What are Tarot Cards?
Tarot cards are hundreds of years old and have been used to play games of leisure without any occult symbolism.
The cards are grouped similarly to playing cards in that there are four suits. These suits vary by region and include:
French suits – used in Northern Europe
Latin suits – used in Southern Europe
German suits – used in Central Europe
Each suit, like traditional playing cards, contains 14 unique cards further divided into subgroups. These subgroups include 10 pip cards, numbered from one (Ace) to 10, along with four face cards, represented by King, Queen, Knight, and Knave. These cards are known as the Minor Arcana.
Beyond those cards, there is a 21-card Trump suit, which is held to a higher rank than other cards. These and the addition of a single Fool card make up the 22-cards of Major Arcana.
Tarot Card Symbolism
Both groups in the Tarot deck act as symbols for the reader to interpret against the Querent, or “one who seeks”. Here, we’ll detail the meaning behind the Minor Arcana suits and each of the 22 Major Arcana when appearing during a Tarot Reading.
In the French Tarot tradition, the minor arcana’s four suits are represented by the more commonly known Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds. However, in the Spanish tradition, the cards’ suits are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.
These suits are believed to emerge as representations of various elements, social class, and mental faculties. These include:
Wands/Clubs: Representing the elements of either Fire or Air, these suits are assigned to artisans and those with strong faculties of Creativity and Will.
Coins/Diamonds: Representing the element of Earth, these suits are assigned to merchants with a partiality for the material body and possessions.
Cups/Hearts: Representing the element of Water, these suits represent spiritualists and those with deep empathy and love.
Swords/Spades: Another suite represented by either Air or Fire, the Sword is assigned to those of noble blood and militaristic character. The faculty most strongly tied to this suit is that of Reason.
- The Magician – Also known as the Magus or the Juggler, the Magician is the first card of the Major Arcana. It may symbolize the skill, diplomacy, address, subtlety, pain, loss, disaster, snares of enemies; self-confidence, will of the Querent. If reversed, the interpretation shifts to disease, disgrace, and disquiet.
- The High Priestess – The second Major Arcana, the High Priestess symbolizes Secrets, mystery, and the unknown future. If the Querent is male, this card is associated with the woman who interests the Querent, if female, it is the Querent herself. The Priestess symbolizes silence, tenacity, mystery, wisdom, and science. If reversed, the interpretation may shift to qualities of passion, moral or physical zeal, pride, and superficial knowledge.
- The Empress – The third Major Arcana, The Empress is often depicted as pregnant and is seen as all things motherly, a creator, and a nurturer. From her appearance, a reader will divine prosperity, action, enterprise, length of days, the unknown, surreptitious, as well as struggle, uncertainty, ignorance. If reversed, The Empress becomes a symbol of light, truth, clarity, and shared triumphs.
- The Emperor – Usually depicted alongside ram’s heads in connection with Mars, The Emperor is the fourth Major Arcana. His appearance symbolizes consistency, authority, safety, understanding, reason, faith, and will. If reversed, his appearance may be interpreted as having to do with goodwill, compassion, praise, a barrier, irresponsibility.
- The Hierophant – With hands raised in modern depictions, the Hierophant is the fifth Major Arcana. His appearance signifies marriage, union, confinement, subjection, compassion, and goodness. If presented in the reversed position, he will appear to reflect society, comprehension, harmony, or weakness.
- The Lovers – The sixth Major Arcana, The Lovers may be interpreted as a symbol of attraction, love, beauty, and achievement. When reversed they may be interpreted as a symbol of failure, schemes, or frustration.
- The Chariot – Depicted as a figure in a chariot led by sphinxes or horses, the Chariot is the seventh Major Arcana. The card may be interpreted as a symbol of Support, foresight, conflict, victory, belief, retribution, or downright misfortune. When reversed, the card may be seen to point to arguments, legal proceedings, and downfall.
- Strength – Also known as Fortitude and Lust, the Strength card is the eighth Major Arcana. The card intuitively symbolizes Power, energy, action, courage, nobility, success, and honor. When reversed it presents tyranny, abuse, weakness, conflict, and shame.
