Tarot Cards Vs. Playing Cards – Main Differences

Both playing cards and Tarot cards stem from the same origin, so it is not surprising that they are very similar.

The two just divided many years ago in Europe and carried on parallel to each other.

Tarot is still played as a card game is small regions in Europe, but in the English speaking world, it has almost exclusively become a method of divination.

I do not think that many English speakers would even know there are card games that may be played with Tarot just as many English speakers will not be aware that playing cards are also used in the same way as tarot cards for divination, in a technique called Cartomancy.

There are many similarities between Tarot cards and regular playing cards. The main differences between Tarot cards and regular playing cards are in their design, dimensions, and also in the main use of the cards.

What are Tarot Cards?

The Tarot has been known by several names over the years.

They were first called Trionfi and then later Tarocchi, and then Tarock.

The Tarot is a special pack of playing cards that appeared in the middle of the 15th century in various parts of Europe.

The cards were originally used to play games.

These games included Tarrocchini (Italian), French Tarot, and Konigrufen from Austria.

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These games are still played in parts of Europe right up until the present day.

When we reached the 18th century, the concept of using the cards to foretell the future became increasingly common, which led to the creation of decks specifically made for the purpose.

Tarot Cards have four suits.

These suits were not common throughout Europe.

Northern Europe tended to use the French Suits, Southern Europe used Latin Suits, and German Suits were used in Central Europe.

We will look at the suits later.

Each suit has 14 cards, comprising 10 Pip Cards, which numbered 1 through to ten, the Ace represents one.

The suit also has four Face Cards, the King, Queen, Knight, Jack (aka Knave or Page).

So far this is very similar to a standard pack of playing cards, except there is typically no knight, resulting in 13 cards for each suit. Most modern packs include 2 Jokers as well.

Now we come to where the Tarot pack diverges from the standard playing card pack.

The Tarot cards also have a Trump Suit containing 21 cards, together with one Fool (joker).

We will look at this Trump Suit later. In some European countries, this same design of Tarot Pack is still used for playing card games.

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This is not the case in English speaking countries where Tarot Cards are normally just used for divination.

Tarot CardsRegular Cards
Main purposeDivination, Fortune TellingCards Games, Magic Tricks
Dimensions7 cm x 12 cm (2.75" x 4.75")6,35 cm x 8.89 cm (2.5" x 3.5")

Tarot Cards – The Major Arcana

Earlier on, I mentioned that Tarot cards have an additional 22 card selection of cards called the Trump Suit or Major Arcana.

These cards are typically valued at 10 to 21.

Until the 17th century, this trump suit had no paranormal significance; it was just a trump suit used in playing card games.

The remaining cards in a deck apart from the Major Arcana are called the Minor Arcana.

The Major Arcana Cards (Traditional):

The Fool
1The Magician
2The High Priestess
3The Empress
4The Emperor
5The Hierophant
6The Lovers
7The Chariot
9The Hermit
10Wheel of Fortune
12The Hanged Man
15The Devil
16The Tower
17The Star
18The Moon
19The Sun
21The World

Each Major Arcana Card shows a scene that has many symbolic elements within the picture.

The picture will feature a person or persons.

No matter what picture the deck uses on the card, the symbolism remains constant.

Some cards will have both a number and a picture. Others will have a picture.

There is a more modern deck, called the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which has switched the Justice and Strength cards to fit astrological connections better.

This new design is increasingly used.


For those interested in card readings, despite the popularity of Tarot, there is an alternative that has a long history.

Cartomancy is frequently overlooked, and that is a shame because it can often provide a better reading when used in conjunction with a professional.

This is a divination method that uses a standard pack of playing cards instead of a Tarot Card pack.

Cartomancy was commonplace in Europe by the 1700s.

Whether true or not, it is said that Napoleon would make important decisions after seeking the advice of a Cartomancer.

Cartomancy is very similar to the Tarot, but Cartomancy is more specific about the timing of events, whereas the Tarot gives us more data about romance and relationships.

In Cartomancy Kings denote males, Queens denote females and Jacks are you of either gender.

Cartomancy reading is affected by the mood of the reader and the subject.

It is best to avoid readings when not feeling very positive as it can give a very negative reading, and also the deck can be affected by this negativity, which it retains. Possession of a crystal is recommended for protection against negative energy from the deck.

