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Learning Tarot Cards

Updated on September 14, 2014
The Major Arcana of The Mythic Tarot deck
The Major Arcana of The Mythic Tarot deck

What are Tarot Cards?

Tarot cards are reputed to have originated in the mid fifteenth century and most commonly number seventy-eight cards in the deck.

They are split into two parts:

  • The Major Arcana, which number twenty-two cards and
  • The minor Arcana, which number fifty-six cards.

In many respects, the Minor Arcana are almost identical to a conventional deck of playing cards, the kind we would play poker, rummy or patience (solitaire) or other card games with, but have an extra card in each suit - the knight.

When it comes to divination using tarot cards, it is not uncommon for the Minor Arcana to be discarded and the reading taken from the Major Arcana only. However most adepts will use all seventy-eight cards as they give a fuller picture with more precision.

The meanings of tarot cards

The meanings of tarot cards have a common theme throughout the deck except where the Major Arcana is concerned. It's possible to read a spread using these alone, but it will be fairly general.

The Minor Arcana however has cards with similar meanings, but they will be in respect of whichever suit they happen to refer to.

I'm not going to give you each tarot card's meaning as I would be here for days and this would turn into a book, not a hub, but I can give you the overall feel of each card, which should get you started.

The Major Arcana

The twenty-two cards that make up the Major Arcana are as follows:

  • The Fool - The start of a new chapter, which may involve a risk of some sort
  • The Magician - Potential and undiscovered possibilities or abilities
  • The Empress - The beginning of an earthly phase, perhaps a birth or marriage
  • The Emperor - Take a standpoint, perhaps found a business or make a home and family.
  • The High Priestess - The discovery of one's intuition, a drawing to the esoteric
  • The Hierophant (or Pope) - The seeking of answers of a philosophical nature.
  • The Lovers - This usually augers the need to make a choice, perhaps between one love and another, such as work and a person.
  • The Chariot - Conflict and struggle, usually leading to a stronger personality
  • Justice - Balance and impartiality
  • Temperance - The need for a balanced heart
  • Strength - Courage, Strength and self-discipline
  • The Hermit - The necessity to wait and be patient
  • The Wheel of Fortune - The beginning of a new phase, beginning with a change of fortune, which could be bad or good
  • The Hanged Man - The need to sacrifice in order to attain something of a higher value
  • Death - Something must end. Whether that ending is painful is dependant upon whether the person is willing to let go
  • The Devil - A need to accept certain attributes one may have that one is not happy about, but has to accept.
  • The Tower - Change, the breaking down of existing forms.
  • The Star - Hope and faith in the midst of difficulties
  • The Moon - Confusion, fluctuation and uncertainty
  • The Sun - Clarity, optimism and renewed trust
  • Judgement - An answering of past efforts though sometimes the answer is not a pleasant one
  • The World - Achievement and integration, a pat on the back for a successful conclusion

Whilst it is perfectly reasonable to use only these cards to 'read' for a person, unless the reader possesses true 'talent', it is more than possible to misread the rather broad strokes that these cards paint with.

A reading of this nature can produce fairly accurate results however, reading from all the cards would tend to remove any grey areas; ambiguities that may lie within the reading.

The minor Arcana as shown here in the suit of Cups, including beneath, the aces from the other three suits
The minor Arcana as shown here in the suit of Cups, including beneath, the aces from the other three suits

Tarot Cards - The Minor Arcana

As you can see from the above, there are more cards in the Minor Arcana than in a standard deck of cards, thanks to the addition of the Knight. Perhaps that should be 'omission' from the standard set, but whatever, it gives the tarot cards fifty-six cards from ace to king in the four suits as opposed to fifty-two.

The Four Suits

The four suits of the Minor Arcana represents a specific phase or aspect of the questioner's life and go as follows:

  • Cups - representing water and feelings or emotions in the questioner. It is the original suit now represented in the everyday deck of cards by hearts.
  • Wands - representing fire and creativity in the questioner, going from living in pure imagination to the ability to transform ideas into reality, now more commonly known as the suit of clubs.
  • Swords - representing air and rationality or understanding in the questioner. this is the elemental force represents the ambivalence of the mind and is now commonly known as Spades.
  • Pentacles - this represents earth from which we come and must ultimately return. This suit concerns itself with the material world, mostly money and material attainment. Nowadays this suit would be seen as diamonds.

