The Art of the One-Card Tarot Reading

Sometimes keeping it simple with only one card is the best tarot reading you can do for yourself or someone else.

a tarot reader holding a card in front of her

Image courtesy of Pexels.

No matter what your level of experience with reading tarot cards, there’s one type of reading that all practitioners return to time and again: the one-card tarot reading. It’s simple, elegant, and extremely useful in a variety of ways. Even if you do not believe in the power of tarot cards as divination tools, one-card tarot readings can prove useful to you in a non-magickal way.

A one-card tarot reading can provide a quick self check-in before starting the day. Image courtesy of Lunar Cafe.

Why do a one-card tarot reading?

We are all familiar with the rule of KISS, and as unloving as it is to call yourself or someone else “stupid,” the rule remains true. Keeping things simple often-- though not always, in the case of tarot-- lends itself to clarity and comprehension.

Often in tarot, we think the more cards, the clearer the answer-- perhaps that is why the Celtic Cross is so popular. We seem to equate highly detailed readings with the need for several cards, perhaps even clarification cards. Before you know it, you’ve got a quarter of the deck spread out and you’ve still got questions.

Getting back to basics by drawing one card forces us to engage deeper with the card’s meaning, and encourages a deeper thinking of how it may apply to us and our intentions or inquiries.

For many of us, tarot is a divination tool that helps us gain insight, answers, and directions for our lives. If life is a journey-- a map of adventure, laid out in front of us-- tarot cards act like Google Maps or Mapquest. Except that the more cards we throw down, the more confused our spiritual GPS gets, the more updates freeze our navigational systems.

Time to clear the clutter.

Starting your day with a daily one-card tarot reading can provide guidance for the day and help create the mindset needed to navigate the day’s challenges with grace. Image courtesy of Harvey James Tarot.

Daily Meditation

Meditation is a tool that both spiritual and non-spiritual people engage in to gain focus, mindfulness, and relaxation. Depression and anxiety symptoms decrease with regular meditation, and portions of our brains strengthen.

The one-card tarot draw is perfect for meditation, especially for those who find it hard to meditate without a focus object or for whom meditation is a new skill to develop. Even if you do not believe that tarot cards are magickal or spiritual, the art used to illustrate them can provide an anchor for your focus. Additionally, the traditional meanings behind the cards-- and the symbols associated with them-- can provide content for your meditation.

For those who believe, starting your day with a one-card tarot draw brings messages or guidance about the day ahead or the mindset one is in need of that day.

New to tarot and overwhelmed with all of the memorization involved? Use a one-card tarot draw to help familiarize yourself with the cards and create a working relationship with your deck. Image courtesy of Exemplore.

Learn tarot while bonding with your deck

The classic way to use a one-card tarot reading is to learn tarot cards while creating a bond with your tarot deck. The bond is necessary to get the deepest and most accurate readings from your deck-- in a way, you get to know it like you would a friend or a lover.

Many tarot devotees will wrap newly-purchased decks in silk and carry it with them to bond with the energy, sometimes even sleeping with the deck under their pillow. (You know that old trick of memorizing things while you sleep? This process is similar-- it allows your unconscious and spirit to infuse the deck with your energy, kind of like an imprint.)

But actually learning tarot takes an equal amount of intuition and memorization. Aid this process by shuffling your cards and drawing a new card every day. For those just learning tarot, study the card and use your intuition and knowledge to decipher the card’s meaning through both its art and its vibe. Then look up the meaning in the guide book. We highly recommend keeping a tarot journal for this!

Don’t get discouraged or think you’ve failed if your intuitive reading of the card doesn’t match the guidebook’s. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The guidebook is the intended meaning, but your intuition gives you the spiritual meaning, and may change depending on how your relationship with the card (and, if it’s in a reading with other cards, how it relates to them) grows and develops.

Another method is to read the guidebook cover to cover (guidebooks can provide great tips!), and pull the card about which you are reading at the time. Hold the card while reading about it, then study its art and energy. Note keywords about it in your tarot journal.

After this process, give the cards a really good shuffle, and set the deck face-down in a space you’ll be able to claim for the next 78 days. Every day, draw the next card and try the previous exercise-- it will help give you guidance for the day’s energy and may even warn you to prepare for certain events.

The use of a single card as a means of divination allows for simple, clear messages. Image courtesy of Simbi.

Quick Insight

Sometimes we just need some quick, accessible insight into a person or problem. The one-card tarot reading is an elegant method to gain clarity in this instance.

Unencumbered by the presence of other cards’ meanings clamoring to be included, shuffling the deck with intention and drawing one single card will ensure you get the most-needed information for the question or situation.

