What are Tarot Cards?
Tarot cards have been around for at least a couple of hundred years. Some sources say they are based on cards used for far longer. Most sources agree that modern Tarot cards are descended from cards used in 18th century France. Those are the facts, but modern Tarot cards are so much more!
Tarot cards are a deck of 78 cards, 56 cards are arranged in 4 suits, and the "Major Arcana" (an additional 22 cards) are added. Together these 78 cards hold a vast array of symbolism and wisdom that has been combined in a way designed to stimulate psychic intuition.
some Tarot cards are quite beautiful, some can be scary looking. Some cards are utilitarian, while others are highly ornate. Some of the imagery in the Tarot can appear frightening to people who are unfamiliar with the symbols and meanings of the cards. Some of the cards (like the 10 of swords and Death) have been depicted in popular culture - movies and art - that can be really scary! In truth, a reputable Tarot reader NEVER predicts physical death. Tarot cards are about spiritual growth and intuitive messages. And while they may touch on events in the physical world, they are not intended to predict literal death.
What is Tarot used for?
Tarot is used primarily as a tool for divination. It is also a wonderful tool for meditation, but for most of this article we'll look at the cards and their use in predicting the future.
In a reading, a Reader works with an individual who has a question - the Seeker. The Seeker often shuffles the cards, thinking of their question, some Readers have the Seeker cut the deck, I have even seen a Reader who doesn't let the Seeker touch the deck at all. Some Readers ask the Seeker what they want to know, others specifically ask the Seeker not to tell them the question, and rely on the reading to provide meaningful answers.
Once the deck has been charged with the question, a spread of cards is laid out. Some spreads are 10 cards, some as few as 1-3 cards, some use many more. The spread is largely determined by what the Seeker wants to know, which spread the Reader is drawn to use, and how much time is allotted for the reading.
Typical spreads are laid out to show the Reader some information about the past, present and future, giving an indication of a final outcome for the Seeker. Typically, "yes or no" questions are not the best option for a Tarot reading. A more open ended question such as "what is coming in the next 6 months" will often yield far more information and leave the Reader able to drawn on his or her abilities and to channel any information that comes to them.
What do the card designs mean?
As stated above, Tarot cards are decks of 78 cards organized into 4 specific suits. The suits were originally patterned after regular playing cards. Below is a table of correspondences between Tarot and playing cards:
|Playing Card Suit||Tarot Card Suit||General Meanings|
|Clubs||Wands||Fire, South, Action, career, movement, growth, ambition and competition|
|Spades||Swords||Air, East, Mind, intellect, may suggest confrontation, legal issues|
|Hearts||Cups||Water, West, Romance, love, sorrow, emotions, family, children|
|Diamonds||Pentacles||Earth, North, Money, finances, business, reward for work, the Arts|
Each suit has 14 cards: Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Page, Knight, Queen and King.
The number of each card, using numerology combined with the meaning of the suit, gives us the meaning of that card. It sounds like a lot, but over time repeated use of the cards and study of the meanings combined with intuitive reading of the cards can create an expert reader faster than you'd think.
Note: When a spread is laid out, if there are 3 or more of one suit, it can imply a certain question or area of concern. Likewise, finding multiple cards with the same number can imply a certain meaning. If you see more than 1 card (or any suit) with the same number or suit, think about the correspondences for that number or suit. 1
|Number||Meanings||Multiples in a spread|
|0||Unrestricted, unlimited potential, absolute, pure spirit, nothingness.|
|1 (Aces)||Beginnings, the first, originality, ego, willpower, courage, leadership.||Overall success, beginnings|
|2||Duality, Polarity, Partnerships, Choices, Companionship or the desire for companionship||Questions about partnership or choices|
|3||Trinity, joining 2 opposing forces creates third and harmony, Childbirth, Creation, planning and application of artistic talent||Possibly a new child or the "birth" of a new project, business or invention.|
|4||Solid foundations, stability, preparedness, building on a solid foundation, down to earth, hard working, patient|
|5||Freedom, independence, Travel, communication, difficult situations, struggles, need to adapt.|
|6||Love, self-sacrifice, loyalty, balance, duties, responsibilities, obligations.|
|7||Success, completion of tasks, mastery, triumph. A period of rest and introspection, insight. Spiritual reflection, a good friend.||Success, triumph|
|8||Authority, responsibility, strength, discipline, power, intensity, change.||Period of intense changes, possibly many changes, moving quickly.|
|9||Completion, endings, accomplishment, reaching your goals, wisdom, altruism, compassion, search for truth, gentle and sympathetic person, artistically talented.||Reaching the end of a cycle|
|10||Manifestation of the 0. Rebirth, spiritual rebirth.||A meaningful rebirth for the person. New religeon, starting over after intense strife.|
|11||Intuition, mysticism, spirituality, idealistic, sometimes changeable or erratic and unstable.|
The Court Cards (People Cards)
The significance of court cards is another factor in a spread.
