what are tarot cards - rosietarot

What are Tarot Cards?

Tarot cards are playing cards used for divination, folk storytelling and for parlour games or card games. 

They have been a part of both entertainment and divination history for hundreds of years.

Tarot cards are also appreciated for their artistry, now more than ever before.

What is a Tarot Card?

Tarot cards are one-sided parlour cards which use a variety of images, symbols and esoteric signs, designed in a specific way (usually including characters and archetypes) to help the reader of the card formulate stories and hypotheses.

The images can be symbolic representations of people, objects, ideas, dreams, thoughts, hidden subconscious desires, and feelings. 

In essence, the cards are read for a variety of purposes, including: 

  • Giving emotional advice and comfort
  • Building stories and tales
  • Learning more about a person and their predilections, and 
  • Performing divination. 

Tarot readings are usually conducted one-to-one and in person, with the reader and receiver (or significator) in the same room. 

But, it can be done remotely – Tarot has certainly kept up with the times! 

For example, receiving Tarot readings by email, over the phone, or even receiving Tarot readings Signal, and via other messaging apps. 

Readings and other items can now be sent over the internet without incurring carrier or call charges, which is often more convenient for people who wish to have a reading sent to them which they can read in their own time.

When you go to a Tarot card reading, you can expect for there to be several Tarot cards dealt with you and your energies in mind. 

The cards are laid out in what is called a spread. The cards will have symbols, numbers and sometimes quite disturbing imagery which might include stabbed swords, or bodies falling out of a building. Even though this may sound scary, there is nothing to fear. 

The Tarot cards are designed to be read in groups – or in spreads – to help decipher messages and meanings as all the cards are read together. 

Types of Cards

Tarot cards are generally classified as that: Tarot. Some people call the cards by the name of who designed the cards, or what symbolism they are most famous for – for example, Rider-Waite, Marseilles (or ‘The Tarot of Marseilles’), Thoth, Bea Nettles, etc. 

A signifier or client card is drawn from the deck when the reader is feels is significant to them or the client enough to represent them in the reading. 

Some call this “the significator card” or “the avatar”. The reader usually reads the cards in the order they are drawn, but there will normally be some crossover between them all once all cards are pulled.

Masculine and Feminine energies in Tarot

Most tarot decks have a tarot of the priestess or a Queen, which can sometimes mean that, if drawn in a reading, the reading will be more focused on female reading. The Magician or The King can sometimes indicate that the reading is more focused on masculine readings.

Modern Tarot

While the divination and spiritual use of the Tarot has been relatively recent, the popularity of Tarot has exploded in recent years. 

This means that anyone interested inTarot has access to a true wealth of imagery and symbolism should they wish to offer unique readings, compared to the standard Rider-Waite utilised mostly today, and many of the historical French decks using the Marseille numerical order. These used to be the only ones available – many of the medieval European decks with slightly different Major Arcana and even the choice of numbers used, are tucked away inside museums.

Although there are many decks of Tarot that are still in common use, some decks are particularly special, being used by several different groups. For example, the Mantegna Tarot has just 50 cards, and there are thought to be just 2 decks in existence – one of them is in the British Museum.

Nevertheless, far from being a fairground stall behind a curtain, Tarot has been renewed over and over again. An example of this renewal is that there are now so many tarot decks to choose from these days. There are many artists who are inspired by the use of Tarot cards who now design their own interpretations.

After the Second World War, many more tarot books were published and clubs sprang up to teach people how to read them.

Divination or Entertainment?

There are many fascinating things that can be learned from the Tarot: fortune telling, divination, mindfulness and meditation, creating folk tales, or something more mystical. 

The Tarot facilitates a way of interpreting cards that have been shuffled together in order to potentially foreshadow future events if a certain path is taken. Some people believe that helps them to identify how they are feeling, which can help in understanding the different options that they have in their lives when it is hard to see a way forward or a way out.

In that sense, they are beyond entertainment: Tarot cards can indeed be therapeutic.

The history of this use of Tarot as a therapy tool dates back to Italy and France during the 15th and 16th centuries when it was developed by card makers who used rich Renaissance as well as quite deeply religious – often Christian – imagery, as inspiration for their Tarot card designs. 

Medieval symbolism played a huge part in the original Tarot card design in Europe, too. They were often used in card games within small village communities ‘top trumps’ style games (the Major Arcana would carry the highest points) and even gambling games.

While tarot cards can be used for entertainment, creating stories and for meditative practice, they are still widely accepted purely for divination and futures-thinking. 

Scrying or Psychic Readings with the Tarot

There are a number of techniques you can use to interpret a spread, and scrying and psychic readings are two more intense ways that the Tarot could potentially be used. However, this can lead some people to believing that the Tarot is evil.

Scrying and psychic readings, by those sensitive to these sorts of art forms, can also be done by studying the position of the cards within a spread, or by utilising other tools such as crystal balls, black mirrors, or pools of water typically placed in a clean, clear bowl or in a grail. 

Once you start learning about tarot cards, the variety of uses for them can seem overwhelming. It’s hard to know exactly what to believe when it comes to these cards – their predictions can seem too canny! 


However, one thing is certain: tarot cards are definitely not just for the so-called fortune tellers. They also have some practical purposes like dream reading, psychology, helping with decision making and even clarifying a situation objectively.

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