Why do Tarot cards fly out as we’re shuffling? The simplest answer is that shuffling is an imperfect process and human hands are prone to clumsiness when doing something that requires eye-hand coordination.
But the more important question is: what does it mean?
These cards are often called “jump” cards or “jumpers” in the Tarot community and different readers interpret them differently.
On the most spiritual end of the spectrum, some Tarot readers believe that Tarot cards fly out because they were specifically caused to fly out by a spiritual force, entity, or god in order to send a specific message.
On the other end of the spectrum, a skeptic would say that cards fly out due to random chance according to the physics of how your hands causally manipulated the cards. The skeptic would say it’s just a purely physical process and if you were more careful in your shuffling cards would never fly out “on their own.”
But from a phenomenological perspective, it can certainly seem sometimes like the “jumping cards” are jumping out to send a specific message.
Many experienced Tarot readers are familiar with these “meaningful coincidences,” what Jung called “synchronicities.”
Personally, I have started shuffling while thinking of a question, and right away a card flies out and it’s the perfect card to answer the question I was thinking about. It seems too good to be true! Like it couldn’t possibly be by pure chance.
But that’s the thing about chance: humans are awfully bad at estimating what we would expect on the basis of pure chance, and what we would not.
And also, humans tend to remember the meaningful jump cards and tend to forget all the times cards have jumped out that haven’t meant anything special whatsoever.
Different ways to approach jump cards
So given the spectrum of beliefs regarding flying Tarot cards, it’s no surprise that different readers incorporate them into their readings in different ways.
On one end of the spectrum, I’ve seen some readers who only read with jump cards such that all the cards they pull are from them just shuffling and shuffling until enough cards fly out. To do this requires a sort of “looseness” in your shuffle technique that may or may not be subconscious.
On the other end of the spectrum, some people completely disregard jump cards and simply put them back into the deck and continue shuffling.
There are some people who are strict in their Tarot shuffling method, trying to make it as repeatable as possible: always shuffling a certain way, a certain number of times, drawing and turning over cards in a particular order, a certain way.
Other people take a much more free-spirited and fluid approach to the Tarot, letting their intuition guide them on what feels right in the moment as they shuffle and draw cards, with every shuffle being slightly different from the one before.
And between these two ends are many different methods.
There is no “correct” method.
Personally, I rarely do specific “spreads” and simply shuffle and draw cards as I am inclined to do so, with no particular spread or card configuration in mind. If a Tarot card flys out then I will usually take note of it and place it on the table as part of the reading. Sometimes I give it special significance and sometimes I don’t.
But I do not ascribe any special “spirit message” to these jumping cards. I see them as inherent to the randomness of the mechanical shuffling process. If you were very slow and intentional and very skilled at shuffling you would probably never have jump cards. I have noticed that I have more jump cards when I am sleepy and my brain is tired or when I am not paying attention to what I am doing.
Another thing to consider is how many cards “jump” out. If you drop 20 cards on the ground, most likely it’s just because you were clumsy and you’re best served by putting them back in the deck and continuing shuffling.
But if just a single card “flips” or “jumps” just right, then that might be something to pay attention to, if only for its immediacy.
Other ways of approaching jumpers might include:
- Treating the jumper as a significator card. Personally, I don’t use significators in my practice but some people do and it’s important to know what they are.
- Including the jumpers in the reading but setting them aside in a special, separate area of the spread
- Using the jumper as clarification cards to provide additional context onto the reading as a whole or any particular card or lingering question
- Seeing the jumpers as “messages from the spirit world” (if you believe in that kind of thing). Obviously, if you do believe in that sort of thing, you would be wise to pay close attention to these messages since they are direct shout-outs from said spirit world
- If a card flies out, you might take it, look at it, ponder its meaning and then set it aside or put it back in the deck but not use it as part of the overall spread
- The card could be interpreted as stemming from some deep aspect of your unconscious that unwittingly influenced the jumper (regardless if this explanation makes rational sense)
- You might use it as the “central issue” card to build the rest of the reading around
- You might use it to expand the spread you planned on doing anyway
- You might find the card so significant and such a clear answer to your question that you have no further need to pull more cards.
- You might see the jumper as a kind of “bonus” or “extra” card that simply enhances the reading or is an additional item to think about
- You might do a mini-reading with just the jumper cards and then proceed to do your regular reading as planned
- If the jumper reappears in either the same reading (when reinserted) or in another reading (if you get the same jumpers back-to-back) you might take note of the synchronicity and think about how they relate to your question and what’s happening in your life
- You might do some combination of all the above methods
And obviously, there are innumerable different ways to give spooky or supernatural explanations for what the jumpers “mean.” If you believe in that kind of thing, it could be a ghost, a spirit, an ancestor, a fairy, a god, a daemon, a quantum manifestation, the law of attraction, your unconscious energy, etc., etc.
If you are not prone to supernatural explanations, it’s simply another way in which the randomness of mechanical shuffling can manifest. In some sense, because the flying cards represent effects from chance physical forces within the card shuffling mechanics, they might be even more random than the shuffling of cards to draw a 1/78 chance.
So in conclusion, the significance of Tarot cards flying out is much like Tarot itself: open to interpretation.
And I find that quite beautiful. Tarot gives us the opportunity to flex our hermeneutic muscles and strengthens our ability to think creatively. By giving in to the chaos and randomness of the flying cards, we can use them to reflect upon the chaos of our own minds. And what a wonderful opportunity that is!