A Guide to Reading With The Illuminated Tarot

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Queen of Hearts The Illuminated Tarot

Ever since I published my review of The Illuminated Tarot, I’ve been getting the same question from folks looking to work with the deck: how do you actually read with it?

This question blooms from the fact that The Illuminated Tarot is a 53-card deck while the tarot is a 78-card one. Creator Kaitlin Keegan combined some of the pips and the Major Arcana, a choice resulting in cards that represent two different archetypes simultaneously.

In other words, at least twenty-one cards in the deck can be read in at least three different ways, making an already complex system even more so.

Because I love this deck and believe that it would become an instant classic were it not for this difference, I’m putting forth a bitty primer on how to read The Illuminated Tarot based on my thoughts and experiences. If you’ve been having trouble working with The Illuminated Tarot or are hesitant to pick up the deck, it’s my sincere wish that this guide helps you read it with ease.

Method One | Choose the Pips (and the Courts)

The “pips” are the cards numbered 1-10 in each suit, and the court cards are the face cards in each suit. For the purposes of The Illuminated Tarot, the suits are as follows: Hearts (Cups), Diamonds (Pentacles), Spades (Swords), and Clubs (Aces). Within each of these suits, you’ll find archetypes from the Major Arcana inhabiting the same space as a pip or face card. Here’s a breakdown of the correspondences:

The Fool

The Magician | King of Clubs (Wands)

The High Priestess | Two of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Empress | Queen of Hearts (Cups)

The Emperor | King of Spades (Swords)

The Hierophant | Five of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Lovers | Six of Hearts (Cups)

The Chariot | Seven of Spades (Swords)

Strength | Ace of Clubs (Wands)

The Hermit | Nine of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Wheel of Fortune | Ten of Hearts (Cups)

Justice | Eight of Spades (Swords)

The Hanged Man | Two of Spades (Swords)

Death | Four of Spades (Swords)

Temperance | Two of Hearts (Cups)

The Devil | Five of Clubs (Wands)

The Tower | Six of Clubs (Wands)

The Star | Seven of Diamonds (Pentacles)

The Moon | Eight of Hearts (Cups)

The Sun | Nine of Clubs (Wands)

Judgement | Ten of Spades (Swords)

The World | Ace of Diamonds (Pentacles)

Major Arcana | The Illuminated Tarot
Major Arcana | The Illuminated Tarot

Of course, some of the pairings are more obvious than others. The Hanged Man and the Two of Spades, for example, share a strikingly similar imagery. Likewise, the “pregnant pause before the choice” meaning of the Two of Spades translates incredibly well to the “surrender to that which you can’t control” meaning of The Hanged Man–in both instances, the figure is placed in a passive position that infers that reflection and greater understanding are needed before moving forward.

The Hanged Man The Illuminated Tarot

Some pairings are more elusive, however, and that’s where we run into problems.

The Hermit/Nine of Diamonds, The Wheel of Fortune/Ten of Hearts, and The Chariot/Seven of Spades are a few of the more tricky combinations. In order to circumvent any confusion, you can use the first method: interpret the card as a minor arcana card. In this case, you may read the card according to its traditional RWS minor meaning regardless of the imagery it conveys.

The Chariot The Illuminated Tarot

In the case of the The Chariot/Seven of Spades then, you may pull the meaning of deception and dishonesty from it even though that interpretation is not at all represented in the image on the deck. Perhaps the query you’ve received is such that it makes total and complete sense to interpret it that way, and if so, feel free to go for it. Likewise,The Hermit/Nine of Diamonds may speak more to abundance and body confidence (as it does as the Nine of Pentacles in the RWS) within the reading you’re giving, and if so, interpreting it that way may make much more sense.

Method Two | Choose the Majors

Favorite method or no, this is the one I find myself reverting back to most often. This is likely a reflection of the way that I read (more psychology-based than divination-based) than anything else–an appearance from a Major Arcana card indicates a more subconscious message to me. I find that the imagery of The Illuminated Tarot reflects the majors more overtly than the minors, so it’s “easier” in terms of reading for others one-on-one.

The Wheel of Fortune The Illuminated Tarot

If you’re more a numerically-leaning person than an imagery-leaning person (or if you’re a beginner-level tarot reader), than it may be better to read according to the minor arcana correspondence–there’s no label for the major arcana, so unless you memorize the correspondences beforehand, things might get a bit tricky.

Method Three | Combine The Two

This is by far my favorite method for reading with this deck, and it’s the one I endeavor to use most often mainly due to the added nuance it provides to a reading. There are actually two ways you can approach this method: 1) Read the minor first and the major second, almost as if you were reading two cards instead of one, or 2) read an amalgamation of the two, almost as if you were allowing the minor and its corresponding major to have a conversation.

I use the second approach with this deck because I naturally gravitated towards creating a cohesive message for each card. By doing so, I generated a deeper understanding of the whole and the sum of its parts, and for tarot/critical theory nerd like me, that’s my idea of good clean fun.

The High Priestess | A Case Study

Initially, The High Priestess in The Illuminated Tarot utterly boggled my mind.  Her archetype is one of esoteric mystery, of the deep inner knowing and intuitive messages that lie beyond the veil in the land of the hidden, of the subconscious. The Two of Diamonds (Pentacles), on the other hand, is grounded–very much concerned with the day-to-day practice of juggling our duties and responsibilities to bring our lives into balance.

The High Priestess The Illuminated Tarot

After puzzling a bit, I decided to focus on the meaning of the infinity symbol–that which exists ad infinitum (like the bottomless well of wisdom The High Priestess guards). Without, our lives follow a pattern of constant flux; within, our visceral inner knowing guides our actions without logical judgement. Therefore, the two coexist like two poles of the same planet, one aspect ethereal, the other grounded.

