The language of the tarot and the language of dreams are one and the same.
I once had a dream that I was in a quiet apartment in Paris, looking through its tiny window at the Eiffel Tower glittering against the black night. There was nothing else happening in the dream, no rustling around for a lost earring or a stranger knocking at the door. It was only the view and a feeling—a blend of solitude, silence, contentment, and beauty.
The dream was not particularly exciting or memorable, and I didn’t think much of it the next day other than it was a pretty picture to hold onto. But later that afternoon I had a tarot reading scheduled, and as my reader placed the Hermit on the table, all at once the dream clicked into place.
Both the dream and the card held the same message, one that was so exquisitely simple I never would have realized it on my own: You are missing the serenity of aloneness, the place where you can see the true beauty of what you love. Return to that place and seek peace.
Tarot and dreams both speak the language of symbol and archetype. They offer us messages via image and feeling, and call us to surrender to our unconscious wisdom rather than prod the conscious mind to intellectualize and analyze. They present underworld reflections of our daily lives, showing ourselves to us through the lens of imagination, myth, and mystery.
And when we begin to recognize the shared language of tarot and dreams, a new and extraordinary pathway of the psycho-spiritual work opens to us. We can develop our ability to hear and heed the unconscious, and move through our lives with depth, clarity, and grace.
As Jung wrote, “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” This is true, too, for the archetypes of the tarot, and when we join these modalities something extraordinary can happen.
So I will walk you through three tips to get started with tarot dreamwork, understanding the powerful ways they can combine and support each other.
1. Notice your dreams before and after you pull cards.
To start, notice the dreams that come immediately before and after your pull cards or get a reading. In the example I mentioned above, I had my Parisian dream the night before my reading, but the night after I dreamed I put down my work to go off into the forest alone. Both these dreams very clearly reflected the Hermit card to me, but they took different perspectives. The first showed me the allure of solitude, the second showed me that I had the ability to choose it.
Of course you may wonder did the card inspire the dream or the dream inspire the card? And the answer it both and neither. Yes, I may have dreamed of the forest after seeing the Hermit card, but there was more to it than that. When we’re speaking of archetypes, we think of them being “constellated”, or activated. In that moment of my life, the archetype of inner solitude was what I most needed. It had therefore constellated in my unconscious, and showed up both in my dreams and in my cards.
You may have dreams that seem to have nothing to do with the cards you pull, and they certainly don’t always link up. But rather than looking for obvious one-to-one correlations (e.g. pulling the Empress and dreaming of a beautiful queen, or dreaming of a juggler and pulling the 2 of Pentacles), consider the feeling of the dream. The image of looking out at the Parisian skyline alone offered no clear clues to connect to the Hermit, but the feeling was nearly identical. It felt calm, deep, present—all things I feel when I look at the Hermit card.
When we discover the themes and feelings that connect our cards and our dreams, we’ll more readily access the heart of the message we are meant to hear.
2. Consider how the card might be reflecting a dream symbol.
Another thing to consider when connecting our cards to our dreams is their symbolic correlations. Symbols drop us down into the realm of the collective unconscious where the archetypes live, and so often both our dreams and the cards will leave symbolic breadcrumbs on our path of individuation.
One time I pulled the High Priestess for a client who was trying to commit to a new life path, but I could sense there was something not connecting about the card’s deeper meaning. So, as I do with all my clients, I encouraged her to reflect on any dream images that got stirred up, and suddenly her eyes widened. She told me about a dream she’d had when she first started making shifts in her life, where she came upon a statue of a woman seated on a throne. With this symbol of the seated statue in mind, we were able to discover that the inner wisdom of the High Priestess was present in her psyche, but still, silent, not really alive, and this revelation was exactly what my client needed.
Maybe you dream of a rose, or a lion, or fork in the road. Your deck is one of the best resources you have for amplifying the meaning of that symbol. The rose may point you to the Fool, the lion to Strength, the fork to the 2 of Swords. Be curious and flexible, and you may discover exactly what you didn’t know you were missing.
3. Pull cards to reflect on a dream.
This seems a bit obvious, but you can always pull cards to go deeper with a dream. In general this is the sort of thing I warn against, because if you dream about getting lost and then pull the 3 of Cups, you may be left far more confused than before.
But when we pull the card and allow it to draw us into an element of the dream, there’s usually something useful to draw out of it. Maybe you dream about not being able to start your car, and then it starts rolling down a hill and crashes into a garden. (Have I given myself away?) If you pull the 9 of Pentacles, then the element you’re called to focus on isn’t the car but the garden. Perhaps the garden represents your independence, your pleasure, the life you’ve grown for yourself.
And of course, be willing to let it go if things don’t click. Sometimes we simply can’t see all the connecting lines from within our own limited ego-perspectives. We’re not trying to solve a puzzle, but to explore potentials that encourage our inner growth.
So go out and test these tips, and happy dreaming!