rich tapestry of symbolism and meaning for those seeking spiritual guidance or insight.

Understanding Playing Cards in Reading Tarot

Which is better, tarot cards vs playing cards? While traditional tarot decks are the go-to choice for tarot readings, playing cards have also been used for divination and can serve as a simplified tarot system. This practice, called cartomancy, uses the standard deck of 52 cards to glean insights into the past, present, and future, much like tarot readings.

Each suit and card in the playing deck corresponds to specific aspects of life, offering guidance and perspective.

Learning to read playing cards as tarot involves understanding these correspondences and developing an intuition for interpreting the cards' messages in the context of a person's life and questions. Which is better, tarot cards or playing cards? The answer to this depends on the reader's experience and knowledge of the cards, as they can be equally good depending on what aspect of life you want your reading to focus on.

Playing Card Suits

In the context of reading playing cards as tarot, each suit is associated with a particular element and aspect of life.

  • Hearts are connected to emotions, relationships, and matters of the heart, corresponding to the water element. Read more about the 3 of Hearts Cartomancy Meaning.
  • Clubs, associated with the fire element, represent action, ambition, and creativity.
  • Diamonds, mirroring the earth element, relate to material aspects, such as finances, work, and possessions.
  • Spades, aligned with the air element, symbolise challenges, intellect, and communication. Read more about the Queen of Spades Meaning.

Understanding these associations allows the reader to interpret the card meanings more deeply and accurately during a reading.

Understanding Tarot Cards in Reading Tarot

Tarot readings involve a more complex system than other card readings, using a specialised deck of 78 cards split up into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana.

Each card in a tarot deck carries unique imagery, symbols, and meanings designed to offer insight into the querent's life, thoughts, and emotions.

Tarot readings aim to explore deeper spiritual, psychological, and existential questions, providing guidance, reflection, and predictions based on the cards drawn and their positions in a spread. Learning to read tarot cards requires familiarity with the rich symbolism of the deck and the knowledge of the card interpretations and messages within the context of the querent's life and the questions asked.

Major Arcana vs. Minor Arcana

The tarot deck has two sections: the Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana has 22 cards representing significant life themes, lessons, and archetypes. These cards guide the querent through major life changes and spiritual insights. They are considered the heart of a tarot deck, often indicating more profound and significant influences at play.

The Minor Arcana, comprising 56 cards, is divided into four suits (Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands) and mirrors the suits of a playing card deck. These cards highlight day-to-day aspects of life, offering insights into the querent's current situation, feelings, thoughts, and actions. The Major and Minor Arcana provide a comprehensive picture during a tarot reading.

Tarot Cards vs Playing Cards

While both tarot cards and playing cards can be used for divination, several key differences distinguish the two systems.

Tarot decks include the Major Arcana, which has no equivalent in playing decks, offering insights into broader life themes and personal growth journeys.

Tarot cards also come with a rich tapestry of symbolism and imagery that playing cards lack, allowing for more nuanced and detailed interpretations. Tarot decks have four suits in the Minor Arcana with specific elemental and symbolic associations, compared to the more general associations of playing card suits.

These differences make tarot readings more in-depth and complex than playing card readings.

Symbolism and Meanings

Which is more symbolic, tarot cards or playing cards? The symbolism and meanings embedded in tarot cards are critical to their use in divination.

Each card is rich with symbols, colours, and figures that convey specific messages and themes. This intricate imagery allows readers to tap into the subconscious mind and the universal human experiences reflected in the cards.

The symbolism of tarot cards is multilayered, with each element offering insights into the complexities of life, relationships, and personal growth. Understanding these symbols and their meanings is essential for interpreting the cards accurately and offering insightful readings.

Number of Cards

A fundamental difference between tarot and playing cards is the number of cards in each deck.

A standard tarot deck has 78 cards. In contrast, a typical playing card deck contains 52 cards, lacking the Major Arcana's archetypal figures and the Minor Arcana's court cards' depth.

This difference in the number of cards and the presence of the Major Arcana in tarot decks allows for a broader range of insights and guidance during a tarot reading, reflecting a wide spectrum of human experiences and spiritual lessons.

A Tarot deck comprises more cards than a regular playing deck; this is important and matters as it allows for deep insight during readings. More experienced readers will also use additional trump cards and wild cards.

Read our guide on How Many Cards in a Tarot Deck?

Interpretation and Readings Differences

The approach to interpretation and the structure of readings differ significantly between tarot cards and playing cards.