This is where we need to stop and remind you that getting a good tarot reading depends upon the nature of the question you ask. Tarot does not lend itself very well to a clear YES/NO tarot reading (although there are some that would argue otherwise)-- for that, we’d recommend turning to using a pendulum. (You could also use a pendulum in addition to any tarot card reading for insight, instead of drawing clarification cards.)

Try to keep your questions open-ended, just like you would for research-- instead of asking “Does David love me?” ask “How will I know if I should go on a date with David?” or “What do I need to know about David’s feelings towards me at this moment?”

Shuffle well, and pull the card that either lands on top, or that calls to you.

This type of reading is especially useful in circumstances where a whole answer is already known or sensed, but a bit of clarification or insight is needed. If it’s a question that is overwhelming you or it is too large, you may need to turn to a different spread that is geared towards the type of question or problem you have. For example, a one-card tarot reading is not a great way to get a full-on relationship divination experience.

If you’ve already done a more complex reading on a situation and just need an update, pulling a single card can provide an uncomplicated summary of what’s changed. Image courtesy of Fivver.

Follow-up to a previous reading

Similar to the previous segment, perhaps you’ve already gotten a reading-- either from a professional or done one for yourself-- and some time has passed and you wish to “check in” to see what else you need to know.

A one-card tarot reading is a great way to see what has changed about a situation divined previously, because you can simply ask the question “What has changed since ___?” Or you can ask “How do I know if I’m still doing this right?”

For example, let’s go back to David. Let’s say you’ve been dating for a while, and you decided to do a three-card spread about what elements are affecting your relationship. Let’s say you got The Devil (past), the 2 of Cups (present), and the King of Swords (future). The answers you divined were that in the past you were addicted to toxic relationships, and now David is a great choice because you’re attracted to him in a healthy way, and the future of the relationship may be challenged by how cerebral and unemotional he can sometimes be.

Perhaps a month later, the relationship is stable and satisfying, if David sometimes seems a bit distant or overly-practical. You could do a one-card tarot reading to ask “What has changed in our relationship over the last month?” Let’s say you draw Judgement. This could be interpreted as you have healed the part of you that drew you to toxic men in the past, and you’re doing great work in this relationship with David. What has changed then is your comfort level-- it has increased-- and the relationship with David is growing in good ways. Keep going! Good work!

Drawing one tarot card can provide answers from ancestors more safely than spirit boards with just as much detail. Image courtesy of Depop.

Spirit communication

All divination tools can be used to communicate with the spirit realm, particularly ancestors. As with any spirit communication, please take appropriate precautions to ensure your safety-- you do not want to call forth something dark or evil. Make sure your area is properly cleansed and a protective circle or wards set in place. If you are trying to contact a specific person, try setting out things that they loved in life-- a favorite drink, incense, or photograph, for instance. Certain oils and herbs such as mugwort and crystals such as amethyst or celestite can also assist in creating energy attuned to the spirit world, making it easier for communication to happen.

Once you’ve created your space and feel that you’ve called forth the correct spirit, ask them for a message or a sign. Shuffle and draw a card, or spread the cards out and ask them to guide your hand. Pick the card to which you are drawn or guided.

At this point, we want to take a moment to remind you that pulling the “Death” card does not mean a literal death will take place. It’s insanely rare for it to mean that. Typically the “death” in question is metaphorical-- that there is a shedding of a version of you (or someone else) that is no longer needed. Out with the old and useless, in with the new and useful.

As with any spirit communication, be sure to thank them and let them know you’re closing the door. Then pronounce the reading done and cleanse the area with salt, smudging, or another practice. Lift the protective circle or wards when you feel it is safe to do so.

More complex questions need more complex answers, and that means the single-card reading just won’t do the issue justice. Image courtesy of Well+Good.

When is a one-card tarot reading not enough?

Sometimes we have questions or problems that one card will simply not be enough to gain guidance or answers. Your intuition is a good guide to this, and often you may feel the need to use a specific spread for your purposes.

Some of these bigger questions include, but are not limited to:

  • How will I know if this relationship is the one?
  • What do I need to know about him/her/them?
  • What needs to happen for my career to be successful?
  • What am I not doing/what do I need to do for this to work?

Essentially, if it is life-changing or highly psychological or emotional in nature, you probably need a bigger spread.

The single-card tarot reading makes perfect sense for most day-to-day questions and issues. Image courtesy of The Tarot Lady.

What are some ways in which you’ve used one-card tarot readings? If you’ve never used it before, how do you plan to use it? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to suggest other spreads you’d like us to explore!

Jean Linder

Jean Linder is a writer and photographer from Pittsburgh, PA.
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