Method Four | Read Intuitively

I tend to view the tarot as I do wine–the nuances and flavors of both are subject to interpretation by whoever’s enjoying it. In this spirit, feel free to read The Illuminated Tarot however you like.

The Sun The Illuminated Tarot

No, I mean it. Look at the image and read what it conveys to you. Open yourself to a world where symbols speak through your consciousness in unique and valuable ways. Don’t limit yourself to meanings that don’t suit you or your querent. Walk on the wild side. And if you have no idea what I mean when I say “read intuitively” and you want to fall down that rabbit hole, check this out.

Much Love and Happy Cardslinging!

Reviewing The Illuminated Tarot

This is only the second deck I’ve reviewed, and for good reason: It’s Fucking Epic.

I had a similar reaction to The Moon Deck, and wrote a similarly gushy review of it. For some reason, I’m only pulled to review the decks I absolutely love–like a woman possessed, I want to share the goods with the world so everyone can bask in the awesomeness they bring. Without further ado, I bring you my review of the Illuminated Tarot–unabashedly biased and exalting.

The Practicals: Packaging and Quality

The Illuminated Tarot, 53 Cards for Divination and Gameplay was created by Caitlin Keegan and published by Clarkson Potter Publishers in 2017. As the blurb in the guidebook explains, Caitlin designed one card a week for a year, and by the time the year ended, she had a full deck. In her bio, it’s mentioned that she’s worked at both the Sesame Workshop and Nickelodeon Magazine which makes my inner child smile.

The Illuminated Tarot

I freaking love the box this deck is packaged in. It’s sturdy and perfectly sized at 5″ x 6.5″–I can store it with my other decks in the rather narrow space I have reserved for them, and the deep navy blue background offsets the dense, intricate gilded design perfectly. I must admit, navy and I are having a bit of a fling, so I couldn’t be more pleased with the choice. Inside, you’ll find a colorful, brief, and straightforward guide to the deck. Each card is categorized using three keywords/phrases, providing just enough meaning for the seasoned practitioner to work with. If this is your first deck, however, I’d recommend some additional reading in order to get a grip with the RWS system that the deck is based off of. Tarot 101 by Kim Huggens is a good place to start.

The deck itself is 3.5″ X 5″ and made with nice, sturdy card stock. The edges are a little rough, but whatever–it shuffles well and the barely-glossy laminate suggests that this deck can take a beating. It’s a little too sturdy to bridge the cards, but they slide together nicely when you push them. The surface of the cards have ridges to keep them from sticking together–something my shuffling-loving heart really appreciates.

The Details: Imagery and Symbolism

The deck is a hybrid between tarot and a traditional playing card deck. There are fifty-three cards (the extra one being key zero–The Fool) arranged according to four suits: spades (swords), diamonds (pentacles), hearts (cups), and clubs (wands). The pictorial representation of these pips definitely reflects the symbolism of the RWS, although you’ll find a rogue representation here or there. Still, it’s not a stretch–given a little bit of consideration, the traditional meanings become apparent.

The Illuminated Tarot

Each suit is represented by its own, unique color palette. This is incredibly useful for those who aren’t familiar with numerology and who have trouble translating playing card suits to tarot suits. When you see a card with purple, blue, and brown, it’s immediately recognizable as a swords suit. Blue, green, and orange represent the clubs suit, orange, green, pink, and red represent the hearts suit, and brown, yellow, red, and purple represent the spades suit.

The Illuminated Tarot

The twenty-two major arcana appear within these fifty-three cards, each inhabiting a pip that somewhat parallels the traditional RWS meaning. For example, the two of diamonds (pentacles) is also The High Priestess–the emphasis here is placed on the interplay of dark and light (like the white and black towers we see depicted in the RWS) and the ability to find balance between the two. In this sense, the High Priestess appears slightly less esoteric and a bit more practical, but the addition of the crescent moon reminds us that hidden knowledge is still very much alive in this depiction. The infinity symbol at the bottom practically screams two of pentacles, so if the more mundane, grounded interpretation seems pertinent within the context of your reading, it’ll jump out at you and prompt you to go in that direction.

The Illuminated Tarot

I’ve already posted a few daily draws from this deck Instagram and Facebook, and many have been hesitant to purchase the deck because of the pip/major arcana mash-up. In all honestly, I was able to wrap my head around this change within twenty minutes–you don’t have to learn a whole new system in order to use this deck. The images and meanings are so straightforward that you barely have to put in additional study. Likewise, it’s easy to riff with this deck if you–like myself–like to allow for some intuitive interpretations.

So, How Does It Read?

It reads like a dream, people. After a few daily draws and test readings, I began using this deck for client readings and I’m really excited with what it’s offered so far. I knew as soon as I opened it that this would quickly become a workhorse deck, and can’t even tell you how happy that makes me! Its vivd colors, two-dimensional illustration style, and quirky major arcana incorporation are right up my alley. You can tell that this is the work of a trained designer, and the symmetry it boasts helps me organize my thoughts almost instantaneously. The color-coding seriously helps with this as well–by simply looking at the spread, you can determine the dominant elements and therefore the dominant energies of the reading.

The Illuminated Tarot

In short, this deck is freaking amazing. It’s my new favorite, hands down. And here’s some good news for budgeting collectors: it’s priced anywhere from $12-$19, so it’s not a huge investment. So if you’re looking for something new, fun, easy to work with, and affordable, check out this baby!

Much Love and Happy Cardslinging,


Want a reading with this deck? Request it when you book!