Tarot readings often involve specific spreads that frame the reading's context, with each position within the spread representing a different aspect of the querent's life or question. The detailed imagery and symbolism of tarot cards provide a depth of meaning and insight specifically tailored to the querent's circumstances.

Playing card readings, while also offering guidance and perspective, are more straightforward, focusing on more immediate, practical aspects of life. The interpretation of these cards relies more on the suits and numbers' general associations, requiring the reader to draw on intuition and experience to provide meaningful advice.

Advantages of Using Playing Cards in Tarot

Using playing cards for tarot readings, known as cartomancy, offers unique advantages, particularly for those seeking simplicity and directness in their divinatory practice.

One of the primary benefits of playing card tarot is the accessibility and familiarity of playing cards, as they are readily available and widely recognised. This can make the practice more approachable for beginners or those hesitant to dive into the more complex symbolism of traditional tarot decks.

The simplicity of playing cards can encourage greater reliance on intuition and personal interpretation, allowing readers to develop a deeply personal connection with the cards.

Playing cards offer a clear and concise medium for divination for individuals seeking straightforward answers or those interested in focusing on the practical aspects of their queries.

Benefits of Tarot Cards in Reading Tarot

Tarot cards bring vibrant symbolism, imagery, and mythological references to the art of divination, offering profound insights into the querent's life and psyche.

The detailed artwork and symbols on each tarot card evoke deep emotional responses and intuitive insights, facilitating a more in-depth and layered understanding of the question or situation at hand.

The Major Arcana explores significant life changes and themes, adding a spiritual and existential dimension to readings that other cards cannot match. The structure and variety of tarot decks encourage using specific spreads that can tailor readings to different aspects of the querent's life, providing a comprehensive and multifaceted approach to divination.

For those seeking depth, personal growth, and a tool for self-reflection, tarot cards offer unparalleled benefits.

Read more about How to Prepare for a Tarot Card Reading?

Choosing the Right Deck for You

Selecting the right deck for tarot or cartomancy readings is a deeply personal decision that can significantly impact the effectiveness and resonance of your readings.

Whether you're drawn to the traditional symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, the simplicity of playing cards, or the unique artwork of a contemporary tarot deck, the key is to choose a deck that speaks to you on an intuitive level.

Consider what you seek from your divination practice—straightforward guidance, deep introspection, or a connection to spiritual themes—and let that guide your choice. Pay attention to the imagery and aesthetics of the deck, as these elements can greatly influence your connection to the cards and your ability to interpret their messages.

Tarot Readings

Tarot Readings with Trusted Psychics UK offers unparalleled insight into the life questions and issues you may face, providing a unique and profound perspective on your journey of self-discovery and decision-making.

If you need clarification on which type of reading is best for you, tarot cards vs playing cards, a psychic expert can help.

We all need a push in the right direction sometimes; whether it's about personal matters, relationships, or career choices, a live psychic reader can tap into the rich tapestry of symbols and meanings within the tarot to offer clarity and direction. These experienced card-reading experts are available for consultations via phone call, offering a direct and personal connection to enhance your reading.

For those who prefer the convenience of digital communication, starting an easy online chat on Live Messenger can provide the same depth of insight and guidance. Engaging with a Trusted Psychics UK reader can be a transformative experience, opening doors to understanding and resolving the complexities of your life with compassion and wisdom.


Which Came First: Playing Cards or Tarot Cards?

Between Playing cards vs Tarot cards, Playing cards are believed to have originated first, with historical records suggesting their use in Eastern Asia as early as the 9th century before spreading to the Islamic societies and then to Europe in the late Middle Ages, around the 14th century.

Tarot cards first appeared in European countries in the 15th-16th century, initially used for games rather than divination. The use of tarot cards for mystical and divinatory purposes began to develop in the 18th century.

While playing cards and tarot cards share a common lineage in terms of card-playing, playing cards have a longer history and were the precursor to the tarot cards used today for divination and reflection.

Are Tarot Cards the Same Size As Playing Cards?

Generally, a pack of cards used for tarot is larger than the standard pack used for playing games. This size difference accommodates the detailed imagery and symbolism found on tarot cards, which are essential for divination and reflection.

The larger size of tarot cards allows for more intricate art and separate designs, making it easier for the reader to connect with the visual cues during a reading.

Playing cards, primarily used for card games, are smaller, more uniform, and designed for easy handling and shuffling. However, there are exceptions, and sizes can vary, especially with speciality decks designed for collectors or specific purposes.

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