How to Do a Simple Tarot Card Spread


David Orellana for Microcosm publishing

This “White Numen” deck celebrates sacred animals and is the deck that I use in my readings.

Divination, or the magic of fortune-telling, is a practice that dates back to the early second millennium, primarily in the areas within and surrounding Ancient Mesopotamia. The desire to seek answers to questions, be it from the past, future, or from a number of supernatural beings drove these ancient people to create different forms of divination. The Babylonians/Chaldeans utilized astronomy to create the branch of astrology. Ancient Romans used a form of divination called augury, which is the magic of observing bird behaviors and applying them to certain omens. Later on, in the early 15th century (1450s to 1550s), the use of the first tarot deck began.

The tarot deck was created under the territory of what is now modern Italy. It followed the typical suits of historical Italian playing cards: Coins, Cups, Swords, and Batons. This original deck also featured four types of face cards (king, queen, knight, knave) as well as 21 trump cards (“tarrochi”) and the fool card (which may have inspired the name of the “tarrochi” because of the Italian root “tarroch,” meaning “fool”).

Tarot cards only started to be associated with the occult and divine practices later on, further developing the practice of cartomancy (the magic of using playing cards for fortune-telling) in France. The French tarot diviners used the Tarot of Marseilles deck until the deck later evolved to comprise the major arcana and minor arcana cards known today!

The modern tarot deck of major arcana is essentially a 22-card life story, leading from The Fool (our main character), all the way to The World. There are also 56 minor arcana cards, which represent more localized, everyday decisions or omens that might happen in your life (compared to the vastness of the major arcana). Translated from the original Coins, Cups, Swords, and Batons of the Italian deck, the modern minor arcana is made up of Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands (relating to different spheres of one’s identity).

The 4-card tarot spread:

Note: If you do not have access to a tarot deck, you can simply use a traditional deck of playing cards and assign the different suits and numbers the same meanings for the minor arcana (assigning Hearts to tarot Cups, etc.). For the major arcana and for how to actually perform the readings, I recommend this article which explains it in simple terms.

Without getting too much into the meanings of each card or more complex spreads, here is a how-to for a simple four-card tarot reading!


First, it’s important to know your deck and your person. On your own, I recommend spending some time with your cards and looking over them (like a bonding session). Once you are with whoever requested the reading, shuffle the cards in your hands (doesn’t matter how) and begin to ask questions about what the person might want to know.

For this part, you don’t have to get too detailed — especially if the person is not comfortable with disclosing the whole situation. Remember, the person doesn’t have to have a “problem” per se, but shuffling and channeling their thoughts inwards will help the recipient understand what answer they might be seeking or what question they might be asking. It will also help you as a reader once it is time to make your interpretations.

Question examples:

Is there something, in particular, you want to know about your future?
Is there a specific part of your identity that it relates to? (Academia, relationships, work, etc.)
Have you been feeling anything out-of-the-blue lately that you would like some insight into?
Is there anything that’s been on your mind a lot lately?

Once you are done shuffling and the person has finished answering, it’s time to begin!

Laying Everything Out

Make sure you have enough space to spread out all your cards in front of your person so that a bit of each card is visible but they are facing down. It is not important if the cards are upside down or not because “upright” vs. “reverse” cards have different meanings. (However, for the sake of simplicity, I recommend just interpreting the upright meanings for now).

The first card your person picks is representative of their past. Once they pick it, you can either flip it over and proceed to interpret it, or draw the other three and flip them all over at once! (I prefer the latter because it looks nice to see them all together).

The second card represents the present.

The third card represents the future.

The fourth and final card represents the advice from the tarot.


I generally refer first to the booklet that came with my deck, but those descriptions are pretty broad. If you are looking for clearer directions, Biddy Tarot has extensive explanations for each card which I sometimes use if I need more details.

However, I rely very minimally on the detailed interpretations — once I have an idea of the cards’ meaning (based on the suits shown below) as well as by using the context I gained from the introductions before the cards were drawn, I am able to curate a more personal interpretation or story.

Suits of the Minor Arcana and their Keywords:

Wands: Initiative, Intellect, Creativity
Cups: Relationships, Emotion, Intuition
Swords: Challenges, Conflict, Strength
Pentacles: Work, Finances, Goals, Health

The Magic of It All

Remember, you are the diviner in this situation! You have the magic to figure it out! And keep it fun! Tarot is a way to get in touch with oneself for both the reader and the recipient. You can always interject with what you might think the cards mean based on your own judgment, or if the recipient is unsure about the meaning of a card, ask them to draw another one that might layer on some more context.

While the world of tarot can be complicated —and I encourage you to look into it if you are interested— this four-card spread shows that there are very simple ways to get in touch with your present and your destiny.