Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Before performing a tarot reading, it’s important to randomize the cards. The standard practice for randomizing a deck is shuffling the cards. But with tarot cards, shuffling can be awkward when the deck’s too big. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to remedy this situation. Read on for the most effective ways to shuffle tarot cards!

Keep watching this space! In the coming weeks, I’ll be covering topics on how to pick or lay out your cards for a reading as well as how to best phrase a question. If you have other reading prep questions you’d like the answers to, please let me know in the comments!

Why Do We Shuffle Tarot Cards?

It’s important to randomize the cards thoroughly before a reading. Then if I get the same cards three times in a row, or all Majors, or all reversed cards, I know it isn’t due to lazy shuffling!

Shuffling is also a repetitive action that focuses your attention. Also, if done while concentrating, shuffling can induce a light trance that helps open your psychic abilities. To this end, it is important that you (and the person you are reading for, if applicable) concentrate on the question while shuffling.

The Riffle Shuffle

Joy starts to shuffle tarot cards between readings at an outdoor community event.
Joy starts to shuffle tarot cards at an outdoor community event. Photo by John McEvoy 2010.

I always shuffle my deck like you would a normal deck of cards, using a standard riffle shuffle. One old lady who had the table next to me at a psychic fair told me never to shuffle my deck that way. Then the old biddy gave me the evil eye and I immediately bent the corner of one of the cards! At the time, I had been shuffling like that for 10 years or more and had never bent a corner before.

That was more than twenty years ago, and I still prefer the riffle shuffle for mixing up my cards. However, there are types of decks I’d certainly be careful with. If a deck is delicate — made from lightweight card stock — or old, or hard to find, I’d use a gentler shuffle. Riffle is a highly effective but slightly rough shuffle that is best for sturdy, replaceable, workhorse decks.

I find that the riffle shuffle not only randomizes the cards the best, but is also perfect for clearing the energy of the deck. The riffle shuffle takes your deck to neutral between readings or between clients.

Riffle Shuffle and Large Decks

And one last thing — some tarot decks will be too large to shuffle this way. Examples of large decks include the large Thoth Tarot (3.75″ x 5.5″), the Druidcraft (3.5″ x 5.5″), and most oracle decks. You can try shuffling a large deck side to side or corner to corner instead of end to end.

Also, if you have small hands, you can use the above trick to shuffle a regular size tarot deck (2.75″ x 4.75″). Alternately, consider getting a smaller deck. Tarot decks come in all sizes, and the ones that fit in a tin or are “pocket size” are a great size to riffle shuffle! These decks are roughly about 2.25″ x 3.5″, which is big enough to see and small enough to shuffle.

Shuffling for Reversals

Whether you’re shuffling or the querent is shuffling, be aware of the card direction. Are they all going the same direction or will some turn up reversed? To ensure reversals, when you break the deck in two for the riffle shuffle, turn one half around, end to end. You’ll still be looking at the backs of both halves, but you’ll be shuffling the cards top-to-top instead of bottom into top.

The Overhand Shuffle

That said, a safer (and easier with large tarot cards) shuffle might be the overhand shuffle. In the overhand shuffle, you hold the deck in one hand, then using the thumb of the other hand, pull a few cards at a time into your palm, then a few more cards on top of those cards, and so on through the deck, effectively rearranging the order of the cards.

For me, the overhand shuffle is perfect for meditation on my question while I am shuffling. I like to riffle shuffle until the cards are randomized, then switch to the overhand shuffle to focus on my question. I’ll shuffle until the cards start to not move against each other any more. They start to stick together or clump. One client said my cards turned into magnets. When this happens, I know I’m done.

The overhand shuffle works great for all decks. It’s easier to do if you’re less experienced with card shuffling. And it’s less likely that the size of the cards will be a mismatch for the size of your hands.

