Part of the allure of Tarot is the mystery. You envision a candlelit read and a table spread with your grandmother’s tablecloth. There is soft music playing as you shuffle a well-worn deck that glides like butter in your hands. You lay out the cards next to your crystals and ponder their meanings.

Unfortunately that’s not always what life looks like.

Reality: You’re on a crowded bus on the way home from work. You have time to study the Tarot but you can’t exactly lay out a spread. You’re in the waiting room of a hospital. You want to ease your anxiety but you don’t have a deck with you. Your roommate is hosting Bible study in your room this week. You’d love to do some Tarot tonight but some of those ladies would definitely get in your face about it and you’re not in the mood to educate them about the fact that you’re definitely not engaged in devil worship thank you very much.

Here are some ways you can use Tarot apps:

To learn Tarot

The apps that I use from Fool’s Dog LLC have a menu when you open the app that has choices like: New Reading, Draw a Card, Today’s Card, Explore, and Journal. For now we’re looking at the Explore option. When you click on it, there’s a menu that says About This Deck, Cards, Spreads, Reading Cloths, The Book, and Using This App.

If you select Cards, you can see all 78 cards in your deck. If you tap on the card, you can flip it over and there will be a brief meaning on the back. If you want even more depth, you can click Full Text From the Book to read the section from the companion book. If you’ve ever tried to read a companion guide to a Tarot deck all the way through from start to finish, you’ll appreciate that reading on the card you’re interested in at the moment helps you remember more about what it said.

You can even use the cards as flash cards: look at the image and try to figure out what it means. Flip the card over and see if you were on the same wavelength as the deck creator (or add your own insights).

There is an app called Labyinthos that is dedicated to learning the Tarot or Lenormand decks. You do have to create an account and log in to use the app but the app itself is free (I had not been using it because I mistakenly believed you had to be enrolled in a paid course to use it). It has lessons, reference articles, and even little quizzes to help you level up your skills.

To study a card each day

Simply select the card you want or let the app choose one for you. Throughout the day you can look back at your card and in the evening you can review it and even click on the Menu wheel in the top right corner to add your own thoughts on the card’s meaning. If you let the app choose the card for you, it’s super simple to journal about the card right there in the app and you can come back to it later.

As a Tarot journal

On June 1, 2020, I drew the Strength card in a one-card reading from the Robin Wood Tarot. I know this because it’s one of the few times I’ve used the app’s Journal. It automatically records the date, your question, the spread you used, a picture of the spread, the meanings of the cards (including your own meanings that you’ve added), and your own interpretation of the spread. You can even go back to a spread later and add more thoughts on it.

In fact, as I was browsing this feature while writing this, I realized I could have been using it so much better. I’ve barely touched what might be the most powerful part of the app. Most of my apps have only a few one-card spreads with no thoughts of my own or even what question I asked. Now I’m motivated to make use the the journaling capabilities. I’ve been using Tarot apps since like 2009 or something ridiculous like that. Why haven’t I been keeping my Tarot journal this way the entire time?!

To see the images better

Sometimes decks have gorgeous imagery that you love but in your physical deck you feel like you’re missing some of the detail. Shadowscapes by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law is like this. Her watercolor paintings are gorgeous but I felt I wasn’t seeing everything she included when I used the physical deck. On the app, however, I can pinch and zoom and see so many things I never imagined where in the pictures. When you study the cards this way and then pick up your physical deck again you can now see the details that you didn’t notice before.

The Shadowscapes Major Arcana
zoomed-in closeup of the Shadowscape Two of Cups

To explore decks cheaply

Sure, you could buy every deck you see. At least, you could if you’re a billionaire. Which you might be, but most of us are not. A deck costs anywhere from $15 to over $40 for a set with a guidebook. And that’s just mass market decks, not independently published, rare, or hard to find decks.

Tarot apps cost about $3.99 (or less!) for the deck and the book. You can see every card in the deck and read the creator’s thoughts about each card before committing to the price of the deck. And when you do decide to get the deck, you can read it straight out of the box because you’ve gotten to know it a bit already.