Each of the four suits is divided into two parts:

  1. The numbered cards which run from Ace through to ten
  2. The court cards which are Knave (or jack), Knight, Queen and King

The numbered cards represent or reflect a typical or archetypal experience, where the court cards have far greater significance and fall somewhere between the numbered cards and certain cards of the Major Arcana.

The Court Cards

Although the court cards appear to be a hierarchy, they are all equal as they all represent a particular phase.

The Knave represents the beginning; that pure unadulterated energy with little or no focus, which needs care and attention in order for it to develop.

The Knight represents something very powerful and volatile; that time in youth which is a time of experimenting, questing and exploring.

The Queen represents a time where that power has grown, but now instead of the exuberance of youth, there is the steady measured surety, banked and held tightly within and is the only feminine figure of the court's entourage.

The King represents represents power that is dynamic, outgoing and focussed.

Each of these embodiments of the phases of the questioners life are much, much more than the numbered cards of their suits as they can often come into the questioner's life in the form of experience, but as actual people.

These cards are somewhere between the numbered cards, but not much less than their representatives in the Major Arcana.

For instance, The Queen of Pentacles shares some of the qualities of The Empress, but not to to such a degree, nor so profound. The Queen of Cups, shares some of the intuitive qualities of the High Priestess and the moon, but again, not to the same degree.

The numbered cards

This is just a basic overview of the meanings of each of the numbered cards

  • Ace - Heralds the beginning, but it's a beginning in a very raw state - unfocussed
  • Two - Is also a beginning, but this time, it could be a reconciliation
  • Three - Is the sense of something through the initial stages and things are looking positive for the future
  • Four - Dissatisfaction, boredom or depression
  • Five - Regret or remorse
  • Six - Serenity, where perhaps a dream that had been put on hold looks possible for the future
  • Seven - Choice, where much is in evidence, but the questioner is faced with a decision
  • Eight - Sacrifice. Something may have to be given up in order to progress
  • Nine - Pleasure and satisfaction from the fulfilment of a cherished wish or reward for efforts made.
  • Ten - Ongoing contentment. 

Learning the Tarot

Learning the Tarot can take years.

It's not simply reading the meanings from the books you may have bought, but listening to them too. I know that may sound deep and meaningful, but so are the cards.

Interpreting what you see needs to come naturally for the best results, however, you can get quite accurate even as a beginner.

Reading for yourself, I would caution you not to expect too much. Just because you're reading the cards, doesn't mean you can influence what they may predict for you in the future. Therefore it's important not to try and focus on particular outcomes as it may well blind you to what's there in your future.

Like many divination tools, the more you use them, the better your rapport with them will become and as it's a skill, the best advice I can give is to practice, practice, practice. 

The Tarot Celtic Cross spread
The Tarot Celtic Cross spread

Laying out the Tarot Celtic Cross Spread

Each of the cards in the above spread is placed in a specific order.

The Significator

This is the card in the centre that is covered by a horizontal card. This represents the questioner now

The Crossing Card

This is the one over the Significator and represents that which is generating conflict either inside or outside the questioner.

The Crowning Card

This is the card that sits immediately above the Significator and represents the atmosphere and situation that literally hangs over the Significator

The Base of the Matter

This is the card below the Significator and represents the root of the issue

Past Influences

This is the card to the right of the Significator. The past influences are those things in the recent past that have brought this about

Forthcoming Influences

Which is the card to the left of the Significator. This is what the questioner can expect in the immediate future with regards to the question

Where One Finds Oneself

This is the bottom card of the four to the right. This is where the questioner really is.

The Views of Others

This is the second card from bottom in the four right hand cards. This is how other people see the questioner and his or her situation.

Hopes and Fears

The third from bottom of the four. The hopes and the fears can be encapsulated in one card as all tarot cards have a certain duality.

Final Outcome

The top of the column of four. It's hardly going to be final, probably more like six months, but that's not to say it won't last longer or might not happen at all. 

So there you have them

That's the Tarot in a nutshell.

There's heaps more to learn, I mean, I would hardly say that this will get you up and running, but it may whet your whistle to find out more.

I looked on-line for the cards I have, but sadly, they're not available at this time. Whether they will be in the future isn't clear, but there are many different styles out there.

Many of them come with a book of rules, and probably interpret the cards slightly differently too. I just bought these on impulse and have had them for about twenty years now.

