Setting Intentions with Tarot

The Eight of Cups from the Spolia Tarot occupying its place of honor on my altar for February’s intention: Liberation

The Eight of Cups from the Spolia Tarot occupying its place of honor on my altar for February’s intention: Liberation

It’s the new moon in Aquarius and I’ve just launched the first episode of my new podcast , Open Magic, with the amazing Bri Sikorski of Tadpole Magic. Our first topic? Intention setting, particularly the ways we can harness intentions to invite in the change and growth we need.

And, as you may have already guessed, one of my favorite ways of doing this is with tarot. Shocking, I know!

In the episode we touch on how intentions can sometimes become hijacked by more intense goals, inviting in stodgy and limiting pressure and self-judgment. Which is really and truly no fun at all. I’ve found, however, that tarot’s symbols and imagery gives us a direct line of communication with our intuition and subconscious, skipping the irksome worry and chatter of our conscious thoughts. In this way, intention setting can become energizing and personally motivating, no guilt required.

Using tarot for intention setting invites in the two major facets of the practice at its best:

  • Inspiration/Intuition: The tarot images we work with speak directly to our creative side, sidestepping the tricky and judgmental conscious mind. Tarot activates our intention with that bubbling & irresistible energy, inspiring us instead of crushing us under “shoulds” or expectations.

  • Room for the Unexpected: The secret ingredient to any intention is plenty of room for growth. That is, we can focus on a theme or ask for something, but we don’t always have the ability to conceptualize the full potential available to us. The intention can then expand into something outlandishly amazing or more complex than we’re able to envision. Working with tarot involves working with multifaceted archetypes that aren’t easily pigeonholed, giving us the room we need for our intentions to flourish.

So how do we go about this?

Since setting intentions is about choice - what do we want to focus on or invite into our lives? - I love actively selecting a card from the deck. I first heard of this practice from the amazing Siobhan Renee of Radical Tarot and have been using it in my readings ever since. (See her posts on the topic on her website and the now retired Little Red Tarot blog.)

When it comes to intention setting, I’ve found that selecting a card after you’ve decided on your focus is the most helpful. It allows you to be actively engaged and opens up the power of the tarot. I’ve outlined my personal practice for selecting tarot cards for intention setting here. I do hope they’re helpful and inspiring as you work with this new moon’s energy and beyond!

how to use tarot cards to focus your intentions


create your space

Set aside a nice bit of time to devote to your intention. Has rushing ever felt magical? I don’t think so! Get as elaborate or minimalist as you like, paying attention to what puts you in a calm and focused headspace. It could be incense, crystals, peaceful music… even a ceremonial robe if you’re feeling fancy. Or it could simply be a quiet corner in your house with no distractions. Intentions are all about you, so don’t hold yourself to others’ standards!

focus your thoughts

Once you’ve gotten cozy, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Take several breaths to sink deeper into your body, allowing all the chatter about your schedule, what to cook for dinner, and all the details of your mundane life to fall away. Once you feel centered, ask yourself what to set your intention around. Notice and feelings, words, phrases, or images that arise. Tip: Don’t overthink things - you can always shape your intention more later.

process & hone

Conclude your brief period of reflection and go over what came up for you. You may want to journal about it or simply mull things over with an open and flexible mind. Select a single word to form your intention, being sure that it feels authentic and resonant for you.

bring out the cards!

It’s finally tarot time. Take your deck and flip through it while holding your intention in your mind. Divide the deck into two piles: one for the cards that resonate with your intention and another for the ones that don’t. Go with your instincts here and try not to overthink things.

Once you’ve gone through the whole deck, return to the pile of resonant cards. Lay them all out and select the one that best encompasses your intention. Don’t worry if you’re not entirely sure why, that’s part of the magic of leaving space for mystery and your subconscious. Congratulations, you’ve chosen your intention card!

edit & explore

Gaze at your card with curiosity, noticing how it makes you feel. Does it bring up any memories or associations? Note if the card challenges your intention slightly. If so, see how you might edit your word or phrasing to better fit what’s coming up for you.

bring it into real life

Now that your card & intention have been selected you can conclude your session and focus on letting things unfold. Place the card in a visible location - on your altar, bedside table, etc. - or bring it with you in your wallet or purse.

Return to your card as often as you’d like, exploring its illustrations and paying special attention to the symbols. Look out for them as you go about business as usual. The whole idea is to let the card encompass the energy of your intention so that you can use it as a reference point.

One of my favorite ways of doing this is using its energy to inspire my actions. Though it sounds a bit cheesy, the “what would the _____ do?” approach is wonderfully helpful. So, for example, say I chose Strength as my card to reflect an intention of self-care. I can use it to orient my thinking and decision making so that when someone asks me to make plans I don’t really have time for I can think “what would Strength do?” and feel empowered to lovingly decline so that I can give myself the downtime I need.

I hope this approach is helpful and inspiring as you develop an intention setting practice that works for you. How about you? How do you focus your intentions? Have you ever used tarot in this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts and practices so please share below and happy intention setting!