The tarot has three primary uses: divination, meditation and a trick-taking game like bridge or whist.

To perform a divination, the seeker thinks of a question, either the seeker or the reader mixes the cards by shuffling and cutting them, the reader exposes the cards generally one at a time, places them in a pattern called a "spread" and interprets the cards in light of the question which may or may not be known by the reader. The orientation of the cards may effect the interpretation with cards oriented upside-down said to be "reversed". The interpretation of particular cards has been established by centuries of fortunetellers; however, it is generally felt that both the reader and the seeker can contribute their own thoughts to a reading so that exact same cards in the exact same positions might have different meanings depending on who was asking the question and who was doing the reading.

The cards can be used as individual yantras for meditation or patterns can be sought between the cards. Authors who have published meditations on the Tarot include Joseph Campbell and Timothy Leary.

The tarot deck probably originated as a trick-taking game. The game is called tarocci and is still popular in Europe. Unlike bridge the trump suit is permanent rather than determined by bidding. The trumps in tarocci are the Major Arcana. Tarocci decks have evolved slightly separately from tarot decks. The most obvious difference is that all of the cards in a tarocci deck are rotationally symmetric or reversible just like a normal playing-card deck.