Taking them out again to produce this has been fun. I don't even know whether they'll be going away as it's rekindled something for me that I might just pursue...


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I'm impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knglbedoealwe?

    • profile image

      Catherine Meyers 

      4 years ago

      I use this deck The Mythic Tarot, after having too others I purchased when I first started reading. I think it was meant for me. It was given to me by a close friend and it is exactly the deck I feel a great affinity toward as I am an artist and a 12 Step Member. Carl Jung and all things Jungian, particularly creativity, dreams and archetypes are powerful tools that are all at the foundation of this deck. Your description and insight provides excellent clarity for the average person to understand in plain language, and who is interested in the Tarot. Thank you!

    • ThriftyWitch profile image


      7 years ago from Canada

      Wholey cow nick this is amazing information. I my head is swimming after reading this. Thank you so much for putting so much time in to this. Great Job Babe

    • Nick B profile imageAUTHOR

      Nick B 

      7 years ago from Normandy, France

      Nicely put. I have done some readings, but because I knew the people concerned, I figured I was biased and therefore biasing the results. However, even referring back and forth to the book, I found that the results can be surprisingly accurate, illustrating elements about the questioner that may well have been overlooked.

      Thank you so much for your feedback and I'm glad you approve of the page

    • AngelaKaelin profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      Nice rundown! I've been a professional reader off and on for 20 years. I started with the tarot when I was about 8-years old. My first deck was an old Zolar deck, modeled after the Rider Waite and with the designations written on the cards. The first deck I ever read with as a pro was a Witches deck. I switched because of the illustrations which weren't suitable for everyone. It is helpful to read with lots of different decks because each one is a little different and each creator imparts different interpretations to the cards. It is my contention that anyone who can remember a number of facts can give adequate readings - enough to be a pro. But, the real gift that comes out of the tarot is overall psychic-development. Your world and your sensitivity begins to grow by leaps and bounds as you become a pro reader.

      I'd definitely encourage you to do a few readings before you put that beautiful deck away again!

    • Chrissy Hall profile image

      Chrissy Hall 

      8 years ago from Indiana

      so pretty that Mythic Tarot is... thank you for the factual and concise hub :)

    • Eternal Evolution profile image

      Eternal Evolution 

      8 years ago from kentucky

      Nice hub with some useful info

    • starlitn profile image


      8 years ago

      wow! Interesting page! I also use the Mythic Tarot. The pictures are rather beautiful. I've also been interested in the Revelations Tarot, I think that's what it's called. It shows reversals as well as upright images on the cards.

    • vicki simms profile image

      vicki simms 

      8 years ago from northamptonshire

      Hi Nick B, This is great, I actually went into a shop about a week ago and saw some tarot cards and I just bought them (dont know why??) I have been reading the book to see how to use them and put them to good use and just gave up as it was really confusing but now I have read your hub I can understand it so thank you so much it has helped me loads :)

    • Nick B profile imageAUTHOR

      Nick B 

      8 years ago from Normandy, France

      Thanks for the comment, Beth.

    • Beth100 profile image


      8 years ago from Canada

      Tarot is a skill, as is reading tea leaves (which I do). Lovely job of explaining the basics of tarot!

    • Nick B profile imageAUTHOR

      Nick B 

      8 years ago from Normandy, France

      Wow. You should be teaching me then :) Hope you found this of some use.

    • winter11 profile image


      8 years ago from Mass

      I just took a course on how to read tarot.

    • Nick B profile imageAUTHOR

      Nick B 

      8 years ago from Normandy, France

      I know how you feel.

      I have to try fitting in readings around the other stuff I have to do too :)

    • Mom Kat profile image

      Mom Kat 

      8 years ago from USA

      You make me want to dig out my old deck again :)

    • Nick B profile imageAUTHOR

      Nick B 

      8 years ago from Normandy, France

      My pleasure, Dingdong. I hope you found it useful.

    • dingdong profile image


      8 years ago from South India

      Wow, now that's great. Thanks for answering my request!!

    • Nick B profile imageAUTHOR

      Nick B 

      8 years ago from Normandy, France

      Thanks Lills.

      Reading through it again, I thought it could use just a little improvement, but maybe tomorrow...

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      8 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      Thank you! I have been studying this, among other topics recently, and I like your explanation best!


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