divination, Witchcraft

Estimating Time Using Tarot

Tarot reading really isn’t a definitive snapshot of the future. Nothing can be, really. It’s pretty much like the CliffsNotes version of a potential future, should everything that’s currently happening stay pretty much the same. Even so, I’ve never really had a problem with getting very accurate readings. I’ve had people I’ve read for (does anyone else feel weird about calling them “clients”? Just me? Okay) send me messages in tears, because things panned out just like I reassured/warned them.


The fact that the future is so malleable doesn’t mean you can’t try to get a time frame, though. Much the opposite, really — using tarot to estimate when something is going to occur isn’t terribly complicated. I’ll give you an example:

I was talking to someone who was antsy about their job. They were working on a project they weren’t able to abandon, for someone who was uncooperative and difficult. How long was this going to be like this? How long did they have to keep putting up with this situation?

I flipped a card.

“Ten months.”

A few months later, they came back. They’d been getting some hits on their resume, and one looked particularly promising. How would things turn out if they accepted?

I pulled a few cards.

“Eh. Looks like a lateral move, so… not great?”

The next day, they came back. After asking for more details, it looked like their pay wouldn’t change, their commute wouldn’t change, and their work wouldn’t be any more fulfilling. A lateral move, indeed.

A few months later, they came back again. It was nine months since the first reading, and they’d just been informed that, a few weeks from then, they were being transferred to a much better area, and a much less problematic project.

“Cool!” I said (though I really wanted to do a fist pump and some kind of touchdown dance).

Anyway, this shameless self-backpatting is just to illustrate that estimating time with tarot is pretty simple. There are a number of ways to do it:

Tell the Story

Some spreads can be read sequentially. They pretty much take the basic three-card Past-Present-Future reading and expand on it. When I was just getting into tarot reading after years of scrying and using pendulums, I was taught a pretty simple, yet effective, sequential reading.

You take all of the major arcana cards only, shuffle them, and draw one signifier. From the remaining cards, you draw three even columns. Then, starting from the top of the leftmost column, you read downward. The leftmost column reflects the past, the middle is the present, and the rightmost is the future. Within those columns, the cards reflect events or situations in chronological order from top to bottom.

While this won’t yield exact dates, it does give you an order you can use to approximate. So, if the progression is more important to you than the exact date, treating cards as a chronological progression may be helpful.

“Fire Burns Quickly…”

Using the suits and pips, you can get a more exact (albeit still not set in stone) idea. In this case:

Fire burns quickly, so swords indicate days.

Air blows less swiftly, so wands indicate weeks.

Water flows slowly, so cups indicate months.

Earth moves slowest of all, so pentacles indicate years.

Within that, the numerical cards indicate how many. So, the five of pentacles is five years, while the two of swords is two days. Some readers assign additional meanings to some cards, like associating certain suits with certain seasons, considering The Sun to indicate the solar year, assigning moon phases to certain numbers, and so forth. That’s a little outside of my scope here, since it varies from tradition to tradition.

Sometimes, you’ll end up drawing a court card, or one of the major arcana. In these cases, it usually indicates a blockage of some sort — things are not progressing, and will not progress until the person or situation indicated by the card is addressed.

See What Has to Happen First

Sometimes, cards are not meant to give a literal, numerical answer. In these cases, they can be read like the court cards or major arcana I mentioned above — as something that needs addressing, or the circumstances surrounding an event.


A lot of magic, divination included, is divided along a sort of loose binary. I’m not a fan of the feminine/masculine dichotomy referenced in a lot of older books, because it’s not particularly useful or accurate — I don’t really care what gender an herb, stone, or tool is. Active vs. passive, projective vs. receptive, these are a bit better at conveying useful information.

Tarot suits are often divided between active and passive. Fire and air are active, water and earth are passive. Swords and wands are active, cups and pentacles are passive. The active cards indicate… well, action. If a lot of them come up in a reading, things are moving! Events are likely to happen in a much shorter time frame than they would if a lot of passive cards surfaced.

Using Timing Cards

Using timing cards is simple. Either build a “timing spot” into whatever reading you’re doing and see what card lands there, pull a timing card separately as it’s own one-card reading, or, if you like the active/passive or story methods, look at the overall reading for clues.

If you don’t try to get a bead on the timing of events when you do a tarot reading, give it a shot. It can be really interesting to see!


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