Types of Playing Cards Used in Games

The most common type of playing card today is the French Suited Deck, which has 52 cards.

READ  Joker Card | Purpose, Meaning, and History

However, these are not the only types of cards still in existence.

If you go to certain European Countries and play cards, you may be faced with traditional cards that are localized to that region.

These countries are Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.

You may also find people playing card games with Tarot Cards in France and parts of Central Europe.

However, the French Suited design is the most common internationally and can often also be found in countries that use other designs.

Card Suits

In playing cards, a suit is one of the divisions by which the cards are organized.

Mostly the Pips that designate the value are made into symbols to show to which suit the card belongs.

The color of the printing on the cards may also designate its suit.

The symbols that designate the suit may vary from one regional variation to another.

Suits actually are an older concept than playing cards. Suits were used in ancient China.

The Islamic world had earlier contact with the Chinese than the west, and they brought the idea to Europe.

The Muslims slightly misunderstood the Chinese suits and they got slightly altered en-route from China.

Early Turkish/Arabic cards had four suits denoted by coins, clubs, cups, and swords.

These were based on the Muslims looking at the Chinese symbols and describing what they thought the symbols looked like.

Because of the Islamic invasion of Spain, these designs were brought to Spain and became the basis of the Latin Playing Cards, which are still used in Spain since the 1370s.

There were four varieties of Latin designs, but only three remain.

These are Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The main differences are between the designs of the swords and clubs.

During the 15th century, Germanic Suits started to appear. They also had variations according to the geographic area.







This French set of suits sprung from the German at around 1480.

This is the set of designs that most of us in the West are used to.

However, there is a variation on the French design called the No-Revoke decks.

These have four colors, one for each suit.

If you search around on auction sites, you can sometimes find decks with 6 suits, and even 8 suits that certain manufacturers tried (unsuccessfully) to promote.

Playing Card Trivia

Playing cards were invented by the Chinese around AD1000.

They spread into Europe by 1360, coming via the Islamic Middle East who had contact with the Chinese.

They had interpreted the suits from the original Chinese ones by looking at the Chinese script and thinking what picture it most looked like.

The original Chinese suits were all about money.

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Have you ever noticed that there are 52 weeks in one year and the same number of cards in a pack of cards?

There are four suits which equate to the four seasons.

There are thirteen cards which is the number of lunar cycles in a year.

Nobody really knows if this influenced the design of the pack but it’s pretty coincidental.

Originally cards were a luxury item as they were all hand made, but with the invention of the printing press, they became available to the masses.

Do you know what the oldest card game in the world is?

Unbelievable there is documented evidence of a card game that was played in Bavaria as long ago as 1426 (probably earlier), called Karnöffel.

If you want to learn how to play it follow this link to GameRules.com

Use Of Cards For Magic Tricks

While I know hundreds of magic tricks with regular playing cards and there are most probably thousands of tricks existing in total, I know only a few magic tricks where Tarot cards are used.

When a magician use deck of Tarot cards in a magic trick, it’s usually connected to some spooky, mystical story that he is using along with the actual trick.

We can safely declare that Tarot cards are not used for magic tricks, with only a few exceptions.

If you’re interested in learning some cool magic tricks with playing cards and also with other props, make sure to check the lists of best online resources that you can use and also check the video below that will teach you the best easy card magic tricks for beginners!

Free Tarot Card Reading

Did you know that you don’t need to meet a Tarot card reader to receive accurate Tarot reading?

Well, I recently tried this Online reading and I was actually very surprised how accurate it was!

It’s really hard to describe it; you have to try it and experience it on your own!

Check it today – it’s free and so there is nothing to lose!

Tarot cards


Final Thoughts

I find it fascinating that well-known elements of our life today have evolved, and as they spread the globe.

Tarot and cards have a shared origin, but it is not just those two that share a common root.

Dominos in China are also created on something that looks like a playing card.

Once again, as the game developed and changed over time, it moved away from the common root.

It made me wonder whether dominos could, in the same way as cards and Tarot, be used for divination. It was just an idle thought as I finished this article and I was amazed to see that they are indeed used for fortune-telling.

Improve Magic

I believe that life is magic. I'm a playing cards collector, I love performing magic tricks and I'm also the owner of a small magic shop. Apart from that I like to explore different kinds of supernatural magic that we all have in our lives and I like to share what I learn... I'm great fan of Harry Potter...

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