How To Perfect the One Card Tarot Pull for Instant Clarity

Photo: Getty Images/Natalie_Magic
Daily meditation has a multitude of mental health benefits, including activating your “rest and digest” system instead of your “fight or flight” nervous system. One way you might’ve not thought to meditate? Reading tarot cards. In addition to promoting honesty, tarot can help you sort things out in a more conscious, present, and active way—with each card giving you a different message for a given situation. Call me an extremely lazy mystic, but I will always do a one card tarot pull over a spread.

What is a one card tarot reading?

If you've never done a single tarot card pull, it involves intuitively selecting one card to inform a question or situation. This tarot 101 technique simply requires a bit of self-reflection (especially if you're pulling for yourself), and a little bit of research if you're still brushing up on your tarot card meanings. And according to Maria Sofia Marmanides, astrologer and author of The Oracle Card Journal: A Personalized Record of Your Messages from the Universe, you can use a one card tarot pull for more than yes/no questions, and you don't have to use a full spread all the time. "It's a spread like any other in Tarot, but it's the simplest spread possible—just one card to answer your question," she says.

"One card pulls can provide as much clarity, while also helping you sharpen intuitive reading skills." —Maria Sofia Marmanides, tarot reader

"One card pulls can provide as much clarity, while also helping you sharpen intuitive reading skills, Marmanides says. "Think of the one card as describing the entirety of the situation—past, present, and future—to remind us that the solution is often found in the problem. Whatever card you pull, it’s about empowering you to use that energy to move forward or leave it behind with clarity."

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In addition to making folks feel empowered, what are other benefits of doing a one card tarot pull?

Benefits of a one card tarot pull for a reading

1. They’re quick

“One card readings are one of the quickest and most satisfying ways to build a relationship with your deck, especially if you’re just beginning to study tarot,” Marmanides says. She adds that the quickness with which you can do this might lead you to doing more one card tarot pulls—which will, in turn, help you build and more fully trust your intuition as it relates to the messages from the deck.

2. They’re easier to interpret

According to Marmanides, soul searching for answers through tarot can get more complicated when you add more and more cards. When you only have one card, you don’t have to worry about synthesizing the messages they’re all trying to give you. “The one card method is a fairly disciplined practice in that by only drawing one card, you are building your trust with the Universe that the answer you need in that moment is the one you will receive,” Marmanides says.

3. You can focus on the energy of the card

When you do a tarot spread with multiple cards, you might miss a message from the primary card because, again, you’ll spend energy synthesizing what you got instead of fully embracing the message of a single card. For instance, if you pull the Justice card in a multiple card spread, it’s possible you’ll miss its message of balance and fairness with self and others if you’re too focused on the other card you pulled and how that fits with the rest of the cards in the reading. It also gives you the opportunity to “grow more comfortable” with the misunderstood cards, Marmanides says, like the Death tarot card (which, for the record, doesn’t signal you or someone you love is going to die).

And just a reminder: don't forget to cleanse tarot cards after each use, so they're ready to go for your next reading.

All that being said, how do you master the one card pull effectively? Below, Marmanides shares three easy steps for getting the clearest answers when doing a one card tarot pull.

The right way to pull one tarot card, in three easy steps

1. Lay some simple ground rules with yourself

Before you pull your single tarot card, lay some ground rules for yourself. "Think about what your intuition is telling you about the answer before you even pull your card," Marmanides says.

While we're supposed to look at the tarot guides for wisdom or guidance, we also want to follow our gut. "Ultimately the One Card method is about growing your relationship with the card meanings and building your trust with the deck [and trusting] that it will answer your question in due time," she says.

So whether you're doing a tarot card spread or simply tarot pulling, you want to make like the High Priestess and think inward; focus on the ways you want to be led, how you feel about a particular situation already, and pour that energy into your reading.

2. Ask a very clear, specific, and heartfelt question

"Then see what you’re being invited to understand about the situation that you may not be consciously aware of," Marmanides says.

There are a few important things to highlight here. First, you want to make sure that you're asking a question that you want an objective answer to, not confirmation of the answer you want to receive. Second, you want to avoid grabbing another, "what do you mean?" clarification card (if you’re going to trust the deck, trust the deck). Lastly, Marmanides says, it's crucial to make sure that you're focusing the questions on yourself.

"Of course, you can ask for advice on people in your life, like a boss, a friend, a crush, a lover, or a family member," she says, offering this caveat: Keep the questions related to your relationship with that person instead of asking about them personally.

A one card spread, Marmanides says, is best used when you have a very simple, straightforward question that you want a clear-cut answer to. Here are her examples:

  1. Will I get this job?
  2. How does my boss/friend/lover feel about me?
  3. Is this person I just met going to be a serious relationship for me?
  4. What do I need to know about [insert situation]?
  5. What am I being invited to focus on today?