- The Hermit – The ninth Major Arcana, the Hermit is generally depicted as an old man with a rod and lantern atop a mountain. When appearing during a reading, his presence may implicate judiciousness, caution, betrayal, dishonesty, deceit, and exploitation. When reversed, he symbolizes concealment, disguise, fear, and paranoia.
- Wheel of Fortune – the Tenth Major Arcana, the Wheel of Fortune is a symbol of Fate, prosperity, success, advancement, providence, and joy. When reversed, the Wheel is a symbol of growth, abundance, and indulgence.
- Justice – The Eleventh Major arcana, Justice takes the form of a figure with scales of justice in their left hand. This card symbolizes Fairness, correctness, righteousness, and decision-making, and, of course, justice in the eyes of the law. When reversed, the card is a symbol of law, litigation, bigotry, bias, and cruelty.
- The Hanged Man – A haloed figure hung upside down is the typical depiction of the Hanged Man. The twelfth Major Arcana, this card symbolizes Insight, wariness, shrewdness, challenges, sacrifice, perception, foretelling, and predictions. When reversed, the card is interpreted as a symbol of self-importance, the crowd, or the citizenry.
- Death – Sometimes referred to as “The Card with No Name”, Death is the thirteenth Major Arcana. This card is a symbol of ends, mortality, ruin, or corruption. When Reversed, Death is a symbol of Inaction, sleep, laziness, paralysis, sleepwalking, and dashed hopes.
- Temperance – The fourteenth Major Arcana is depicted as a figure mixing water into wine. Temperance may symbolize commerce, control, frugality, organization, or accommodation. When reversed, the card may be interpreted as a symbol of the Church religion, sects, priesthood, discord, and conflict of interest.
- The Devil – The fifteenth Major Arcana, The Devil symbolizes Desolation, violence, intensity, power, and mortality. When reversed the Devil is perceived as a symbol of weakness, pettiness, or blindness.
- The Tower – The sixteenth Major Arcana, the Tower has several meanings, namely signifying meaning danger, destruction, erudition, liberation, and crisis, sudden change, destruction, higher learning, and liberation. This card is symbolic of catastrophe, most often unforeseen. When reversed The Tower symbolizes disregard, lack, dispersal, negligence, apathy, vanity. This is generally regarded as the most negative card a Querent can receive during a reading.
- The Star – depicted as a woman with one foot in water and the other on land, the Star is the seventeenth Major Arcana. This card is symbolic of loss, theft, hardship, and rejection. When reversed The Star is a symbol of arrogance, conceit, and ineffectiveness.
- The Moon – The eighteenth Major Arcana, The Moon is a precise depiction. This card displays a Moon, with thirty-two rays and shedding drops of dew, in the night sky between two pillars, while a wolf and dog howl upward and a crayfish emerges from a body of water below. The card symbolizes unseen enemies, danger, misrepresentation, darkness, horror, deceit, spiritual forces, and mistake. When reversed, the card is a symbol of unsteadiness, inconstancy, and silence.
- The Sun – The nineteenth Major Arcana, The Sun is a card depicting a sun with a human face above an infant riding a white horse before a backdrop of sunflowers. Its appearance in a reading symbolizes positivity, vitality, confidence, and prosperity. This card is generally regarded as the most hopeful and bounteous a Querent can receive during a reading.
- Judgment – The twentieth Major Arcana, Judgment often depicts the Resurrection and Last Judgement of Christian mythology. This card symbolizes judgment, rebirth, destiny, karma, and redemption.
- The World – The twenty-first card of the Major Arcana, The World is a card that most commonly depicts a naked woman dancing above Earth, surrounded by a wreath, with the four living creatures of Jewish mythology, man, lion, eagle, and ox, in the card’s four corners. This card symbolizes Assured success, reparation, journey, direction, relocation, and flight. When reversed, it may refer to Inaction, stagnation, or permanence.
- The Fool – The twenty-second and final card of the Major Arcana, The Fool depicts a beggar figure that wields a stick. It is a card that symbolizes Idiocy, mania, indulgence, intoxication, disorientation, turmoil, betrayal. When reversed, the fool is a symbol suggesting Disregard, absence, distribution, sloppiness, indifference, and vanity.