Using Pattern Recognition in Tarot Readings

Once you are familiar with the divinatory meanings of the cards, you can start to look at groups of cards that are similar. The information here is independent of tarot spreads - the skill to be developed is pattern recognition. As you will see, certain groups of cards have a particular divinatory meaning which you can use in your interpretations. The advantages of this method is that you get a 'feel' for the overall picture the reading represents.

The two pattern recognition methods are:

  • Interpreting similar cards
  • Elemental Balance (majority of cards)

The table below gives typical meanings for these combinations, which can be expanded upon with experience.

Three or four of a kind

4 Aces

Great power and force

3 Aces

Riches and success

2 Aces

Change in work, property move

4 Knights

Swiftness, speed

3 Knights

Unexpected meetings, news

4 Queens

Authority and influence

3 Queens

Powerful and influential friends

4 Princes

Meetings with the great

3 Princes

Honour, rank

4 Princesses

New ideas and plans

3 Princesses

Young society

4 Tens

Anxiety and responsibility

3 Tens

Buying, selling, commerce

4 Nines

Added responsibility

3 Nines

Much correspondence

4 Eights


3 Eights


4 Sevens


3 Sevens

Treaties, contracts

4 Sixes


3 Sixes

Gain and success

4 Fives

Order, regularity

3 Fives

Quarrels, fights

4 Fours

Rest and peace

3 Fours


4 Threes

Resolution and determination

3 Threes


4 Twos

Conference and conversations

3 Twos

Re-organisation and recommencement

Elemental Groups

By now you should know the elemental associations of the Minor and Court cards:

  • Wands - Fire
  • Cups - Water
  • Swords - Air
  • Disks/Pentacles - Earth

The Major cards are slightly more complicated, as the elemental associations are based upon the astrological attributions:

Majority of Cards: elements


Energy, quarrelling, opposition, active


Pleasure, enjoyment, passive


Problems, illness, sorrow, worry, active


Practical, solid, down to earth, passive

Majority of Cards: Card Types


Powers beyond the Querent's control


Many people, undue influence from other people


Events in the control of the Querent

There is a ratio between the Trumps, Court and Minor cards: 22 - 16 - 40, which can be simplified into an easy rule. Half the cards in a spread should be Minor, while the other half should be roughly divided between the Trumps and Minor cards. An equal number of Court cards to Trumps suggests influence from the court cards.


These exercises will develop your ability to spot and interpret patterns in tarot readings. For all these exercises, ignore the divinatory meaning of individual cards.

Exercise 1

Deal out around 10-15 cards face up at random on the table in front of you (it does not matter if some are upside down). Ignore divinatory meanings as you quickly assess the ratio between the Major, Minor and Court cards. You may have to count up the cards to start with, but soon you will be able to judge by eye. If the ratio follows the 22-16-40 rule, you have a balanced spread. Try to state the excess or otherwise of each type of card. Vary the number of cards you deal out, and notice the difference in how you look at the ratios. See if you can get a feel for what the 'spread' may be saying based purely on the Major/Minor/Court ratio.

Exercise 2

Repeat the above exercise, dealing out the cards at random. This time, quickly count up the elemental balance, ignoring whether they are Major, Minor or Court cards. State the elemental balance, making a note of excess or missing elements. Vary the number of cards dealt out. With practice you should be able to judge the elemental balance by eye. See how the 'feel' of the cards changes as the elemental balance changes.

Exercise 3

Once you are comfortable with seeing patterns using the Major/Minor/Court and elemental ratios, combine the two previous exercises. See if you can assess the balance of the two ratios, and a get feel of what this could mean in a reading, again ignoring the divinatory meanings.

Exercise 4

By now you should be thoroughly familar with the elements and type balance. The next stage is to deal the cards out at random as before. This time, look to see if there are any three or four of a kind. You may have to use a larger sample of cards to do this. See if you can remember the divinatory meanings of the groups of cards - you may find that the type balance and elemental ratio will help you.

By doing these exercises you will be comfortable with looking at the patterns within a reading, and be able to get a feel of what the cards are trying to 'say'. You will know if there is an excess or absence of an element, and what this will mean. Congratulations! Even without knowing the details of the divinatory cards, or having a formal spread, you will be able to analyse the reading and be able to say something of what is going on. Now that you have the 'big picture', you can start to look more closely at the cards.

Extra Exercises

If you want the extra challenge of doing readings, you can repeat the exercises with a partner. One person will deal out the cards at random on the table, and the other person will interpret the cards laid out just by looking at the patterns. The reading will be a summary of the cards laid out - missing, or excess elements etc. With practice you should be able to summarise the cards in less than 30 seconds. See if the other person agrees with your assessment.

Speed Readings

You can turn this into a game, seeing how fast you can deal out the cards and make an instant assessment. As soon as you have pronounced your judgement, the other person has a bit extra time to check your accuracy. This could also be a competition.


You may be surprised at the accuracy of the insights you gain. You will now have the flexibility to look at any spread of cards and say something about they represent. These exercises will also challenge your notions of what is required for reading the Tarot.