Working With Images in Card Play: Symbols, Associations, ‘Randomness’

Deck: Enchanted Forest Tarot

When working with images in Card Play, the intent is to explore the deeper dynamics being portrayed rather than the literal interpretation. What that means is, a picture of a woman and a house is not just a picture of a woman and a house. How does the woman relate to the house? What does a house symbolize to you? How does the depiction of a house in the image relate to your idea of a home? What are your associations to women and homes? Maybe a house represents boundaries, or safety, or any number of concepts or memories. If the house in the image is destroyed in some way, how does that reflect boundaries and safety? Maybe it’s a picture about curiosity. Go beneath the surface of the image and look for the deeper, underlying dynamics. Notice if there are power differentials. Think symbolically and associate.

Pay attention to what images evoke in you. Notice what emotions arise when you see an image. Be curious, especially if you feel an aversion to a particular card. This may actually be the card for you to explore!

Pay attention to the feelings expressed in the image. You may note a subtle sense of fear or panic, joy or warmth conveyed in an image. If these reflect experiences you have in your life, that image may be worth exploring.

Some reference books I use with Card Play

Symbols and Associations


Look for the symbolic meaning in the images. Symbols can represent complex ideas or concepts. How would you visually convey ‘forgiveness’? You would need to represent it somehow, communicating it largely without words. How I envision forgiveness in a given situation may be different than you. If we were both working with forgiveness, we might choose different image cards.

Language is inherently symbolic. I can write a sentence about a beautiful magic apple. But there is no apple here; I merely represented the idea of it with the word ‘apple’. Image cards represent abstract concepts through visual symbols. This is what I mean when I encourage you to think symbolically. Your ex-partner will not be explicitly represented in the image (unless you are using photographs) but they can be represented symbolically in various ways. For example, the relationship dynamic you two had might be evident in an image.



What came up for you when you read that word? A memory? An eyeroll? Thoughts about money? Thoughts about a vacation in general? 

That’s your process of association. You and I likely have different associations when we see the word ‘Disneyland’ which, again, is a symbol for a place and, really, an entire experience. We can symbolize an entire experience along with hopes and dreams in one word: Disneyland. It’s just a string of letters but that combination represents something to many people.

Both images and words in card play function in the same way: they evoke personal associations. You have those associations based on your life experiences. A Talmudic idea about dream analysis I’ve seen attributed to the writer Anais Nin is that “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” (Amien, 2017). How we see things reflects who we are back to us, if we are willing to look.

Sometimes associations are helpful and sometimes they are not helpful. Maybe they once were useful for you but now they hold you back. Being mindful of your associations can help you break the spell of those that do not serve you.


An optional way to consider the ‘randomness’ of choosing cards is that of synchronicity. The concept of synchronicity was introduced by the very famous psychologist Carl Jung. It is a spiritual idea describing unrelated events that are meaningfully connected. In the context of Card Play, this means the cards you draw seemingly randomly are not random at all. The cards you draw at the time you draw them are the correct cards for you in that moment. There is an element of meaning in what seems to be a random process.

Let’s step back and think about this. Do we live in a random and chaotic universe? While systems move towards entropy (if we did not clean our homes they would rapidly devolve into a mess of mud and clutter) there is an overall elegance and order to the universe. Although I am not a physicist, quantum entanglement (which has been dismissed by Albery Einstein as ‘spooky action at a distance’) posits that “if you observe a particle in one place, another particle—even one light-years away—will instantly change its properties, as if the two are connected by a mysterious communication channel” (Popkin, 2018).

You are welcome to integrate this concept of synchronicity into how you derive meaning from the seeming randomness of card selection if it resonates with you.


Amien, D. (2017, Aug. 4). ‘We do not see things as they are’. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/crosswords/daily-puzzle-2017-08-05.html

Popkin, G. (2018, April 25). Einstein’s ‘spooky action at a distance spotted in objects almost big enough to see. Science. https://www.science.org/content/article/einstein-s-spooky-action-distance-spotted-objects-almost-big-enough-see

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