There are even decks like the Buckland Romani Tarot Deck that have been out of print for several years and now you can only find them on eBay for several hundred dollars. You can download the app and see if you even want the cards if you find yourself tempted to buy just because you’ve heard it’s sought after. You might find that the app is enough for you and you save yourself a chunk of change.

Sadly, not all decks have apps available, but it would be lovely if they did. A girl can dream!

To compare the images in different decks

If you have enough decks, enough space to spread them out, and enough time to get them all out and put them away, comparing the Empress in every deck you own can help you deepen your understanding of the card. Same thing with the other 77 cards. Most Tarot readers love doing this.

With the apps, I can do this lying in my bed some insomniac nights. All I need is my phone. I can look at any card in each of the decks I have apps for and learn passively until I finally drift off to sleep. Better yet, I don’t wake up to a mess all over my table.

To learn new spreads

Click on the Explore option in any Fool’s Dog app and one of the menu choices will be Spreads. When you click on it, it will include some stand spreads like a Past, Present & Future three card spread, a Celtic Cross and a Horseshoe Spread.

For many decks there will also be a section labeled Deck-Specific Spreads that contains all the spreads that the deck creator made especially to go with the deck.

deck-specific spreads for the Shadowscapes Tarot

To choose a new deck

You don’t have to buy every Tarot app to help you choose a deck. There are apps like the Lo Scarabeo Tarot Collection and the Tarot Sampler by Fool’s Dog. The Tarot Sampler will show you eight cards from a deck if you select Decks from the Explore menu.

sample cards from Ciro Marchetti’s Tarot of Dreams

If you select Cards from the menu, it will show you the same card from six different decks, allowing you to compare imagery in decks you don’t own the app for.

The Star card from six different decks

The Lo Scarabeo app lets you browse their catalog alphabetically or by categories such as Child-Friendly, Marseille-Based or Fairies. You can do a one card or three card spread in the app but you can only choose between the Universal Tarot or the Universal Tarot of Marseille for this. The Fool’s Dog Tarot Sampler is a better Tarot app but the Lo Scarabeo is an interactive deck catalog featuring a ton of decks.

To focus on a card for magic or meditation

Choosing a card to focus on for what you want to manifest in your life or to meditate on are great ways to deepen your experience with the cards. Not only can you spend time with the app open pondering a card, you can also make a screenshot of a card your phone’s background image.

For Tarot readings

Sure, a lot of people are resistant to using the apps for this purpose because they love to sit and shuffle their physical decks. In all the years I’ve had Tarot apps on my phone, I’ve mostly just browsed through the pretty pictures and not done much else with them. But you could use an app even if you never owned a deck and never planned on buying one. Maybe you’re traveling the world and need to pack light. Maybe you just don’t like clutter (most of us would say our decks aren’t clutter!). Maybe you’re paperless and you read only ebooks and using a Tarot app on your phone suits your lifestyle better. Or maybe you love Tarot so much that you want to do readings on your phone in addition to the ones you do with a physical deck.

For most of the deck apps I’ve used the top menu selection when you open the app is New Reading. You can type your question, choose a spread, choose riffle, wash or cut to see an animated shuffle, choose draw to touch the cards and watch them align in their spaces according to the spread you chose. Then you tap to turn them over and voila! A reading right there on your phone or tablet.

Bottom Line

Regardless of how you choose to use them, Tarot apps can be fun, educational, and a great addition to your Tarot practice. They don’t have to be a replacement for your physical decks, but they totally can be. They can also be a place to get started if you’re not even sure you want to buy a deck or which deck to buy.

I’ve heard Tarot readers dismiss apps just like I’ve heard novel readers dismiss ebooks. I get it. I like the sensual qualities that can’t be replicated on a screen. But the fact is that we use apps for everything now and they aren’t going anywhere. Plus, we have our phones with us all the time, even when we’re in line at the DMV. Sure, a reading on your phone while you wait to renew your license isn’t the same as a reading by candlelight on grandma’s tablecloth. But it beats staring at the person in front of you for an hour.