Deal Into Piles

An easy and elegant way to shuffle a deck is to alternately deal the cards into a number of piles (seven is a good number, but any number will do), then stack the piles into a deck again.

This method is perfect for all kinds of decks, but particularly useful for odd-size or odd-shape tarot decks, such as round decks. It is equally effective for very large or very small decks. This style of shuffling tarot cards is highly effective at randomizing the deck. It’s only drawback is that it takes a little longer to perform.

Washing the Cards

But you don’t need to impress anyone with your shuffling skills; you just need to mix the cards up. To that end, you can put all the cards on the table and move them around like a little kid might do. People tell me this is what they do in Vegas! Professionals call this “washing the cards” or “scrambling the deck.”

Washing the cards is fast and easy. It works great with any size or shape cards. And if you prefer to draw your cards from an array instead of cutting the deck, this process spreads out the cards nicely.

How Long to Shuffle the Cards

Some math whiz in one of my classes let us know that riffle shuffling a deck the number of times equal to the square root of the number of cards would randomize the deck. Did your mind just fog over when you read that sentence? If so, let me simply suggest that you riffle shuffle a tarot deck nine times to randomize the deck before doing a reading. Then you can proceed with other styles of shuffling if you like.

Because tarot reading is a spiritual practice for many readers, they prefer to shuffle until they get a spiritual cue to stop. This might mean that the deck feels right. They might experience an energetic shift, or perhaps will hear a voice that says to stop. I might sense a strong feeling of being centered and ready for the reading.

You don’t need to be spiritually connected to do readings. But if this is a part of your practice, the shuffling process is used to connect to Spirit, the source of our answers.

Reading for Others: Should They Shuffle?

When you’re reading for another person, you might like to have this other person—called the querent—either shuffle and/or cut the deck. This helps the querent to be more involved with the reading. And on a practical level, it assures them that you’re not stacking the deck.

When I read for another person, I explain to them that I am randomizing the cards. Then I do the riffle shuffle a minimum of nine times. Usually more, because I am connecting both to Spirit and to the client during this process. Then I hand them the deck and ask them to shuffle while they think about their question. I suggest they use any style of shuffling they are comfortable with, but encourage the overhand shuffle as easier. So that they actually concentrate on the question and not on whether they’re doing it right, I often give them a deadline (such as “shuffle three times” or “shuffle till you feel done”). When they are finished shuffling, I have them cut the deck.

I find that many people don’t know how to riffle shuffle. Also, a client might never have shuffled a tarot-size deck before. I’ve had clients turn the deck so that the cards end up with half the cards face up! As a professional reader, you need to go with the flow! I’ve never corrected a client on their shuffling. There’s really no wrong way. And it’s easy to turn the cards face up or down as you prefer when you lay out the spread. However, one solution that provides less stress for the client is not to have them shuffle, just cut the deck. For that matter, I know some readers who prefer that the client doesn’t touch the deck at all.

Jumper Cards

Sometimes when you’re shuffling, a card or two flies out of the deck. Do you use it? Some people do!

I had a colleague who always shuffled until a card popped out, then put that card in the first position of her spread. Then she would shuffle again until the next card jumped, and use it for position two, and so forth until she had a full spread. This always worked great for her!

However, it’s never worked for me. I find that when I get jumper cards, I’ve lost my focus, and the resulting reading will be all over the place. If a card jumps, I put it back in the deck without looking at it, if possible. Then I take a breath, concentrate on my question, and center myself. I proceed with shuffling until the deck feels right. Finally, I cut the deck and pull the cards off the top, depending on the spread I’m doing. This always works best for me.

Ground and center, the right cards will enter.

— Joy Vernon

Conclusion

What’s the best shuffle for a tarot deck? Whatever works for you. And don’t let those old ladies give you the evil eye! Do you have any favorite shuffling tricks? I’d love to hear them in the comments! Or, if you have any shuffling difficulties, let me know and I’ll help you find a solution.

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Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.
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