How Do Tarot and Oracle Readings Work?



  1. fortune-telling by interpreting a random selection of playing cards.

If you're a reader yourself, then you're already familiar with this phenomenon - but if you're on the client side of the equation then it can be a bit mystifying.

You sit down, your tarot reader shuffles a deck of cards, or maybe has you shuffle the cards. One of you picks cards at random, lays them out, and then the reader tells you that your relationship with your brother is on the rocks, the new girl you've met is a good romantic interest for you, and now might be a good time to put the credit card away - you've been spending just a little more than is necessary.

...and they're right.

How did they do that? How could they know?

I'll tell you.


Whether we're using a tarot deck, or an oracle deck, the cards are (usually) all given certain meanings ahead of time. The Two of Cups means a strong partnership, potentially romantic. The Four of Wands means a celebration. The Snail card in my own oracle deck means "grounded."

But it's not just cards! There are all manner of divination systems out there that do the trick in the same way. Runes, bones, candle flames, mediumship, tea leaves, and they all work on the same idea. There are symbols that can be blatantly seen, or delved into in each medium, and they have inherent meanings. 

Think of the symbols on a card like literal cue cards from the divine. When I flip over the 10 of Cups while doing a reading for you, I have a whole list of symbols present on this card, and also a number of associations for my intuition, my brain, and my guides to work with.

  • Intense happiness
  • A lot of water
  • Strong emotion
  • And depending on the card, any number of other concepts that come from the artist's unique interpretation

Joan Bunning, in "Learning the Tarot" (a great beginner's book by the way) lists 30 associations with the Ace of Wands. Add to that my own personal experiences and associations, and you have what seems like a real long-shot that I'll be able to tell you anything useful and specific in your reading.


If there wasn't a little magic involved, then everyone I read for would get the exact same message, anytime I drew The Moon for them. But something tells me which association is going to be relevant to you.

What (or who) that something is depends on where you believe diviners get their information. It could be all subconscious, and psychological, it could be intuitively-derived, it could be from the energy that the client puts forth, or, as I believe it to be - it could be a nudge and a wink from my guides and your guides.

I also believe that if you read the cards, then where you get your information is entirely up to you. Would you prefer to commune with angels? No problem. More comfortable thinking that the collective consciousness is informing your reading? Excellent. 

And that's all there is to cartomancy, or almost any divination system, really. It's both simple, and also deeply mysterious.