3. Meditate on the card you pulled

After you shuffle your tarot cards and pull a single tarot card, consider "the artwork, the symbolism, the traditional meaning, and also any personal meanings that come up for you," Marmanides says. "What I think is best is to then write down the card and those keywords somewhere—your notes app, a tarot journal, a sticky note—to refer back to and see how the answer will manifest in your life."

When you're working with a single tarot card, you have the ability to really delve into what its message could be. And, again, grant yourself the kindness to be honest about the tarot card meanings.

"Particularly if you’re pulling this card for yourself, it’s about treating yourself like you would a client," Marmanides says. "Don’t shortchange yourself from fully exploring and explaining the situation to yourself, using that card as the framework for your advice, as if you were telling it to someone else."

And while it may be tempting, don't pull another card if you don't like or understand the one you drew. Certain tarot card meanings may give you pause or discomfort, but instead of pulling a new card you should reflect on its true meaning."No one wants to pull The Seven of Swords for 'Can I trust my partner?' as that could indicate a betrayal or someone who is not being honest with you, but it is telling you something about how you feel about the situation," she says. Sit with the symbolism and tarot card meanings. Trust the cards and the process, and don't take short cuts by pulling more cards until your next one card tarot pull.

How many cards should you use in a tarot reading? Sometimes one isn't enough.

Sometimes, people are faced with problems that seem a little too complex for just a one card tarot pull—regardless of whether they’re tarot experts or tarot newbies. For instance, let’s say you asked “What will happen with X?” in a one card tarot pull.

“Once you have your answer, you may want to know ‘why,’ ‘when’ or ‘how,’” Marmanides says. “Subsequent cards can help shed more detail to the base card’s answer.” Those subsequent cards, essentially, are what make up multiple card spreads. There are different types of spreads, of course—including the Celtic Cross spread—but we’ll be focusing on two, three, and four card tarot spreads in this section.

Two card spreads

“I like to use two cards spreads for this-or-that situations, where you’re faced with a choice,” Marmanides says. “Based on the card in either position A or B, you weigh how each card intuitively makes you feel.”

As far as questions for two card tarot spreads, Marmanides suggests:

  1. Should I quit or stay at my current job?
  2. Should I move or stay in my current home?
  3. Should I travel to X this summer?

Marmanides adds that two card spreads are also helpful when you have a situation (which card A represents) for which you’d like advice (card B tells you “how to meet that challenge,” Marmanides says).

Three card spreads

A three card spread is commonly done when you want to know about your past, present, and future. This type of spread “is really wonderful because it confirms the situation, validates present circumstances and emotions, and then offers a glimpse into how the energy is shifting in the near future,” Marmanides says. To be sure, card A represents the past, card B the present, and card C the future.

Four card spreads

Similar to how the two card spread can give you advice for moving forward, so, too, can the four card spread. “Adding a fourth card to this three card spread is great, too, to show if the tarot has any insight on what advice you should follow," Marmanides says. She adds that depending on the card pulled, you can take action or be more passive. For example, if you draw a wands card, you’ll know to actively move forward because wands represent manifestation and the element of fire.


How often should you do a one card tarot pull compared to a spread with more cards?

The good news is that you can do a one card tarot pull as often as you'd like. Marmanides suggests pulling a single tarot card at least once a week. Here's a short and fun process you could try each week after you pick a tarot card: Start with a simple a question, for example 'What am I being invited to focus on this week?' and then journal about your initial reactions. At the end of the week, Marmanides says to reflect on how the card you pulled resonated.

Are there any tarot card meanings that are particularly impactful if you get them during a one card tarot pull?

Certain cards may hold important meanings for different people, for example someone's birth card. In the case of pulling a single tarot card, any Major Arcana cards you draw is worth paying attention to. Drawing these cards are an indication that events aren't set in stone and continue to unfold. "That usually means the situation is potent and has a very important message for you, so spend time researching that card and understand its astrological or numerological symbolism," Marmanides says.

Is a one card tarot pull the same as a one card a day reading?

Not exactly. Pulling a single tarot card each day is typically done as part of a grounding or meditation practice, Marmanides says, whereas doing a one tarot card pull is about being focusing intensely on a question and answering it with a single card.

How many tarot cards does a person have?

According to Marmanides, there is no set number of cards or decks a person should own. You can have decks that serve different purposes; for example, you might use one specific deck for love readings, and another for one card tarot pulls. The key is to find a deck you love and to use it so it also becomes a deck you trust. To get started, you might seek out decks where you appreciate the artwork and visuals.

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