|Court Card||Meaning||In a Spread Can Mean|
|Page||A young man or woman, children (up to the age of 22). These can also be message cards - messages about the subject ruled by the suit.||A person or a message.|
|Knight||A young adult man or woman (but there is a masculine overtone). Knights are a little older than pages, they are in Action, but are not yet as wise as Queens and Kings. Knights can be 'extremists' - charging in, moving without thinking things through.||A person or things moving fast.|
|Queen||A mature, adult woman. Depending on the suit, they represent the mature manifestation of the element with female energy. Represents emotional maturity, composure and control.||3 queens can mean the loss of a job or status due to slander|
|King||A mature, adult man (often age 40+). The fully mature and developed personality of each suit. Authority figures, they represent dominant male energy, someone who wants to command and control.||3 or more may refer to authority/
4 may mean high achievement
The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana cards are a little different in that they do not have "suits". The Major Arcana cards are always some combination of the same 22 cards. These cards have associations with various things, including Astrology signs and numerology, and they utilize a rich collection of symbols to trigger the vision of the reader.
The Major Aracana cards are sometimes thought to represent larger forces at work in the life of the Seeker, and when a reading shows 3, 4 or more of these cards, some interpret that to mean that the Seeker has less control over the outcome of the issue at this time.
In the table below, I have chosen to use the images from the Rider Waite deck, which uses traditional and very clear symbolism. The presence of more than 3 Major Arcana cards can mean cosmic influences are at work, and that the Seeker has very little control over the outcome of their question currently. Remember though, our actions always have impact on our world!
|Number||Image||Major Arcana Card||General Meaning|
|The Fool||Planet: Uranus
Planetary influences: Eccentric, High spirited, Impulsive, Unpredictable.
The Card: New beginnings, departing on a new adventure, embarking on a new course.
Suggests an open and impressionable mind, but may be naive. Can indicate an important choice, or a need for caution.
|The Magician||Planet: Mercury
Planetary influences: Intellect, reason, logic, communication.
The Card: A wise and skillful person who has initiative and willpower. Can refer to the ability to control and direct your own life. Can mean the mastery of psychic abilities.
|The High Priestess||Planet: The Moon
Planetary influences: The divine feminine, feelings, receptivity, memories, the past, moods.
The Card: Creativity, The feminine, understanding and love, esoteric teachings and spiritual development.
Planetary influences: Love, creativity, balance, fertility, comfort, luxury, beauty, grace, charm.
The Card: Initiative, practical action, success, comfort, luxury, good luck, prosperity, fertility and motherhood.
|The Emperor||Astrological Sign: Aries, the Ram
Astrology influences: Pioneering, initiative, authority, impatience, impulsiveness, leadership.
The Card: A mature man who is intelligent, experienced and reasonable. Could be a dominant male influence. Can mean mental control over emotions.
Astrological Sign: Taurus, the Bull
Astrology influences: Stability, reliability, reliable, stubborn, money, physical structuring of the universe.
Astrological Sign: Gemini, the Twins
Astrology influences: Duality, choosing between the mind and emotions, logic, self-improvement, short-term travel.
Astrological Sign: Cancer, the Crab
Astrology influences: Sensitivity, protection, psychic, relationships, family, nurturing.
Astrological Sign: Leo, the Lion
Astrology influences: Strength, courage, loyalty, dynamic energy, warmth, affection, self-centered, drama.
Astrological Sign: Virgo, the Virgin
Astrology influences: Detail oriented, discriminating, perfectionist, teaches by example, devoted to humanitarian service.
|The Wheel of Fortune||
Planetary influences: Opportunity, growth, expansion, success, fortune, generosity, happiness.
The Card: The end of a time of problems, and the beginning of a positive cycle. Wishes come true.
Astrological Sign: Libra, the Balanced Scales
Astrological influence: Balance, harmony, peace, love, fairness, artistic sensibilities, diplomacy, justice, partnerships.
|The Hanged Man||Planet: Neptune
Planetary influences: Self-sacrifice, idealism, receptivity, mysticism, spirituality, imagination, self-deception.
The Card: A major change or transition, readjustment to a new idea. Psychic awareness, intuition, releasing past patterns.
Astrological Sign: Scorpio, the Scorpion, the Eagle
Astrology influences: Change, transmutation, regeneration, death and rebirth, power, sexuality, deep emotions, unconscious motivations.
Astrological Sign: Sagittarius, the Archer
Astrology influences: The teacher, higher self, religion, truth, candidness, sincerity, generosity, long distance travel.
Astrological Sign: Capricorn, the Goat
Astrology influences: Materialism, judgement, condemnation, ambition, Karma, limitation.
|The Tower||Planet: Mars
Planetary influences: Energy, abrupt change, excessive force, anger, war, self-assertiveness, determination.
The Card: A sudden and unforeseen disruption or catastrophe. Can indicate a severed relationship, divorce, failure in business or career.
Astrological Sign: Aquarius, the Water Bearer
Astrology influences: Inspiration, insight, intuition, idealism, group consciousness, humanitarianism, originality, independence.
Astrological Sign: Pisces, the Fish
Astrology influences: Dreams, imagination, psychic, mystical, occult, secretive, sympathetic, sensitive, gullible.
|The Sun||Planet: the Sun
Planetary influences: Love, joy, happiness, success, recognition, power, determination, spirit.
The Card: Joy in personal and/or business life. Love, warmth, freedom from restraint, growth, success, happiness in marriage.
Planetary influences: Intensity, upheavals, transformation, destruction and rebirth, healing, compulsive behavior.
The Card: Cosmic consciousness. Redemption, atonement, healing, rising above negativity.
|The World||Planet: Saturn
Planetary influences: Discipline, concentration, structure, Karma, inhibition, responsibility, steadiness, striving to attain prosperity and recognition.
The Card: A time of security, peace and lasting joy. Change, travel, relocation - but always of a positive nature. A card of completion and extremely positive energy.
Difference between Tarot Cards and Oracle Decks
Oracle decks are also used in prediction, and many Readers use them to do readings for Seekers. Unlike Tarot however, Oracle decks do not necessarily have the 78 cards with the specific suits of a Tarot deck.
Oracle decks can be powerful tools for meditation and personal growth, and if you feel drawn to one, it is worth picking it up and using it to see if the messages within that deck resonate for you.
I have at least a dozen Oracle decks in my collection, many of which I work with often for meditation.
Using Tarot Cards for Meditation
One nice method for working with Tarot or Oracle decks is the practice of pulling a new card each morning, and keeping that one card displayed through your day. You can use it for meditation, and even carry it with you on your travels through the day if you aren't afraid of loosing your cards.
If you are around your home, display the card on your altar. Spend some time meditating on the message of the card and thinking about how it might impact the decisions and actions of your day. Try journaling using the card you draw and the inspiration.
Good Beginner's Tarot Decks
There are many wonderful Oracle and Tarot decks available! I personally have over 50 (I collect), but I only actually read with 2, both of which are no longer in print. When I started (around 40 years ago), I used a Rider Waite deck.
The most important thing to look for in a first Tarot deck (in my opinion), is clear symbolism. Once you learn the deck and learn the meanings ascribed to the cards, picking up novelty decks and reading with them is wonderful and an enjoyable part of using Tarot. To start with though, I recommend using one of the classic decks to familiarize yourself with the traditional cards and their meanings.
Important Note: One thing I wish I did when starting - stick to one deck! Let yourself familiarize with one deck before trying to learn 27 of them. The symbols can be confusing when you start, so let yourself learn to recognize the images by one artist or group before trying to recognize other versions.
The Rider Waite Deck - one of the first of the modern decks, Rider Waite uses traditional symbolism and classic imagery in their Tarot. Their books (sold separately unless part of a set) are clear and comprehensive, and they provide an excellent base for learning Tarot. Llewellyn published a great book on Rider linked below. 2
The Morgan Greer Deck - This desk is one I sell on my site now. Morgan Greer is a fine, classic deck that uses traditional symbolism. There are good books available to supplement the booklet that comes with the deck. As with all decks, the booklet they come with is OK, but a more comprehensive book is usually a good idea when starting out. I linked to my all time favorite below.
The Hermetic Deck - this deck is a little less familiar to most people. It isn't as pretty (all black and white), but it is extremely strong on symbolism. If you learn the symbols and meanings with this deck and a good supplemental book, you will be able to pick up almost any deck and figure out what you are doing.
The symbolism of Tarot is complex and covers many areas of occult study. Some find greater meaning in the Astrological and Planetary correspondence, others do not. Some focus intently on the numerology while others use tarot on almost pure intuition, allowing the images to suggest meanings in each new situation.
Reading Tarot for prediction or for personal meditation is a wonderful hobby. And collecting the cards, available in a huge array of styles, subject matter and sub-culture genres is a wonderful hobby that will grow with you as you move forward on your metaphysical path.
Decks can become special, and then be moved to the back of the drawer at different times of your life. Enjoying your cards and learning from them can be a rich and meaningful lifetime study.
I hope you have many years of rewarding Tarot ahead!
The following are affiliate links to Amazon. That means I receive a small commission if you purchase any of these books using these links. There are many other places to get these books though - including local pagan and metaphysical shops!
1. Psychic Tarot, by Craig Junjulas I have used this book for years. He uses the Aquarian deck to illustrate, but once you are comfortable with the meanings, the information in this book can be used for any deck.